(NationalSentinel) During his campaign, then-GOP nominee Donald J. Trump pledged to reverse the Obama-era cuts to the U.S. military, which was necessary, he said, so the U.S. could adequately meet rising strategic challenges in key areas of the world.
Trump still has plans to do that and, with help from Congress, he’ll get it done. But he’s a got a long way to go, first and foremost just getting enough men and women to fill depleted ranks.
While much of the debate over how the administration will pay for its ambitious defense buildup, an equally large question mark looms over whether Mr. Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis can find enough willing and able recruits to meet the demands for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump called for a restoration of force levels across the services to numbers before a series of “sequestration” cuts to defense spending, including a 540,000-member Army, backed by a 350-ship Navy and an Air Force of 1,200 fighter aircraft.
The increases to the Navy and Air Force would likely result in a small uptick of 100,000 sailors and airmen combined, compared with the force levels sought in the Army and Marine Corps, Mark Cancian, senior international security adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Washington Times.
Already the Army is struggling to meet a 2017 mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act for 476,000 soldiers over the next eight months, or about 16,000 more than the service had originally planned for.
“Is it dire? No, but we need more soldiers,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Dan Daily told the Times this month. “We need to do this pretty rapidly.”
In that past, as in, during the height of the two-front Iraq/Afghanistan war on terror, the Army did this by lowering standards and ignoring past best business practices. The results were that, often, men and women who were not physically qualified were nonetheless able to enlist.
Then, there is pushback from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which has given the new commander-in-chief a lukewarm response to a new surge in troop strength. In public and in private, the service chiefs have not been enthusiastic for Trump’s major troop increases, probably because they know how that has worked out in the recent past. The Times noted:
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller have publicly stated that they would be willing to have a smaller troop increase and use the additional funds to repair aging weapon systems and procure newer ones for their arsenals, he said.
Gen. Milley has expressed a desire for a 490,000- to 500,000-member force, and Gen. Neller said a total force of 184,000 Marines would be adequate. If the Trump administration seeks to push troop increases on the services too quickly, it risks a politically dangerous fight with the military brass…
In the end, we expect the president to get his way. But along the way, we also expect the president to approach this issue as he approaches all others: With a degree of rationality he seldom gets credit for. His new defense secretary, James Mattis, of recent Marine Corps lineage, is well aware of how risky massive, quick troop increases without a draft can be. He won’t let the commander-in-chief stumble over a political land mine on this issue.
In the end, the U.S. does need a larger force. But the Joint Chiefs are right, as well: The buildup has to be smart, and there is definitely a need to rebuild and repair after 16 years of non-stop deployments in combat zones.