Army not lucky, just desperate to avoid Leviathan supremacy over next decade

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Picking up on Mark’s thread this morning, Galrahn, the eminent blogger at Information Dissemination, likewise sees a fight that’s getting nasty, arguing yesterday that the Army was “lucky” (in that, Will-no-one-rid-me-of-that-meddlesome-flag-officer! way) to see two of its great rivals for the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff falter in recent days. Those two are current Vice Chairman and Marine General James Cartwright (recently cleared of decidedly smear-like charges of sexual misconduct with a subordinate officer) and current EUCOM/NATO Admiral James Stavridis (who we’re now being told didn’t do so well in his interview – something Galrahn finds incredible, as do I).

Now reputable reporters are floating two prominent Army names: just-installed Army chief of staff Martin Dempsey and General Raymond Odierno, who dialed down Iraq and then shut down Joint Forces Command.  WAPO’s Greg Jaffe, noting that Dempsey just took over the Army’s top spot, likewise smells some bureaucratic rough-housing.

Here’s what I hearing from my contacts in the Pentagon: the Army is not lucky but truly desperate to make sure that one of their own stands between them and a big revival of the Leviathan’s fortunes over the next decade. The big-war crowd (Navy, Air Force) expects to recover significantly after the “war on terror” decade in which Army saw its budget share rise from just over one-quarter to more like one-third – or the old budget share of the Navy-Marine team that has shrunk as a result (more on the Navy side). Looking forward, no one envisions major US involvement in another ground war over this decade, so if the Chairman hails from the Leviathan “blue,” the Army logically fears that he’ll protect big-war equities in the overall budget crunch to come while stripping out the small-wars capabilities/assets that the Army has spent so much blood and treasure and time accumulating.

This would be the second coming of the great disaster that was the post-Vietnam syndrome within the Pentagon, or the relegation of small wars to “lesser includeds.” Given the larger strategic landscape of globalization’s rapid advance into developing regions (state-splitting, revolutions and civil strife galore), that would be strategically irresponsible.  Toss in Mark’s point about the Army being shut out of the spot since 2001, and I think that’s a fairly compelling case.

Personally, I spot another danger in that dynamic. Put a Leviathan-sponsor in the post and you’ll have a bull market on demonizing the Chinese as a way to fight budget cuts. Regardless of who gets picked, you’re going to have that dynamic shamelessly peddled on behalf of corporate sponsors by the same people who smeared Cartwright, but if you’ve got an Army guy, then it shouldn’t get out of hand.

Clearly, the Army has gotten to Gates, that long-time champion of creating a space for the small-wars – or what I call the System Administrator – force. They’ve convinced him that his legacy will be put at risk without the right Army man taking over from Admiral Mullen. Personally, I think Stavridis, former – and highly innovative – commander of Southern Command, is more than open to preserving the small-wars/SysAdmin/counterinsurgency space that Gates has carefully carved out. But the Army naturally wants one of their own. Cartwright is simply considered too captured by the political side of the equation (White House).

General David Petraeus obviously would have been the man, but the Obama administration wanted to sideline him from the running for political reasons (2012 dreams of some Republicans) and he himself was looking for a quiet spot to continue medical treatments regarding that prostate cancer that struck a while back. That dynamic dovetailed nicely with the SECDEF offer dropping down to Leon Panetta (after being offered to Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Jack Reed, John Hamre and Richard Danzig – all no-go’s for a variety of reasons).

So with their big champion lost, Army has to turn to its best available – Dempsey and Odierno. To me, the fact that Cartwright is out of the running and Stavridis is being subjected to the usual drill on some past – and minor – procedural transgression suggests that Gates has intervened on Army’s behalf – and his own substantial legacy – to make sure Army’s small-wars equities are to be preserved in the vicious budget battles to come.

And I think that’s a good and wise move on his part.