Despite the fact that we are still fighting two wars, even many Republicans (especially some of the new Tea Party members) in Congress seem ready to contemplate serious cuts to the defense budget. That means the armed services are almost certainly going to have to make do in the future with even fewer resources than they have in the past few years. And that is going to put even more of a burden on our solders, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have already been pressed to the breaking point by the need to have so many of them deployed overseas.
While the media generally approaches this problem from the standpoint of a human-interest story and the terrible problems of service personnel and their families, there is another angle to this dilemma that may have an even worse impact on national security: the deployment of individuals to war zones who have no business being anywhere near the enemy or sensitive information and equipment. That appears to be the case with the infamous Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of thousands of sensitive reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organization.
According to a report in McClatchy newspapers, Manning’s supervisor warned higher-ups that the soldier had demonstrated unstable behavior and ought not to be sent to Iraq, where his job would put him in contact with classified material. While the ensuing screw-up saw a few different officers punt on the question because they thought someone else would address it, it appears that the main factor that lead Manning to be sent to Iraq where he would be in position to create the largest single security breach in American history was that the Army was short of qualified personnel. According to the McClatchy story:
The findings in the Manning investigation likely will renew concerns that commanders once again refused to address signs of a troubled soldier because they needed his skills to deploy a fully staffed unit to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Time magazine’s Swampland blog treats this as yet another example of how people who are potentially disturbed are being sent to war and speculates that it “kind of makes you wonder what other surprises await us, either overseas or when these folks return.”
But, as Swampland puts it, the need “for bodies on the front lines” is not just a matter of mean or stupid military officials exploiting or mistreating poor, downtrodden privates. Rather, it is a question of how the armed services have increasingly become starved for resources and personnel even as we ask them to fight the war on Islamist terror in two countries as well as to perform humanitarian, peacekeeping, and other non-military missions.
The price for budget cuts isn’t just paid in unneeded Army or Air Force bases or superfluous high-tech weapons that cost more than we ever thought they would (though we probably have more than a few of both of those kinds of boondoggles). Defense budget cuts primarily affect the ordinary Army, Navy, and Air Force members who are forced to do more for longer periods with even less help. And it also could sometime mean that unqualified people or those who ought never to be put in harm’s way or near an important document are going to get shuffled into those posts. Bradley Manning’s personnel file isn’t just a scandal that will probably get some middle-level officer cashiered. It’s a standing argument against draconian defense cuts.