In a recent op-ed, defense expert Mackenzie Eaglen points to the USS Essex as an unfortunate example of concerns about military readiness. Equipment failures prevented the amphibious assault ship from setting sail on schedule—for the second time in seven months.
Eaglen lists various other malfunctions across the armed services that are causing readiness disruptions. These current problems are the result of years of under-funded maintenance and modernization work.
The Obama Administration has repeatedly argued that as America draws out of two foreign wars, its security forces can shrink accordingly. However, Eaglen provides an unsettling counterpoint: “While the Navy’s fleet has shrunk by about 15 percent since 1998, the number of ships deployed overseas has remained constant.”
The military’s responsibilities span the globe, a fact Obama recognizes in his recent strategic guidance. Yet only months after this guidance, the President’s budget request called for decommissioning seven cruisers, pushing the nuclear submarine replacement out of the Future Years Defense Plan, and slashing the Joint Strike Fighter program.
The writing was on the wall during President Clinton’s “peace dividend,” which slashed defense budgets so the Administration could appear fiscally responsible. However, the military could barely perform small-scale operations like those that took place in Kosovo.
Obama thinks he can grow the economy through similar measures, but what he fails to acknowledge is that defense spending over the past 10 years has gone primarily to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military has skipped a generation of modernization in the process, and current and future military cuts will amount to a dividend on top of a dividend.
Defense spending, which is less than one-fifth of the federal budget, has already accounted for half of all deficit reduction measures. Cutting national security for fiscal means is both ineffective and irresponsible. As The Heritage Foundation’s president, Ed Feulner, puts it, “We can’t keep the peace if our military is in pieces.”