National Security Network

U.S. Military - A National Security Legacy of Failure

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Report 9 January 2009

President Bush President Bush's Legacy military

“The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society.” – Condoleezza Rice, July 2000

Our military is second to none, but eight years of misguided military strategy, negligence, and a reckless war in Iraq have left our ground forces facing shortfalls in both recruitment and readiness. The “transformation” strategy advocated by the Bush administration, namely Secretary Rumsfeld, held that future warfare would involve high tech fights between states; large ground forces were unnecessary because high-tech precision weapons would obviate the need for boots on the ground. As a result, not enough U.S. troops were initially sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to secure the countries and billions were spent on outdated weapons systems with little relevance to 21st century challenges. Every service is out of balance and ill-prepared to deal with the challenges of the 21st century. The war in Iraq, and the Administration’s failure to adequately prepare the military for it, has pushed our ground forces to the brink: recruitment and retention in crucial areas are down while low readiness and response levels are threatening our troop safety abroad, and impairing our National Guard at home. Additionally, the Bush administration’s failure to plan for the possibility of a drawn out conflict meant it failed to keep the promises made to those who have served. This misguided defense strategy has had severe implications for our military, and has left the U.S. dangerously exposed and strategically adrift.  

Bush-Rumsfeld Had Bankrupt Military Strategy

"As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, December 8, 2004

The Bush administration has never had a defense strategy designed to meet current threats and challenges.
The Bush administration, led by Secretary Rumsfeld, entered the Pentagon with a strategy that misjudged the threats confronting America. It believed future warfare would involve high tech fights between states and that large ground forces were unnecessary, because high-tech precision weapons would obviate the need for boots on the ground. Unfortunately, 9/11 did not alter their belief. As a result, not enough U.S. troops were initially sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to secure the countries. The Bush administration’s failed and misguided defense strategy has had severe implications for our military, and has left the U.S. dangerously exposed and strategically adrift. [NSN, 05/08]

Without a coherent strategy, the Bush administration failed to make hard choices; now our defense budget is lopsided and out of touch with new challenges. Instead of reassessing America’s security needs when faced with a new global conflict, the Bush administration continued to over-invest in weapons meant for fighting a traditional adversary much like the extinct Soviet Union. This spending spree on advanced weaponry has done little for our troops, who battle today against small arms, suicide bombers, and internet-recruited terrorists. Today’s defense spending exceeds even levels at the heights of the Cold War. Currently, the U.S. spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined – we outspend China six to one – yet we don’t have the troops or equipment we need for the conflicts we are actually fighting. As the Center for American Progress noted, “The failure to shift budget priorities after 9/11 was not merely a case of inept management but was more a byproduct of the administration’s ideological and strategic vision of military transformation.” [NSN, 05/08, Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2008]

Troops were sent to war without proper body armor and equipment. Despite the high levels of spending, basic needs went unmet. Veteran Paul Rieckhoff explains, “During Operation Iraqi Freedom, inadequate body armor was issued to thousands of troops. I know -- I was one of them. I commanded thirty-seven infantrymen who rode into Baghdad in the spring of 2003 with outdated, inferior flak jackets. Later I learned that as many as 40,000 other Troops went to Iraq with the same substandard gear.”  [Huffington Post, 9/29/05]

Bush Has Left the Ground Forces Ill-Prepared to Handle New Challenges

“I can promise them now, help is on the way. Soon, our men and women in uniform will once again have a commander in chief they can respect, one who understands their mission and restores their morale.”- Richard Cheney, Republican Convention, August 2, 2000

Joint Chiefs of Staff:  Iraq hampers ability to respond to other threats. 
“Members of the Joint Chiefs have also told the president that the continued troop commitment to Iraq means that there is a significant level of risk should another crisis erupt elsewhere in the world. Any mission could be carried out successfully, the chiefs believe, but the operation would be slower, longer and costlier in lives and equipment than if the armed forces were not so strained. Members of the Joint Chiefs also acknowledge that the deployments to Iraq, with the emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare, have left the ground forces no time to train for the full range of missions required to defend American interests.” [NYT, 4/6/08]

