published Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Defense cuts: A plan to go back to the future

Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When is the next 9/11?

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel doesn't know, and President Barack Obama doesn't know either.

No one knows.

But they want to take the United States military back not to pre-9/11 threat levels but to pre-Pearl Harbor threat levels.

Incredibly, in trying to explain Monday how his plans will provide a more nimble military, Hagel said the nation will no longer be sized to conduct large and protracted ground wars as have been fought in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 11 years.

The plans would shrink the Army from a wartime peak of 570,000 soldiers to between 440,000 and 450,000, would lower the Marine Corps from 190,000 to 182,000, and would eliminate programs such as the A-10 Warthog attack planes and U-2 surveillance planes. It also would drop the National Guard from 355,000 to 335,000 members and the Army Reserve from 205,000 to 195,000.

Serious discussions can be had about whether we should have fought the aforementioned wars and perhaps how they were fought, but it seems clear it was important to have had that force available.

Still, Hagel offered this: "We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted."

If that's true, why is this a good time to cut our military manpower?

It would be easy to make the case if the world were more peaceful, if those who seek destruction of the U.S. no longer did, and if a way were found to maintain the same security at a much lower cost. But that's not the case.

Anyone who knows anything about military budget outlays over the past 50 years can cite their favorite instance of excess -- the Navy's purchase of two ashtrays for $1,800 in 1985, for instance -- so it would be impossible to say there can't be some common-sense, cost-saving measures. And, in fact, Hagel's plans detailed some.

The 2015 defense budget, for example, suggests smaller military pay raises, a slowdown in the growth of tax-free housing allowances, a requirement that retirees and some families of active-duty service members pay a little more in health insurance deductibles and co-pays, and a one-year freeze on pay for top military brass.

The average Joe can look at those trims and relate.

What the average person cannot fathom is just exactly why this downsizing is wise at this moment in history. Hagel suggested in order to be ready for a 2014 world it is appropriate to be at 1940 strength.

To face a world with "new technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States," he said, troop strength needs to decrease as a trade-off for building up "technological superiority" and priorities such as Special Operation Forces and "cyber resources."

Others saw more cynical reasons for the cuts, including the fact entitlement programs are squeezing more money from the overall budget, a need to further fund Obamacare and the administration's perceived desire for unilateral disarmament.

"[Former U.S. Middle East allies are] absolutely convinced," former Vice President Dick Cheney, always the bomb thrower, said on Fox's "Hannity," "that they can no longer trust the United States to keep its commitments."

"What we're trying to do," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, "is solve our financial problems on the backs of our military, and that can't be done."

Most hurtful, though, is the proposed loss of thousands of military jobs while the civilian economy remains weak.

Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association of the United States and the former Tennessee Army National Guard adjutant general, knows a little something about that.

"We are disappointed, but hardly surprised [at the cuts]," he told Defense News, adding he was disappointed at Hagel's description that Guard units only "complement active forces."

"For the last 12-plus years," he said, "Army and Air National Guard units have been nothing less than integral to the Army and Air Force accomplishing their missions around the globe. Service and Pentagon leaders have said as much countless times."

Hargett, contacted in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, said Tennessee stands to lose more Guard members than most states because it has the seventh largest contingent in the country. Indeed, he said, if there is a return to the across-the-board congressional budget cuts known as sequestration that were partially suspended for the 2014 and 2015 budgets, the state could lose "the equivalent of a battalion (approximately 300-500)."

"Everybody will lose," he said. "Some will lose a little bit more than others."

And the country may lose a lot.

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Plato said...

We have a larger military than all the other industrial countries in the world combined. We have 650 military bases in foreign countries (Chine the #2 power has zero). The public is sick and tired of being straddled with having to fund a world police force to jump into the middle of every skirmish around the globe.

The modern day military does not need large numbers of ground troops. The mission to combat world terrorism requires more special ops, and intelligence types. I'm all for redirecting a portion of our defense budget towards those types of units where they are actually needed. Also with our advanced high tech weapon systems the manpower needs are not even remotely like we have needed in the past.

