- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

When the White House released its fiscal 2008 budget in early February, it sought more than $700 billion for national defense, including a $93 billion supplemental for 2007. The Bush administration has almost certainly low-balled the amount of money needed for national security. That conclusion may not be self-evident when initially viewed in the context of the recent spending requests. But it should become crystal clear after one realizes that the White House did not request any money in budget authority for funding the 21,500-troop surge in Iraq beyond Sept. 30.

Due to a shortage of trucks, thousands of those troops will not surge into Baghdad until June, if then. Moreover, the White House has proposed spending only $50 billion for the war on terror in 2009, after seeking $142 billion in 2008, which, remember, doesn’t include any money for the surge.

The 2008 defense-spending blueprint continues a disturbing pattern that began in early 2001, when the Bush administration released its first budget. After America spent a dozen years cashing peace-dividend checks as inflation-adjusted defense spending fell by 27 percent from 1989 to 2001, the Bush administration proposed a five-year plan that would have raised defense spending less than 7 percent by 2006. As a share of gross domestic product, defense spending would have fallen to 2.6 percent in 2006, well below the 3.3 percent average during the Clinton-Gore administration. We are now in the middle of hot wars in two theaters, both of which are deteriorating in the midst of a worrisome reduction in troop readiness for soldiers training at home to deploy overseas. The time has come to bite the bullet and spend whatever it takes to make the military whole once again. The 2008 budget blueprint does not meet this standard.

“We can’t do it by keeping shooting behind the ducks,” retiring Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We have to get ahead of the program, and that means adequate funding in a timely fashion to get ahead of where we have to go.” While Gen. Schoomaker made these perceptive comments ostensibly in support of the recent spending requests, it is clear from his testimony and the testimony of others that the blueprint on the table will amount to little more than “shooting behind the ducks” for a while longer.

Gen. Schoomaker has frequently reminded Congress that “a $100 billion in underinvestment in the United States Army occurred following the Cold War,” as the Army became “the major bill payer in the peace dividend.” When the Iraq war began four years ago, the equipment deficit still totaled $56 billion. Judged by the funds belatedly requested in 2007 and 2008 to reconstitute the equipment lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, that deficit is much higher today. The equipment situation is so perilous that the Army had to draw down prepositioned stocks as “part of the solution to accelerate the brigades” surging into Baghdad. Needless to say, that gambit “increases the risk to our strategic depth,” Gen. Schoomaker acknowledged, declining to “go into specifics” in an unclassified setting. Forced to send equipment from units principally in the United States to Iraq and Afghanistan, he further explained that the readiness of nondeployed troops necessarily suffered.

While he guaranteed the Senate committee that the forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan “continue to be the very best trained, led and equipped,” he declined to “say in an unclassified forum” what percentage of the nondeployed active-duty force is trained and ready for worldwide commitment. For the National Guard and the Army Reserve, the situation is much worse. A future editorial will provide the details.

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