As the fight in Iraq drives fundamental changes to the military, it is also forcing a debate on how far those changes should go.
Mary Knox Merrill
Five years of war in Iraq have emphasized how US forces need to be adept at fighting so-called irregular warfare: One moment, troops are conducting full-combat operations, while the next, they're handing out candy and soccer balls.
But as the fight in Iraq – and in Afghanistan and elsewhere – drives fundamental changes to the military, it is also forcing a debate on how far those changes should go, especially as the Pentagon looks ahead to potential future conflicts.
At the center of this debate is a proposal to create a permanent force of 20,000 new "combat advisors." Such a force would position the Army to better train indigenous forces to take on counterinsurgencies for themselves. The idea behind it is that today's wars are not fought with tanks and bombers so much as with hearts and minds, and many officers believe the Army needs to train a generation of soldiers as "warrior diplomats."
In fact, the reluctance to view Iraq as an insurgency and the institutional inability, initially, to deploy forces to fight an insurgency contributed to the current situation in Iraq, many officers say.
But the question becomes: How many eggs should the military put in this counterinsurgency basket?
Officials in the Bush administration have long argued that success in Iraq and Afghanistan will come when Iraqi security forces or the Afghan national Army or police can take responsibility for their own country's security. The proposal for a permanent adviser corps comes from noted counterinsurgency experts including Lt. Col. John Nagl, who says it bolsters US efforts to train such advisers – not only for current conflicts, but for other insurgencies the United States is very likely to confront.