He’s the first to say that scenario is unlikely to happen again.
“There are two ways to fight the Army, asymmetric and stupid,” McMaster told an audience this week at the University of Washington Tacoma.
He meant that the Iraqi army chose “stupid” when it faced U.S. forces head on in 1991. Iraqi insurgents did not repeat the mistake when they challenged the U.S. occupation after Saddam Hussein’s downfall.
McMaster this week asked a gathering of senior Army officers at UWT to think about ways they can train soldiers for future conflicts so they’ll have an imposing advantage in battle.
He said it would come from a combination of lethal firepower and smart leadership on the ground.
McMaster gave keynote remarks over a video link to dozens of senior Army leaders who met to talk about ethics, equipment, training and how the Army can make a case for sustaining large ground forces in a period of post-Iraq War budget cuts.
They shared a sense that they’re battling a public perception that future conflicts can be handled by faraway rockets, outsourced to foreign allies or dispatched by small teams of special operations forces. It’s a philosophical argument that tends to erupt after long ground wars.
“You can have the best special operations folks in the world, and we do. They can get in and get out, but that’s not a strategy, and they will tell you that,” said I Corps Deputy Commander Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The Army is shrinking from its Iraq War peak of 570,000 active-duty soldiers to fewer than 450,000. The cuts are being felt at JBLM, which has lost about one-fifth of its active-duty soldiers since 2011.
“We’re running the Army from month-to-month and we’re not as well-trained as we think we are,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division.
Tuesday’s forum was one in a series of leadership discussions senior Army officers are conducting to plot a new direction after spending more than a decade locked in ground combat. It followed a February gathering at JBLM where junior-ranking officers shared ideas about a proposed Army professional ethic.
This week’s event brought together brigade and division commanders at JBLM, as well as commanders in Alaska, Hawaii and Japan. They’re among the highest-ranking soldiers on the Pacific Rim. Most answer in some way to the I Corps headquarters at JBLM. They were joined by UWT professors and representatives from the RAND Corp.
The commanders are charged with maintaining combat readiness for tens of thousands of soldiers. In blunt remarks intended to trigger reactions from others in the room, Flynn said he noticed some of the Army’s wartime edge diminishing.
“We think we’re better than we are,” Flynn said.