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Laying Off the Army in a Dangerous World

Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? To answer that question all you have to do is mention a few places where wars are currently raging: Ukraine, Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Caliphate. You might do a double-take on the last one since it isn’t an internationally recognized country, but in recent months the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has transformed itself into a “caliphate” whose border stretches across the now-outdated border separating Iraq from Syria.

That’s right: a new terrorist state has been established in the heart of the Middle East but it’s not getting the media attention it deserves because there are so many other conflicts going on at the moment. And that’s not even to mention the potential conflicts all around China’s borders where it is pushing aggressively to expand its boundaries.

And what should the policy be of the United States when the world is becoming more dangerous? The tried and true answer is to keep our powder dry and prepare for trouble. But that’s not what we’re doing at the moment. Instead we are in the process of a willy-nilly downsizing of our military capabilities driven by the inability of lawmakers and the White House to turn off the sequestration process which will result, along with other budget cuts, in a roughly 30 percent cut in the size of our military—and an even larger cut in military capability since an increasing share of the budget is devoted to health care, pensions, and other personnel costs.

It is a sign of the times that the army is sending “pink slips” to 1,100 captains, some while they are actually deployed in combat zones. These are men and women who have devoted the last decade of their lives to defending America from the threats we face. Many have deployed multiple times to combat zones. These are front-line leaders; many of them former platoon leaders, now in many cases company commanders.

Now they are headed for unemployment and an uncertain future. The social contract they thought they had—they would deploy in harm’s way, move their families multiple times, accept multiple risks and discomforts, in return for the security of a 20-year career and a safe retirement—has been unilaterally breached. From the front line to the unemployment line: not an edifying spectacle.

The army is arguing it has no choice and in some sense that’s true. Mindless budget cuts are forcing the army to reduce from a wartime peak of 570,000 active duty personnel (itself insufficient to fight two wars at the same time) to a low, if sequestration remains in effect, of perhaps 420,000. The cuts could have been better handled–the army could have waited for captains to get back from deployments to tell them they were being “separated.” But the larger problem is not with the army. It’s with the mindset in Washington that insists on foolish budget cuts that will eviscerate our military capability to deal with an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world.


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