A recently released report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “Strategic Choices: Navigating Austerity,” argues that allowing some hollowing out of our military forces is acceptable.
The report is raising eyebrows around Washington, mainly because it is so at odds with what Pentagon leadership is saying.
The individuals who published this report—retired military officers and independent policy experts—are normally a voice of reason, bringing reality where sitting officials are at times driven by political concerns. They have the opportunity to apply historical context and experience without the pull of day-to-day issues. In this case, they seem to have reversed course. The “experts” have completely divorced themselves from any historical experience and have cavalierly made up their own facts.
The report calls for sacrificing training and “current readiness”—i.e., allowing the force to hollow out—in order to somehow be prepared for a future conflict. The money saved would be used to buy things that would make us ready for future challenges. The idea seems to be retaining personnel, but not training or equipping them to do their missions.
Apparently, none of the experts remember the disasters at Kasserine Pass in North Africa during World War II. Nor do they seem to remember Task Force Smith in the Korean War, when brave but woefully ill-prepared Americans died because they had neither the training nor the equipment to fight an enemy who had not been polite enough to allow the U.S. military enough time get up to speed before the fight.
The report’s authors also inexplicably seem to have forgotten the post-Vietnam period, when the combination of public antipathy and low funds caused military installations to become dangerously undisciplined and filled with crime.
Also ignored was the post–Cold War drawdown that had Army units doing little besides physical training and road marches. There was simply no money to do anything else. The people were there, but the levels of training, discipline, and professionalism dropped off precipitously. It was only the Herculean efforts of the leaders at the time that turned the military around in time for the first Gulf War and made our enemies die for their country rather than the other way around.
To use the wise adage of old soldiers, this report “briefs well.” Shrinking the force in this way sounds like a reasonable solution to budgetary woes. The truth is that if this path is adopted, Americans will die. It is the road to weakness, hollowness, and danger. Either American civilians will pay because our military is unable to stop an unexpected attack, or American military personnel will die because they were sent to do a job for which they were unprepared and ill-equipped.
The type of strategy outlined in “Strategic Choices: Navigating Austerity” should be rejected out of hand. Its appeal to those who see the military as an expensive anachronism will be huge, and the chance that it will be embraced is high. One hopes that leadership in the Pentagon will be successful at fending off this monumentally bad idea.
Those “formers” who are now “experts” seem to have horrendously short memories. They should be ignored for the sake of those young men and women wearing the uniforms of our nation today.