But, as the administration’s new strategic guidance makes clear, President Obama is ready to move on as if there is not still a war in Afghanistan or the Iranians are not threatening to choke off much of the world’s oil supply by closing the Strait of Hormuz. The president seems inclined to ignore the instability of North Korea, the volatility of the Arab world, and serious concerns about what we see and hear from places like Pakistan, Russia, China and Venezuela.
This naïve strategy has been tried before. Following virtually every major conflict the U.S. military has undergone a drawdown and, without fail, rogue leaders have arisen to fill a perceived vacuum and threaten freedom. After World War One our forces shrank by 90%; couple that with vast troop reductions by our allies and the die was cast for a dramatic need to ramp back up in the face of the global conflict that became World War Two. The same pattern after that war emboldened North Korea to invade its neighbors to the south, and the 1980’s military buildup under Ronald Reagan was necessary to replenish a force that was diminished in the post-Vietnam era.
Yet the current administration is disregarding this cycle in an astonishing way. According to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, under the new Obama strategy, “you have over the next four years a reduction in total defense spending as rapid as any we experienced after Vietnam or after the Cold War.” Not only is the president willing to repeat the mistakes of the past, but he is aiming to do so in record time.
Though the lesson here appears lost on President Obama, it seems fundamentally obvious. History bears out that Obama is foolishly proposing a defense strategy based on assumptions which even the Washington Post calls “shaky,” “risky” and “dubious.” His plan would reduce the size of manpower in the Army and Marines by 10 to 15 percent. And the troops that remain will see their already-degraded equipment stretched for longer periods without the benefit of modernization. There are also questions about whether the Obama cuts will leave Washington backtracking on health care and pension benefit promises made to our military. Our men and women in uniform will undoubtedly obey orders, but we will not be doing right by those who put their lives on the line.
Dramatically reducing our warfighting capabilities will have consequences. Nearly 100,000 troops face combat every day in Afghanistan. By trying to fix the $15.2 trillion national debt – a number that’s 43% higher since Obama took office – on the their backs, we are leaving unanswered the question of whether those forces in Afghanistan will be able to succeed and safely return home.
On a broader scale, our disengagement from a global posture portrays weakness which entices a dangerous leader like Iran’s Ahmadinejad to test the boundaries and continue his pursuit of nuclear weapons. And from our side, there are questions about what President Obama has in mind when he looks to reduce our nuclear weapons and not modernize the existing arsenal. Doing so takes one of our strongest deterrents for war off the table.
George Santayana instructs us, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It would do us well to remember, and to oppose the president's reckless defense strategy.
Rep. Fleming is a mermber of the House Armed Services committee.