Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates:
I was also reminded that no country is fully prepared for the next war. Secretary Rumsfeld said you go to war with the army you have. But the Defense Department was unconscionably slow in identifying and providing the equipment to make the Army and Marine Corps into the force we needed in Afghanistan and Iraq. That slowness, that business-as-usual peacetime mentality, cost lives.
Usually we don’t get to choose and almost never accurately predict the kind of war we will fight next. I am always amused when I hear a senior military officer or a politician declare that we will never fight certain kinds of wars again. After Vietnam, our defense “experts” avowed we would never again try to fight an insurgency, yet we have done so in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We are hearing the same claim now. Those who assert we will fight only certain kinds of wars in the future forget history and the reality that our enemies, as I’ve said, always have a vote, as do future presidents. In the forty years since Vietnam, our record in predicting where we will be militarily engaged next, even six months out, is perfect: we have never once gotten it right, not in Grenada, Haiti, Panama, Libya (twice), Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, the Balkans, or Somalia. When it comes to predicting future conflicts, what kind of fights they will be, and what will be needed, we need a lot more humility.
Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of, a point I hope I have made clear. Those who ask about exit strategies or what happens if assumptions prove wrong are rarely welcome at the conference table when the fire-breathers argue we must act militarily—as they did when advocating an invasion of Iraq, intervening in Libya and Syria, or bombing Iranian nuclear sites. The argument against military action is almost never about capabilities but whether it is wise. As Petraeus said earl oon in Iraq, “Tell me how this ends.” Too often the question is not even asked, much less answered.
My time as secretary of defense reinforced my belief that in recent decades, American presidents, confronted with a tough problem abroad, have too often been too quick to reach for a gun—to use military force, despite all the realities I have been describing. They could have done worse than to follow the example of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his presidency, the Soviet Union became a thermonuclear power, China became a nuclear power, and there were calls for preventive nuclear war against both; the Joint Chiefs unanimously recommended that he use nuclear weapons to help the French in Vietnam; there were several crises with China related to Taiwan; a war in the Middle East; a revolution in Cuba; and uprisings in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. And yet after Eisenhower agreed to the armistice in Korea in the summer of 1953, not one American soldier was killed in action during his presidency.