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Two War Strategy Dead: Cartwright

One of the fundamental underpinnings of the US military for most of the last 50 years will soon be scrapped, a top Pentagon official said late last week.

The Quadrennial Defense Review will result in deep-sixing the two major theater war strategy, according to Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff.

Cartwright made the statement in a sparsely attended hearing July 9 where his renomination as vice chairman and the nomination of Pacific Command’s new leader was discussed. He was answering a question about the F-22 from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a firm proponent of the plane. Chambliss asked Cartwright “what is the military requirement for the number of F–22s.” He got much more than he may have bargained for.

"The military requirement right now is associated with the strategy that we are laying out in the QDR, and it is a departure from the two major theater war construct that we have adhered to in the past and in which this aircraft grew up. I mean it grew up in that construct of two major theater wars, and both of them being of a peer competitor quality," Cartwright said.

“The strategy that we are moving towards is one that is acknowledging of the fact that we are not in that type of conflict, that the more likely conflicts are going to be the ones that we—similar to the ones that we are in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that we do need to have a capability against a major peer competitor and that we believe that the sizing construct, one, demands that we have fifth generation fighters across all three services rather than just one and that the number of those fighters probably does not need to be sufficient to take on two simultaneous peer competitors, that we don’t see that as the likely. We see that as the extreme," he told Chambliss.

Reactions among the defense cognoscenti varied wildly depending on one's view of the world. A longtime Democrat defense expert, Gordon Adams, praised it, noting there are no peer competitors for the US to saddle up against.

"Cartwright’s statement is consistent with every signal Gates has been sending for the last two years – the days of large, heavy forces are ending. There is not a “peer competitor” around that justifies the classic formations or the numbers of legacy equipment. What’s more, there is not a threat around that justifies the size of the ground force we have, but Cartwright and Gates are not there yet. Two MRCs or MTWs was always a force-stressor, not a strategy. It is not terribly relevant to the modern world of war," said Adams, head of defense at the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration and now a senior fellow at the Stimson Center.

A defense expert with long experience in grand strategy debates -- and a Republican bent -- took a radically different view, declaring this the "end of the US as a global power. If we size our military to deal only with the PRC, we are giving Russia a free ride which insists on seeing the world as a zero sum game in which they win and we lose. We are simply making it easier for Russia to win.

However, this source conceded that "the two war strategy did not have sufficient forces." At best the US could "win-hold-win." The new tack will mean the US will slip to "hold and lose and, maybe, lose and lose."

Robbin Laird, an international defense consultant who served on the National Security Council during the Reagan and Carter administrations, supported the decision to scrap the strategy since it had not been achievable for some time. But Laird raised another question: "How credible is our ability to do one major contingency operation, depending on where it is?" The key to ensuring long range American power projection, he said, would be to ensure allies are made a part of operational planning.

A congressional aide said the professional staff at the hearing were shocked when Cartwright declared the two war strategy dead. "Did he just say that?" was the reaction. This aide said the move was overdue since the US could not field the forces needed for a two war strategy in the first place, but offered a cautious view of the long term, saying it would take some time to ascertain the significance of whatever new approach Gates, Adm. Mullen, Michelle Flournoy and Cartwright settle on.

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