Army Chief of Staff: Iraq is hurting the Army's ability to sustain itself and plan for future contingencies. Gen. George Casey stated that “The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance, consumed by the current fight and unable to do the things we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force and restore our flexibility for an uncertain future.” [AP, 2/26/08]

Marine Corps training has suffered as a result of Iraq overstretch, endangering its expeditionary tradition.
“We are not doing that kind of multi-capable training that we historically do in order to be that swing force and arguably the first to fight... We now have a generation of men and women who do not have a complete understanding of what expeditionary is... That people now believe that three square meals a day courtesy of KBR and a cot is expeditionary, that is just not true in most of the environments where we would expect to find ourselves in the early going of a contingency.” [Marine Corps Times, 2/4/08]

The National Guard will have limited capability to respond to natural or man-made disasters, one of its primary missions. Since 2001, more than 410,000 National Guard and Reservists or about 80 percent of the members of the Guard and Reserve have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, with an average of 18 months per mobilization. Of these, more than 84,000, or 20 percent, have been deployed more than once. [Center for American Progress, March 2007]

Bush Has Pushed Our Ground Forces to the Breaking Point

“But even the highest morale is eventually undermined by back-to-back deployments, poor pay, shortages of spare parts and equipment, and rapidly declining readiness.”- George W. Bush, Citadel, September 23, 1999

Bush administration’s use of military posed “significant risk” to all-volunteer army.
Fmr. Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody said that the “heavy deployments are inflicting ‘incredible stress’ on soldiers and families and that they pose ‘a significant risk’ to the nation's all-volunteer military. ‘When the five-brigade surge went in, that took all the stroke out of the shock absorbers for the United States Army.’” [Washington Post, 4/2/08, NYT, 4/6/08]

Marine Corps overstretched by fighting wars on two fronts.
Marine Corps Commandant James Conway said last February, “We can’t have one foot in Afghanistan and one foot in Iraq. I believe that would be — an analogy would be having one foot in the canoe and one foot on the bank. You can’t be there long... The point that we have made... is that we can’t continue to do it without relief elsewhere.” [Marine Corps Times, 2/4/08]

Billions are needed to rebuild military after Iraq.
Estimates of the cost of resetting the army's forces and replacing or repairing war damaged equipment runs to 240 billion dollars, according to congressional leaders. “The Air Force estimates that it will need $10 billion for reset, while the Marine Corps projects a $15.6 billion price tag. Army equipment has born the major part of the damage in Iraq and will require $17 billion per year for up to three years, or more than $50 billion, after the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year’s defense authorization act did suggest some funding for reset, including $8.6 billion for the Army, $1.8 billion for the Marine Corps, and $800 million in funding for the Reserve and Guard’s reset priorities.” [AFP, 3/16/08. Center for American Progress, 12/08]

Bush failed to heed the warning that the U.S. military growing weary of combat in Iraq. “Five years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the US military is flagging under long and repeated deployments that have taken a toll on troops and hurt its readiness to deal with other crises. ‘People are tired,’ is the way Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed it up at a congressional hearing.” [AFP, 3/16/08]

Ground Forces Face Severe Personnel Challenges

“Resources are over-stretched. Frustration is up, as families are separated and strained. Morale is down. Recruitment is more difficult. And many of our best people in the military are headed for civilian life.” – George W. Bush, Citadel, September 23, 1999

The Army has missed its educational attainment goals for new recruits the last four years. “DOD’s goal is for at least 90 percent of recruits to have a high school diploma... only since the onset of persistent conflict has the Army failed to reach its educational objective for recruits. This trend is directly related to the difficulty of recruiting an all-volunteer force during a war that has become increasingly unpopular with the American people. From 2000 to 2004, the Army had 90 to 94 percent Tier I recruits (high school graduates, homeschoolers who score between I-IIIA on aptitude tests, or 15 hours of college credit)... The Army has failed to achieve the 90 percent goal since 2005.” [Center for American Progress, 12/08]

