2011 June


Kosovo Redux in Libya

by Alex Della Rocchetta

In the latest twist to the Libya campaign, French military officials confirmed Wednesday that they have equipped opposition forces in the western Nafusa mountains with guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and other weaponry. The move is designed to provide momentum to a rebel advance toward Tripoli, as U.S. confidence in the four-month long military offensive wanes.

The conflict has continued longer than many United States and international officials initially envisioned.

While U.S. policy makers continue to debate how long Western military engagement in Libya can last, rebel leaders of the Transitional National Council routinely complain that the international coalition pays no heed to their requests for air support. This lack of support has blunted several promising rebel offensives. It is clear that the sluggish pace of coalition military action has allowed the campaign to drag on, permitting Qaddafi government forces to continue their attacks on civilian populations in Nalut, Zintan, and Yifran, and to crack down on civilians in cities already under Qaddafi control.

From the outset of the conflict, the intervention in Libya has been beset by a level of military incrementalism reminiscent of the 1999 air war in Kosovo. The war in Kosovo was launched to stop Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal assault on Kosovo’s Albanian population. The tepid start of NATO’s campaign in Kosovo strengthened Milosevic’s belief that he could wait out an air war, and in the meantime provided him an opportunity to escalate ethnic cleansing against the Albanians.

Indeed, by increasing military pressure in moves considered modest at best, NATO has allowed Qaddafi sufficient time to adjust to, and counter, the tactics employed by rebels on the ground and coalition air assets above. NATO’s current efforts to fight a minimalistic campaign may eventually work, but it is in the alliance’s best interests to employ the means that will bring the war to its speediest possible close and prevent Qaddafi from having the opportunity to inflict further atrocities against the civilian population.

In his new piece, entitled “Trying to Win Ugly, Again: NATO Brings Incrementalism to Libya, my colleague Reza Jan at AEI’s Critical Threats Project argues that NATO has disregarded lessons of previous conflicts hampered by military incrementalism, namely the intervention in Kosovo. In doing so, NATO is “choosing to allow rather than deny Qaddafi the time necessary to inflict further brutalities upon Libyan innocents, as a result, violating the spirit of bellum iustum, Just War, and the UNSC resolution under whose pretext it chose to engage in war.” In order to avoid the political consequences of a failed mission, Jan identifies the necessary steps to be taken—providing rebels with close air support, expanding operations against regime assets, and increasing the number of military advisors on the ground, among others—in order to avoid the missteps of past interventions.

Stepping up the campaign is likely to be politically unpopular at home. The decision to use lethal force has, however, already been made and it is now incumbent upon our political leaders to give its commanders the latitude they need to do the job properly. The United States has the opportunity to “make use of history” and bring the conflict to a swift and conclusive end. Or Obama can repeat the mistakes of the past, at a cost that can only be imagined.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sergeant Benjamin Wilson)

Gates’ Farewell

by CDS Editors

This morning, departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates released a final statement to the men and women in uniform. The text is below. 

To the men and women of the United States armed forces: tomorrow, 30 June 2011, I will retire as Secretary of Defense. It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve and to lead you for the past four and a half years.

All of that time we have been engaged in two wars and countless other operations.  It has been a difficult time for you and for your families, from long and repeated deployments for those in all four services–and the associated long separations from loved ones–to the anguish of those of you who have lost friends and family in combat or those of you who have suffered visible and invisible wounds of war yourselves.  But your dedication, courage and skill have kept America safe even while bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and, I believe, at last turning the tide in Afghanistan. Your countrymen owe you their freedom and their security. They sleep safely at night and pursue their dreams during the day because you stand the watch and protect them.

For four and a half years, I have signed the orders deploying you, all too often into harm’s way. This has weighed on me every day. I have known about and felt your hardship, your difficulties, your sacrifice more than you can possibly imagine. I have felt personally responsible for each of you, and so I have tried to do all I could to provide whatever was needed so you could complete your missions successfully and come home safely–and, if hurt, get the fastest and best care in the world.

You are the best that America has to offer.  My admiration and affection for you is without limit, and I will think about you and your families and pray for you every day for the rest of my life. God bless you.

Last month, AEI hosted Secretary Gates for a much-publicized event examining America’s role in the world. Read the transcript of Secretary Gates’ address, and don’t forget Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt’s commentary on the speech.

