Generals Agree with Trump: Military Readiness in Decline

Ex-Pentagon bosses hand GOP nominee another line of attack

“Our depleted military.”

That line, often used by Republican nominee Donald Trump, really steams President  Obama and his hand-picked successor, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“We are in an extraordinarily rare position in American history where are our budgets are coming down but our missions are going up.”

Yet the truth is Obama’s own generals have often noted how much the U.S. armed forces have shrunk. Trump is merely voicing their concerns.

The increasing burden on a shrinking U.S. armed forces is a familiar topic in many trade newspapers and websites which cover the Pentagon.

In October of last year, Stars and Stripes reported that “an increasing workload and continuously shrinking budgets have pushed the United States Army to ‘the ragged edge of readiness,'” according to former Army Secretary John McHugh while speaking at the Association of the United States Army convention in Washington, D.C.

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Funding of the U.S. Army in particular was down, from a high of $144 billion, to $120 billion. Meanwhile, Army brass noted, threats are increasing.

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Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, has been vocal about being prepared to defend NATO allies in Europe from a growing Russian threat. Milley and others have watched Russia annex the Crimea region of the Ukraine, and also buzz our forces with their jets.

The Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia — are all NATO states. They are also ex-Soviet satellites. They nervously eye Russian President Vladimir Putin and his plans for a Russian revival as a major world power. If any of those states were to be invaded, it would likely set off an armed conflict between NATO and Russia.

The Army feels it has to prepare for that — but it also feels stretched thin. The U.S. Army has more than 150,000 soldiers deployed outside of the U.S., according to Stars and Stripes.

“We are in an extraordinarily rare position in American history where are our budgets are coming down but our missions are going up,” McHugh said last year.

It’s not just the Army. According to a report by the American Enterprise Institute released earlier this year, the entire armed forces have deteriorated.

The institute found that the Marine Corps and Navy, worn thin by high rates of deployment and deteriorating equipment, “could not keep up with the pace of global deployments.” AEI also found the Air Force had “sacrificed its ability to conduct a large-scale campaign with anywhere near the size and speed desired and continues to train pilots for only mission-specific needs.”

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Trump wants to get the Army levels to 540,000 troops. The Army is currently shrinking toward a target of 450,000 troops. The Army announced in July 2015 that it would cut 17,000 civilian workers.

Trump also wants a 350-ship Navy and an Air Force of 1,200 fighters. It’s similar to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 plans to grow the military. That plan too drew the ire of Obama.

Romney also said Russia was the No. 1 threat to the United States. Obama mocked him for that. But then Milley admitted that Russia was indeed the No. 1 threat at the Defense One Summit on Nov. 2.

Now, Trump has actual remarks of concern by Pentagon brass about readiness, threats, and troop levels. And the generals —  an apolitical bunch — are carefully trying to toe the White House line.

Milley told this year’s AUSA attendees that it’s not just about troops levels.

Rebuilding is “not about numbers [alone]. It is about capabilities,” Milley said, according to The Washington Times.

Trump has also been listening to maverick Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the retired head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn is Trump’s top military adviser.

Flynn says the U.S. war on ISIS has been disappointing. Flynn told LifeZette last week that the steady buildup of troops in Iraq, to help take back Mosul, has been too public. The U.S. military is basically telling ISIS everything about the operation, including signaling that a major offensive by Iraqi troops will be carried out in October.

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The U.S. military has 4,565 troops serving in Iraq today. At the end of September, President Obama said he would add another 615 troops.

Mosul is the largest Middle East city that ISIS occupies. The United States, which left Iraq by pulling its last 500 troops in December 2011, has been steadily sending troops back into the Baghdad area to help Iraq take back large swaths of territory left vulnerable by the pullout. The first troop deployment was made in June 2014.

Trump blames Obama’s complete withdrawal in 2011 for the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Clinton has denounced Trump’s criticism of military readiness, suggesting it was “bluster” and “loose talk.” Clinton perhaps fears an opening by Trump.

Still, the “ragged edge of readiness” remark by McHugh doesn’t appear to have been repeated by Trump.

If Trump should start quoting McHugh’s remark, he may find a new edge over Clinton. As Trump learned with Bill Clinton and Obamacare, nothing works quite so well as your opponent’s own words.

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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