Friendly Fire

Posted by Cutler on October 12, 2006

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been fighting an insurgency from within the ranks of the US Army.

Lately, however, Rumsfeld has been taking some “friendly fire” from some of his closest allies in that fight, especially his hand-picked Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker.

Background: the Revolt of the Generals

The “revolt of the Generals” is not a recent phenomenon and isn’t only about policies specific to Iraq.

The Pentagon insurgency began before September 11th and long before the invasion of Iraq. If we are allowed to ask of these “dead enders” why they hate him, the central grievance is clear enough:

Rumsfeld is, among other things, a “military transformation” guy who favors technological innovations that give air power and special ops–rather than traditional Army “boots on the ground”–central stage in military planning.

Much of this is well documented in a book by Washington Times military correspondent Rowan Scarborough in his 2004 book, Rumsfeld’s War. The chapter-section called “Guerrilla Warfare” that discusses the development of an “anti-Rumsfeld insurgency” in the Pentagon covers the period before September 11th.

After September 11th, Rumsfeld used his new-found influence to pursue a relentless counter-insurgency campaign against his Pentagon critics. Well-known casualties include former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki.

Shinseki made the traditional case for the primarcy of Army boots on the ground–as a matter of general strategic planning, more specifically, in the case of Iraq.

Shinseki was publicly rebuked by Rumsfeld Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and when Shinseki “retired,” Rumsfeld appointed a “Special Forces” guy–General Schoomaker–as Army Chief. First time ever. Rumsfeld was obviously looking for a loyal military transformationalist.

Schoomaker, Embedded

Fast forward to the Annual Convention of the “Association of the U.S. Army,” currently underway in Washington.

On Wednesday (October 11, 2006), General Schoomaker spoke to the Army Association. C-Span covered the event (no link at this time; the video is not yet up on the C-Span website).

Schoomaker began his remarks by recognizing various notables in the audience. Top billing went to (Retired) General Eric Shinseki.

I don’t know much about Army protocol, so I wasn’t sure if this was unusual or meaningful. But the applause generated by the name Shinseki was undeniably meaningful.

It soon became clear that Schoomaker was intentionally sending a message with his nod to Shinseki.

Has Schoomaker joined the insurgency?

His central critique is actually the same one articulated by “liberal hawks”: the Bush administration has failed to cultivate the “political culture of sacrifice” required for war.

I cannot yet find a full-text, on-line transcript of the speech. But the Army Association website does include some key passages.

The nation has had a “tepid” response to the war against global terrorism, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker said Oct. 10, arguing that the country needs to make both a financial and spiritual commitment to the ongoing struggle.

Schoomaker, addressing the Annual Meeting of the Association of the United States Army, sharply contrasted the post-9/11 civilian reaction with the mobilization and grand consensus – and financial support — that emerged during the Second World War and Cold War.

“In many ways, the nation’s response to war has been tepid,” Schoomaker said.

Schoomaker warned that “we are much closer to the beginning than the end of this long conflict.”

In order to successfully reach the end of the conflict, the military will require renewed public support, both in terms of dollars and political leadership, Schoomaker said.

“Ultimately victory requires a national strategic consensus, evident in both words and actions,” he said. “While such a common strategic foundation, understood and accepted by the American people, existed during the Cold War, in the form of our strategy of containment, it is not yet evident that such common understanding exists today. … Another 9/11 should not have to occur to shake us into action”…

Schoomaker pointedly compared U.S. defense spending during the Second World War with the current outlays. During that war, the defense budget reached 38 percent of the gross domestic product, as compared with more 14 percent during the Korean War, and roughly 10 percent during the Vietnam War. Current military outlays are at less than 4 percent, Schoomaker said.

“Let there be no mistake: Our soldiers’ effectiveness in battle, both today and tomorrow, ultimately depends on a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them and their families properly,” he said. “This is a matter of national priorities, not a matter of affordability.”

Of course, the aim here is to rally for more DoD and, specifically, Army funding. Nothing surprising in that. Just the “military-industrial complex” talking, some folks might say.

But it is an implicit rebuke of the Bush administration tax cuts, etc.

Stars and Stripes puts the speech in the larger context of friction over military budgets.

A complacent nation might applaud its soldiers, but if it doesn’t back up that praise in the form of hard cash — funding — the praise is hollow, Schoomaker said.

He compared this spending to the height of the Reagan defense buildup in the mid-1990s, when defense spending was 6.2 percent of GDP, and Vietnam, when defense expenditures were 10 percent of GDP.

“The nation’s got to step up here,” Schoomaker told the reporters.

Schoomaker is so concerned that the Army is being underfunded that he refused to turn in the Army’s proposed fiscal 2008-to- 2013 spending plan by its Aug. 15 deadline after the Pentagon proposed a fiscal 2008 Army budget of $114 billion.

The assumption, Schoomaker said, was that the Army is receiving the lion’s share of the billions of dollars in supplemental wartime spending that Congress has approved, and “if we just keep the supplementals up that it will compensate for this pressure” of so-called “baseline” cuts.

“But you don’t get well on supplementals,” Schoomaker said. “There’s very strict rules for supplementals. They have to be tied to consumption in the fight … [and] that does not transform you … it [just] attempts to keep you where you were.”

Instead of $114 billion in fiscal 2008, Schoomaker and other Army leaders say a baseline budget in the $138 billion range is required.

Army leaders are now negotiating with senior Defense Department officials over the additional $24 billion, he said.

Asked whether he threatened to resign over the issue if the Pentagon won’t add the funds, Schoomaker said no.

It’s not useful to walk around here threatening anything,” he said.

Some will say Schoomaker has simply “recognized reality.”

Others will say he has been “captured” by the Army brass he was supposed to “reform.”

Some may sugget that he is actually trying to coopt the Shinseki insurgency before they manage to undermine the big-budget, Boeing-led military transformation “Future Combat System” (FCS) program so near and dear to Rumsfeld and Schoomaker.

In any event, the ongoing insurgency at the Pentagon makes it clear that Karl Rove’s White House continues to prefer for political populism over politically risky demands for painful sacrifice.

For this, the Bush administration continues get hit its Right as well as its Left.

My question is simple: is Karl Rove right?

Is a “tepid” war on terror all that the political culture will allow?

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