For Leon Panetta’s Senate confirmation, AEI worked with its Defending Defense partners at the Heritage Foundation and the Foreign Policy Initiative to produce questions for the incoming Secretary on major defense issues.

(Dod photo/Cherie Cullen)

In the advance to President Obama’s Afghan speech, one of the worst fears of observers was that a drawdown of American troops would open the door for other NATO members to withdraw troops as well. As my colleague Gary Schmitt wrote:

Given how little support there is among most of our allies’ populations for being in Afghanistan, it will be impossible for them to not react with deep reductions of their own—multiplying the problem of having too few (or, at best, just enough) troops in theater.

These fears were well-grounded. Although Germany has been more circumspect regarding any troop reductions in Afghanistan since Obama’s address, France responded immediately with cuts of its own. France will reduce its 4,000-troop contingent along the same timeline- and in the same proportions- as the United States. And, now it appears that the United Kingdom may accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan, bringing home an additional 500 troops (beyond the promised 426 by the end of 2012).  If Germany and other nations follow suit, more strains will be placed on an already overstretched ISAF.

The arrangement of ISAF, with national forces deployed in quantity to specific areas, gives drawdowns a local complexion. British troops, for example, are found principally in Helmand Province, the site of some of the hardest fighting during the Afghan War. Helmand has benefited from an increased troop presence and a sustained campaign to defeat the Taliban. Still, while the fate of Helmand is far from determined, the effect of the British drawdown will be mitigated by the significant American (and, to a lesser degree, Danish and Georgian) presence in the province.

Meanwhile, French troops operate principally in two areas: Kapisa Province and the Surobi district of Kabul Province. Kapisa, adjacent to Kabul, has been important in establishing the security of the Afghan capital, and was a recipient of additional troops in the early 2009 surge after a period of unrest. Surobi, situated along the highway between Kabul and Jalalabad, has long been considered a vital geopolitical cog.

It appears now that the French will meet their drawdown numbers by removing troops from Surobi (Kapisa is more contested and has seen a number of ISAF casualties this year). But even Surobi has not always been as tranquil as it is today. In one of the more infamous incidents of the war, French paratroopers were ambushed after replacing Italian troops who had “pacified” the area through bribes to local militants—and who had failed to inform the French of this practice. The August 2008 ambush was followed by a campaign to secure the area, reaching a tenuous local peace. It may well be that Afghan security forces are now able to take over for the French in Surobi, but it is an uncertain proposition in a strategic district.

As problematic as British and French troop reductions may be, a drawdown of the German contribution would be riskier still. Germany, charged with overseeing Regional Command North from Mazar-e Sharif, has witnessed a spate of violence and upheaval since 2008. Although the lifting of Bundeswehr restrictions on engagement and a bolstered American presence in the region have succeeded in shifting momentum in ISAF’s favor, the situation remains uneasy and undecided. Should Germany follow France’s (and by extension America’s) lead in reducing its presence, these gains would be jeopardized.

Last Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen characterized President Obama’s drawdown as undertaking an “acceptable level of risk.” But beyond the risk of withdrawing American troops lies the prospect for a more dramatic and widespread drawdown across ISAF. In this way, the future of the Afghan War may rest with the chancelleries of Europe.

(flickr/user isafmedia)

U.S. Taiwan Policy: Officially Absurd

by Michael Mazza

This is getting downright ridiculous. According to Defense News, “Taiwan’s June 24 petition to submit a letter of request (LoR) for new F-16 fighter jets was blocked by the U.S. State Department under orders from the U.S. National Security Council, sources in Taipei and Washington said.”

Reread that sentence. Let the absurdity of it sink in.

To paraphrase: Taiwan’s request to request to buy F-16s has been denied by the Obama administration. The Bush administration, which first concocted this ridiculous formulation, set an unseemly precedent. To avoid making what it perceived to be a politically difficult decision, it avoided having to make any decision at all. No wonder the Obama administration, with its penchant for split-the-baby decision-making, has adopted this policy as its own.

