Fred Kaplan has a good column on Pentagon budget priorities:
Earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a directive declaring, “Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission. … They should be given priority comparable to combat operations” in all Defense Department activities, “including doctrine, organizations, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning.”
At the very least, this directive—which amounts to an official acknowledgement of the Iraq war’s mistakes—will require more military manpower if it’s to be a statement of policy and not just a smattering of nice words.
And yet, according to a story by Tom Bowman in the Dec. 21 Baltimore Sun, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is planning to cut the Army’s forces by 34,000 troops. That would entail eliminating one active-duty brigade and six National Guard brigades. (The latter aren’t trivial; nearly half the U.S. combat units in Iraq come from the National Guard.)
Budget pressures are forcing Rumsfeld to cut Pentagon spending by $32 billion over the next five years. But why is he taking his biggest whacks against the tokens of combat power—boots on the ground—that are, by his own admission, most vital? The Sun reports:
The manpower cuts stem from a decision by top Army leaders to sacrifice troop strength in order to provide money for new weapons systems and other new equipment, said defense officials, who requested anonymity.
So, not much has changed after all. We’ve been fighting a war that’s costing hundreds of billions of dollars. The Pentagon’s upper management at least says it realizes that “stabilization operations” (read: low-tech, high-manpower ops) are extremely important. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, leans toward this sentiment as well, having risen through the ranks in the Special Forces command. And yet, when it comes to setting priorities on how to spend money, the procurement chiefs—with their eyes on big-ticket weapons systems—still rule.
At this point, changing the shares that each service gets of the Pentagon budget is pretty much a non-starter. While it’s true that cutting a few F-22s and the DD(X) could help pay for additional Army personnel, to do so would break the back-scratching arrangement that the three services have constructed since the 1960s. The degree of political will necessary to make that happen exceeds what most administrations can bring, and, frankly, if the Bush administration couldn’t dent it, I doubt that anyone can.
That said, the position of the Army itself seems indefensible to me. Yes, I know that they really, really want FCS, and for some reason seem to think that it will help them in low-intensity operations. I can’t see how, but they seem to believe it. In the service of achieving this dubious goal, they’re willing to cut our capabilities for fighting a low-intensity conflict now, when we are, after all, in the middle of a low-intensity conflict.
Rumsfeld isn’t the only one to blame in this fiasco. The Army brass will also be responsible for the problems that these decisions create.