July 18, 2006
A Warning from the Army Chief of StaffBy Douglas Hanson
The Army's Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker, has recently done something extraordinary within the realm of Beltway politics — he told the truth about our Army's readiness. His message before the House Committee on the Armed Services was simple and disturbing:
Five years after 9—11 and the US Army, the service that bears the largest burden in this conflict, is still struggling to build a force capable of conducting a long —term global war within established budget constraints.
This grim assessment may be hard for some to accept, but we need to know the unvarnished truth if we are to be victorious in this long struggle. Gen. Schoomaker's statement has not been widely publicized since it represents a major departure from the canned and formulaic readiness data spouted by his predecessors, and accepted as gospel by the media and certain spendthrift lawmakers.
I wrote about DC political and bureaucratic shenanigans in funding our military, barely a week before Gen. Schoomaker's testimony, and was pleased that he reinforced some of the same major points I made.
The 90s drawdown — worse than we thought
Serving high—ranking public officials and flag officers rarely, if ever, bring up short—sighted policies of past administrations. In my view, the mere mention by Schoomaker of troop strength and funding reductions during the Clinton administration demonstrates that he was handed an Army in much worse shape than we had imagined.
Gen. Schoomaker notes that 500,000 Soldiers were given their pink slips during the drawdown of the 90s. Active duty strength was reduced by roughly 285,000, and just as important, an additional 215,000 Soldiers were dropped from the Reserve Component rolls. Therefore, on September 11, 2001, not only did undermanned active duty units have an even greater need for reserve Soldiers as trained fillers, but the reserve units also had a vastly reduced manpower pool to satisfy the need for replacements in preparation for deployment.
Army equipment and weapons systems were no better off during the years of neglect. As Schoomaker notes,
The previous Army leadership must however, share the blame for this mess by failing to prioritize scarce budget dollars. In the 90s, we spent billions of dollars on ill—advised, pie—in—the—sky military transformation programs in order to satisfy the vision of quick and neat wars with no or low casualties fought from 30,000 feet using laser designators. Also, combat troops spent less time on the tank gunnery range and maneuver training centers and more time as armed meals—on—wheels providers. Meanwhile, uniformed and civilian leaders who promoted this nonsense were allowing the best warfighting equipment in the world to fall into disuse as it sat in motorpools for months on end.
Help was not on the way
George Bush the candidate was likely sincere in his 2000 campaign promise that he would reverse the effects of a too—severe drawdown. Yet, once in office, it seems as if he and Rumsfeld had no desire to tackle the DC political and military establishment head—on. After 9—11, they experienced a game played by the Pentagon during the 90s that was cynically carried forward to the eve of OIF. That is, sandbag the Congress and the President about the inordinate number of troops required for an operation, or make a jargon—filled Pentagonese excuse and hope the whole thing gets called off before the boss finds out they can't reasonably deliver on their promises. GW may have been sucker—punched with this bureaucratic technique, but an experienced player like Rumsfeld should have known better.
Operation Iraqi Freedom went ahead as planned, and the number of troops was sufficient for toppling Saddam's regime, but ever since, the Army has been struggling to get out of a huge hole in the middle of a prolonged fight against Hussein's Baathist irregulars. Rebuilding our troop strength up to stated pre—war levels has been a massive spending exercise with only a miniscule increase in numbers of Soldiers.
The equipment side of the equation has not received much help either. Gen. Schoomaker lays it out:
How does it happen that over two years after 9—11, after the successful campaign in Afghanistan and the buildup for OIF, that the Army was still $56 billion short of required equipment? As I noted in my earlier piece, the main culprit for this appalling situation is the flawed funding mechanism that makes use of discrete budget authorizations tied to specific military operations.
Since Congress thinks it must maintain both defense and non—defense related pork programs rather than make the tough budget decisions, only units scheduled for deployment are given spending authority to get their equipment fully repaired, and to order required sets, kits, and outfits. Even then, some units may receive this authorization so late in the game that they may have to embark without necessary gear. This is not a good way to prepare for battle. Gen. Schoomaker notes that policies of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) contribute to this budgetary sleight of hand in addition to Congressional reluctance to commit to victory.
Also, the bean counters at the Department of the Army continue to use meaningless or wildly unrealistic planning factors for calculating wartime costs. Gen. Schoomaker sets the record straight about battlefield operations:
To the layman, this huge error may be chalked up to an estimate based on historical data from the previous years of OIF that didn't play out due to unforeseen events, but it isn't. This 800 mile planning factor was used in the late 80s in a peacetime training environment! To use this figure for budget programming in war over 20 years later is either a case of gross negligence or incompetence, or both.
We are falling behind
The SecDef took the bold move of recalling Gen. Schoomaker out of retirement to lead the US Army in a momentous time in our history. As evidenced by his candor and courage in his Congressional statement, the General did not disappoint. He realizes that our country is in a war of national survival, and as the Army's top leader, he is willing to drop all political niceties in order to field a fully capable Army.
His sobering assessment comes at a critical time. We are in the third year of a massive reconstruction effort in Iraq that is too slowly coming to fruition mainly due to a one—year Sitzkrieg that allowed remnants of Saddam's Baathist army to escape and regroup. Diplomatic options are going nowhere concerning Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs; perhaps we are not yet capable of conducting any meaningful military action. I sincerely hope this is not the case. And now, both the western and eastern anchors of our strategic maneuver in the Central Region have come under attack.
Under the President's watch, the so—called pro—defense Republican executive branch and the Republican controlled Congress have lost a lot of credibility by not confronting Clinton holdovers in the defense establishment and the intelligence community. The Army is now paying the price for not dealing with our internal enemies and for continuing to kowtow to both defense and non—defense special interests.
When will our leaders get serious about this war?
Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.