Cutting troops in wartime?
You may recall that in 2006, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton went after the Bush administration for failing to give the troops what they needed. The topic was body armor:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Bush administration "incompetent" when it came to protecting the troops in combat and called the lack of adequate body armor for soldiers and Marines "unforgivable."
So far in Iraq, more than 2,100 American troops have been killed. Critics like Clinton, D-N.Y., say that many of these deaths are the result of inadequate body armor. A secret Pentagon study of 93 Marines who were killed in Iraq found that 74 died after they were hit by a bullet or shrapnel in the torso or shoulders -- areas unprotected by the armor most are issued. . . .
"It's our duty to protect our men and women in uniform," said Clinton, who is rumored to be considering a run for the White House in 2008. "They are protecting us, our interest. They have been sent there by our president. The very least we can do is give them the very best body armor and armored vehicle."
You might also recall that then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 decried the strain on our armed forces:
As part of his national service agenda which he revealed in speech given in Colorado Springs, CO, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama called for increasing the military by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines. "In this young century, our military has answered when called, even as that call has come too often. Through their commitment, their capability, and their courage they have done us all proud," Obama said.
"But we need to ease the burden on our troops, while meeting the challenges of the 21st century. That's why I will call on a new generation of Americans to join our military, and complete the effort to increase our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines. A call to service must be backed by a sacred trust with anyone who puts on the uniform of the United States. A young person joining our military must know that we'll only send them into harm's way when we absolutely must," Obama continued.
You may even recall that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was ordered earlier this year to find substantial savings in defense spending, which he did with the understanding those cuts would be plowed back into necessary modernization and improvements for the military.
But forget all that. President Obama is ordering up massive new cuts in defense, a reduction of troop strength (during wartime, which is perhaps a first in the annals of war) and has pulled a fast one Gates. Let's take these in order.
How severe are the cuts? Thomas Donnelly, Mackenzie Eaglen and Jamie Fly argue:
Killing the Army's Future Combat Systems program not only deprived the service of a new generation of ground combat vehicles -- for the fifth time since the end of the Cold War -- but threw a monkey wrench in an innovative plan to "network" the force (which means, roughly, bringing it from the age of the Atari to the age of the iPhone). The shrinking of the Navy to fewer than 280 ships means the smallest fleet since World War I, when it shared the ruling of the world's waves with the British Royal Navy.
The "Age of American Air Power" of the 1990s crashed with the 2009 termination of the F-22 Raptor. The Raptor had been the ultimate don't-even-think-about-it message to potential adversaries; indeed, reports recently surfaced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il hid underground for over a week last year when the U.S. was hosting exercises in the region out of fear of attack from an F-22. And with the fate of the short-take-off version of the F-35 uncertain and the killing of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the Marine Corps's future as a "forcible-entry" amphibious force -- that is, the Marines as they've existed since World War II -- is in serious doubt. In sum, Donald Rumsfeld's idea to "skip a generation" of weapons modernization is being realized.
But the troop reductions, a substantial cut in the Marine and Army forces, are the most egregious. Bill Kristol reminds us that we've been increasing deployments to fight a war Obama has deemed critical to national security: "Just last week, the Obama administration announced an additional 1,400 Marines would be deployed to southern Afghanistan to help secure the progress the surge has achieved there."
It is not as if we don't have experience with rash reductions in troop strength:
We paid a big price for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's obdurate refusal to increase the size of the armed forces after 9/11. Finally, Congress insisted on such an increase, and Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert Gates, agreed--and the surges in forces were possible (though still dependent on tens of thousands of reservists and National Guard troops--the fact is that, if anything, the size of the regular ground forces remains too small). Now we're going back to the future, to a truly undermanned armed forces. What's next? Get rid of the armor on the Humvees? We'll just have to go to war in the future--or try to deter war--with the military the Obama White House has decided we can have?
Max Boot notes that the announced reductions come "on top of an already planned cut of 22,000. That will bring the Army's active duty strength down to 517,000--still larger than it was in 2001 but far smaller than it was in 1991, and not big enough to meet all of the contingencies for which it must prepare. The Marine Corps will lose 15,000 to 20,000 personnel. So our ground combat forces--the most heavily deployed forces since the end of the Cold War--will be deprived of 70,000 troopers or almost 10 percent of their strength."
What would Sens. Clinton and Obama have said about that? And more important, what do we tell the men and women of the armed services and their families? "Sorry, there won't be so many troops, and rotations may have to be extended yet again?" Well, you may counter, these won't be felt until 2015, when we're "out of Afghanistan." But that simply flies in the face of reality. Do we really imagine we'll have no troops required there and no other hot spots that will require a sizeable force? I suppose we'll just have to make do with what we have. You see, Obama budgets are determining our defense forces, rather than framing those forces to meet the threats we face.
And that brings us to Obama's bait and switch. Josh Rogin explains what's going on:
The whole reason that Gates was forced to find $78 billion in new savings over five years was the agreement he struck with the White House on future budgets was cancelled by Jacob Lew, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Back in August, Gates announced he would find $100 billion in savings but would allow the military services to "keep what they catch." This was Gates' way to incentivize the services to find waste and get out ahead of Congressional drives to cut deeper into the defense budget. But when Lew came in, he directed Gates to trim $150 billion from defense spending over the next five years, and would not allow the Defense Department to keep the savings.
"Gates defended to the teeth the budget request that he thought the White House had agreed to," said Gordon Adams, who directed national security spending at OMB during the Clinton administration and now teaches at American University. "Then Jack Lew comes in and asks him to cut $150 billion more."
To his credit, Gates whittled that number down to $78 billion. But consider that the one cabinet official who dutifully finds significant savings is then told, "Oh, never mind. Now you need to find more because other departments have gone hog wild." This is, as one smart defense analyst put it, stealing from defense to pay for massive new domestic spending. That'll show future defense secretaries what they get for being efficient managers.
Gates could not conceal his dismay. He declared at his press conference" "We shrink from our global responsibilities at our peril, as retrenchment brought about by short-sighted cuts could well lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later -- indeed as they always have in the past." Translation: They made me to do this, and I think we shouldn't.
Make no mistake, this is a mandate ordered up by a White House that has spent with abandon on the domestic side and is now minimizing the damage to our fiscal health by savaging defense spending, at the expense of our troops.
Well, maybe it won't occur. Republican House members are pushing back. Last week Majority Leader Eric Cantor said at a press conference that "everything is going to be on the table," but was careful to qualify that "we are going to be about setting priorities. The Republican Majority, as you would expect, is going to be a Majority focused on national security, as far as defense is concerned."
"These cuts are being made without any commitment to restore modest future growth, which is the only way to prevent deep reductions in force structure that will leave our military less capable and less ready to fight. . . .I remain committed to applying more fiscal responsibility and accountability to the Department of Defense, but I will not stand idly by and watch the White House gut defense when Americans are deployed in harm's way."
McKeon added that the meeting was the "first step in a longer process that now involves the U.S. Congress."
Let's hope that McKeon keeps in mind the admonitions of Sens. Obama and Clinton. To do otherwise, in Clinton's words, would be "unforgivable."
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