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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 01/ 9/2011

Cutting troops in wartime?

By Jennifer Rubin

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."

House Armed Services chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) was more emphatic on Friday:

"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."

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 9, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

Jennifer your record is spotless.

Not one person mentioned as a critic in the article Donnelly, Eaglen, Fly, Boot, Rogin, Cantor, McKeon, Kristol, or YOU, have ever served one day in the military.

It keeps the AMAZING conservative record of flawless hypocrisy on the military, intact.

Posted by: 54465446 | January 9, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Quoting 544, "Not one person mentioned as a critic in the article Donnelly, Eaglen, Fly, Boot, Rogin, Cantor, McKeon, Kristol, or YOU, have ever served one day in the military."

If a lack of service means that it is hypocritical to criticize the administration's decisions, I am forced to assume you are deploring Senators Obama and Clinton's criticism.

In addition, I would assume it is a poor idea to have as a commander in chief of the military a complete neophyte?

Posted by: OldeDog | January 9, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Oldedog:

Actually no, it's not about decision making. Of course it would be preferable to have a CINC who had some minimal military background, but that's up to the voters.

What I laugh about is all the conservative warrior pundits like Bill Kristol who will fight to last drop of your blood, and tell you where to di to boot. If Obama was a warhawk I would say the same thing about him.

All the names above are very quick to tell us about what we should or should not cut and how many troops we need and where they should be. I guess you really CAN learn everything you need to know about the military and warfare from reading books and position papers. Who knew?

Posted by: 54465446 | January 9, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Last I checked, Secretary Clinton isn't in charge of the defense budget, but nice try.

So much for Rubin being a deficit hawk- she's just a chickenhawk through and through. Why should defense spending be sacrosanct? Look at all the waste and fraud in defense/security contracts- lets start there.

If you are/were so worried about the troops Jennifer, then why did you champion an unnecessary war in Iraq which siphoned off needed troops, funds and supplies from our men and women sent to fight in Afghanistan?

And by all means, keep pretending the wars play no role in our ever-expanding deficit. No, go after health care and social security instead, because they are the REAL problem, right?

I have an idea- since neocons like Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin and Bill Kristol are so worried about troop numbers, lets have a draft, you know, so that ALL of our kids, nephews, nieces, siblings, etc. can fight in the wars that THEY champion because they know they will never have to sacrifice one bit. How patriotic of you to champion policies which lead to other people's kids being sent off to die while you sit here at your lofty perch as the WaPo's resident neocon windbag. Shameful. Of course, all of the above neocons also support just so happen to support military action against Iran. Of COURSE they do. It's so easy to support far off wars, no matter how disastrous, when it won't impact your life one bit.

Remember the days, way back when, when our leaders actually called upon us ALL to sacrifice in one way or another when it came to war? Those days are long gone, replaced by modern leaders calling on us to go shopping (GWB) and over-relying on private mercenary forces like Blackwater/Xe because they know if they asked more of us to sacrifice, we wouldn't support unnecessary wars.

Posted by: Stacyx | January 9, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

544 wrote, "Actually no, it's not about decision making."

Who said it was?

Criticizing people who make statements re military affairs without themselves having military service does not make sense. To make military service a prerequisite to a discussion of military affairs is an argument lacking in nuance.

You do not have to have served in the police force to recommend more patrol cars, nor do you have to have been a teacher or education professional to have a valid opinion re school affairs. You do not have to have been a chef to know if a dish is insufficiently tasty, or might require more salt.

Posted by: OldeDog | January 9, 2011 9:51 PM | Report abuse

I have served in two armies, the American Viet Nam army and the Israeli army and I can assure those of you advocating reducing any armed forces in wartime is just plain stupid and will only encourage further and more active aggression by your enemies.
This may come as a surprise to the so called doves demanding a reduction in American military forces, but your enemies are fully up to date and entirely cognizant of how this weakens American certainly militarily. Also but even more importantly America's enemies also know that this reduction will also deeply weaken America's ability to project her diplomatic and political power.
Of course for Left having no military whatsoever usually means being strong and moral, kind of like those unversities which ban ROTC, while most sane people realize that without a strong military, America is just begging for an attack.

Posted by: kenhe | January 10, 2011 3:35 AM | Report abuse

“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.”

Ahem, WWI was a long time ago Jennifer. In this day and age of state of the art anti ship missiles, long range missiles and UAV’s, aircraft battle groups are an anachronism.

The "Age of American Air Power" of the 1990s crashed with the 2009 termination of the F-22 Raptor.”

Apparently Jennifer didn’t get the memo about the F-22 being a lemon. Israel doesn’t even want them.

“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.”

Prepare for what Jennifer? More of the armed conflicts you and your neocon lunatic colleague are fantasising about?

"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."

It’s not global responsibility, it’s simply hegemony and empire. And I would be interested to hear Gates cite an example of how cutting military spending has hurt us in the past?

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | January 10, 2011 5:05 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: kenhe | January 10, 2011 3:35 AM

“I have served in two armies, the American Viet Nam army and the Israeli army and I can assure those of you advocating reducing any armed forces in wartime is just plain stupid and will only encourage further and more active aggression by your enemies.”

How so? The Bush Administration was proclaiming success in Afghanistan when we had a fraction of the troops we have today.

“This may come as a surprise to the so called doves demanding a reduction in American military forces, but your enemies are fully up to date and entirely cognizant of how this weakens American certainly militarily.”

Pure hysteria and hyperbole. For that to have any basis in reality, those enemies (if they are indeed any threat) would need to have a military budget somewhere in the ballpark of our own. As it turns out, known are even in the same order of magnitude.

“ Also but even more importantly America's enemies also know that this reduction will also deeply weaken America's ability to project her diplomatic and political power.”

No, that was already demonstrated when we invaded Iraq (based on lies) and then had our military bogged down in a conflict with an enemy brandishing WWII eara weaponry.

“ America is just begging for an attack.”

You mean like the 911 attack, which was motivated by the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and our undying military support for Iraq? Apparently you weer asleep when General Crystal stated that we have killed an unimaginable number of innocent people in Afghanistan and that for ever 1 person we kill, we create 10 new enemies.

What exactly were you doing in Viet Nam and Israel anyway?

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | January 10, 2011 5:12 AM | Report abuse

In Viet Nam I and a lot of very brave and very moral American men and women were fighting to prevent the Communist North Viet Namese from imposing their murderous regime on the South. We failed and millions of innocent Viet Namese, and Cambodians, were massacred out of hand by the Communist despots which took over.
In Israel again I and a lot of very brave and moral Jewish men and women are trying to both protect and preserve the democratic and holy State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish People.
This is because practically every other country in the world, apart from America, has made it murderously clear like WWII Europe and the present day Arab and Islamic states that Jews are to be slaughtered out of hand, or like many other states like Venezuela, where Jews are simply hated and unwanted.

Posted by: kenhe | January 10, 2011 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: kenhe | January 10, 2011 7:45 AM

"In Viet Nam I and a lot of very brave and very moral American men and women were fighting to prevent the Communist North Viet Namese from imposing their murderous regime on the South."

Really? When did the South become communist?

"We failed and millions of innocent Viet Namese, and Cambodians, were massacred out of hand by the Communist despots which took over."

And half a million Cambodians were massacred by US secret bombing.

"In Israel again I and a lot of very brave and moral Jewish men and women are trying to both protect and preserve the democratic and holy State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish People."

Which war was that? You'll have to forgive me, but Israel started most wars between 1948 and the present day, so perhaps you are referring to the one Israel did not start in 1973.

Posted by: AndreDeAngelis | January 10, 2011 5:34 PM | Report abuse

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