One of America’s more thoughtful military strategists, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a veteran of ground combat in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, says that our “defense strategy is unbalanced, incoherent and underfunded.”
McCaffrey made his comments and recommendations in a six-page analysis addressed to professors at West Point, where he's an adjunct professor of international relations.
For someone who spent his entire career in Army green, from West Point to four stars, McCaffrey found that U.S. defense modernization dollars and manpower resources are being poured into a rat-hole, or as he put it, “the ground combat meat-grinder,” of the war in Iraq at the rate of $12 billion a month.
What’s being sacrificed, the general wrote, is future control of the vital air and sea-lanes and operational maneuver areas surrounding regional Pacific allies such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, as well as the Alaskan sea frontier.
McCaffrey said the greatest challenge to America's national security and foreign policy in the next 15 years will come with “the certain emergence of the People’s Republic of China as a global economic and political power with the military muscle to challenge and neutralize the deterrence capacity of the U.S. Navy and Air Force in the broad reaches of the Pacific maritime frontier.”
He added that China will soon have the military capacity to pose a survival threat to American defensive capabilities, as well as to our ability to project power along the Pacific littoral.
By 2020, the general wrote, we'll also be facing a resurgence of the military power projection capabilities of the Russian Federation and the emergence of other regional maritime and air powers — India, Iran, Pakistan and Japan.
McCaffrey said he fears that as the Iraq disaster unwinds over the next 36 months, “We may swing from the eerie immaturity of the Rumsfeld era focus on the magic of technology as the sole determinant of national security to an equally disastrous concentration on building a ground combat force which could have won Iraq from the start — absent the bad judgment of the Rumsfeld Pentagon and compliant generals.”
“We should create a U.S. National Security policy based principally on the deterrence capabilities of a dominant global Air Force and Naval presence,” McCaffrey wrote, adding that the money to do this with can't be squeezed out of the current defense budget, which comprises only 4 percent of America's GNP.
The Air Force in particular is badly underfunded, McCaffrey noted, adding that Air Force manpower is shrinking and that its aging strike, airlift and aerial tanker fleets are being ground down by non-stop global operations.
“The U.S. Air Force is our primary national strategic force . . . yet it is too small, has inadequate numbers of aging aircraft, has been marginalized in the current strategic debate and has mortgaged its modernization program to allow diversion of funds to prosecute” under-funded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
McCaffrey said the next administration must fix all these funding shortfalls for the Air Force “or we will place the American people in enormous peril.”
The general’s focus in his report was on the Air Force, but he argued that the U.S. Army, with a total active duty force of more than 500,000 troops, is far too small and should be rebuilt to 800,000 troops. He noted that the Army National Guard has critical equipment shortages; ammunition and equipment reserves have been drawn down and used up in Iraq; the special operations forces are stretched to the breaking point; and training for the full range of possible combat missions has been halted for three years.
When McCaffrey sounds the alarm, it’s time to begin paying attention. He doesn’t scare easily, and he doesn’t cry wolf unless one is chewing on his leg.
If anyone besides George W. Bush and Dick Cheney still thinks that invading Iraq was a good idea, consider that to date it's cost our nation $600 billion and that hidden future costs could bring that to as much as $2 trillion even if the war ended tomorrow.
That's money that might have been better spent on a host of domestic priorities, including reinforcing and re-equipping a military force capable of defending America and its allies now and in an uncertain future, one that's been made far more dangerous by the mistakes of a bunch of incompetent amateurs.