Buried deep in this Wall Street Journal article on the future of the U.S. Army is this dismaying revelation: “Defense officials said the Army must shrink by an additional 100,000 soldiers if the across-the-board cuts remain, bringing the service to 390,000.”
Let’s put that figure into perspective. The army shrank by roughly a third after the end of the Cold War–from 730,000 active-duty personnel in 1990 to 491,000 in 1996. That was grossly inadequate to deal with the challenges of the post-9/11 world (or arguably the pre-9/11 world either), and so over the past decade the army slowly grew, reaching a peak strength of 557,000 in early 2012. A year later the army is down to 541,000 and shrinking fast.
Pentagon bloat frustrates both Congress and ordinary taxpayers. Many on the left perceive of the Pentagon as a cash cow whose budget they can divert in order to fund ever more expensive entitlement programs. That strategy may delay a final reckoning about systemic economic issues, but it comes at a significant national security price.
Because of high seas and stormy weather, I had a bit of a Gilligan’s Island experience and was stranded for three days last week on a ship to which I was to lecture for only around four hours. Over subsequent days, I got to spend a good amount of time with the commanding officer, the executive officer, officers, and crew. While that ship appeared to be in better condition than most, there were problems with its electronics and computers. Indeed, stepping onto almost any U.S. ship is to step back in time when it comes to computers. Most computers are old and decrepit. If sailors and riders are lucky, they will handle at least Windows 98. Internet is spotty at best: It can take over an hour to send an email because of bandwidth issues, and even Google or Wikipedia can be difficult to access. It is one thing to complain about slow Internet access, but the sad fact is that slow computing is the symptom of a larger problem.
Washington pundits–especially of the conservative stripe–continue to insist, as George Will wrote in a recent column, that all the talk of the disastrous impact of sequestration is “synthetic hysteria.” If only.
Actually, we are already seeing severe consequences for our military readiness even though the full brunt of the cuts has not yet taken effect–many will not be implemented for another month or more. But already the Navy has announced that in addition to canceling the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf (which Will denounced, based on no actual evidence, as part of a “crude, obvious and shameful” campaign by the Navy “to pressure Congress into unraveling the sequester”), it will have to cancel eight other ship movements and ground four air wings.
Like clockwork, every four months or so, one Iranian official or another will threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Pentagon assumes that Iran would seek to carry out its threats with mines, and so has deployed extra mine-sweepers to the region. Certainly, the Iranian navy would not be a match for the U.S. Navy. Anti-ship missiles are another concern, but it is a safe bet that not only the Defense Intelligence Agency, but also the militaries and intelligence agencies of most regional states, keep an eye on Iranian mobile missile launchers.
The latest news from Iran—if true—should raise new concerns and could undercut U.S. strategy for keeping the waterway open.
A lot of conservatives seem to be taking the reflexive attitude that if President Obama is warning that sequestration will be disastrous, then it must a good thing. Witness this National Review symposium, wherein various contributors bemoan “the hysteria of President Obama, liberals in Congress, and the media over very small cuts in federal spending” and argue “let’s do it” because “sequestration is the only chance we have had, and probably ever will have, to cut any federal programs under President Obama.”
Time for a reality check. It’s not just President Obama who is warning of the dire consequences of sequestration. So are our foremost admirals and generals, men and women who have devoted their entire lives to the nation’s defense and can hardly be accused of being liberal Democrats–most are in fact conservative Republicans. The Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to testify to Congress about the terrible impact of sequestration and as more and more details emerge, their case becomes even stronger.
General Ray Odierno, the army chief of staff, has provided further details of what sequestration could mean for the army–and why it would be so devastating. Already the army is due to decline in size, because of existing budget cuts, from 570,000 active duty personnel today to 490,000 in a few years’ time. If sequestration occurs, Odierno says a total of 200,000 troops could be laid off—35% of the current force. That would result in the smallest army since the dark days of 1940 when, not coincidentally, German, Italian, and Japanese militarists were overrunning the globe.
