Michael Edward O’Hanlon

Review by
Asad Ullah Khan

The Author

Michael Edward O’Hanlon (born 1961) is a Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, specializing in defense and foreign policy issues. He began his career as a budget analyst in the defense field. He specializes in national security and defense policy and is senior author of the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan projects. Before joining Brookings, O’Hanlon worked as a national security analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His current research agenda includes military strategy and technology, Northeast Asia, U.S. Central Command, defense budgets, among other defense and security issues. Critics however, have called into question the veracity of O’Hanlon’s claim to have been a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq, arguing that it was a deceitful assertion intended to lend the article increased credibility. According to attorney and columnist Glenn Greenwald, O’Hanlon “was not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon’s strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well”. By late 2002 and early 2003, O’Hanlon appeared in the American media as a public proponent of the Iraq War. Interviewed by Bill O’Reilly in February 2003, he was asked “Any doubt about going to war with Saddam?” To which he replied “Not much doubt”. O’Hanlon signed a letter and a statement on postwar Iraq published by the Project for the New American Century.

The Book

For facilitating the analysis of this book, we can divide it into four key segments.

  1. War in context of Afghanistan and Iraq wars
  2. Size of U.S. ground forces
  3. Overseas base structure and the Allies
  4. Modernizing weaponry

In this defense strategy and budget monograph, Michael O’Hanlon argues that America’s large defense budget cannot be pared realistically in the years ahead. But given the extreme demands of the Iraq mission, particularly on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, he suggests how reductions in various weapons modernization programs and other economies might free up enough funds to add at least 40,000 more ground troops to today’s military. O’Hanlon also addresses the important question of how the United States might encourage and help other countries to share more of the global military burden. Finally, he sketches other cost-cutting measures such as privatization. These cost-saving ideas all require serious consideration because of the enormous strain being placed on the size and cost of U.S. ground forces. The United States can, for the foreseeable future, be confident that its armed forces will remain engaged in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan and other theaters related to the war on terror.

Talking about the U.S military, the writer tries to explain some facts and figures which I think are necessary to mention here. They now number 1.4 million active duty troops, plus about one million reservists, of whom some 150,000 to 200,000 have been activated at any time in recent years. That active duty force is just over half the size of China’s military, and not that much larger than the armed forces of India, Russia, or North Korea. Nevertheless, the American armed forces are extensively engaged around the world―not even counting the large forces now in and around Iraq. The United States has a larger military presence outside its borders than any other country; there were some 400,000 troops deployed abroad as of early-to-mid-2005. Republicans and Democrats generally agree about the broad contours of American military planning and sizing.

While talking about the war in Iran, the writer divided the discussion at different levels in order to make it understandable. For example under the heading of Special raids he discussed those special operation teams that disrupted Iraqi command and control, seized oil infrastructure, prevented dams from being abolished and took hold of airfields in different regions. The writer also presents some convincing opinions on the need for increasing the size of U.S ground forces. According to his approach, more creative or careful diplomacy may be able to elicit greater allied support in Iraq, but that mission and others will place a greater strain on American military forces than they are able to prudently handle at their current size in the coming years. Discussing the modernization of weapons, O’Hanlon explores all types of forces including the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and gave suggestions regarding their improvement while considering the cost effective techniques. One example he highlighted was that the reconditioning of F-16 and Black Hawk helicopters can be a cost effective technique to strengthen the forces.

No doubt Defense Strategy is a very informative book but in my opinion, the book presents a dual nature. Sometimes it is explicitly in favor of its own arguments while simultaneously negating itself at other times. It is a ‘cost-effective’ book, in a sense, covering the subject from various angles and perspectives. The facts and figures and references used are interesting and useful. Overall I would rate this book with an eight out of ten.

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