The last time the US did this, we at least had the illusion of a “peace dividend” and unrivaled supremacy as the world’s only superpower. Now we’re fighting a tough war in Afghanistan, and China’s expanding its military might, if not its belligerence yet. According to Reuters, Barack Obama will unveil plans to downsize ground troops by “tens of thousands” while investing more in air and naval power:
The Obama administration will unveil a “more realistic” vision for the military on Thursday, with plans to cut tens of thousands of ground troops and invest more in air and sea power at a time of fiscal restraint, officials familiar with the plans said on Wednesday.
The strategic review of U.S. security interests will also emphasize an American presence in Asia, with less attention overall to Europe, Africa and Latin America alongside slower growth in the Pentagon’s budget, the officials said.
Though specific budget cut and troop reduction figures are not set to be announced on Thursday, officials confirmed to Reuters they would amount to a 10-15 percent decline in Army and Marine Corps numbers over the next decade, translating to tens of thousands of troops.
The most profound shift in the strategic review is an acceptance that the United States, even with the world’s largest military budget, cannot afford to maintain the ground troops to fight more than one major war at once. That is a move away from the “win-win” strategy that has dominated Pentagon funding decisions for decades.
This is a curious direction to take while our troops are still in Afghanistan. Obama increased the commitment there by “tens of thousands,” a good call, but an escalation that isn’t due to reverse until two years from now. One would expect that the US would want to make clear that we retain the ability to maintain those troop levels and could extend our commitment at any time if we so choose, so as not to embolden our enemies and make them think that our ability to wage war has been degraded.
It’s also curious because of the complaint often heard from Democrats during the Bush administration of overextending troop deployments through stop-loss, and the overuse of National Guard forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The reason for both was that the current level of funding for troops was not high enough to support two extended, small-to-medium sized conflicts at the same time while keeping our security commitments around the world. That’s not even the “win-win,” two-major-simultaneous-wars paradigm that “dominated Pentagon funding decisions” during the Cold War, but ended during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The rapid redeployment schedules used in the last decade showed that we may not be prepared to fight one major ground war, let alone two, for an extended period of time.
Of course, we avoid those wars through the use of our dominating naval and air power, and China has become a long-term threat in the Pacific to the former. We do need to invest in bolstering our Pacific fleet, and we should reconsider our security arrangements with western Europe, which can and should shoulder the costs of their own security. Those are healthy areas for consideration, but cutting tens of thousands of troops sounds like a dangerous direction for the US at this time.