President elect-Barack Obama as the next commander in chief is sending trepidation through the ranks and at the Pentagon.
Active duty personnel and civilian officials tell HUMAN EVENTS they worry that Obama’s new national security team — prodded by an increasingly liberal Congress — will slash weapons programs needed to modernize aging fleets of tanks, ships and planes.
But a deeper concern is Iraq. American service members are on the verge of a historic victory over Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, they say. But an Obama-ordered troop withdrawal, if done too quickly, could result in defeat.
“The fear among soldiers more than anything else, more than additional tours, is the specter of defeat, of appearing to withdraw from Iraq with their tail between their legs,” said retired Army Col. Ken Allard, a former NBC military analyst who teaches at the University of Texas, San Antonio. “Given the fact they have won that war there is no reason they cannot come back with their heads held high. It cannot be ugly.
Allard said he hopes Obama, who predicted in 2007 that a surge of U.S. troops in Iraq would fail and wants all combat units out in 16 months, changes his position on the war once he meets with field commanders.
A senior Marine Corps officer, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the belief in his circle of colleagues is that Iraq has been so successful Obama will not dare to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
“I think most of our concerns about Obama’s expressed desire to leave Iraq are assuaged by the notion that the war there is turned around,” said this officer. “We also feel like the Iraqis should be allowed to get on with their own show. There is not this sense that we will have abandoned them like we did the Vietnamese.”
On the Pentagon budget front, candidate Obama was mostly vague. But he signaled cuts are coming. In one speech, he lashed out at spending on missile defense, saying “unproven” systems will be ended.
Proponents argue that missile shields are needed now more than ever, given al Qaeda’s quest for nuclear weapons and given the fact that allies around the world are signing on to host some of the technologies.
Obama also said he planned to “slow” development of the Army’s $300 billion Future Combat System, an array of ground and air vehicles that is designed to take the service into the next generation.
An Army Special Forces officer, who asked not to be named, said he fears Obama will cut personnel, to fund social programs, at a time when the war on terror reveals that the U.S. lacks sufficient manpower.
“We need a larger military, given the dangers of this unipolar international system, but I doubt it will grow under the Democrats over the coming years simply due to the economic crisis,” the Green Beret said.
He said the Obama presidency is a hot topic among officers, some of whom “whole-heartedly think budgets are going to be cut, exercises canceled world-wide, and troops brought home with haste. This doesn’t seem to be a majority view so much as a view that goes along party-lines in terms of how service members voted.”
Another Green Beret sent out an email to friends that said, in part:
“As soldiers in the Global War On Terror, we, and the country are the victims of our own success. Since no visible attack similar to the attacks of 9/11 has occurred over the last seven years, the American public questions the validity of the threat and the war in general. None of us have ever expected a pat on the back, but total rejection of our efforts and sacrifice is frustrating. The wounds, scars, and missing friends are bitter pills. With Barack Hussein Obama as our commander in chief, there is a certain level of futility in our exertions.”
A senior political appointee at the Pentagon said Obama’s election has emboldened radical Islam. There is fear of a new terror attack to test the new leader. “They are dancing with glee,” said this official.
Obama knows he faces a generally skeptical military rank in file.
The Military Times, which publishes newspapers gear toward each of the four branches, polled 80,000 subscribers last month and received 4,300 responses. It found that 68 percent of active and retired service men and women backed Sen. John McCain in the presidential race, while 28 percent supported Obama.
Rep. Barney Frank, Mass. Democrat and part of the House leadership as a committee chairman, said before the election that the Pentagon budget needs to be cut by 25 percent. He called for the cancellation of “fancy” weapons systems. His plan stirred memories of the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton cut the defense budget by 35 percent. The end result: deep combat readiness problems that plagued the services well into this decade.
But retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, the most senior officer to endorse Obama, told HUMAN EVENTS he does not believe the next president will weaken defense.
“Barack has made it quit clear he is not interested in weakening the national defense,” said McPeak, who led the Air Force during Desert Storm. “Everything Barack has said would lead you to believe that he understands the services have to be re-capitalized. Frankly our equipment has been beat up pretty bad in these two wars … We really have suffered in this period from sort of an acquisition holiday that the Clinton regime went on in the early to mid 90s.”
The Marine officer said, “No one takes the 25 percent cut idea too seriously. Having said that, if we had those kind of cuts then my perception is that the really expensive futuristic programs should be abandoned first in favor of re-equipping and re-fitting. Our gear is worn out and the Air Force still wants their fighters and the Navy wants their ships, both at the expense of the grunt.”
He added, “That’s the fear and angst. We aren’t put off by any sort of Clintonian anti-military posture by Obama, and thankfully Obama isn’t Hillary Clinton.”