Washington - Proposing what it called the first substantive reforms to the National Guard and Reserve in more than 50 years, a panel wants to refashion America's "weekend warriors" into an operational partner with the active-duty military.
That way, the reserve could be quickly mobilized to respond to a terrorist attack or natural disaster on the scale of a hurricane Katrina, says the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, which released its 368-page report Thursday.
"We don't have the capacity remaining to deal with these homeland defense threats in an adequate way," says Marine Gen. Arnold Punaro (ret.), who headed the panel. "We have put our lives, our property, and our economy at greater risk because of that."
Here's a thought: scale down U.S. military presence overseas and begin to focus our military's attention on homeland defense rather than forward projection of military force.
Forward projection of military force is one of the keystones of current military philosophy. In Air Force doctrine, it's referred to as "Global Attack". It means what it sounds like: the ability of the U.S. military to strike any target, any time, any place. While that sounds really cool (or frightening, if you're not an American), it currently costs us $439 billion a year. This does not include the actual application of "Global Attack" in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- this is just to maintain the capability.
I have a few proposals which would radically alter the face of the U.S. military, and thus the face of U.S. militarism:
1) Cut the permanent active duty military to a fraction of its current size.
This will elicit a visceral response in people, and largely be treated as unthinkable. It is not. Right now, many functions are filled on U.S. military bases which could be better filled by civilians. The military is already in the process of making many of those same transitions, but they're going about it the wrong way. Rather than hiring contractors (who, by their very nature, are looking for a quick profit and sometimes tend to cut corners), positions should be filled by civil servants. These would be government employees doing government work accountable to the government, but continuity would be greatly enhanced by taking on civilians who would remain in place on a permanent basis rather than moving around every couple of years the way military personnel do.
The current idea is to turn the military into a strictly expeditionary role: we would bed down into a war zone and build a base up. While at home duty station, we would spend all of our time training to perform that task. But to have people training to perform war-time tasks on a full time basis only makes sense if the U.S. is going to be perpetually at war for generations to come. That's no kind of way to run a country, least of all a democracy.
No, I propose transitioning the maintenance of U.S. military bases to civil servant employees and giving the "expeditionary" role to the Reserves. The Reserves can train to perform these tasks at their monthly drill and practice them in full during their two weeks a year. If mobilized, they can carry out the missions they are assigned every bit as capably as their current active duty counterparts, provided they receive proper training. Current U.S. military bases should be used for that purpose: training our Guard and Reserves to carry out their tasks on an "as needed" basis.
An active duty Navy will be necessary to secure shipping lanes across the seas against pirates or Navies of predatory nations, and an active duty Air Force will be necessary to secure our nation and our allies against aerial attack from aggressive nations. In the event of a war, active duty Marines will be capable of handling the first wave of a major ground assault while our reserve units are activated, as well as most minor skirmishes we might find ourselves engaged in. However, bomber wings should be under the jurisdiction of the Reserves, as they would only be utilized in the event of a war, as should all Army infantry units.
The temptation to always use the military to solve every little foreign policy dispute has proven to be too great for our leaders to resist. We need to take their toys away and go back to treating war as something done in an emergency, not as a natural matter of course.
2) Permanently dedicate the National Guard to homeland defense. If additional personnel are needed for the purposes of an overseas engagement, do the honorable thing and institute a draft.
Overseas engagements should not leave us vulnerable at home the way the war in Iraq has done. National Guardsmen should be defending their own communities during disaster recovery efforts, not Blackwater, USA.
3) Mandatory service of one year for all who are physically capable. Conscientious objectors may be allowed to focus on disaster recovery and humanitarian missions in the Guard, but all who can serve will serve. Eliminate "lifestyle" restrictions for service. All Americans will own a piece of their nation's future.
4) Expand Selective Service to include women. Women serve in the military now, and have shown themselves to be perfectly capable of doing the job. In the event of the kind of crisis which would precipitate the institution of a draft, it makes no sense to limit the selection pool to less than half of the population.
5) Massive mobilization of the Reserves should require a Congressional declaration of war, and they should be demobilized when the war is complete. Rebuilding efforts should be under the jurisdiction of the State Department, not Defense.
6) The U.S. should never take part in running another country. Upon defeating an enemy nation, the peace treaty should include a provision for national elections to be held within six weeks, thus returning sovereignty of that nation back to the people of that nation. That it took years to do this in Iraq is a blight upon our honor.
7) Scale down our overseas military presence almost entirely, only maintaining troops on a rotational basis at NATO allied bases. This would take a while due to diplomatic considerations, but we must begin to move away from our current status of hunkering down and permanently staying whenever we set foot in another country. A big diplomatic step in the right direction would be to partner with China to work toward re-unification of Korea. Sign a treaty with a mutual pledge of non-intervention in Korean affairs, and let "Sparta" (North Korea) and "Athens" (South Korea) come together and stand on their own two feet.
These are just a few of the ideas I've come up with, but another issue which arises from our permanent standing armies is cultural. The active duty military is, by its very nature, authoritarian. The media in our country has fetishized that authoritarian culture, placing the easy comforts of conformity ahead of more natural diversity of thought. It is not the selflessness of common people rising to serve a purpose greater than themselves which they honor; that is demonstrated by their dismissive treatment of veterans upon their return to civilian life. No, it is the authoritarian, seen and not heard, cookie-cutter mold "troops" whom they "support". As long as we salute smartly, shoot straight, and keep our mouths shut, we will continue to have that support. This is no way for members of a democracy to think, and it's something we ought to begin to discourage.