The irony, of course, is that selling F-16s to Taiwan should not be a difficult call. This administration, like its predecessor, is so concerned about avoiding Chinese ire in the short term that it’s blind to doing what is necessary to avoid conflict in the long term. The current administration, like every U.S administration since Harry Truman’s presidency, sees an interest in preserving stability in the Taiwan Strait. What the National Security Council apparently fails to recognize is that at least a semblance of military balance across the Strait is necessary for keeping the peace.

A decision not to sell new fighters to Taiwan is, frankly, a decision that Taiwan doesn’t need an air force. A Taiwan that can’t control its skies is a Taiwan that can’t defend itself. And a Taiwan that can’t defend itself is a Taiwan that invites Chinese coercion, if not outright aggression. The outbreak of fighting in the Strait is not likely to be a conflict from which the United States can remain aloof. There will be no neutrality, no splendid isolation to enjoy when China starts loosing missiles on its neighbors.

And yet such considerations seem to receive little weight in the administration. Illusory though they continue to be, the short-term benefits of friendly ties to Beijing—China can supposedly help prevent Iran’s nuclearization, denuclearize North Korea, end climate change, maintain global economic stability, and, most importantly, perfect the president’s jump shot and cross-over move—dominate the administration’s decision-making. It may seem reasonable for the president to hesitate to cross what Beijing has declared to be a red line—but the fact is that the sale of F-16s to Taiwan has never been a red line before, China has not actually explained what it means by “red line,” and there is little reason to think that the United States would suffer by crossing it.

Sure, China would throw a temper tantrum. Our ambassador would probably receive a dressing down and Beijing would likely cut off military-to-military ties for a period. But so what? The long-term benefits of maintaining a favorable balance of power in the region far outweigh the short-term costs to the Sino-American relationship. When the price for peace in the coming decades is a spat today—well, that’s a trade worth making.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Laura Goodgame)

Claiming progress in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, President Obama declared Wednesday that he would withdraw all 33,000 “surge” forces he had authorized 18 months ago, with the initial 10,000 troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Obama’s troop drawdown plan was much quicker and larger in number than recommendations by his most senior military commanders who fear a rapid draw down could undo security gains in southern Afghanistan and hamper forthcoming offensives against the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda terrorists in the east.

Just as the troop withdrawal deadlines he called for during his campaign, and then later as president in a speech at West Point when he unveiled his new Afghanistan strategy in 2009, Obama’s calibration of strategy with a greater focus on politically-motivated deadlines and less emphasis on security realities on the ground is a strategic mistake.

The president tried to rationalize his military timelines in 2009 by arguing that a troop withdrawal deadline would pressure Afghan President Hamid Karzai to curb corruption and improve governance. But the effect was opposite.

Obama’s initial pledge to withdraw troops by 2012 further undermined the effectiveness of the surge. The president’s strategy emboldened the Taliban, strained ties with Kabul, and convinced Pakistan that continued support for the Taliban would be the best strategy to wield influence in post-withdrawal Afghanistan.

Instead of learning from his past mistakes, the president has done the opposite. Mr. Obama has now succeeded in laying out a new and unrealistic timeframe to bring the war in Afghanistan to a close. This timeframe will only serve to undermine U.S. efforts to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan. It will also, ultimately, cost more American lives.

Both the 2011 and 2012 timeframes for troop reductions coincide with the fighting season in Afghanistan. Troops will begin leaving Afghanistan next month as violence in that country is at its worst in nine years and the Taliban reasserts itself in territories U.S. forces have abandoned.

The deadlines will also weaken the coalition in Afghanistan. Our allies will use Obama’s withdrawals to provide diplomatic cover for their own forces. British Prime Minister David Cameron will use Obama’s declaration of progress in Afghanistan to justify his own troop withdrawals. Canada, Holland, and Poland and many other countries have also announced their own withdrawal dates. It will now be difficult for Washington to convince allies to contribute the troops needed not only to win in Afghanistan, but simply to maintain progress there.

The deadlines also have negative psychological implications. After three decades of conflict, survival is a priority for Afghan leaders and tribesmen, who will not risk backing the United States and the Afghan government if they think Washington will leave them at the mercy of Taliban retribution. In Iraq, tribal chiefs cut ties with Al Qaeda and allied with the United States because the Bush administration pledged it would not abandon them. Obama has made no such commitment to our Afghan allies.

