Monday, November 18, 2013

Cutting Military Pay: Don't Play Politics With The Troops

"You can't expect this country to maintain a strong military if we aren't maintaining some kind of common-sense budgeting," Leon Panetta, the former Defense secretary in the Wall Street Journal

Of course, this is a complete red herring, as Secretary Panetta is a career politician operating in an arena where common sense is completely absent.  Government budgeting has nothing to do with budgeting or common sense.

"We have the analytic tools that potentially we didn't have before." General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also in the WSJ. 

What tools are those?  Countless commissions of the armed services, think tanks and legislatures have identified the problems over decades.  

These kind of grandstanding comments give cover to focus on relatively small pieces of the puzzle, because the biggest barriers to efficiency, real cost controls and a better military are the political and military elites themselves.

Where does it begin?  According to Professor Andrew Bacevich, Professor of History at Boston University the problems lie at home with our own policies and failed assumptions.  Professor Bacevich retired from active duty in the Army with the rank of colonel. 

Our all volunteer army concept is at the root of our problems that have building for decades, as Bacevich writes in the compelling, "Breach of Trust."  Most observers know that we have too many military bases here at home and worldwide.  Domestic base closures have been identified and recommended, but Congressional leaders always fight to keep their own state's facilities free from right sizing.  Congress members and Presidential staff all agree that development of duplicative weapons systems and aircraft must be stopped, until it comes to closing down research and manufacturing in their home states. The big dollars are here in these issues, and if action is taken here, then headcount reductions follow and compensation would be significantly reduced, but through lower staffing levels and not by pay rates alone. The latter are blunt instruments.

Over time, our military were called on to invade and control Iraq in a traditional style, tank, artillery, aircraft and ground troop invasion, and this was carried out in exemplary fashion.  Then, we asked our military to become 'nation builders,' and we overstayed our welcome. In Afghanistan, our troops were put into absolutely untenable positions with no clear military objectives.  This situation is vividly described in Jake Tapper's "The Outpost." Trained soldiers and their commanders were asked to fight an enemy who couldn't be differentiated from the tribal leaders whose support they were supposed be garnering by winning hearts and minds.  Tours of duty were too long, and farces like "the surge" made us all at home feel safe and sound that things were going well. 

We wind up fighting as a foreign invader against trained foreign jihadists and guerrilla fighters from Chechnya and Pakistan tribal territories while engaging in nation building.  These are tasks that are impossible to carry out simultaneously by troops without the proper military intelligence and support. It's not a matter of pay.  

Further, the illusion of fighting wars with contractors makes no sense, budgetary or otherwise.  So, as the defense budget continues to shrink as a total share of Federal spending, we are staring at an abyss in the future. Having National Guard regiments serve in ways that were never in their traditional terms of reference does nothing to strengthen this service, but it does demoralize troops who have to serve multiple tours abroad. 

Demands on our capability to project our power and to defend our citizens and way of life will grow greater and more complex.  We can do this in an intelligent way, but cutting military pay as a first step is an insult to those who serve and it is shameful posturing by the legislative and military elites who know very well where the big dollar savings lie.  

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