The challenges that President Obama faces may be as great as those of any previous president. He confronts an economic crisis that some are equating with the Great Depression. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair recently stated, “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis.” This crisis is of such import that it demands almost the total attention of the administration and Congress. Solving the crisis, according to the president, “will take time — perhaps many years.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq require sufficient resourcing to bring them to a successful conclusion, although that will inhibit our effort to overcome the financial crisis. These wars are part of the Long War, the war against worldwide terrorism that will continue for decades. We must win if our children and grandchildren are to enjoy the freedoms that many of us take for granted.
There are insufficient troops in Afghanistan. The president has directed that soldiers and Marines be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan to fill the request of Gen. David McKiernan, the commander there.
Whether the tenuous progress in Iraq can be maintained during the shift is debatable. Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno have cautioned against a too-rapid withdrawal controlled by a rigid time schedule. Outgoing Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker agrees that a quick drawdown could impose additional risks to establishing a secure, stable Iraq.
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Will we make the same mistake in Iraq that we made in Afghanistan? The hurried shifting of forces from Afghanistan to Iraq is partially blamed for Osama bin Laden’s escape.
Will the Afghanistan commitment rise to the monumental drain on our resources that Iraq is? During the campaign, Senator Obama called Afghanistan the “good war.” I doubt that he would use the same term today.
Risks and stressesThe fact that troops must be moved from Iraq to meet requirements in Afghanistan is one indication of the precarious shortages in the Army.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a meeting with 500 soldiers recently, asked how many had just completed their fourth deployment. (Deployments are from 12 to 15 months, with around 12 months between deployments.) Forty to 50 percent of the soldiers raised their hands, indicating that their total time away from home was 48 to 60 months. Repetitive deployments give the soldiers little time to raise kids and take a break. And what about the impact on the spouses? Army spouses are “combat multipliers.” They, too, are under tremendous strain. In 2003, the active-duty Army was authorized an increase of 65,000 for an end strength of 547,000 by 2012. In December 2008, the Army was only 4,000 short of the goal. At that time, Undersecretary of the Army Nelson Ford said that the Army needed at least another 30,000 to meet current requirements.
This end strength of nearly 580,000 is insufficient to solve the deployment requirements to include enough dwell time for necessary training and the rebuilding, repair and resupply of needed equipment. According to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, the demands are so significant that maintaining the all-volunteer Army is difficult.
Our defense focus — money, people, training, weapons and equipment — has shifted strongly to counterinsurgency. Adm. Mullen voiced his concern that the emphasis on and requirements for Afghanistan and Iraq have prevented the armed forces from being ready for the full spectrum of war. Gen. Casey stated that at least 18 months are required in order to train for full-spectrum operations. There are insufficient resources to prepare for both conventional war and counterinsurgency or stability operations.
Determining the proper balance of resources is a daunting requirement. Some weapons — futuristic high-performance aircraft, for example — are not needed in counterinsurgency. They are extremely expensive, particularly when viewed in connection with our economic constraints.
Even with the increased projected strength, there will still be little or no strategic reserve needed for contingencies. Insufficient reserves can embolden possible antagonists such as Iran, North Korea or Russia, or any number of otherwise unfriendly nation states and political movements. The Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard Cody, described the situation thusly: “I have never seen our lack of strategic depth as it is today.” The situation is similar to that of the homeowner who has enough money to meet the monthly mortgage payments but none in reserve to replace the roof if a hurricane destroys it.
Shared sacrificeOur new president needs to confront the shortage of ground troops. A New York Times editorial stated: “The 21st century has already shown that America’s need for active-duty ground forces will be considerably greater than once expected, not just for war-fighting, but also for training foreign forces, peacekeeping and other missions. It has also shown that assuring the security of America’s homeland has again become an essential requirement of overall defense planning.”
The president cannot expect a totally volunteer military force to meet this shortfall. Less than one-half of 1 percent of our population serves in the armed forces.
I believe the draft is the only way to meet the shortage. I know of no military leader who wants to return to the draft. They prefer volunteers to draftees. There are few if any ideas that would raise the ire of Americans more than talk of reinstituting the draft.
Mr. President, you have no more loyal group of people than your soldiers. They will give their lives — and are doing so every day — to protect this great country. No matter the hardships they undergo, your soldiers will do all that they can to carry out your orders. One of the Army’s greatest strength is that the Army will never say “can’t.” No matter how difficult the mission, the Army salutes and moves out. (That also may be the Army’s greatest weakness.)
The day after 9/11, President Bush could have asked the people of this country for anything and he would have gotten it. He asked for nothing — and he got nothing. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, when Army chief of staff, said America is simply not sacrificing enough to fight the “long war” on terrorism.
President Obama, will you ask the rest of us to share the burden of defending our country?
Unfortunately, defeating the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan – if we are successful – will not end the threat. Terrorism is a problem facing much of the world today. The Long War will last for decades.
Terrorism cannot be eliminated; it will go on forever. It is the weapon of choice for the weak.
The crises facing President Obama provide him the opportunity for greatness. I hope he becomes one of the greatest presidents we ever had; we have seldom if ever needed a great leader more. He has my support and best wishes — 100 percent and then some.