An idea more useful in Iowa than Iran

Several presidential candidates have recently suggested the creation of a rapid deployment armed force that would be available to respond to threats faced by our citizens abroad. The purpose of such a force would be to assure that Americans "never again" fall victim to events similar to those we have experienced of late in Iran.

Advocacy of what has been dubbed "America's First Brigade" indicates that the wrong lesson is being drawn from the seizure of our embassy. For instead of deterring danger, this kind of unit could actually expand isolated trouble spots into wider and more disastrous conflicts. In addition, placing emphasis on such a force could serve to detract from the attention we need to be paying to other of our military requirements.

It has often been observed that fools are all too eager to rush in where angels fear to tread. This is wisdom that proponents of the brigade idea would do well to ponder. Iran may be the catalyst for development of a rapid deployment force, but ironically it is the very kind of situation where such a force would be powerless. A quick-reaction strike force is meant to do just that: react quickly. Unfortunately, precipitous action during the embassy takeover might well have been foolish -- or even fatal.

Any elite military unit of this kind is liable to be viewed in an almost mythical perspective. The longer it remains untested by real events the greater its purported invincibility would become. As time progressed, it might prove increasingly tempting for a Commander-in-Chief to use the impressive weapon he believes he has at his disposal. The investment wouldn't even seem to be paying off otherwise. If the myth were shattered in the end, so too would be the unit, its men, and US national interests.

The purpose of "America's First Brigade" is to threaten our foreign foes. Unfortunately, one unintended side effect might very well be to threaten our own American general purpose forces.Consider: Where would the tens of thousands of soldiers come from required to man the brigade? Selecting them from the existing manpower pool would be a short-sighted "beggar thyself" policy. Cannibalizing those units to form such a brigade would further erode the readiness readiness of an armed force whose quality is already causing increasing concern.

Furthermore, any elite force naturally would draw the best foot soldiers, the best officers, and the best equipment. Under these circumstances, a two-tiered US armed force would evolve: America's First Brigade, on the upper tier; and all our other forces, at the bottom.

What we really need are forces of the appropriate size, equipment, and training to handle dangers that can be deterred by the threat of retaliation. We need to add to our airlift, sealift, and amphibious assault support forces. In this manner, we can move existing forces to trouble spots and not have to add new forces on top of an already shaky foundation of American general purpose forces.

All in all, the proposed rapid deployment force raises more good questions than it can provide good answers. The idea will probaly prove more useful in Iowa and its caucuses than it would unleashed against our adversaries. For candidates who promise to balance the budget, it would be difficult to imagine a more extravagants use of tax dollars.

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