McCain: Stuck in the Twentieth Century


How Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld keeps from tearing his hair out, I'll never know.  He has to put up with regular confrontational testimony sessions with Congress, constant criticisms from retired flag officers, and, most recently, a group of senators proposing their own long—term stationing plan for US forces overseas.

Reuters reports that during a bi—partisan Senate delegation visit to Afghanistan, Senator John McCain declared that the US needs to establish permanent joint bases in the country to provide a long—term support arrangement with Afghanistan.  Senator Hillary Clinton was also among the group that was touring the country to gauge political and economic progress since the US—led coalition overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

McCain stated the need for a long—term strategic partnership, and that this relationship is,

"not only for the good of the Afghan people, but also for the good of the American people, because of the long—term security interests we have in the region."  Asked about specific support, he replied: "We mean by that economic assistance, technical assistance, military partnership, including —— and this is a personal view —— joint military permanent bases." [emphasis mine]

Senator McCain may not have been aware of DoD's transformation initiatives in basing of US troops, but his idea is exactly the opposite of our 21st century concepts.  Ever since the US started to deploy forces to Central Asia for the War on Terror, large, Hometown, USA—type bases were already deemed obsolete and not logistically sustainable.  Instead, short—term 'lily pad' bases  were set up to provide the required combat capability with the flexibility to establish an appropriate amount of life support given the operational situation.  The concept less focused on specific troop deployments than on extending broad military capabilities, US defense officials say. Especially vital is the "forward basing" of air and sea power able to skirt national boundaries and political sensitivities as well as the prepositioning of large, off—shore stocks of tanks, armored vehicles, weapons, and other military equipment that incoming troops can readily draw upon.

Therefore, McCain's goal of large permanent bases is problematic, especially in a place like Afghanistan.  Operationally, CENTCOM has always wanted to maintain a small footprint in the country.  If Senator McCain gets his way, we'll find our military presence used as a vehicle to spread US taxpayer dollars to the Afghan economy without any tactical reason to do so.  After all, as these bases become more entrenched, we'll need more locals to work on—base, our troops will need more time off because of extended tours in the region, the camp follower pool will increase, and, of course, new family member amenities will eventually have to be constructed.

We've just cut the umbilical cord with Germany after 60 years of the same type of base development.  The last thing the US military needs is another decades—long, expensive infrastructure program that logistically ties down our forces and limits our strategic mobility and vision .  Sadly, it appears that the most difficult challenge to the transformation of our military lies in our own Congress.

Doug Hanson  2 27 05