In chaotic world, strong American land power has intrinsic value

In chaotic world, strong American land power has intrinsic value

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

John Gifford 
Director Government Affairs 

I write this, the president has just released his last budget request. 

The amount requested for defense was limited by last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act, but at least that limit was higher than if sequestration were implemented. 

Still, defense hawks are saying the amount isn’t enough, and budget hawks are saying it spends too much. 

The truth depends on your assumptions.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was a band-aid measure to prevent further damage by the Budget Control Act (BCA) and sequestration for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. 

When the BCA was passed in August 2011, it was based on many assumptions that no longer apply. 

For instance, the "Great Recession" of 2008-2009 was still at the forefront of our economic headlines as the recovery slowly moved forward with fits and starts. Oil was $110 a barrel. Unemployment was still over 9 percent. The annual deficit was $1.3 trillion.

Internationally, Russia was preparing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. 

The United States had concluded combat operations in Iraq, and was preparing to focus on Afghanistan, while contemplating a shift to the Pacific. Al Qaeda seemed to be in decline. 

Now it is March 2016. 

Economically, the situation has changed for the better. The annual deficit for 2015 declined to less than $500 billion, unemployment fell to 4.9 percent, and there is a glut of oil at $30 a barrel. 

The loans to Wall Street and the car companies have been repaid with interest, and Fannie Mae is now pumping millions of dollars in profit into the Treasury’s coffers. 

Although middle class wages are still stagnant, the economy has probably turned the corner toward growth. 

The strategic situation has also changed, but significantly for the worse. 

Russia annexed Crimea and is still threatening eastern Ukraine. Syria is engulfed in a civil war. ISIS occupies huge swaths of Iraq and Syria, beheading prisoners on video and motivating attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. 

China is building military airfields on top of manmade islands, anchored on small reefs in disputed international waters. North Korea is led by an unstable dictator who is testing nuclear weapons and launching payloads into space. 

The world of 2016 is more chaotic and less safe than the world of 2011.

In the midst of this critical strategic situation, sequestration looms over our military. 

Hard decisions are being made to meet an arbitrary budget cap, instead of to support a national security strategy. 

Our Army is consuming itself with trying to maintain a smaller trained and ready force, while conducting operations in 140 countries around the globe. Meanwhile, budget constraints are reducing its manpower and capability every day.

The Regular Army will cut 120,000 soldiers between 2012 and 2017 (21 percent decrease).

The Total Army (Regular, Reserve and National Guard) will decrease from 1,043,000 to 980,000 under the current budget plan, and down to 920,000 if the sequestration law is not changed by Congress.

At 920,000, the Army chief of staff has testified that the force would be unable to simultaneously meet current deployment requirements and respond to overseas contingencies. 

The strategic risk is increasing every day. 

The next president may take office and find we have a hollow Army again. With further cuts the Army could be caught in a death spiral, unable to recruit and retain a volunteer force, with units no longer ready to fight and win America’s wars. 

The Army is like a forest. It can be cut down and cleared fairly quickly, but if you decide you want to grow it back, it will take many years. 

The All-Volunteer Force is not the same as the conscripted force of World War II, where a small professional cadre stood by to receive an unskilled force of draftees in a time of national emergency. 

Today’s soldiers are highly skilled, continually trained on complex equipment, and experienced at combined arms warfare. Today’s fighting organizations take years to build.

We are currently on a path that could lead to another Kasserine Pass or Task Force Smith, where our Army will be sent into harm’s way and our soldiers will die because they weren’t ready – all because our country did not resource them sufficiently before the conflict started because of an outdated, budget driven exercise that no longer reflects the strategic reality.

Strong American landpower has intrinsic value. 

In order to deter those who would act against our national interests requires our credible ability to place ready American soldiers on the ground where it matters. Weakened landpower changes the calculations of opposing leaders, emboldening them. 

It is time for the Congress and the president to stop the political gamesmanship and strike a deal which repeals sequestration and BCA caps from defense spending before irreversible damage occurs. 

Our future, and that of our Allies depends on it. 

Let Congress know that you are highly concerned about our national security, and you are depending on them to do their duty to protect our country with sufficient resources for our military. 

Sequestration must be repealed now.

See you on the high ground.