Politics & Policy

Term Limits for Troops?

Webb of nonsense.

Call it mandatory R&R. Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.) wants to give our warriors a break from the battlegrounds — no matter what.

He has introduced an amendment (S. 2001) to the Defense authorization bill that would bar any unit — or any individual soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine — from returning to service in Iraq or Afghanistan unless they’ve been rested at home for at least as long as their last stint “over there.” He also would bar the Pentagon from sending over any unit or member of the Reserves (National Guard included) that’s been deployed within the last three years.

It’s only natural to want to reduce war’s stress on our troops and their families. But the Webb amendment is a pernicious way to go about it.

For starters, it would fundamentally alter how America fights wars. The Constitution pegs the president, and only the president, as our nation’s commander-in-chief. Decisions on how we fight our wars — both in terms of grand strategy and in the details concerning troop deployments and rotation schedules — are to be made in the Oval Office, not under the Capitol dome.

Beyond the little matter of unconstitutional encroachment of power, there’s another problem with Webb’s amendment: It’s unrealistic. As a war veteran, Webb surely knows that armies rarely go into battle with all the equipment, people, and preparation they need. Had the idealistic rotation schedule Webb desires held sway earlier, Americans would have never fought at Trenton, Cantigny, the Battle of the Bulge, or the Chosin Reservoir.

No army can fight and win with these kinds of restrictions. Even with a “safety valve” — a in event of military necessity — the arrangement would be unworkable. Inevitably, waiver criteria — and the intent to exercise the waiver option — would be highly controversial. And delays in obtaining waivers could cost lives.

The Webb amendment offers a waiver only in the event of an “operational emergency posing a vital threat to national security interests.” To get a waiver, the president would have to certify to Congress that the desired deployment is necessary. But “necessary” is not defined, leaving any waiver open to debate — and doubt — at the very time when national security is seriously jeopardized. The amendment serves to undermine the commanderin-chief’s capacity to defend the nation.

No one is more highly motivated to “take better care of the troops” than their commanders. And they are already doing their best in this regard:

‐ Current Army policy, which allows soldiers to be deployed 15 months instead of the previous12-month limit, stipulates that they receive no less than one year at home. And, as with previous extensions, soldiers receive extra pay ($1,000 per month) or additional time off for each month beyond 12 spent in combat.

‐ The existing policy for members of the Reserve Component is one year deployed and five years stateside, unless the soldier volunteers for repeat tours.

‐ Active-duty Marines are sent on seven-month combat tours with six months at home between deployments.

Certainly America is asking much of its ground forces. But an Associated Press analysis of Pentagon records found just last month that 45 percent of our Marines and more than a third (37 percent) of our Army soldiers have never been deployed to combat zones.

There are reasons these forces haven’t been sent to the battlefield. They may not have the specialized skills required to accomplish the specific missions needed. Perhaps their specialized skills are better employed elsewhere overseas. Whatever the reasons, they would be trumped by Webb’s clumsy amendment, which would require commanders to make operational deployment decisions based on arbitrary time limits rather than battlefield needs.

In April, Defense Secretary Gates told reporters that, if he hadn’t been able to extend the standard tour length to 15 months, he would have been forced to send five Army brigades to Iraq before their year at home was up. The 15-month tour length, he said, was a fairer approach, one in which all soldiers share an equal burden.

The Webb amendment would produce the opposite effect, sending many soldiers overseas far sooner than the Pentagon had planned. The recent decision to extend some tours by three months lets military leaders extend the time between rotations and the number of troops they need in the pipeline. That, in turn, slows the pace of deployments and relieves pressure on the force overall.

But, then, the Webb amendment isn’t really aimed at relieving troop stress. It’s much more about ratcheting up the pressure — on the commander-in-chief and our troops — to cut and run from Iraq.

James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow on national-security issues at the Heritage Foundation.


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