Jets or GIs? How Best to Address the Military's Manpower Shortage

The Army You Have

In December 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked by a soldier why U.S. troops in Iraq were not properly equipped for their mission. Rumsfeld responded that "you have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you want." Rather than resolve anything, however, the secretary's explanation only begged two further and fundamental questions about the U.S. armed forces: What kind of military does the country really want? And if it does not have it, how can it get it?

In "The U.S. Military's Manpower Crisis" (July/August 2006), Frederick Kagan provides a persuasive answer to the first question but not to the second. He advocates that the U.S. military change its priorities, elevating the importance of manpower -- but he does not push for any corresponding reprioritization of the budget.

The strategic shift that Kagan advocates -- from more technology to more troops -- is too important to be left on the drawing board. Turning strategy into reality requires making tough decisions about what the military most needs and what it can do without. The Bush administration has made such a decision: faced with a choice between adding additional troops and buying the new F-22 Raptor fighter plane, it has consistently selected the F-22.

Kagan, in contrast, does not set priorities. Although he insists that "the soldiers are a better investment" than the fighter, in the end he chooses both. Given today's budgetary constraints, however, this refusal to prioritize is a recipe for making a bad status quo even worse. By choosing both, Kagan, in fact, chooses the plane.

UNMANNED

The U.S. military suffers from a glaring manpower deficiency. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated that in operations such as counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, stabilization, and peacekeeping, even the United States' impressive technology cannot substitute for soldiers. As Kagan observes, only soldiers possess the requisite combination of brainpower and weaponry to "mix with an enemy's population, identify the combatants intermingled with that population, and accomplish the critical tasks of governance and reorganization that are so essential in persuading an enemy government to surrender."

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