April 17, 2008

Exum on the Gates Speech

Andrew Exum weighs in over on Harvard's Middle East Strategy blog on the speech by Sec. Gates to the Association of American Universities.

Since 9/11, the U.S. and its allies have been involved in two prolonged counter-insurgency campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are low-tech conflicts in which anthropological skills and language training are often more important than high-tech weapons systems.

But as David Ucko pointed out in the most recent Orbis, a quick study of defense spending priorities reveals that large, expensive weapons systems better suited for a future conventional war with China continue to soak up more funds than training and equipment tailored for the counter-insurgency fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. Department of Defense anthropologist Montgomery McFate is fond of pointing out that the amount of money spent by the Pentagon on social science research annually is equal to just two and a half F-22 fighter-interceptors—a weapons system Gates complains has yet to fly a single mission in Iraq or Afghanistan, while soldiers on the ground remain in dire need of better language skills and cultural training to help navigate the population-centric battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.