Rich Military, Poor Results

Joint Chiefs say budget crunch could thwart victory

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

From left, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

The U.S. military’s tradition of “Can do!” has turned into “Can’t do” as the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a congressional committee Wednesday that continuing budget cuts will leave them unable to meet the Pentagon’s scaled-back goal of winning one war while deterring another. The Army chief of staff warned he might not be able to fight and win a single, solo, conflict.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Pentagon’s mission was to fight and win two major wars at once. The ability to do that was always a close call, and it turned into a charade in 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq and had to leave Afghanistan to slowly twist in the wind, as troops and tanks swung into action against Baghdad. “In Afghanistan, we do what we can,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, famously said in 2007. “In Iraq, we do what we must.”

Today’s more realistic Pentagon guidance calls for the U.S. military to fight and beat one enemy, and deter a second (whether the U.S. won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a separate issue).

Budget Graph

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

The solid green portion shows the impact of the budget cuts known as sequestration. The striped section is additional money for the post-9/11 wars.

Could the U.S. military achieve that more modest goal if the roughly 10% budget cut mandated by the sequester continues, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., asked the four service chiefs at an armed services committee hearing:

Army General Ray Odierno: I believe at full sequestration we cannot meet the defense strategic guidance. In fact, it’s my opinion that we would struggle to even meet one major contingency operation. It depends on assumptions. And I believe some of the assumptions that were made were not good assumptions. They are very unrealistic and very positive assumptions. And for that, they would all have to come true for us to even come close to being able to meet that guidance.

Navy Admiral Jonathan Greenert: No, sir. We cannot…

Air Force General Mark Welsh: No, congressman. We cannot…

Marine General James Amos: Congressman, I can from a one MCO [major contingency operation] perspective. But if it’s a one MCO and do something else somewhere else, I cannot. I simply don’t have the depth on the bench. We are going to continue with the rebalancing in the Pacific. That comes at the price of readiness back home. So over time, our readiness back home will be unacceptable. So the answer in both cases is no.

Plainly there’s some scare-mongering afoot here. The nation still spends more on its military than the next 10 nations combined. It continues to spend at Cold War levels, when the nation spent a half-century awaiting the balloon to go up, as they used to say, in all-out war with the Soviet Union.

pgpf

Peter G. Peterson Foundation

The chiefs’ view is amazing. Assuming it’s true, it says a lot more about how the U.S. spends its money outfitting troops for war than it does about potential foes. It’s a siren call that should inform the nation that it isn’t getting the return on investment — literally, the bang for the buck — that it should be, given the $615 billion it is spending on its armed forces this year.

9 comments
sacredh
sacredh

Sequestration hurts our security, hampers the economy, hurts American workers and imperils the economic recovery, but allows Tea party members to run victory laps back home for their base. Can we PLEASE stop calling TPers patriotic?

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

"Today’s more realistic Pentagon guidance calls for the U.S. military to fight and beat one enemy, and deter a second (whether the U.S. won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a separate issue)."

Iraq and Afghanistan are not even in the Military Budget Comparison Graphic, which means that their budgets are less than about $30B, making our US Military budget *at least* 20x greater than theirs.

So, what does our top brass think they need to "beat one, deter another"? 50x? 500x? This is absurd.

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

Isn't revealing this information "aiding the enemy"?  If our enemies know our military is under-budgeted, could they go on the offense in multiple places, leaving us stretched too thin and unable to defend ourselves?  Why would our top military officers be so reckless with this information?  Maybe these meetings should be held in secret, like FISA courts.  Geez, I hope no one takes that seriously.

On another note, what a bunch of grumpy looking sour faces.  I hope I never end up looking like them.

yogi
yogi

Well I'm sure the bill to keep the poor from eating and repealing ACA will be enough to cover your military bills, right?

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Boys With Toys strikes again. Soldiers and rifles aren't as sexy as ICBM's and Tomahawks, therefore we waste billions. And the contractors have enough clout that nothing will ever change.


Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@sacredhHey, look on the bright side. The hemorrhaging of the US treasury has been stanched just a tiny bit. US government deficits that in FY12 were running about $3 bpd (billions per day) are now in FY13 running less than $2 1/2 bpd. Yeah!

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@evil.aaronm Canada and Mexico haven't threatened the US recently. General Francisco Villa did raid some border towns down south in 1916, but Pancho was assassinated a long time ago and he won't be back.

manlyman
manlyman

Your "poor" will always eat. It's those of us who pay that bill who will have to tighten our belts.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@PaulDirks"And the contractors have enough clout that nothing will ever change."

Like the banks, big oil, big agriculture, Pharma, insurance, etc. That's our real welfare state.