H.R. McMaster is one of the smartest generals in the army–or any other service–and his thoughts on the future of war are always worth listening to. Let us hope that policy makers take to heart his New York Times op-ed piece, “The Pipe Dream of Easy War,” which points out that the Rumsfeldian illusion that war can be fought successfully with lots of technology and few troops is alive and well, and ironically is being championed by some of the former defense secretary’s most acerbic critics.
“Today,” McMaster notes, “budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations.”
Far from being aberrant, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan highlighted, McMaster argues, that “war is uncertain, precisely because it is political and human” and that “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”
Nor, one might add, can they successfully be waged with ground forces that are being dramatically downsized and denied basic training requirements because of pell-mell budget cutting. The demands of sequestration are fast eroding our ability to deploy ground forces, even more rapidly than they are eroding our ability to employ air and naval power. Policymakers in Washington–and even many members of the Air Force and Navy–seem to think that’s OK, because we will never have to fight another ground war. McMaster reminds us that the “never againers’” faith is at odds with history and contemporary reality.