There are at least two points of view on President Barack Obama’s decision to cut the U.S. military. Some observers contend that this is a normal process in the aftermath of a major war. Fewer men and women in uniform will be needed, and modifying our force structure is in order.
Another approach suggests that the president is driven by the desire to move funding “from guns to butter.” This left-wing view shows little understanding of military issues and is more interested in social and other domestic issues.
Personnel costs make up half of the Pentagon’s budget. De-fense Secretary Chuck Hagel worries that if personnel costs aren’t limited, they will eat into research and development as well as equipment and weapons purchases. Health costs alone have skyrocketed 200 percent since the year 2000. Other personnel expenses include pensions, salaries and cost-of-living adjustments. Additional benefits include access to commissaries, free medical service and day care. A soldier can draw a pension after 20 years of service. Proposed cuts would hit military retirees hard. Some estimates put the average loss at up to $72,000 per retiree.
To a lot of civilians, the military’s package looks overly generous. However, those serving in uniform believe the risks they take justify their benefits. Furthermore, in a professional volunteer military, such benefits are necessary to attract and keep outstanding people. Many in the military see the move to cut benefits as a violation of trust. They joined or remained in the service in part because of these benefits, and now could lose them.
Another area of proposed cuts involves the development, purchase and replacement of weapons and equipment. Plans call for reducing Navy carrier groups from 11 to 10 or fewer. Each carrier group consists of an aircraft carrier, an Aegis class cruiser, a replenishment ship, three or four frigates and two submarines.
The Army faces cuts of 70,000 to 80,000 personnel — from a present force 520,000 to around 450,000 or 440,000 active-duty soldiers. Army Reserve and National Guard cuts also also on the table.
The Air Force will be forced to retire all of its A-10 attack aircraft and the U-2 spy plane. Attention is now focused on the F-35 fighter. While it may be one of the best fighters in the world, serious problems must be corrected before it can go into mass production.
The military budget for 2014 is $496 billion. That is a lot of money. However, critics point out that cuts called for in the sequester are being enforced on the military while Obama would permit social expenditures to go through the roof.
In addition to wanting to spend more money on social programs, Obama advocates greater use of technology and Special Forces units. Unfor-tunately, history shows that you don’t always have the luxury of choosing the kind of war you will fight. Some observers note the increased military danger from China, which has a huge army. I would hate for a 440,000-soldier U.S. Army to go up against China with its million-man army.
Even more likely than a conflict with China is what Obama’s constant cutting of the military will do to our foreign policy. President Reagan used to refer to “Peace Through Strength.” And Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
Yet our foreign policy is less effective than it should be in part because the president speaks loudly, often making threats while emasculating the military and failing to follow through when his words are ignored.
No one fears the United States any longer, and few respect us. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in the Crimea are just the most recent case in which a foreign leader’s lack of respect for the United States encouraged him to act.
There is no doubt that after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, restructuring and modernizing our military is called for. However, if Obama’s plan is enacted, it would mean losing many highly skilled military personnel who would be difficult to replace. Our forces could have to deal with contingencies in a weakened condition.
Like President Carter, Obama appears happy to lead from behind. Unfortunately, that means abandoning the field to others to fill the vacuum.