Alas, the president’s hasty withdrawal plan not only gives the Taliban an incentive to retrench and hold on to their arms, but Mr. Obama has now justified the terrorists’ belief that America may have the clocks, but they have the time.

Cross-posted from FoxNews.com

(U.S. Army photo/Sgt. Joseph Watson)

Withdrawal is a Recipe for Failure

by Ahmad Majidyar

President Barack Obama’s new arbitrary timeline to withdraw all 33,000 surge troops – a third of the US forces in Afghanistan – by next summer is a recipe for failure.

It jeopardises “fragile” security gains of the past one year in Taliban strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and undermines the overall counterinsurgency efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
While the accelerated withdrawal will disappoint American and British commanders in Afghanistan, the news will embolden the Taliban and discourage the insurgents from laying down arms and seeking a peaceful settlement to the decade-long conflict.

Moreover, it will push regional countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran, to bolster their proxies to maximize influence once NATO troops leave the country.

Now that the US forces are beginning to pull out, other NATO allies will follow suit: Prime Minister David Cameron has already pledged to bring home about 450 troops this summer and is expected to order more reductions in coming months despite the military’s warnings. Canada, Poland and many more countries have already set their own withdrawal timeframes.

US officials had hoped the July 2011 deadline Obama outlined 18 months ago would put pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to improve governance and curb corruption. But the effect was quite the contrary: Karzai became more confrontational with the West, made peace overtures to the Taliban, and began to seek alternative foreign allies such as Iran, China and Russia. The new exit timetable will further discourage Karzai from cooperating with the US and NATO allies.

Cross-posted from The Telegraph.

(U.S. Army photo/Sgt. Joseph Watson)

Last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, was hailed by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi for its “historic significance.” And in many ways it was historic. But for an event that brought together heads of state from China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, the most recent SCO Summit received surprisingly scant attention in the United States. Here’s what you likely missed:

• Participants expressed concern about events in the Arab world while supporting “the drive of regional states in the path of democratic development in accordance with their specific cultural and historical characteristics.”

• Afghan President Hamid Karzai formally requested SCO observer status, which gives non-members the ability to participate in some of the organization’s activities.

• Pakistan and India—already observers—filed official membership applications last year, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari announced his expectation that Islamabad’s submission “will be put on a fast track.” Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna voiced his country’s desire for “a larger and deeper role” in the organization and said that New Delhi shares the SCO’s goal of a more “democratic international system.”

• “The member states believe that unilateral and unlimited build-up of missile defense by one state or by a small group of states can cause damage to strategic stability and international security,” read a joint declaration. Asked whether Moscow pushed through the statement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded, “No one talked anyone into it.”

• Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad characteristically criticized the existing world order as “managed and run by slavers and colonizers of the past,” adding, “I believe together we [the SCO] can reform the way the world is managed. We can restore the tranquility of the world.”

• In a Moscow Times op-ed on the day of the summit, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev wrote, “It is possible that the SCO will assume responsibility for many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014.”

Individually, these statements may not amount to much. But collectively, and in the context of an impending U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, they should raise eyebrows. In some limited respects, the aims of the SCO are comparable to those of NATO in the early years of the Cold War. NATO in the 1950s was an alliance implicitly constructed to—in the words of its first Secretary General Lord Ismay—“keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Moreover, with the exception of Portugal, Greece, and Turkey, it was an association of like-minded democracies. The SCO conversely is an association of like-minded autocracies whose raison d’être, from Moscow’s perspective, is to keep the Americans out of Central Asia, the Russians in, and the Chinese down in terms of their overall regional influence.

Islamabad and Kabul want in because they’re convinced that the United States is on its way out of Afghanistan. While Iran’s prospects for full-fledged membership are slim, Tehran’s observer status provides the Islamic Republic with one of its few remaining platforms for international legitimacy. Most troubling, however, is Nazarbayev’s contention that the SCO may need to “assume responsibility” for Afghanistan in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal. The reasons for maintaining a robust presence in Afghanistan have been discussed elsewhere at length and don’t need to be rehashed here. But what hasn’t been discussed is the potential relationship between a considerable and precipitous U.S. drawdown, the inevitable security vacuum that would result, and the emergence of a more cohesive, muscular, and militarily-inclined SCO in Afghanistan and beyond.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(Russian Presidential Press & Information Office)

