Saturday, June 4

Finally, a cogent, non-jargon Tom Barnett post

If you don't normally read my Tom Barnett posts, please consider reading this one. I will try to de-jargon it and I think it has some really clear thinking in it.

Tom has a great article in this week's newsletter (beginning at the top of p4). First, in light of Memorial Day, he puts our recent combat losses in perspective.

It is useful, in this regard, to remember that America's cumulative losses in combat since the end of the Vietnam War are roughly equal to what we lost respectively on the beaches of Normandy on 6 June 1944 and in Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1941 (i.e., in the range of 2500 to 3000). To note that is not to diminish anyone's sense of loss, which is always profound when a loved one dies in combat, but simply to reassure us that as far as America is concerned war is becoming an ever smaller portion of our reality thanks to such ultimate sacrifices.

Tom addresses the very important Quadrennial Defense Review. If you care about the military, its plans, funding, and the politics surrounding it (in the Pentagon and on the Hill), then you need to know about the QDR. Great power war should now be 'logically considered to enjoy far less priority than' shrinking the Gap (ie, bringing disconnected nations into the global community in a way that improves their quality of life), including the Global War on Terrorism. We must:

demote the concept of great power war from its perch as number one ordering principle of the Pentagon to that of merely hedged-against conflict scenario, meaning we dedicate a certain portion of our scenario planning and force generation against this particular scenario, trusting in our ability to maintain a sufficient hedge against what's out there in potential great power foes...This is not a guns-versus-butter choice, but a submarine-versus-body-armor sort of choice...[Otherwise, we] stock up on platforms we're extremely unlikely to need while denying our boots on- the-ground the equipment they are certain to need.

We will kick ourselves later if we don't make the body armor choice. What are the most likely near-term intervention scenarios? North Korea aside, they're places like Afghanistan and Iraq, places like Sudan and the Balkans and Somalia and Palestine/Israel. We will want to help stop atrocities in these places and to help them get connected up to the rest of the world. If we don't, they will become the new breeding place for terrorists. What's good for the citizens of the old Soviet -Stans and the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa is good for us: a rising standard of living, increasing connection to the rest of the world, and absence of the conditions for growing terrorists.

Tom makes an interesting comparison between shrinking the Gap and policing the American frontier of the 19th century. This is what our force needs to look like to help connect disconnected nations: lots of boots, very mobile (here comes the Cavalry!), fairly autonomous.

Naturally, risk is associated with both sides of this choice. But ask yourself: is it easier to manage the risk of a rising, increasingly developed China or the descent/collapse of failed or authoritarian regimes in the Gap? Which of these two great strategic scenarios of the 21st century do you think we can manage on the side, treating it as a lesser included to which we devote incremental efforts?

Later on in the same newsletter (p10) Tom articulates one of his key concepts for bulding the right kind of police/occupation (which he calls SysAdmin) force:

Here is the paradox to the U.S. military: seed that SysAdmin force and it's very existence will allow you to remain more Leviathan-like. Don't seed that force and you will be forced to do SysAdmin across the dial, and in that evolution you will most certainly lose far more of your warfighting capacity.

What he means here (from previous reading) is that if we will build such a basically no-platform force, other nations of the world will be eager to join us. This is the kind of action they might be able to do. No one can join us in actions that require our incredibly expensive platforms (esp. Air Force and Navy). They can't compare. But if we build the right kind of Army and Marines many nations will want to join in and do their part in nation-building-type actions.
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