Yesterday the Obama administration revealed how it plans to reorient our military in order to pay for the half a trillion dollars it wants in defense cuts over the next decade. Under the guise of creating a “leaner, meaner” and more mobile force, President Obama and Secretary of Defense Panetta will actually leave us with an Army, Navy, and Air Force that can be everywhere but fight nowhere; that’s able to act quickly but not decisively, and with few resources to deal with the unexpected — which tends to be the norm in strategic affairs — or project real power where it counts.
Even worse, the Obama-Panetta plan flies in the face of America’s experience in war over the last two decades.
The plan shrinks our Army and Marine Corps down to pre-9/11 levels, while slowing or halting new weapons programs, including replacement ships and planes, for the Navy and Air Force, including the next-generation F-35 fighter (which was supposed to be ruling the skies by 2020 but now will be making only the occasional cameo appearance). That will leave enough conventional forces, the administration insists, to fight one good long war if we need to.
Meanwhile, our operational emphasis will shift from big units and big bases to small, stealthy Special Ops forces and unmanned drone strikes (the one part of the budget that will see a big jump in funding, by 30 percent). These will operate from small “lily pad” bases scattered around the world like the new one planned for Darwin in northern Australia, where mobile Army units and Marine Expeditionary brigades can deploy to help local allies deal with threats, and then return to refit.
In short, Obama’s Team Six hit on Osama bin Laden, and his Predator drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, become the new paradigm for America’s future use of military power.
Let’s just hope our enemies cooperate. History strongly suggests they will do the opposite.
In fact, just about every administration and secretary of defense since the Cold War has aimed to create a leaner, meaner American military that’s more mobile and leaves a “smaller footprint” — while also requiring a smaller budget. Then events, and real-life threats, spoil their aim every time.
First there was Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War; then Bosnia and Kosovo; and then Iraq and Afghanistan. Each time the United States found itself having to mobilize large-scale forces with plenty of boots on the ground, and plenty of resources to keep them supplied and protected — the very things the Obama plan undercuts.
Indeed, the one war we did try to fight the Obama way with Special Forces and local allies alone — Afghanistan in 2001 — swiftly turned to disaster until we deployed enough firepower and troops, including Marines, to take the initiative away from the enemy and take and hold territory.
“Take and hold territory” is a concept totally foreign to the Obama way of war. But it’s something America’s fighting men and women have had to do time after time in the last century — and there’s no reason to assume they won’t be doing it again.
And here’s where Obama’s one-war-at-a-time standard spells trouble. It dramatically ties any future president’s hand in dealing with international crises since, unlike opponents in a Bruce Lee movie, America’s enemies rarely come on one at a time. They usually come in twos as in World War Two or even (as when North Korea threatened to heat up in 2003 when our troops were tied down in both Iraq and Afghanistan) in threes. How will a future president decide which conflict deserves the full commitment of American military resources, if he has only one roll of the dice — and how can he count on dispassionate advice on going to war from his military chiefs, who know the same thing?
The result will be a United States unwilling to use its power where and when it most counts, and reluctant to follow through on military operations that might trigger a conflict we feel our forces can’t handle.
That’s not a formula for peace. That’s a guarantee of future disaster.
— Arthur Herman’s newest book, Freedom’s Forge, will be released in May.