One simple question: What kind of military do we want? Before you give a blithe answer, think about what kind of enemy we're going to fight. Are we going to be fighting insurgent enemies or large states? Does our military have the ability or even right to enter the political theater? Does our Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps need to change, and if so in what direction? Are we going to keep getting the best equipment, which will keep getting more and more expensive, or are we going to keep using the same stuff we have? How will our troops be trained, and what methodology will they be trained in?
Think back to the Surge. Do you remember when the New York Times reported on General Petraus' decision to pay former Sunni insurgents to guard roads? The Sons of Iraq, was clever, and a perfect example of COIN (Counter Insurgency) methodology in practice. It was also a political decision, that no civilian authorized. Think about that for one second. We're all happy it worked, and some were so happy they wanted him to run for president (I don't think he will, but he'd be a shoe in if he ever did), but think about that giant invisible line between making policy and enforcing it. Making policy is something a military does not do, unless it has plans on running the country. Was the action right or wrong? Remember no civilian approved or even knew about it until it hit the news.
Service members know that politicians can and more importantly will intervene in the working of their lives, their missions etc. The President has the authority to reach down to the lowest private and give direct orders regardless of the sensibility it might make, the Private is legally, ethically, and duty bound to follow those order as long as they are legal. The military can advise, can offer options, but it can not dictate. On the whole the military is given free reign to accomplish the general outline of the missions given, but even Petraus himself acknowledges that a textbook COIN operation is just as much about a political victory as it is a military one, so the question arises, how much latitude, politically speaking will the military have?
We also have to face the question of what enemy do we see ourselves fighting? Here's another question for you, the Carrier Battle Group, awesome tool of destruction, great big chess piece on the open ocean. . . Who else has one? The answer is really no one. On one has a Carrier Battle Group as we understand it. They have frigates, destroyers, cruisers submarines and even light carriers, but nothing even comes close to the sheer jaw dropping power of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier. We have 11 Carrier Battle Groups. They're not cheap. They're not easy to maintain, and they're expensive as hell to own to say nothing of actually using them. So who are we fighting that we can't bomb back into the stone age with one airstrike? We have what is called a Blue Water navy. In the open ocean, no navy in the world can challenge the might of the USN. The littoral regions, or the regions close to shore are another matter. Ultra quiet diesels and land defenses mean the Navy tends not to want to risk a half billion dollar Arleigh Burke class destroyer. If we're going to have to fight our way ashore, this is where the threat will be greatest and where the Navy shudders at the losses it might receive.
The Air Force also has to be defined. It does three main things, Air Mobility Command, Close Air Support, and Strategic Bombing. If you look at the first two, then they work at the behest of the ground combat services. Even air superiority could fall into the close air support role. Strategic Bombing, is still a relatively new concept in the annals of warfare. It really began in WWI with the zeppelin raids on London and Paris. You really saw it take effect in the Blitz of London, in WWII and the retaliation by the allies in 43 onward. The idea is pretty simple. If you bomb everything of use and value you can literally win the war through air power. So here's a question. When has that ever worked? The only example that can be given is Kosovo, and there, we're not entirely sure if it was the bombing or the ground invasion that was spinning up that finally stopped Milosevic. So if the efficacy of strategic bombing is not proven then what does the Air Force do? This is a rather uncomfortable question to ask the AF brass because they fear that they might cease to be a service. The Marines, too fear some questions. What do they do, that the Army can't do with the proper training? To be sure both the Air Force and the Marine Corps are too much a part of our national consciousness to ever really fade into the night.
But there are a lot of really uncomfortable questions, that are not being asked in the halls of congress, and in the White House. No one is clear on what we want, and where we plan on going, and thus we are not clear what will happen in the future. We've been making due with a military that has been adrift since the end of the cold war, and now that the looming sequestration hangs over everyone's heads, we are left with the question: What now? We are still the world's 911. Do we still want that role? If we don't have that role who would? In a global economy, can we afford not to be the ones called when the world goes to hell in a hand basket? Think long and hard about where you want to go before you think about even attempting to answer any of these questions.