DOD Plays a Card

The Gates Pentagon has been having a tough time showing how a force of only 187 F-22 fighters will support America’s long-standing “two-war” strategy. So—presto!—OSD has solved that and other force planning problems by cutting the strategy itself. In Senate testimony yesterday, USMC Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the JCS, said, “the strategy that we are laying out” will be “a departure from the two-major-theater-war construct .” DOD opines that it can get by with forces sufficient for only one big conventional war. The numbers of fighters we have, the general went on, “probably does not need to be sufficient to take on two nearly simultaneous peer competitors. We don’t see that as the likely; we see that as the extreme.” Ipso facto, 187 will be enough. The DOD position is not universally accepted. In a July editorial, AIR FORCE Magazine Editor in Chief Robert Dudney noted the dangers of abandoning the two-war strategy, which has survived every big defense review since 1993. The big problem to be faced can be phrased as a question: Will a President, armed with a force sufficient for only one war, ever take action, knowing that doing so would leave the US naked to a second aggressor in some other part of the world? This is what in the trade is known as “self-deterrence.” It would be a huge and perhaps fatal blow to the US practice of global engagement. Every President, Defense Secretary, and JCS Chairman since 1990 thought it was too big a risk to take. Congress will be certain to make its own view known. Stay tuned.