Supporters of sequestration reply that it’s only fair the military absorb some cuts because of our fiscal crisis. But the military has already absorbed more than its share–unlike domestic programs. As Odierno reminded an audience at the Brookings Institution, in 2010 Secretary of Defense Bob Gates cancelled various procurement programs worth $300 billion, then in 2011 Congress enacted another $487 billion in cuts over 10 years. Thus the sequestration cuts, amounting to $500 billion, come on top of almost $800 billion in existing cuts. The drying up of funds for the war effort in Afghanistan will result in another major hit to the budget; that funding was used to pay for needed training and equipment refitting that will now have to be paid out of the regular defense budget.
The Marine Corps has already spelled out the likely consequences of sequestration. So has the Navy, which has already cancelled an aircraft carrier deployment to the Persian Gulf. Now comes the Army. It has just released a memo laying out the impact of $18 billion in cuts it is expected to endure if sequestration occurs next month.
The Army will do everything it needs to do to make sure that units rotating to Afghanistan and South Korea are fully prepared for combat. But to do that it will have to stint on training and readiness for the rest of the force. The memo says that the effect of this “shortfall” will be “devastating to training and readiness in FY13 and affects FY14 and beyond.”
Sequestration is already hitting. It’s no longer about trimming the fat, but rather about undercutting U.S. national security. I was supposed to head off on the USS Harry S. Truman tomorrow as it began its deployment toward the Persian Gulf. I just received the call now not to bother. From the press down at Hampton Roads, Virginia:
U.S. officials say that budget strains will force the Pentagon to cut its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area from two carriers to one. As a result, the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman won’t deploy from Norfolk on Friday as planned.
Reading this Politico article this morning has really depressed me: “House GOP thinks unthinkable on defense cuts.” It reports: “A new breed of conservatives in the House cares so much about cutting spending they’re willing to extend that to the budget for bullets and bombs, too — in this case, by letting $500 billion in across-the-board automatic budget cuts over 10 years take effect, alongside a similar number for domestic agencies.”
This is crazy on many levels. Start with the policy implications: The Pentagon can’t afford another $500 billion of cuts on top of the $500 billion or so that has already been cut–not at a time when the armed forces must grapple with new missions such as dealing with the spread of al-Qaeda in Africa and an upsurge in cyber attacks.
Sequestration–the process of automatically cutting more than $500 billion from defense spending over the next decade–was momentarily delayed by a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House reached just before it was due to take effect on January 2. But the delay isn’t long–unless a new deal is reached, sequestration will hit on March 2. And odds are no deal will be reached. As Paul Ryan noted on TV this weekend, sequestration is likely to go into effect. This is because the price that the White House is demanding to prevent it–which would include further cuts in defense spending along with tax hikes–is too high for Republicans to stomach.
We don’t know exactly how this process is going to play out, but the Navy has released an instructive memo detailing the very real damage that sequestration will do to our defense capabilities. As summarized by Defense News, the consequences of sequestration include:
COMMENTARY readers may be interested in my new book, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present,” which has just come out in both hardcover and e-book editions.
I am honored and delighted to see that it is getting strong notices. Walter Isaacson calls “it a wonderful and readable historic narrative filled with colorful characters.” General Jack Keane calls it “the most definitive and comprehensive work to date on the dominant form of warfare of our times.” And from The Daily Beast: “The word ‘magisterial’ is bandied about far too freely these days, but in the case of Max Boot’s sweeping and deeply researched history of guerrilla warfare, it proves fair.”
Here’s an interview with Time Magazine that I did about the book and here is a radio interview with NPR’s Morning Edition. More information (including a calendar of my scheduled book talks in Washington, New York, and elsewhere) is available at my website: www.maxboot.net. I hope you’ll check it out.
