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Last week I wrote a column

that called for, among other things, an increase in U.S. troop strength,
in order to provide this country with a more realistic force structure
that would match the Pentagon’s current warfighting strategies.

A number of readers seemed to find offensive the notion of increasing
our military capability to match our advertised military strategies. I
find that curious because the prudence of preparing to fight on a scale
that matches our national security needs seems painfully obvious.

Apparently, the Pentagon brass thinks that idea is prudent as well. I
don’t know if the Joints Chiefs read my column but it doesn’t matter
because their message is the same — “We’re doing too much militarily
with too little.” As a result, the Pentagon believes it cannot meet the
politically correct defense expectations of the administration or the
more realistic notions of the American people without increasing
military capabilities.

The problem is, the military is asking for increased troop strengths
and hardware based on the idea of continued deployment in conflicts that
don’t concern us. That’s a flawed strategy, and it isn’t why America
has a standing army in the first place. I’m saying that yes, we
do need increased capabilities but at the same time we need a lot
fewer global obligations.

I also understand the military is no different than most federal
departments or agencies. Everyone in government cries poverty.
Everyone wants more money for this or that.

But the military, in my view, has a legitimate gripe this time.
They’re being worked literally to death by the Clinton administration.
And in the process they’re saying they are no longer able to meet basic
defense needs. That’s serious, and it’s time we as a country listened
to what our military leaders are trying to tell us. We’re sure not
going to get a straight answer from the president or Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright.

Last week the Associated Press reported, “After a decade of shrinking
the military, the nation’s uniformed chiefs are beginning to call for an
about-face. The post-Cold War world, they argue, is putting a bigger
strain on America’s armed force than the Clinton administration and
Congress — even the military — had imagined.”

Specifically, “the Navy is eyeing more ships and sailors and the Air
Force more planes and pilots. The Army and Marine Corps … are
studying the matter but may also want more. The Navy (however) is the
most outspoken.”

Adm. Jay Johnson, the chief of naval operations, told AP, “We must
reverse our current downsizing trajectory.” He said there was “mounting
evidence” that the future fleet of just 305 ships the Navy once thought
enough — out of a force of 322 ships today — “is not likely to be
enough.”

I should say not.

As early as a few months ago the Navy ran short of carrier battle
groups to the point where, however briefly, the Asia-Pacific Theater was
without one for the first time since World War II. AP confirmed this in
their story.

Even now, as the USS Constellation loiters off the coast of South
Korea for a few days, enroute to the Persian Gulf, the Navy is feeling
the pinch because the Clinton administration simply has it doing too
much with too little. The Constellation can be ordered to stay if
needed, but that obviously means the deployed carriers in the Gulf will
have to stay longer also or, at worst, be short-handed until the new
group arrives.

Confirming what I reported last week, AP also said that today’s
military services overall are a third smaller than they were ten years
ago. Rep. “Ike” Skelton, D-Mo., who sits on the House Armed Services
Committee and is a regular supporter of increased military readiness and
spending, said, “We have found that peacetime is not what it used to
be,” noting that the pace of operations mandated by the leader of his
party is 300 percent faster since 1989.

Adm. Johnson added that the problem of underfunding and understaffing
is particularly acute for forces not first in line to deploy — in the
Navy’s case the ship and aircraft crews at home bases training for their
next mission.

However, he said, “You’re still expected to go here, train there, do
this, do that. You don’t have the people, you don’t have the parts, you
don’t have the money, and you’re just spinning yourself in. That’s
what’s killing us.”

Meanwhile the Air Force is reeling after its 11-week campaign against
Yugoslavia. One Air Force officer told AP, “In terms of the total
number of people,” general staff officers are studying the implications
and future needs for more planes and the pilots to fly them.

Gen. Eric Shinseki told reporters June 23 — a day after he took over
as Army chief of staff — that he believed the congressional limit of a
480,000-soldier army was too small.

And the Marines’ new Commandant, Gen. Jim Jones, said at his Senate
confirmation that the Corps has been cut back so far they lost a “shock
absorber” of force strength.

By now these dire warnings are becoming less quixotic and more
commonplace.

And all of this has happened because the Clinton administration,
backed by a weak and compliant Congress, squandered the defense dividend
built by Presidents Reagan and Bush. Talk about a waste of money.

In response to those who are concerned about arbitrarily increasing
the military’s size and budget, I would say, yes, we certainly need some
clarifications about how large the force should be grown and to what use
we will make of it. Americans won’t support an enlarged force for the
purposes of expanding our missions and overseas commitments, attacking
more sovereign countries, and pushing our way into conflicts we have no
business fighting.

So we have a couple of choices. We can either continue to ignore
this problem and allow our forces to be spread so thin as to be
ineffective when we really need them, or pressure lawmakers into
simultaneously rebuilding and reinvigorating our forces while
dramatically scaling back their deployments. Either way, this issue is
too important to ignore.

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