Is Spain Pulling its Weight in NATO?

by Mark Bennett

In his final address to NATO defense ministers this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged broader European involvement in the Libyan conflict, warning that tepid commitment on the part of member-states including Poland, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Spain risks weakening the alliance. With regard to Spain, which provides only 6 aircraft to maintain the no-fly zone and scant maritime patrol capabilities, Gates’ comments are valid. Still, Spanish contributions to NATO outside of the Libya operation are not inconsequential, and a change in government could see an even more robust application of Spain’s military capabilities in the world. A shifting political climate within Spain also provides hope for revived partnership with the United States, within the context of NATO and beyond.

Currently, Spain maintains an ISAF mission which amounts to 1,552 troops stationed mainly in the western province of Badghis where it operates 5 Operational Mentor Liaison Teams (OMLTs) and 2 Police OMLTs. Spanish Armed Forces further contribute to reconstruction teams based in the provincial capital of Qala-i-Naw. Despite criticisms of its Libya operations, therefore, Spain’s current contributions to NATO operations deserve recognition to the extent that they enhance the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces, an essential mission of ISAF operations. And while Badghis is a quieter and more stable province, the Spanish presence there frees other coalition troops for missions in more contested areas.

Spain’s development of cutting-edge military platforms and capabilities is also impressive, and lays the foundation for a more internationally active Madrid. On June 7, for example, Defense Minister Carmé Chacon announced plans to launch the Ministry’s ‘Paz’ satellite equipped with high-resolution radar technology. When completed in 2013, the satellite will make Spain’s the continent’s first military to provide an observation system that would serve both military and civilian purposes, at once enhancing the functional capacity of the Spanish Armed Forces abroad and signaling the development of the domestic aerospace industry, now the fifth largest in Europe. In broader terms, despite its fiscal woes, Spain remains the fifth largest economy in Europe, spending roughly 1.2% of its GDP ($1.434 billion in 2010) on defense (a percentage in the range of many NATO members, e.g. Germany, Denmark, Canada, but well below that of the US).

With regard to its relationship with the United States, Spain’s history provides an important basis for future cooperation based upon the convergence of political interests. Like the United States and Great Britain, Spain is no stranger to terrorism. The bombing of a Madrid train station on March 11, 2004 which left 191 dead and over 2,000 wounded was only one of hundreds of violent terrorist attacks to occur in the country within the past four decades. That the Madrid bombing was perpetrated by Islamic radicals inspired by al-Qaeda, however, highlights Spain’s vulnerability to a terrorist threat beyond the now-inactive Basque group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA).

Notably, the current Socialist Zapatero government was elected into office days after the March bombings which were widely interpreted as a reaction against Prime Minister Aznar’s support for President Bush’s invasion of Iraq a year before. In moves that signaled a waning of Atlanticism, Spain withdrew its forces from Iraq 2004 and, five years later, withdrew its Kosovo peacekeeping mission, all to the detriment of US-Spanish relations. But as Zapatero’s mandate comes to a close and he is forced to call national elections within one year, American policymakers looking for broader support from Western Europe should be encouraged by the likely ascension of a new conservative Spanish administration more amenable to American security interests.

In regional elections last month, the governing Socialists suffered their worst defeat ever, losing control of all seventeen autonomous communities, indicating that leader of the ascendant Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, may soon succeed Zapatero as Prime Minister of Spain. Previously, upon the election of Barack Obama, Rajoy had defined the United States as a “society with which we share not only interests, but also essential principles and values,” explaining his party had always wanted the highest possible level of relations with the United States. Though the nature of bilateral relations between the two nations will undoubtedly be tempered by austerity concerns, an even slightly more assertive Spanish defense policy as the result of a transition of power will enhance NATO’s aggregate capabilities and lessen the concerns of those who consider Spain an unreliable ally.

(Spanish Ministry of Defense)

In a side note to the major defense news of past few weeks, the Army has once again decided to change its headgear.  The black beret will now no longer be worn with the Army Combat Uniform (although it will still be standard with the more formal Army Service Uniform).  In its place, the Army will go back to the patrol cap, a sort of flat-topped baseball cap worn with combat fatigues throughout the 1980s and 1990s.   Now, few in Washington defense circles—much less in the greater American population as a whole—spend much time thinking about what soldiers wear on their heads on a daily basis.  And for the most part, nor should they.  And yet, the story of the rise and fall of the beret teaches a more important lesson for Washington policy circles—the fallacy of transformation on the cheap.