The Senate’s early-morning budget deal kicks the can down the road–not very far down the road–for about two months. For those of us who focus on defense policy, the good news is that the Senate at least agreed to address the looming sequester, something that looked unlikely as recently as a few days ago.
According to this report in the Washington Post, “The last last piece of the puzzle to fall into place was the sequester, which would be delayed until early March under an agreement to raise $12 billion in new tax revenue and $12 billion in fresh savings from the Pentagon and domestic programs.” Presumably that means that the cost of turning off the sequester for two months is about $6 billion in extra defense cuts. That’s much better than $50 billion in cuts, which would have hit if sequestration had occurred, but given how much the Defense Department has been cut already (remember that the budget deal of 2011 slashes some $500 billion over 10 years), while entitlement spending (the main driver of our debt) has not been cut at all, there is scant justification for cuts of any size. At least on the merits.
The newspapers are full of articles about negotiations over tax hikes and spending cuts as Congress and the White House face the impending “fiscal cliff.” There is much less said about another consequence of our mindless budgeting: the very real possibility that our armed forces will face devastating cuts on January 2. That is less than a month away but, given how little attention sequestration is receiving, it feels as if we’re sleepwalking toward disaster.
This, in spite of the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that sequestration will have dreadful consequences for our military readiness, requiring an across-the-board cut of roughly 10 percent in all spending, no matter how important. That will amount to $500 billion over the next decade–on top of the nearly $500 billion already enacted in 2011. Even those such as retired Admiral Mike Mullen and retired Senator John Warner, who think that it’s OK to cut the military budget judiciously, oppose the sequestration approach. As Warner said at an event in Washington: “You cannot take a sledgehammer [to the Pentagon budget]… We can and should reduce it. But it has to be done carefully. … You cannot break defense and hope to glue it back together the next day.”
Winston Churchill was said to have remarked: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” The same might be said of the Pentagon, which has finally, after a long delay, done the right thing with regard to letting immigrants sign up for the armed forces even if they lack green cards.
This program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was a big success during the one year it was in existence, from 2009 to 2010. As the New York Times notes, in the first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had master’s degrees or higher and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of a total of 99) on an entrance exam. Fully one-third went into the Special Forces, which is not easy to get into. And among those initial enlistees was Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant who was just named the Army’s Soldier of the Year.
Are you safer now than you were four years ago? That’s the most important question that needs to be answered in Monday night’s foreign policy debate. Unfortunately for President Obama, there’s ample evidence that the answer is no. His administration killed Osama bin Laden, but the war on terror is still very much alive. And while the Benghazi attack has been getting most of the attention lately, it’s just the latest symptom of a much more systematic national security problem for this administration.
Here are some questions that are indirectly related to Benghazi that would be interesting to raise at Monday’s debate. And since it’s never a good idea to ask a question at a debate that you don’t know the answer to, the answers to all of these are already known:
President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.
The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.
While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.
The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.
During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.
While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”
When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:
The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….
Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.
Every now and then, the Iranian regime threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or some al-Qaeda activist comes close to bombing a major oil facility, and pundits spring up and point out the cost of American reliance on foreign oil, only to be forgotten when the news cycle moves on. The fact that American politicians focus so little on energy security is nothing short of policy malpractice. The Chinese have made energy security their primary strategic ambition and have reaped the benefits. The issue for the United States is not simply jobs—although creating productive, private sector jobs should be the goal of any government—but rather national and economic security.
Enter “Securing America’s Future Energy” (SAFE). Co-chaired by General P.X. Kelley, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, the organization has assembled a marquee list of top military brass and CEOs, who together make the case that energy security is not only an economic issue, but a national security matter as well. Together, the business and military experts discuss energy issues with greater fluency and depth than politicians of both parties. This is reflected in SAFE’s new report, “The New American Oil Boom,” released yesterday. Because of government regulation, the oil boom may not be as pronounced as it might be but, even so, the United States last year became a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949.