September 26, 2014

The War on Military Readiness

While budget cuts and humanitarian missions tax our military, we face “years” fighting ISIL.

Having taken away the option of “boots on the ground” to eradicate the murderous cutthroats of the Islamic State – yet placing 3,000 U.S. troops in harm’s way to fight Ebola in Liberia – Barack Obama reluctantly gave the go-ahead to a series of airstrikes and missile assaults on ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria, with “coalition” forces deploying aircraft, drones and dozens of Tomahawk missiles.

Despite the presence of coalition members Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, with Qatar “in a supporting role,” the vast majority of the armaments and strikes were provided and conducted by American forces. Moreover, the 47 Tomahawk missiles used in initial strikes comprised almost half the number Obama was planning on acquiring next year. In fact, he wants to eliminate that program by 2016. With our current stockpile of Tomahawks, we could maintain the current pace of strikes for only a matter of weeks, since Obama wasn’t planning to replace them. The Pentagon estimates our efforts in Iraq and Syria will cost between $7 million and $10 million per day.

Beyond that, officials at the Pentagon concede that wiping out ISIL could take a while. Lt. Gen. Bill Mayville called recent airstrikes “only the beginning” and warned that, to be successful, the operation would have a timeline “in terms of years.” One airstrike may bump up those all-important approval numbers and help Democrat senators in the polls. Yet to actually do long-term damage would require more diligence than Obama has exhibited thus far in the Long War.

Indeed, “in terms of years” is a far cry from “shifting away from a perpetual war footing” as Obama proclaimed to the UN last year. Having killed Osama bin Laden and “decimated” al-Qaida, Obama foolishly figured he could simply remove American forces and cede our influence in that volatile region of the world.

Given that thought process, it’s no surprise Obama’s latest defense budget signals a further retreat from military readiness at less than $500 billion, with corresponding manpower limits reducing the size of our military. According to Wall Street Journal foreign-affairs columnist Bret Stephens, “By 2017, the U.S. military will be an increasingly hollow force, with the Army as small as it was in 1940, before conscription; a Navy the size it was in 1917, before our entry into World War I; an Air Force flying the oldest – and smallest – fleet of planes in its history; and a nuclear arsenal no larger than it was during the Truman administration.” That’s not the sort of military that would suggest we’re ready for a prolonged fight against radical and resolute Islamist forces.

It’s worth asking a few questions: If our various coalition members were truly willing to eradicate ISIL, why did they not come together to do the job themselves? Those five allies who helped with this mission, along with France, certainly signed on knowing it was America’s fight, however reluctantly, to wipe out Islamist terror cells acting under the banner they call the Islamic State. So when – or if – we decide ground troops are necessary, will they lend a hand in that respect? Furthermore, can we really trust these Islamic allies? A favorite tactic of Islamist terrorists is the “blue-on-green” attack such as the one that killed Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene in Afghanistan recently. So who’s to say ISIL operatives won’t try to likewise infiltrate our allied forces?

We’ve spent years arguing that the Long War will indeed take years. If Obama finally comes to that realization as well, that’s a good thing. But he’s also making drastic cuts to our military while at the same time deploying our forces for such things as a humanitarian mission (read: campaign distraction) against an Ebola outbreak in Africa. It’s high time Obama began taking the job of commander in chief seriously.

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