In these times of austerity, when our country has high priority domestic needs such as infrastructure rebuilding, it makes no sense to continue over-funding a department way beyond the needs of it's mission.

February 26, 2014 at 6:17 p.m.
volsam said...

Germany and China are building up their army's at warp speed and the U.S. wants to downsize? This same thing happened in the mid 70's. Cut the military and spend the savings on increasing the progressive welfare state and creating the failed Dept. of Education and other big government money pits that failed. There needs to be much better oversight and less waste.

February 26, 2014 at 9:47 p.m.
nucanuck said...

Only two countries on the planet have the logistical capacity to invade the US. Those would be Canada and Mexico. Other countries or groups can launch a single attack, but not invade. Geography alone offers the US a huge security advantage over would-be adversaries.

Instead of using the military as a defense force, the US has garrisoned the whole world as an armed extension for foreign affairs, a bully state that does not hesitate to interfere in affairs of other countries. US foreign policy has descended into armed mercantilism and has damaged Brand USA while creating wide-spread ill will. Traveling with a US Passport is no longer a badge of honor, far from it. The US has traded respect for fear and hatred.

Most Americans now sense that the US military should be based within the confines of the US unless provoked into a declared war or as part of a UN peace-keeping mission. Of the millions who hate and want to harm the US, the vast majority are driven to that hate by US meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. For fifty years the US has demonstrated that the hearts and minds of people cannot be won on the battlefield or with the receiving end of a missile. Seemingly, the US has learned nothing. The geopolitical black-ops continue from Ukraine to Syria, from Iran to Venezuela, and now to 35 African countries.

China knows, Germany knows, Brazil knows, South Korea knows that the real war, the real power, is economic. While the US was building the most powerful military in the history of the world, she could have been spending that same money on an infrastructure that would have been the envy of the world. Instead, the US infrastructure has become second rate, the US has fallen behind in almost every competitive category. US debt threatens credit down-grades. US dollar hegemony hangs in the balance.

The Emperor has no clothes! The US has to get out of the fear business. The US needs to close overseas bases. The US should set out to become an ethical model for the world…and then a different kind of power and leadership could return to the United States of America.

The US military should be sized and equipped for defense of country, not for widely despised world domination. This new proposed military "downsizing" doesn't begin to address the true needs of a country in trouble.

February 27, 2014 at 1:43 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Volsam, I have yet to find any reputable source that claims that China and Germany are building their militaries "at warp speed." If you care to share the source of that information with us I will be happy to acknowledge your statement as credulous. But even if that is true it is an indisputable fact that China's and Germany's spending on their military is downright puny compared to that of the U.S., even after whatever budget cuts we might make. In 2013 the U.S. spent $682 billion for defense, while China spent $166 billion and Germany a mere $46 billion. If China and Germany are building their armies at warp speed they are apparently doing it without any meat on their bones.

You do know, don't you, that one of the first things that any nation does immediately after a war (2 wars in our case) is to cut back on the military spending and focus more on domestic affairs? It is only natural. Wars are expensive and we have been spending on not just one but two wars simultaneously. And now we are living in an age where massive numbers of troops will have little bearing on the outcome. The types of wars we are going to engage in going forward will require more and better special ops and more sophisticated intelligence and technology. Sheer size of our military will mean little.

You say that we need to have better oversight and less waste. True enough. Then at least acknowledge that we have a tremendous amount of waste and very little oversight in our military budget. But when it comes to budget cuts, conservatives insist on ONLY those that pertain to everything domestic, particularly things like social security, welfare, food stamps, and education, and they dare not even look at any part of our obscenely bloated military budget.

China is projected to overtake the U.S. very soon, perhaps within the next decade, as the reigning superpower. But it will have little to do with their military might that makes them a superpower. It will be purely in the economic sense. They are focusing on building their country from within while America is letting ours rot and crumble before our very eyes.

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

February 27, 2014 at 12:36 p.m.
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