“The impact of this decline is no longer invisible. Far too many of the military’s top priority development programs are experiencing schedule delays and development risks which are attributed mainly to a lack of adequate funding, not technical problems—funding problems.”
The above quote paints a startling picture of the state of American security forces today. Yet the statement was made 13 years ago by then-Congressman Curt Weldon (R–PA). Recent across-the-board defense cuts resemble those during the Clinton Administration’s “peace dividend,” when the government looted national security accounts to achieve fiscal goals. The military drawdown of the ‘90s was furthermore predicated on the belief that the U.S. would not engage in a large-scale military operation for the foreseeable future. This proved doubly incorrect when a few years later, U.S. troops were in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
More unsettling is the fact that when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in the 1970s, the military fell into a “hollow force” where small-scale missions could barely be performed because resources and manpower were stretched so thin. This culminated in the tragic failed rescue attempt of American hostages in Iran in 1980.
Yet little more than a decade was all it took for U.S. political leadership to forget such tragic results of undercutting defense. Shortly after President Clinton took office, his Administration took swift action to dismantle the robust forces developed throughout the 1980s. Before Congress in 1998, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan said, “Smaller is not better; better is better.… We did not foresee the scope of the unstable world and the islands of instability in which the United States of America is using force, nor did we see the consistency or the magnitude of these employments.” It is worth noting that the “employments” here refer to operations like those in Kosovo or Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are nowhere near the size or scope of operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Today, the writing is on the wall, but it is unclear who is reading it. America cannot take another holiday from sustaining its military. The U.S. continues to have the greatest military in the world, but drastic cuts to defense are jeopardizing that title. The Administration and Congress need to learn from the past and uphold their constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense.