First off, the talk about Obama being a peacenik dove who was anti-military is way distorted: Defense budgets under Obama were plenty high; he made a point in his 2012 presidential debate against Romney to point out that defense spending had gone up every year under his administration. Also, defense spending is only part of the puzzle.
But under Trump, the U.S. military has seen relatively sedate times. No major wars (there was a bit of ongoing intervention in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, but that’s always going to be a given.) Unlike Bush, there has been no major war in Iraq or something that would truly deplete the military. Defense budgets are over $700 billion and may hit even higher highs. Trump’s creation of a Space Force, however, might not do much good and may just cause stovepiping and unnecessary bureaucratic bloat or redundancy.
So by and large the Trump presidency looks like good times for the Pentagon and armed forces?
From what I understand, the Navy is undergoing something of a readiness crisis, in that there aren’t enough ships to go around, training’s not getting done, depots/maintenance facilities are inadequate, etc… The Army is having recruiting and retention issues. The Air Force is having trouble with recruiting and retraining maintenance personnel. The Marines are having budgetary issues, mostly brought on by unplanned/unbudgeted expenses (i.e. stuff they weren’t expecting to do).
Let’s get the low blow out of the way early: the commander in chief is so incompetent that despite the fact that the military typically aligns very firmly with his party, he’s barely at an even approval rating among them. He’s a completely incompetent buffoon.
Beyond that… does it matter? I mean, really, does it matter? The US army is still undeniably the strongest in the world. There’s nobody who could credibly attack us, and pretty much nobody with any interest to do so (unless Europe starts getting all “NEVER AGAIN” about those concentration camps we’re running, fat chance).
Trump has totally undermined our intelligence services including the Navy’s 10th fleet (cyber command). The Navy crisis that bump mentioned is a longer lasting failure in leadership (IMHO). Personally, I think in this age of asymmetrical warfare Trump and the Republicans that support him have done lasting and significant damage to my country.
The second term saw massive cuts though driven by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The results saw large force structure cuts and the abandonment of the two major regional conflict approach as a result. In Obama’s second term his SECDEF was warning about either needing more money or having to choose between a hollow force and even greater cuts.
How the budget got approved was also a readiness issue. The Obama era saw us operating under continuing resolutions. That had corrosive effects on readiness. The uncertainty produced a famine then feast cycle within the fiscal year. We’ve managed to avoid a CR in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress seems to be chugging along on the 2019 NDAA although there’s some big issues to be settled between the House and Senate bills. Avoiding CR enables improvement even without increasing the spending top line.
It’s probably worth a look at last November’s review of our current situation by the non-partisan National Defense Strategy Commission (NDSC). That was a year long effort to really look at where we were. It was cross department, not merely DOD. It included input from our allies and non-governmental security experts. They had the ability to review both classified and open source information. There finding were not good. They are probably surprising to most of the American public which sadly makes them easier to ignore. Normal human bias makes us more likely to ignore or rationalize away shocking and uncomfortable data. The opening paragraph from the executive summary sets the stage:
It’s worth taking the time to read at least the summary, if not the entire report, for anyone that wants to understand the current state of our military to perform it’s strategic functions. It’s not pretty.
Congress has been working to address many of those issues under Trump…mostly without the knowledge of the American public. They were the ones that legislated the creation of the NDSC to do the review, after all. We’re at least working to rebuild our advantages in order to produce deterence. Call that a work in progress. Under Trump there’s been a pull back from the guiding principles behind US foreign policy, by both parties, since WWII. Mattis’ resignation letter pointed it out; that was the major area of disagreement. For me that’s a much bigger issue. We’re working to rebuild our capability to maintain the old framework but tearing down the framework. At this point there’s no clearly articulated replacement framework.
A couple of notes about the poll you cited. It was from back in October 2018 and was showing steadily degrading support for the pres. so its likely that his current support is net negative. Particularly since the poll also showed massive support of General Mattis, who was fired 2 months later, and still hasn’t been permanently replaced.
As has been pointed out above, this is definitely, not the case. Due to sequestration DoD spending was reduced in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and has not completely recovered from 2010 levels, not to mention recovered from 2010 considering inflation. This has caused readiness and procurement issues without a doubt.
