Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a recent speech, “As we look out across the strategic landscape, the United States military will remain an essential tool of American power and foreign policy, but one that must be used wisely, precisely, and judiciously.” However, since President Obama’s election in 2008, his Administration’s imprecise defense cuts have been neither wise nor judicious.
Secretary Hagel has admitted that these cuts will undermine readiness: “We may have to accept the reality that not every unit will be at maximum readiness, and some kind of a tiered readiness system is perhaps inevitable. This carries the risk that the president would have fewer options to fulfill our national security objectives.”
“Tiered readiness” is a term the military uses to rationalize budget cuts without admitting they are less capable as a result. Imagine that your car’s brakes wear out, but you can only afford to put new brake pads on two of the wheels. This is what tiered readiness amounts to. Service members will adapt, but it is inadequate.
High-ranking U.S. military officials have signaled increasing alarm to Congress that these budget cuts are having real, immediate effects. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the effects of defense cuts, Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno quoted the late Congressman and military advocate Ike Skelton:
I’ve always considered each young man and woman in uniform as a son or daughter. They are national treasures and their sacrifices cannot be taken for granted. They are not chess pieces to be moved upon a board. Each and every one is irreplaceable.
This sentiment was in stark contrast to Odierno’s assessment of his service: “This is the lowest readiness levels I’ve seen within our Army since I’ve been serving for the last 37 years.”
Here are a few examples of what General Odierno is talking about:
Though these three stories are unsettling on their own, it should be noted that the stories of General Deptula, Colonel Kachejian, and Captain Shanahan all occurred before President Obama began drawing down the military. The military readiness crisis is growing, not receding. Military officials and even the Secretary of Defense acknowledge these challenges, but little is being done by the Administration or Congress to stop them.
At one point in his speech, Secretary Hagel warned that “letting our military strength atrophy would invite disaster.” He is correct. Withdrawing from the world and drawing down U.S. military forces will only embolden our adversaries and make allies uneasy.
Politicians should heed Secretary Hagel’s warning by making a stronger commitment to national security. The President is Commander in Chief, but Congress must provide for the common defense. Our service members deserve much better.