When the U.S. secretary of defense announced the proposed cuts in the military last week, anyone with a knowledge of history or an understanding of how long it takes to rebuild a military must have been shocked.
It is even more shocking because we have been down this road before. By the end of World War II the U.S. Navy had command of the largest and most powerful fleet in history. The Marine Corps had nearly half a million men and fielded six divisions. The U.S. Army had defeated the Germans and was prepared to assault the Japanese home islands with countless divisions and support troops. Less than five years later, the Navy had to borrow landing craft from the Japanese in order to ferry troops to Korea and the Marines had to empty out its posts and stations in this country in order to send a brigade to Korea. U.S. Army and Korean forces nearly were pushed out of South Korea by attacking North Koreas in June of 1950. Many key individuals and some reserve units were activated to fight in Korea and after three years, an armistice was signed ending the fighting. That particular "police action" cost this country dearly in lives and treasure.
The end of the Vietnam War was another time when the military was in disfavor and neglected. The election of President Reagan saw a revitalization of the military and that paid dividends during the first Iraqi War when a well-trained and led military that was well armed made fast work of the reportedly third largest army in a matter of days. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to another huge reduction of the military as a "Cold War Victory bonus."
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the endurance of our military even as it has responded outstandingly. The war in Iraq was won and then the peace was lost through politics. Afghanistan is winding down and the president has issued an ultimatum to President Kharrazi of Afghanistan about leaving a residual American force behind to train the Afghanistan army. The outlook does not look good and we may see the enemy that we fought return when we depart.
This is a very short history, but it shows that when we appear to be weak, it encourages our enemies to be much bolder than when we are strong. There is no doubt that our military can be reduced, but the reductions should be done auspiciously and not just for budgetary reasons. I also can understand reductions if the entire government spending was being reduced and we were moving to reduce spending and balance the budget, but that is not the case. Reductions in military spending will provide additional money for other domestic programs such as food stamps and welfare. President Obama announced that the days of austerity are over and on Wednesday Rep. Nancy Pelosi stated there is no room for any more cuts in the budget. Entitlements have gone through the roof during the past five years, so I fail to see these cuts. We still spend more each year than we bring into the treasury and our debt has increased exponentially.
Both our friends and enemies will be watching closely to determine what effect this military reduction will have on them. The latest poll reports that 53 percent of Americans polled do not think our president is respected by foreign leaders. That is telling, but should not be surprising when one considers how we have treated some of our closest friends while allowing some of our enemies to ignore us. North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan are potential hot spots. Israel, England, Japan and the emerging countries in eastern Europe must be wondering how this latest announcement will effect them.
Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense, said during his announcement that the United States no longer can expect to have superiority in the land, air or sea. That probably got a high-five from our enemies. Risk is always part of military planning and operations, and we have fared well in the past. Our technology can account for an edge on the battlefield, but it does not show presence and commitment. Ships, aircraft and equipment require maintenance and that is why there are sufficient quantities for each to account for that. Unlike civilian similar items, the military consistently must fly straight, sail from port to port and drive dependable vehicles. Machines wear out. An even simpler example: If a guard is needed, it does not mean one man. The need is for 24 hours so that means three men and probably a supernumerary in case of sickness.
Cuts are needed because we no longer can spend more money than we have; but much like an operation, it should be with a scalpel and not an axe.
Donald Myers is a retired Marine Colonel and regular contributor to Hernando Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.