May 26, 2009

Lunch with Casey

I made only my second trip to the Pentagon today to have lunch with General George Casey and about seven other defense policy wonks and a few journalists. I was probably the youngest guy in the room by 10 years, and I'm guessing the mean age was around 58. But true to form, that didn't stop me from asking my usual array of pesky questions.

The entire lunch was on the record, so I will write down what I wrote in my notes. A lot of the discussion had to do with force structure and the QDR -- as one would expect, given that Gen. Casey's role these days is running the U.S. Army as an institution. So my notes are not all-inclusive because I did not write down every question and answer. And apologies in advance to Gen. Casey's PAO team -- if I wrote something down incorrectly, write in and correct me.

Gen. Casey said his single biggest concern was the long-term health of the commissioned officer and non-commissioned officer corps.

He said his mission was four-fold:

  1. Sustain soldiers and their families.
  2. Prepare them for combat.
  3. Reset the force upon return.
  4. Transform the force.

He said the Army's challenge is also four-fold:

  1. Win the wars we're in.
  2. Train and support other nations and their militaries.
  3. Embrace the full spectrum of combat.
  4. Deter and defeat hybrid threats.

Gen. Casey said he is trying to move the U.S. Army toward a rotational force which -- by 2011 -- deploys its active duty units for one year and then brings them back for two years of dwell time.

That said, Gen. Casey said repeatedly -- and stressed repeatedly that this was his own estimate and not policy -- that he thought the U.S. Army would be engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least the next decade.

Opening the floor to questions, people smarter than me asked about the budget and the QDR. I was more interested in current operations, so my ears perked up when Ralph Peters asked whether or not counterinsurgency warfare is causing younger officers to "lose their killer instinct." Gen. Casey responded by talking a little bit about how he has seen the pendulum swing from too kinetic to too non-kinetic and then back again but that he does not worry about the younger officers not knowing how to kill. He said he is "not worried about the long-term impact because it is a combat-seasoned force." Not unreasonably, he explained that his generation learned to "fight" at NTC and JRTC. This generation, by contrast, has learned to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I then asked him about Afghanistan. It is obviously difficult to carry out the same tactics in Afghanistan as we did in Iraq. Those urban patrol bases we used in Iraq, for example, do not translate into Dari. So we're left with a strategy that looks a lot like the one Gen. Casey tried to implement in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. Does he look at Afghanistan and have worries about that theater based on his experiences in Iraq?

Gen. Casey responded that the similarities between Iraq and Afghanistan are two-fold:

  1. They need a government that will be broadly representative of the population.
  2. They need credible and effective security forces.

Gen. Casey worries, though, that we do not have nearly enough trainers on the ground in Afghanistan and that the police are falling way behind the Afghan Army in terms of its development. He also noted that he thought Afghanistan had no organization comparable to MNSTC-I. We have, simply, invested more in training Iraqi security forces than we have doing the same in Afghanistan.

I then asked if Gen. Casey was worried that his goal of 2:1 by 2011 might be endangered by events on the ground in Iraq. (What happens if Arab-Kurd relations flare up, I asked?) He said contingencies worried him, so I asked at what phase do U.S. forces in Iraq cease to be a decisive factor? Gen. Casey said he thought the residual force would be between 35,000-50,000 but that he honestly did not know if such a force would continue to be decisive. He said it would be a factor on the ground but did not know if it would be the decisive factor. (Obviously, this is Gen. Odierno's problem more than it is Gen. Casey's. I was just curious to hear his thoughts given his time in Iraq.)

Toward the end, someone asked about DADT and what the soldiers thought about gays in the military. He said it was a "mixed bag" but that all his evidence was anecdotal since the U.S. Army has not formally surveyed soldiers on the issue. I then asked what he thought about the State Department extending benefits toward same-sex partners and whether or not it was only a matter of time before the U.S. military followed suit. Gen. Casey responded that it was clearly the policy of the president to end DADT and that he and the U.S. Army would become engaged when and if the Congress and the president took action. (I don't know, maybe it's just me, but if I were the Chief of Staff, I would probably commission a study and surveys in advance of a request considered to be inevitable -- rather than wait to hear from Congress and then irk the president by taking my time on study and implementation.)

Finally, Gen. Casey talked a little about the strides made by Military Intelligence during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, first of all, that the fusion cells had really had an impact. He then said that in contrast to before the war, commanders now understood how to train and use their S-2s and G-2s. A month in Kosovo, he said, had taught him more about intelligence than all his rotations to the NTC.

And then the lunch ended and we all shook hands with the general. And that's about it. Overall, Gen. Casey was candid and forthright. And the chicken caesar salad was nice as well.