President Obama has found uses for the U.S. military in spite of himself. Max Boot points out that he has just sent 3,000 troops to Liberia to “fight” Ebola; 1,500–and counting–to Iraq to counter ISIS; and hundreds, possibly thousands, more to Eastern Europe to deter Russia.
In addition, Obama sent more than 150 troops to Africa to fight Joseph Kony. And he keeps sending troops to carry out various Special Operations missions from Libya to Somalia.
Last but not least, he has committed to keeping at least 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after this year.
These numbers aren’t enormous, and in some cases they fall short of what is required for the task. However, as Boot says, “they are indicative of the continuing demand for U.S. military personnel around the world.”
Meanwhile, though, funding for the armed forces continues to decline precipitously. Michele Flournoy and Eric Edelman — senior former defense officials under President Obama and President George W. Bush, respectively — recently wrote:
The provisions of the Budget Control Act and sequestration have already precipitated a readiness crisis within our armed forces, with only a handful of Army brigades ready for crisis response, Air Force pilots unable to fly sufficient hours to keep up their skills and Navy ships unable to provide critical U.S. security presence in key regions.
Although last year’s congressional budget deal has granted some temporary relief, the return to sequestration in fiscal 2015 and beyond would result in a hollow force reminiscent of the late 1970s.
The Army has been the main victim. According to Boot, budget cuts are likely to shrink the active duty force from 510,000 soldiers today down to 420,000 by the end of the decade. The Army chief, Gen. Ray Odierno, has warned that going below 450,000 active duty personnel will result in an Army unable to meet even its minimal commitments.
Strikingly, as Boot observes, these cuts are occurring without any real debate. Democrats, by and large, are delighted to see the military shrink. Republicans, fixated on balancing the budget without increasing taxes, don’t seem particularly bothered.
We talk a good game about Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, etc. So far, however, we are unwilling to push for military spending commensurate with the dangerous world we correctly posit.