There were good reasons to adopt the beret originally and many more to get rid of it.  On the positive half of the ledger, berets, long associated with elite units, can engender pride, build unit morale and, perhaps, even lure new recruits.   On the downside, berets provide little protection from the sun, give no ventilation in the heat, require two hands to put on, and demand more maintenance than the more rugged patrol cap that can be carried in a pocket, not to mention thrown into the wash as needed.  There are service politics reasons too for minimizing the beret’s wear.  Many of the Army’s elite units—Special Forces (aka “the Green Berets”), 82nd Airborne Division and other paratrooper units (the maroon berets) and particularly the Rangers, who had officially adopted the black beret in 1975 before changing to tan during the past decade—were never entirely happy with sharing their iconic headgear with the rest of the Army.  There are even budget reasons to minimize the use of the beret.  According to one estimate, the demise of the beret will save the Army $6.5 million a year,[1] a rounding error in the overall defense budget but every little bit still helps.

On a deeper level, however, the Army’s adoption and later abandonment of the beret tells a more important, if somewhat ironic, story about military transformation.  In November 2000, then Chief of Staff of the Army General Eric Shinseki framed the change in uniform as a response to the perception that the Army was outmoded and facing obsolesce in the post Cold War age.  In fact, Shinseki began the official announcement of the uniform change with, “the Army must change to maintain its relevance for the evolving strategic environment.”[2] And in order to maintain this strategic relevance, the Army as whole needed to become more like the special operations community, modeling their “deployability, versatility, and agility” and above all, “their adaptiveness, which keeps them ready to take on any mission, anytime, anyplace.”[3] And so, the logic went: give all soldiers the beret, the headgear of the special operations community, and they begin to think and act like special operators.  Put more simply, the concept was change the hat, change the force.

In many ways, Shinseki got his wish.  The Army eventually transformed into the force he wanted, although not because of what it wears on its head.  The Army officially adopted the beret on its 226th birthday and the first one of the new millennium, June 14, 2001.[4] Less than three months later, the 9-11 attacks plunged the United States military—and especially the Army—into a type of war it was not prepared to fight, one that required the Army to become more deployable, versatile, agile, and adaptable.  Arguably, the crucibles of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq accomplished what no milliner could ever do—force real transformation on the “big green machine” and  prove that the United States Army was still relevant, and, more debatably, is the key element in modern war-fighting, even though the Red Army no longer threatens to come pouring through the Fulda Gap.  Transformation, however, was a costly endeavor: it took hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of lives and years filled with blood, sweat and tears for the Army to learn how to fight these new wars.  The price of true learning is never cheap.

For most soldiers, the beret is now gone from daily use—speaking for myself at least, not a moment too soon—but ironically enough, the policy debates that prompted its adoption in the first place are back in force today.  As Washington scrambles to make budget cuts, there are renewed calls for military “transformation” as a way of saving money or, to put the matter more bluntly, doing more with less.  And once again, the Army is front and center on the chopping block.  After all, the argument goes: of course, no American president will commit the United States to another ground war in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, so why not “transform” (read cut) the Army into a leaner, more versatile and more agile version of itself and reap the budget windfalls?  And now, like a decade ago, there are calls to transform on the cheap—simply changing hats while cutting budgets and calling it a revolution in military affairs.  And yet, the story of the beret should show the superficiality of such a policy.  We spent the last decade learning what true transformation is and at considerable cost built a force capable of meeting these new threats.  And so, while the Army may be returning to an old hat physically speaking, the cries for transformation on the cheap must not also be old hat.

A former active duty Army officer, Raphael S. Cohen is currently a Ph.D. student at Georgetown University, studying International Relations.

(flickr/Beverly & Pack)

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/06/13/army.beret/index.html?hpt=hp_bn1

[2] See “CSA SENDS – THE ARMY BLACK BERET” 030011Z NOV 00 http://www.army.mil/features/beret/beret.htm

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.