The President wants to shrink the U.S. Army back to its size in 1940.
Yes, 1940. The year before America was forced into the Second World War.
But that’s just the starter for this budgetary disaster.
In its new budget proposal for the Department of Defense, the Administration also intends to eliminate the A-10 ground support aircraft — the plane that does so much to support U.S. forces under fire.
Instead, the President has retrenched into that traditional bastion of defense spending — prioritizing the legacy projects of Admirals and Air Force Generals.
The Navy protects its carriers and the Air Force protects its high tech-high cost ascendancy.
Let’s be clear. America needs aircraft carriers, though we could make do with 10. We also need air superiority fighters — though we could make do with a few less. But if the last ten years of war have taught us one thing with certainty, it’s that we can’t make do without a significant ground forces capability.
Neglected of troop levels, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the result was a relentless deployment schedule — think fifteen months in Iraq, a year at home, and then twelve months in Afghanistan.
For some, that routine brought a terrible dividend.
The Obama Administration claims these force levels are no longer necessary. We’re no longer in Iraq and Afghanistan is winding down, they say.
But that understanding is a waltz on the cliff edge.
To be sure, there’s no appetite for another large scale invasion. Indeed, the political equivocation regarding Syria illustrates just how cautious the political establishment has become in this area. And to some degree this hesitancy is welcome. War, after all, is hell. Correspondingly, the employment of military force should always be taken as a last resort.
Yet, whether in the case of Pearl Harbor, or 9/11, or in a hundred other examples from American history, the world has proved itself an uncomfortable partner to predictability. Dealing with this reality takes more than intelligence; it requires a durable capacity for diverse operations.
Hagel knows this. He suggests that the Army’s new force levels will enable America to simultaneously fight one major war and support another military action somewhere else. Unfortunately however, his claim relies upon one precarious assumption. The Defense Secretary assumes that any future military action would be short in duration — Kuwait 1991 versus Iraq 2003.
That’s a risk too far.
Imagine, for example, that the Pakistani government collapsed. That terrorists then seized access to elements of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile. Such a situation would demand a major intervention — to secure those weapons and ensure Pakistan’s transition back to a semblance of peaceful stability. Imagine if North Korea then decided to take advantage of the situation by testing American resolve with an incursion into South Korea. That a skirmish then lead to full scale war. Faced with these joined catastrophes — unlikely but eminently possible — America would stand on the precipice of defeat.
And those are just two hypotheticals.
The President’s budgetary protection for Special Forces pretends that the bases are covered. The Administration seems to believe that Special Forces operators offer a magic bullet for the unknown crisis situations America may face — a comparatively low cost expenditure for a grand strategic effect. And while it’s true that Special Forces are critical to the U.S. defense strategy, their utility is inherently limited. They lack the numbers necessary to seize territory and overcome enemy divisions.
Still, this budget isn’t just badly orientated, it’s also delusional. Noting that the world was undergoing “unprecedented change,” Defense Secretary Hagel nevertheless claimed that this budget would “manage these anticipated risks.”
That latter comment likely had Clausewitz turning over in his grave. Of course judgments can be made about anticipated threats. But what about unanticipated threats? In the end, military strategy involves the management of risks amidst inherent uncertainty. It requires the implicit acceptance that we cannot know all the challenges that we will face. The only thing that can guard against that absent knowledge is robust capability.
But that costs money.
Faced with the choice between entitlement reform and cutting defense spending, the Obama Administration has chosen the former. If one pays serious attention to Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution, that choice is indefensible. More than that, while reforms to military health care costs are necessary, it’s inexcusable that America’s civilian population is sheltered from the same requirement.
Yet for all its weaknesses, the real deficit of this budget is found in its message to the world. Already cognizant of our hesitancy, America’s adversaries now have another reason to smile. With these cuts- Obama isn’t simply signaling his disinterest in facing down America’s adversaries, he’s showing his disregard for the cornerstone of American power — its consistency. This budget thus plays to a most dangerous presumption — that America is in decline and lacks the resolve to lead in the 21st century.