General Warns U.S. of Future Global Conflict

Unnamed photo
Adam D. Sidman

The United States should prepare for a “future of persistent conflict,” General George Casey said at the Institute of Politics yesterday evening, hours after testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Casey, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, was commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq until early 2007, when he was replaced by General David Petraeus. Casey has criticized the recent troop surge in Iraq.

Casey began his speech by highlighting several global trends, including globalization, technology, demographics, and resource competition, that he said have created breeding grounds for terrorists.

“As I look to the future...the trends are going in the wrong direction, and we need to prepare ourselves for a decade or so of protracted confrontation,” Casey said.

The US military, Casey said, should ready itself for both conventional state warfare and urban warfare. He said the 2006 war in Lebanon, in which Hezbollah guerrillas used sophisticated technology, represents the type of war that the US will have to fight in the future.

To prepare for such conflicts, the US military will increase its size by 74,000 over the next three years. The army also desperately needs more “cultural leaders” to help in urban warfare, Casey said.

Even while describing these new challenges, Casey warned that US forces are overstressed.

“I searched hard for a term to describe the state of the army. The term I came up with is that we are ‘out of balance,’” Casey said.

He added that the U.S. military is still the best in the world, but that “we are so consumed by the current mission that we cannot sustain and prepare our forces to do other things.”

Casey, who was humorous at times, impressed some in the audience with his candor. “It was very surprising that he seemed very non-military, civilian easy-going,” said Henry Charrabé, a student at the Kennedy School of Government.

After a 20-minute address, Casey responded to questions from the audience

Addressing a range of issues, Casey said he believes that Iraq can become a country with a Democratic tradition and that the biggest challenge is to establish police and rule of law.

He also said that he believes Iran is attempting to build a nuclear bomb.

While acknowledging that the experience with contractors in Iraq has been a “mixed bag,” Casey said the army could not take on the security services contractors have been providing. Responding to questioning on army misbehavior, Casey said that the army is “a big organization—a million people. You get some bad apples in there occasionally.”

After the forum, some military members of the audience, who asked not to be identified by name, said that too many of the questioners dealt with policy, and criticized the questioners’ failure to understand that Casey is not a policy-maker.