“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nine in 10 officers said the war had stretched the military “dangerously thin”.

US army ‘stretched thin’ by Iraq war
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington FT

Published: February 18 2008 22:09 | Last updated: February 18 2008 22:09
The Iraq war has strained the US military to the extent that America could not fight another large-scale war today, according to a new survey of military officers.

Nine in 10 officers said the war had stretched the military “dangerously thin”. However, 56 per cent disagreed with the suggestion that the conflict had “broken” the armed services, while 64 per cent said morale was high.

More than 3,400 current and retired officers, including more than 200 generals and admirals, participated in the survey by Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for a New American Security, a centrist think-tank.

The results underscore the concerns of officers about the strain that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed on the military. Of respondents, 60 per cent said the military was weaker today than five years ago.

The results of the independent survey come as the Pentagon debates whether to pause the reduction of forces in Iraq, or whether to make further cuts to ease the stress on the military. The Pentagon is unwinding the “surge” by reducing the number of combat brigades to the pre-surge level of 15, which would leave about 130,000 troops in Iraq by the summer.

General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, wants to pause the reduction to assess the impact of removing the surge, which commanders credit with dramatically reducing violence in Iraq. But General George Casey, his predecessor in Iraq and now the army chief of staff, advocates further reductions.

Gen Casey has warned that the military was deploying at unsustainable rates, and was in danger of crossing a “red line” beyond which it would take a generation to rebuild.

Retired Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, a survey respondent who also participated in the generals’ revolt – a string of calls from senior military figures in 2006 for the resignation of then defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld – said the survey showed that the Pentagon could not afford to be complacent.

“If the question had been ‘Are we in danger of straining the military in ways that may take a generation to recover?’, the answer might have been different,” said Lt Gen Newbold.

“We ought to be very careful that we don’t overplay the degree of selfless sacrifice and patriotism that we are relying on from a number of people in the military, the mid-grade officers and mid-grade non-commissioned officers that are really the backbone of the services.”

The extended and repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to concerns about the US military’s ability to respond to other potential threats, including Iran, North Korea or a conflict with China over Taiwan.

According to the survey, 80 per cent of respondents believed it would be “unreasonable” to ask the US military to wage another large war today; 37 per cent also said Iran had gained the greatest strategic advantage from the Iraq war, compared with 19 per cent who saw the US as having gained the most.

In a worrisome result for the Pentagon, which has attempted to repair the damage done to its image by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, 44 per cent of respondents disagreed with the statement that “torture is never acceptable”; 43 per cent also disagreed that waterboarding – an interrogation practice that simulates drowning – was torture, in spite of the fact that it is banned by the army field manual.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008


  1. [...]

    Our opportunities are too great, our lives too short, to waste this moment. So tonight we vow to our nation: We will seize this moment of American promise.

    We will use these good times for great goals.

    We will confront the hard threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security before the challenges of our time become crises for our children.

    And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country.

    To every man and woman, a chance to succeed. To every child, a chance to learn. To every family, a chance to live with dignity and hope.

    For eight years, the Clinton/Gore administration has coasted through prosperity.

    And the path of least resistance is always downhill.

    But America's way is the rising road.

    This nation is daring and decent and ready for change.

    Our current president embodied the potential of a generation. So many talents. So much charm. Such great skill. But, in the end, to what end?

    So much promise, to no great purpose.

    Little more than a decade ago, the Cold War thawed and, with the leadership of Presidents Reagan and Bush, that wall came down.

    But instead of seizing this moment, the Clinton/Gore administration has squandered it. We have seen a steady erosion of American power and an unsteady exercise of American influence.


  2. Fidelissimo is out--Raooolissimo is in.

  3. Now we're all going to have to listen to that same fucking speech a hundred times by a guy we only wish we had on our side.

  4. I don't know what good an embargo on Cuba is doing at this point. We trade with China, Vietnam.

    The embargo is still on isn't it?

  5. "I don't know what good an embargo on Cuba is doing at this point."