The Army has increased the number of “moral waivers” every year since 2003 (in 2004 12 percent of new recruits needed moral waivers, in 2008 the number had more than doubled to 26 percent).
“The Army has had to increase the percentage of recruits with so-called “moral waivers” such as conduct, medical, and drug and alcohol problems every year since 2003, more than doubling from 12 percent in 2004 to nearly 26 percent this year.” [Center for American Progress, 12/08]

The Army is experiencing a shortage of officers. “The active duty Army suffers a shortage of about 3,700 officers right now, particularly captains and majors, and by 2009, the Army projects a combined shortage of 5,000 captains and majors.” [Center for American Progress, 12/08]

The Bush administration encouraged the expansion of the military’s use of private contractors, yet failed to regulate. Michael Cohen and Maria Figueroa Küpçü wrote in the Washington Post “that an astounding 100,000 private contractors are supporting the U.S. military effort in Iraq... It's a virtual army of largely unregulated individuals working on behalf of U.S. national interests...with little to no congressional oversight or investigation. Not only are contractors training police, cooking meals, and transporting weapons they are being asked to provide security services that were once the sole purview of the military, including convoy protection and at times, even engaging the enemy... And as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the cost of this 'private security' has skyrocketed... There is real question as to the level of savings that taxpayers are receiving from these groups...The privatization of national security blurs the once clear line where public authority ends and private initiative begins. Many firms continue to operate in a legal gray zone. Contractors are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and while some international human rights conventions apply to armed civilians, enforcement of these rules in Iraq has been virtually non-existent. Civilian contracting also creates operational challenges as private security contractors operate separately from the U.S. military yet are still seen as part of the nation's military force.” [Washington Post, 12/7/06]

Promises Not Kept

“I will renew the bond of trust between the American president and the American military.”- George W. Bush, Citadel, September 23, 1999

Walter Reed scandal exposed Bush administration’s inability to keep its promises to America’s vets.  “The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.” In Building 18 at Walter Reed, there was discovery of mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses, black mold, rotting walls and ceilings, among other health and sanitary issues. [Washington Post, 2/18/07]

Veterans’ Administration left unprepared for wave of injured vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as the Bush administration failed to plan for the possibility of a drawn out conflict. The unexpected duration of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has placed tremendous strain on the Veterans’ Administration, as more and more veterans returned home needing care. The Bush administration did not anticipate protracted conflicts in either Afghanistan or Iraq, as projections within the Pentagon at the onset of the Iraq war believed that a significant drawdown of troops would happen in the first few months following the invasion. When each war began to take a greater toll the administration and the VA were caught off guard. “Another surge is putting pressure on the nation’s military. It is the surge of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan returning home with physical and psychological wounds, and the question is: Are the nation’s veterans hospitals equipped and staffed to handle it?” [Buffalo News, 3/4/08]

Multiple deployments are taking a heavy toll on our troops. “More than a quarter of U.S. soldiers on their third or fourth tours in Iraq suffer mental health problems partly because troops are not getting enough time at home between deployments, the Army said. ‘Soldiers are not resetting entirely before they get back into theater,’ said Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, who led the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team survey for 2007.” [Reuters, 3/06/08]

According to estimates by the RAND Corporation, approximately 300,000, or one in five, Iraq or Afghanistan combat veterans suffer from PTSD or depression.  “Assuming that the prevalence found in this study is representative of the 1.64 million service members who had been deployed for OEF/OIF as of October 2007, we estimate that approximately 300,000 individuals currently suffer from PTSD or major depression and that 320,000 individuals experienced a probable TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] during deployment.  About one-third of those previously deployed have at least one of these three conditions, and about 5 percent report symptoms of all three.”  [RAND Corporation, 4/17/08]