Without going into details, I think one thing that virtually all in the military would agree on is that the US military strength vis-a-vis China has been reduced over the last ‘X’ amount of years. They are really the only competitor with the US at this point, and the US is losing ground to them.
How important that is depends on where you live I suppose and how much influence you’d like the US to have globally. I’d wager that even those that believe the US has overreached to the detriment of some, would be decidedly less pleased with a world shaped by China.
If you live in Paris or Connecticut you may not care that China is gaining on the US militarily. If you live in Taipei that’s probably more problematic.
Except the readiness and procurement issues you mention are the result of mismanagement by the Department of Defense, rather than a shortfall of funding.
In 2010, DoD had a regular (or “base”) budget of $528 billion and a war (known as OCO) budget of $163 billion. This OCO budget was driven by the large troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2019, DoD has a regular budget of $616 billion and an OCO budget of $69 billion. This base budget is almost exactly on par with spending in 2010, when inflation is accounted for.
What happened is that the Pentagon started spending OCO dollars on things that were not strictly war-related, so as OCO began to go away when troops started coming home, DoD found that it’s slush fund was being drawn down. So for example, let’s say a destroyer deployed to the Persian Gulf in 2010. When it came back for maintenance, DoD rules said it could use OCO funds to pay for the repairs, because it was somehow supporting operations in Iraq. Well, guess what: that destroyer would have deployed to the Gulf anyway, so OCO funds shouldn’t have been used.
Former Deputy Secretary Gordon England was the king of the OCO slush fund, and he (and others) dug DoD into a fiscal hole through their irresponsible mismanagement of taxpayer funds. Troops are paying the cost for this malfeasance today – less so than a few years ago, before Trump’s infusion of gobs of money into defense, but they still are.
China isn’t going to invade the US. They aren’t going to directly engage the US in a shooting war on any front, because that’s just not a thing nuclear powers do without the world ending, and China is part of the world. They’re not even threatening a cold war in any meaningful sense, unless you want to count cyberespionage and industry theft, in which case they can join the queue with Russia, Iran, North Korea, and quite a few others… and, more to the point, our overall military capabilities are irrelevant to begin with in that case.
Indeed, barring the kind of cold war that we had with Russia (the kind where a whole lot of countries get bombed for unclear reasons), military influence is just about the least important kind of influence. I’m not sure what you expect to happen in Taipei if the Chinese military becomes slightly stronger than the US military; as Sagan put it, “The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” If they suddenly come up with matches 4 through 6, I don’t really know how that changes the calculus or makes the idea of war with American allies any less suicidal.
They might engage the U.S. in a shooting conflict on the South China Sea, Diaoyutais, Taiwan or the Korean peninsula. There’s no reason to think nuclear powers will automatically pull the nuclear trigger in a war - it’s in the interest of both sides for a war to stay conventional.
Okay… But again, if we’re not interested in bringing our full force to bear, I’m not sure how relevant a marginal decline of our military effectiveness is. Either way, our military is more than strong enough to project enough influence into the South China Sea to dissuade China.
(Also, seriously? A shooting conflict? China’s power-hungry, but they’re not stupid enough to start a war with their biggest trading partner.)
Why do you assume this? China’s capabilities have increased a LOT in the last ten years. If a war happened in the western Pacific, it would look nothing like the wars we have seen in a long time. We operated carriers in the Persian Gulf with near-impunity during the Iraq war, because Iraq couldn’t do shit about it. Getting carriers within 1,000 miles of China in a shooting war is increasingly senseless, and some day we won’t be able to get carriers anywhere near China. It is inevitable.
Besides, they will be playing the home game, and we would be playing the very far from home game.
That’s literally what a lot of people thought about the 20th century wars in Europe.
We haven’t been able to dissuade China from building seven artificial islands. China is sufficiently aggressive that Taiwan is concerned with them, and works very hard not to entice them to action. China views Taiwan as the “Taiwan Province” or “Taiwan Area” and that is taken very seriously by Taiwan. There is ongoing friction dud to “freedom of the seas” efforts by the US.
Keep in mind that the South China Sea is 7,000 miles away from San Diego but obviously in the back yard of China. While the US military is getting smaller year by year, the Chinese military is getting larger and more capable.
