The Progressive Approach: The Military
Restore American Military Power
The U.S. military is a fighting force second to none. It didn’t get that way by accident – it took decades of careful stewardship by civilian as well as military leaders in the Pentagon, the White House, and on Capitol Hill. But eight years of Administration recklessness, and a lack of oversight from conservatives on Capitol Hill, have put the military under enormous strain.
Active-duty generals at the highest levels have said that “the current demand for our forces is not sustainable… We can’t sustain the all-volunteer force at the pace that we are going on right now” (Army Chief of Staff George Casey, April 2008); that in terms of readiness, many brigades being sent back to Afghanistan and Iraq were “not where they need to be” (Army Vice-Chief of Staff Richard Cody, SASC subcommittee hearing, April 14, 2008); and that “we cannot now meet extra force requirements in places like Afghanistan” (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen on National Public Radio, April 2008).
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, and low readiness and response levels are threatening our troop safety abroad, and impairing our National Guard at home.
Readiness and Response: Two-thirds of the Army – virtually all of the brigades not currently deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq – are rated “not combat ready.” The dramatic equipment shortages of a few years ago have been improved but not completely remedied.
The Army has been forced repeatedly to violate its own policy of 24 months “dwell time” for every 12 months deployed. Active-duty soldiers are currently serving five months deployed for every four at home. This means individual soldiers cannot rest, and whole units cannot fully re-equip or re-train for new missions. The Administration has said it will return to a policy of 12 months out for every 12 months deployed – but this will likely require reactivating National Guard units that are themselves overstretched and under-equipped.
These Administration policies are completely out of line with the military’s own structure and institutions. They create a significant risk that the U.S. military would be unable to respond to another crisis, and have already impaired our ability to respond to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Recruitment and Retention: These conditions of service, and the strains they place on military family members, have hindered Army efforts (and to a lesser extent those of the Marine Corps) to recruit and retain the requisite number and quantity of service members.
The Army has been forced to lower its educational and moral standards and allow an increasing number of felons into its ranks. It is also struggling to keep junior officers, the brains of the force, who represent the height of the military’s investment in its people – and whose willingness to stay on represents a crucial judgment on Administration policies.
The Marine Corps, America’s emergency 911 force, is under similar strain. The Commandant of the Marine Corps said in February 2008 that the Marines will not be able to maintain a long term presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The National Guard and Reserve are already suffering from severe shortages of equipment and available combat personnel. In many states, the Army National Guard would struggle to respond to a natural or man-made disaster – just as the Kansas National Guard struggled to respond to the severe tornados last year.
How, and whether, we rebuild our military in the wake of the fiasco in Iraq will likely shape it for the next generation. Too much of our military posture is left over from the Cold War. Our forces are being ground down by low-tech insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the most immediate threat confronting the U.S. is a terrorist network that possesses no tanks or aircraft. We must learn the lessons of Iraq and dramatically transform our military into a 21st century fighting force ready to confront the threats of today and tomorrow.
We must strengthen the world’s finest ground forces. In order to safeguard the health of U.S. ground forces in the wake of Iraq, we must invest substantial resources to repair or replace battle worn equipment with the best equipment available, and ensure that we do not leave both the Army and the Marine Corps with large unpaid bills from Afghanistan and Iraq. Providing full support to our armed forces during and after extended deployments is critical to America’s security, now and in the future.
We must rebalance U.S. military capabilities to better cope with 21st century missions like counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, stabilization operations, and homeland defense. The active and reserve military components need to be fundamentally rebalanced by converting unit types that are in low demand (such as artillery and air defense) into unit types that are in high demand (such as Special Forces, civil affairs, military police, and engineers). Doing so will also give troops and their families more stable and predictable deployment schedules.
We must adapt the National Guard and Reserves for the future and ensure that they receive the best equipment and training. Since 9/11, the National Guard and Reserves have evolved from forces to be mobilized for a national emergency into forces that regularly support the operations of the active duty military at home and abroad. But this new reality is not yet manifest in the organization, training, equipping, and funding of these forces. Consequently, we have troops making heroic efforts to perform a new set of missions without the necessary resources, training, and equipment. We need to prepare reserve forces to conduct a wide variety of operations, from stability operations abroad, to natural disaster or terrorist attack response here at home. This means giving them the best possible training and equipment and compensate them fairly for their sacrifice.
To ensure that the U.S. deploys its military forces wisely, we must adopt a military strategy that is geared toward achieving clearly defined political objectives, and that always provides our troops with the tools they need to win America’s wars. Any future use of force should be considered thoughtfully, explained honestly to the American people, and planned carefully. Whenever America’s forces are committed to combat, they should be given clearly defined objectives, a comprehensive strategy for success, and the resources, capabilities, and support necessary to achieve their mission.
We need an approach to the world that uses all the tools in our arsenal wisely, supporting our military with our political, economic, and diplomatic tools. The military is just one piece – and military leaders have repeatedly asked for better intelligence, more active diplomacy, and stronger economic support for their efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This Administration has failed to deliver. We need to strengthen the civilian face America shows to the world to match our military might.
We must invest in people over hardware. Maintaining a strong all-volunteer force requires taking care of those who serve. Fighting two wars has stretched our military thin, leaving us with exhausted troops, worn-out equipment, and ill-prepared recruits. Currently, there are virtually no active or reserve Army combat units outside of Iraq and Afghanistan that are rated “combat ready.” Training must be improved so that soldiers and Marines are not forced to learn how to fight by fighting. Once in the field, soldiers and Marines must have adequate body armor and other equipment. When they come home, our troops must have access to quality medical care, including mental health services. Rather than investing in costly, ineffective hardware, we must focus on effectively protecting our troops before, during, and after their service.
We must match resources to priorities, and show the strength and judgment to cut wasteful and unnecessary weapons programs. Choosing where to invest our nation’s defense resources requires having a strategy and allocating resources to match. This requires hard choices among weapons programs. But the Bush Administration failed to make the hard choices – it has only canceled two weapons programs during its tenure. The national missile defense system, for example, has cost the U.S. billions of dollars as well as creating diplomatic problems, with almost no demonstrated successes. While theater missile defense is important and should be continued, national missile defense should remain, for now, in research and development.
We must address Pentagon mismanagement. Despite the trillions of dollars already spent or planned, our armed services may be no better prepared to fight tomorrow’s conflicts than they were to enter Iraq. While the Pentagon, the world’s largest bureaucracy, is a challenge to manage, the current level of mismanagement, cost overruns, and lack of oversight is astonishing. There has been a clear failure on the part of the Bush Administration to set priorities and match resources to meet those priorities. The defense budget must be reformed, wasteful programs must be eliminated, and corruption must be rooted out with intense oversight.
The Conservative Record
The Bush Administration’s disastrous stewardship of our military has pushed our ground forces to their breaking point. The war in Iraq has overstretched our ground forces. In 2000, then-candidate George W. Bush said, “To point out that our military has been overextended, taken for granted and neglected, that's no criticism of the military. That is criticism of a president and vice president and their record of neglect.” That’s a fair standard to hold President Bush and his supporters in Congress to in 2008.
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. They 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 this belief. The president and Secretary Rumsfeld deployed their misguided and outdated defense strategy in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 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.
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.
Conservatives don’t seem to know the difference between responsible stewardship and blindly throwing money at the Defense Department. We need a new strategic approach that matches resources to priorities and that builds on the lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today’s defense spending exceeds even that at the heights of the Cold War, and is projected to increase, given the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 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.