  6. With the Che pictures in the Obama campaign offices, I imagine it won't last long if he wins.

    It's odd, and shows what one man can do. Cuba was one of the better off Latin countries. I read an article the other day saying, with facts and figures as best they can be had, that Cuba is just where it was, materially, under Batista, maybe a little worse off in some areas. Spiritually, intellectually, artistically, it's got to be a basket case now, with nothing but the party line drummed into the collective head all these years. Last I heard, they are still keeping up Hemingway's old house there anyways.

  7. We can get in on the ground floor, bob. If we can convince the ex-pats to come with us.

  8. Say what you will about Larry Craig, he has been for ending the embargo for a long time.

    Henry didn't seem much enthused with the idea of leaving Iraq and Afghanistan and moving into Pakistan.

  9. "Say what you will about Larry Craig, he has been for ending the embargo for a long time."

    Indeed. And he's right.

  10. He's been using campaign contributions in his political account to pay his legal fees, which is illegal. I quess at this point he figures 'what more can they do to me, or me to myself'.
    He filed bankruptcy once before and wants to avoid that.

  11. We could have a longish conversation about Craig and public restrooms and the relative importance of it. I have to be up in two hours.

    So here's simply hoping the end of the embargo is...utmost in the right person's thoughts.

  12. On Afghanistan: The more you read about the planning surrounding ISAF, both its original conception and the NATO-led expansion, the more you realize that, as with Iraq, there was no "there" "there."

  13. Scheuer was right, the plan should have been to go in guns blazing then leave. I can't see any President doing so at the time, though. Or most likely, next time.

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  15. "56 per cent disagreed with the suggestion that the conflict had “broken” the armed services, while 64 per cent said morale was high."

  16. Squirrel down!
    Mayday! Mayday!
    "And in this sense and others, I think he'll be a *better* president than Bush has been. Setting the bar low. But there you have it."
    I particularly liked his demand that Amnesty be done in the cloakrooms without any interference from "Extracurricular" input (feedback from the PEOPLE))

    I also find endearing your insistence on ignoring a problem that has taken Los Angeles from being a modern, prosperous, upwardly mobile city, to a Balkanized Hellhole to all but those living in the (presently) safe gated enclaves.

    Viva La Raza!
    Viva Denial!
    (Trish's stock-in-trade)
    Paul 2012!

  17. (Los Angeles being about 30 years behind my hometown, as well as VDH's larger, even more troubled, home.)
    Both Idylic places, 5 decades ago, but what's a little terminal rot, expanding nationwide?

  18. Maybe you could jump back on your high-horse and imply I'm a racist again, the better to comfort yourself in your total denial of the problem, and any consideration of a solution.

  19. "FUCK YOU!
    I know more than anyone about immigration.
    Lincoln spins in his grave in envy.

  20. Left wing supporters of Mumia, but how much of this isn't true?
    All I know is Mexico was a Hell of a lot nicer place, 30 years ago.
    Romantic, even.
    (From a realists POV)

  21. "What both of these free trade agreements do, for all members save the US, is place a great emphasis on foreign trade and exportation. Thus, rather than focusing efforts on internal development and domestic infrastructure, and developing according to its own needs, these nations are driven to restructuring agricultural and economic policy around appeasement of the US. The demands of potential buyers in the US are therefore given priority over the needs of that nation’s own people. Under such an agreement, resource-rich nations direct their riches not to production that would propel their own advancement, but to production that will draw the attractive finance of the US. "

  22. 37 per cent also said Iran had gained the greatest strategic advantage from the Iraq war, compared with 19 per cent who saw the US as having gained the most.

    If 56% believe the military to be unbroken, does that mean that 44% believe it is?

    While 90% beleive we are stretcheddd dangerously thin. So there is consensus on that, but not upon when the rubber band will snap. With a spread of only 11 points seperating broken from stretched.

    All so that Sharia rules reign in Basra and the 1920 Brigades can control the streets of Anbar. Success by any other name smells as sweet, and victory has many fathers, but only candidate McCain tells US of military success. Not mentioning the price, but for a proposed 100 year presence.

