An Army of One Less

By Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army major general, was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004 (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10/11/06):

DURING the Watergate scandal, as I remember it, Garry Trudeau published a “Doonesbury” strip in which an embattled President Richard Nixon asks his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, “Well, the Army’s still with us … right?”

Haldeman replies, “Sir, I’ll go check.”

Perhaps President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had a similar discussion after the midterm election results came in, and Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation as secretary of defense indicates what the answer was.

So, what will the new Democratic-controlled House and Senate and the new Pentagon, apparently to be led by Robert Gates, have to accomplish over the next two years to bring the Army — and the other services — back “with” us? I have a few suggestions.

First, on Iraq, the Democratic leadership needs to push the administration to move immediately on whatever recommendations come from the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. The decision to hold the commission’s report until after the election was political idiocy — every day we wait risks the lives of our soldiers and our Iraqi allies.

At the same time, we need a Manhattan Project-level effort to build the Iraqi security forces. A good blueprint can be found in an article in the July-August Military Review by Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, a former operations officer with the Army’s Fifth Cavalry Regiment in Iraq, and Lt. Eric D. Chewning. The plan is to create new multifaceted battalions — blending infantry, armor, engineers and other specialists — that would live and work beside Iraqi security forces and civilians. Some of our troops, working largely at the platoon level, have had great success along these lines; but as the authors note, such small units “lack the robust staff and sufficient mass to fully exploit local relationships.” It’s time to replicate that success on a larger scale.

Democrats in Congress must also demand that the administration abide by the old adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” in the Middle East. We should return our ambassador to Syria and re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran as first steps in building a coalition of Iraq’s neighbors to plan the way forward. While their motives may not be identical to ours, they have little desire to see Iraq dissolve into civil war.

It is also vital to reinvigorate the military leadership. First, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, must begin to act in the role prescribed by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. This requires the senior man in uniform to have direct access to the president, a role denied to him and his predecessor, Gen. Richard Myers, by Mr. Rumsfeld.

As for the next secretary of defense, he must stand up to his own party. Congressional Republicans have told the Army that 512,000 troops are enough, and that the Pentagon should pay for them with the money already allocated, a zero sum game. This would mean raiding the funds that are supposed to go toward the first real Army modernization program since the Reagan years. (Today, military spending is 4 percent of gross domestic product, as opposed to 6.2 percent during the hugely successful Reagan build-up and more than 9 percent during the Vietnam War.)

The Army must rise to at least 570,000 troops to meet the demands placed on it. Before he was forced out as Army chief of staff in 2003, Gen. Eric Shinseki warned us to “beware the 12-division foreign policy with a 10-division Army.” That was a spot-on prediction of the problem we face today.

One thing everyone in Washington should agree on is that we must not allow Iraq to become a failed state. With Mr. Gates, look for a fresh start and fresh plan — with both parties, and the entire cabinet and the military working through a robust interagency process — to ensure it doesn’t happen.