The most damaging cuts in the 2012 defense budget may be among the hardest to detect. Tucked away in the Army and Marine Corps personnel accounts will be reductions in recruiting and retention spending that reflect the first, thin edge of the force cuts that won’t be fully implemented for a couple of years. But by then the die will have been cast, not only for America’s land forces but also for our presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and whatever other future conflict will—inevitably, whether we admit it or not—require boots on the ground.
The force cuts will take away almost all of the tardy and inadequate increases of the late Bush years; with the Iraq “surge” of 2007 came the belated recognition that the size of the Army and Marine Corps could not sustain the effort needed. Despite painful lessons to the contrary, our nation is on the cusp of a thank-God-that’s-over moment—just as the Greater Middle East, the theater where land forces have proved so essential, appears to be on the verge of the kind of democratic revolution for which so many soldiers and Marines have fought and died over the past generation.
When Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed cadets at West Point on Friday, he told them, “When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record is perfect: we have never once gotten it right.” The cuts in the fiscal 2012 defense budget are a bet that our withdrawal plans for Iraq and Afghanistan will go as planned for the next three years and that nothing new will come up. In other words, our record of perfection will remain intact.
Cross-posted at the Washington Post.