    A man of warped perceptions and perspectives, spending to much time in the world of his own mind.
    To be honored and respected, but not overly trusted as to his judgements.

  23. Of course those agreements benefit the US over the indigs of those other countries. That is why we promoted them.

    They benefit the consumer in the US, more than the other signatories. Creating a unified global economy, where no nation can stand alone, including US.

    That is/was the purpose of those agreements.
    Unification of economic effort, creating a global economy, not localized ones. Maximizing returns for the multi-national investors, at the expense of independence.

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  25. What's not to like, about that.
    The Empire of the dollar expands.

    Mercantilism, of the Russell & Company variety, is the alter the Boners prey at.

    That is the course we are on, have been since Teddy sent the Great White Fleet around the world.

  26. "56 per cent disagreed with the suggestion that the conflict had “broken” the armed services"

    To pick up on rat's thought implying 44% may feel that the military is in worse shape:

    My military experience coincided with some tough times from sixty three to the early seventies. I recall poor morale in some outfits,but most of it was the normal bitching and moaning.

    I do not recall being short of resources for the potential Cold War conflicts, which was always larger than Viet Nam and the primary mission.

    We did have over five hundred thousand troops in Western Europe with many who rotated to Viet Nam. I can not recall of anyone having three tours in Viet Nam where at least one was not voluntary.

    Pilots and combat army and marine outfits did all the dirty work, with the vast majority being one tour, two year, army draftees.

    Iraq and Afghanistan have overwhelmed the resources of the army, marines, reserves and national guard units. There is not much left beyond those recouping from the last deployment or preparing for the next. That is a problem in itself, but what is the greater mission for the US standing military?

    Clinton and Bush have engaged us in nation building and a Carteresque zealotry for righting all the wrongs and ill of the planet. I do not understand that mission. It would be refreshing to hear a pol state that "it is none of our business" and do nothing.

  27. WASHINGTON - Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte says the United States will not soon lift its embargo on Cuba despite Fidel Castro's resignation.

    Asked by reporters at the State Department if Washington planned to change its Cuba policy now that Castro has stepped down, Negroponte replied: "I can't imagine that happening anytime soon." He declined further comment.

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  29. "Pilots and combat army and marine outfits did all the dirty work, with the vast majority being one tour, two year, army draftees."

    FTR, according to the data 3/4ths of Vietnam veterans were volunteers. (In comparison with 1/3rd of WWII veterans, FWIW.) Most of the cliches and accepted wisdom regarding the Vietnam era army and its post-war experience is wrong. Which is part of the reason the NY Times story was so dispacable, it was the recreation of a previous template that created long-lasting fables.

    The Army and Marines are billions of dollars behind in equipment, either burnt out or given to the Iraqis. Hard to come up with metrics, but tank/IFV/truck/helicopter miles per year are up by 4x/4x/10x/2x. We've been coasting on the equipment surplus built up by the Reagan buildup/Clinton-Bush I drawdown. Part of this is also that our way of war is extraordinarily wasteful in capital and equipment. Nice we can afford it, if we can, but there's a price.

    Retention actually positive except for lower-middle officers, which will have effects in the future. Salary/relative easiness of life in the private sector is hard to compete with, especially during wartime. Training for mid/high-intensity conventional operations is suffering heavily. These are the two biggest potential problems, IMO.

    Bulk of the recruiting is only facing problems because of the proposed expansion. Quality's dropped some, but it is still much higher than it has ever been other than the 80s/90s. The air force and general navy are in much better shape overall, as can be expected. They'd be able bear the bulk over most unforseen contingencies, but not the kinder, gentler way of war that we've painted ourselves into. Otherwise, most of the tank is dry until the force is reset.

  30. post-war experience is wrong.

    To clarify: This refers not to the Army as an institution, which was in bad shape, but the experience of Vietnam Veterans after they got out of the Army. I.e., they weren't drugged out, unemployed, losers, but better adjusted than the national average.

  31. At the risk of saying the obvious, aside from unforseen contingencies, biggest fear is the retention firewall wil break under a rotation rate far higher than what anyone thought to risk.