Army cuts will take it back to pre-World War II levels

As Luke Skywalker said when he got his first look at the Death Star, “I’ve got a very bad feeling about this.”  AFP reports on plans to take the U.S. Army back to pre-World War II levels – which, as you may recall, turned out to be a problem when World War II rolled around.

The Pentagon plans to scale back the US Army by more than an eighth to its lowest level since before World War II, signaling a shift after more than a decade of ground wars.

Saying it was time to “reset” for a new era, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recommended shrinking American forces from 520,000 active duty troops to between 440,000 and 450,000.

In a speech outlining the proposed defense budget, he said Monday that after Iraq and Afghanistan, US military leaders no longer plan to “conduct long and large stability operations.”

I can’t help thinking it’s not a good idea to loudly declare that America is no longer capable of conducting “long and large stability operations.”  What’s left to scare off the bad guys?  They know damn well we won’t nuke them, and they’ve seen the limits of targeted precision-bombing campaigns and drone strikes.  I can’t help noticing that none of the vanquished dictators of the post-9/11 era have been neatly vaporized by a smart bomb – they’ve been dragged out of holes.  We’ve bagged some cave-dwelling terrorists with drones, but that’s not going to work on anyone who can afford a proper Evil Mastermind Lair.

I tend to agree that U.S. military operations should be fast and furious.  We clearly do not make effective occupiers, in part because in the post-WW2 era, we no longer reduce enemy nations to rubble before occupying them.  Occupation, even with the most benevolent aims, is a long hard slog that our political system is not well-suited for.  It’s just not something we want to do, and hopefully it will never be necessary again.

But stripping away capability tends to invite the sort of situation we are trying to avoid.  Weakness is provocative.  It’s also a bit troubling that the Army seems viewed primarily as heavily-armed real estate agents by this Administration’s thinking.  Trimming back force levels a bit is one thing, but these dramatic cuts – 13 percent in just 3 years – are explicitly a rejection of the previous “fight two wars at once” doctrine.  I can still think of too many plausible scenarios in which that might be necessary.  More to the point, I can still think of some bad apples who need to hit the sack every night convinced America can still fight on two fronts.  And while U.S. military spending remains huge, I don’t see much evidence that our fellow Good Cops are planning to take up the slack from an American drawdown.

Perhaps this is a quaint additional consideration, but the Army seems like the primary interface between military and civilian culture in the United States, so making it dramatically smaller will separate military and civilian life even further.  I don’t think that’s a good idea.

The Administration expects resistance to their proposed Army cuts, and they won’t be disappointed.  AFP quotes Senate Armed Services Committee member Roy Blunt (R-MO) saying the reduction has the “potential to harm America’s military readiness.”

Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said the plan was a “serious mistake” that would put American lives in jeopardy.  That actually seems like to be the consensus view of officials who have seen the plan, including some who presumably support it  It’s a roll of dice carved from silver and bone, a gamble that nothing like 9/11 will happen again.  The New York Times mentioned this when breaking the story:

The proposal, released on Monday, takes into account the fiscal reality of government austerity and the political reality of a president who pledged to end two costly and exhausting land wars. A result, the officials argue, will be a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for protracted foreign occupations.

Officials who saw an early draft of the announcement acknowledge that budget cuts will impose greater risk on the armed forces if they are again ordered to carry out two large-scale military actions at the same time: Success would take longer, they say, and there would be a larger number of casualties. Officials also say that a smaller military could invite adventurism by adversaries.


The proposal includes some base and air-wing closures, which will predictably face opposition from representatives of the states and districts where each base is located.  And there are pay freezes and benefit cuts for troops and their families, as outlined by The Hill:

The budget includes proposals that would cut the growth of housing allowances for service members and their families and stop reimbursing renter???s insurance entirely. Subsidies at domestic military commissaries that provide military families with low-cost goods would be reduced.

Only the medically retired would escape proposed cuts to healthcare copays and increases to deductibles.

While basic pay raises will be held to 1 percent in 2015 under the budget, general and flag officers would see a pay freeze.

The budget also calls for a new round of base closings in 2017, which lawmakers have fiercely resisted during the past two budget requests.

It sure does seem like the rest of the Leviathan State whines about reductions in the rate of spending growth as “savage cuts,” while the military suffers all the actual cutting.  These thoughts were on former Vice President Dick Cheney’s mind when he blasted the plan announced by Hagel, as reported by the Washington Examiner:

Cheney pointed out that Obama’s plans to cut the military were “over the top,” citing “enormous long term damage” to the military.

Cheney said Obama’s decision was made for budget reasons, not any strategic goal.

He would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would a strong military or support for our troops,” he said.

Cheney also worried that at a time of rock-bottom American global prestige, courtesy of Obama foreign policy, these Army cuts are going to make our strategic partners question the validity of our security guarantees.  His point about Obama’s use of the military as a piggy bank for domestic spending was echoed by at least one House Republican, as quoted by Fox News:

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, warned that the cuts would hurt military readiness. And he said the country is only in this position because the Obama administration and Congress will not seriously take on cuts to entitlements.

“It’s all being sacrificed … on the altar of entitlements. This president cannot take on mandatory spending, so all we’ve done in the Congress — and this president — is basically cut discretionary spending,” he told Fox News.

A lot of this budget-slashing is only going on because of Barack Obama’s big “sequester” brainstorm, a feature of the 2011 budget deal that was supposed to terrorize Republicans into raising taxes by threatening them with military cuts.  If Hagel’s plan goes through, perhaps the best that could be said is that such tactics will not work again, at least not until America’s fiscal death spiral makes having a military at all impractical, a point that will be reached within the lifetime of most people reading this.

Governor Nikki Haley describes a petulant Obama browbeating governors with sequester finger-pointing at a White House meeting, as related by CNN:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose husband is in the National Guard and recently returned from a one-year deployment to Afghanistan, blasted the Obama administration’s decision to make cuts to the reserve military force.

“It really is a slap in the face to anyone who has served over this past decade multiple times and left their life to do this,” the Republican governor said Monday. “We have active duty, but the active duty hasn’t felt the pain that the National Guard has felt, and this is not how you show your thanks.”

[…] She said the White House meeting largely had a respectful tone until the discussion turned toward military cuts at the end.

“It automatically went into an aggressive nature by (President Obama), implying that ‘many of you have asked for cuts, this is what you said you wanted…now you’re going to get it, you’re going to have to live with it,‘ Completely different change in tone,” said Haley, who’s up for re-election this year.

“It chilled the room quite a bit,” she added.

Perhaps it’s true, as retired Army general and former NATO supreme commander George Joulwan told CNN, that fiscal reality makes it necessary for us to scale back our military power: “Whether it’s smart or not is yet to be seen.  But I think it’s necessary to do, given the constraints that we face fiscally within the United States.”

Is that what everyone thought they were voting for in 2008 and 2012?  Are we comfortable with a level of government fiscal deterioration that’s eating away at our military muscle… knowing full well that as the government grows even more insolvent, the military will face even more dangerous reductions?  Especially under this Administration or its likely Democrat successor – does everyone remember how Hillary Clinton feels about the military?  Troop strength is an investment whose invisible dividend is peace, which is easily taken for granted by people on the hunt for loose change to finance other programs.  The Hagel proposal marks the beginning of a process, not the end.