I did a short tour of duty in Africa in the mid-1990s. Not considering Africans themselves, there were a fair amount of European businessmen there and some Americans. I did a multi week tour with a Senior DoD Officer recently, and the continent had a huge amount of Chinese business there that has replaced the west. There is a large concern of a limit of access to raw materials there by the US and her allies.
You may believe that it’s a no brainier that the US will be able to continue to dissuade China from aggression against Taiwan and throughout the world, but that is increasingly not the belief in Washington.
How is a net decrease in funding, not when measured against GDP or inflation, but a net decrease in baseline funding year after year possibly due to “mismanagement” by DoD?
Since 9/11, there was increasing pressure within the Pentagon to push whatever requirements that could go into OCO into that budget. But over time, Congress supported those efforts and push those efforts as OCO was “off the books” and didn’t count against spending caps. Both parties supported this.
So now, and over the past number of years there was an effort to move money back into the baseline if it truly belonged there, and reduce funding if it really wasn’t required by a war. This effort was compounded by sequestration however. Sequestration came at the worst time as this “supplemental to base” issue was going on. DoD was losing money, real money not just inflation adjusted funding, at the same time there were honest attempts to realign OCO and base funding.
Additionally, it wasn’t as if DoD was giving million dollar OCO bonuses. That money, even in your example, was still being used for operations and maintenance. So no matter what appropriation the funding was being given to DoD in, it was still supporting DoD.
So . . . I don’t agree with this either.
You toss out the $90M OCO reduction as if it doesn’t contribute to DoD readiness when it does. That’s a lot of maintenance and repair.
There was also a decline in readiness created by the reduction, or flat DoD spending levels from FY10 to FY18. I suspect you cherry picked FY19 as the first increase to DoD spending in close to a decade (since FY10 actually). Perhaps your boss could tell you that you’d either not get a raise, or you’d take a pay cut for 8 or 9 years, but I’ll give you a good raise in year nine and you’d be fine with it. But it doesn’t work that way when you run a business with payroll, parts, fuel, procurement and maintenance that is all increasing with inflation and you are living with a decreasing budget for four straight years and a flat budget over eight.
No matter how you slice it, DoD had a significant reduction in funding since FY10 that contributed to a decline in DoD’s readiness.
The Pentagon created this pressure, which is a fact. The base budget was receiving increases of several percentage points per year above inflation, and plowing that into mismanaged acquisition programs – FCS, TSAT, DDG-1000. Meanwhile, to afford these boondoggles, the DoD decided to start an irresponsible fiscal strategy of offloading as much of the regular cost of doing business – from depot maintenance to procurement – to OCO as much as the market would bear.
Yes, Congress approved these measures. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a scam.
Then when the gravy train of OCO ended, the Pentagon is basically like the alcoholic who claims, “But you can’t cut me off! You’ve been giving me all these free money for years, and yeah I’ve been using it irresponsibly… but this time I’ll be good!” And sequestration hits, then blammo – DoD for several years was laying in the bed that it made and got others to sign off on.
Oh, the people who knew that funding irresponsible stuff out of OCO just cared about the payday of cashing in on limitless supplementals that they knew Congress would approve “because we’re in a war and you can’t not support the troops.” Gordon England for one, as I mentioned.
For the better part of six years or so, there was zero fiscal responsibility at DoD. Not only was money wasted on bad programs, like I mentioned, but as Republicans took over Congress and demanded spending cuts, the Pentagon came to be hoisted on its own OCO petard. Boo hoo, we made bad decisions to use slush funds and now you can’t hold that against us.
I picked 2019 because that’s the year we are actually in, and you were comparing FY10 to what implied to be now. It doesn’t count as cherry-picking if you compare the past to today. What, would you prefer comparisons of one point in the past to another point in the past to draw conclusions about today? That’s the definition of cherry picking.
No matter how you slice it, DoD had a significant reduction in funding since FY10 that contributed to a decline in DoD’s readiness.
I’m saying there wasn’t a rapid decline in readiness during those years. I’m saying that when the cuts started coming, DoD chose to prioritize investments and endstrength over readiness. And now that the budgets are all about readiness, everything is described as readiness. “Sure, buying an F-35 isn’t about training… but its FUTURE readiness!!” What nonsense.