Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Army and the Times

On the Sunday editorial page, The New York Times opines (as only it can) on "The Army After Iraq," offering its thoughts on how the service should be rebuilt after the war ends.

If the Times was genuinely interested in reforming--and improving--the Army, their thoughts would be a welcome addition to the debate. But a quick read of the editorial reveals (to no one's surprise), that the paper is less interested in bettering the nation's ground forces, and more concerned with reciting its grievances with the Bush Administration. That's evident in the lead paragraph:

"You do not have to look very hard these days to see the grave damage the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the Iraq conflict has inflicted on the United States Army. Consider the moral waivers for violent offenders, to meet recruitment targets. Or the rapid rotation of exhausted units back to the battlefield. Or the scandalous shortages of protective armor. Or the warnings from generals that there are not enough troops available to sustain increased force levels for more than a few months."

Let's begin with the recruitment issue. To hear the Times tell it, the Army is only able to meet recruiting goals by signing up reform school parolees and petty criminals. While the service has granted a greater number of moral waivers to recruits in recent years--excusing prior misdemeanor offenses and some minor felonies--those totals remain rather small, when considering the Army's overall recruitment efforts.

For example, the Times (and the rest of the MSM) breathlessly reported last month that the service granted 901 felony waivers in 2006, but what they didn't tell you is that total represents only one percent of the Army's incoming recruits. The press also noted that 20% of Army enlistees needed some sort of waiver to enlist in 2006, while barely acknowledging that the program covers everything from age requirements and medical conditions, to past run-ins with the law. And, of course, the Times won't tell you that any recruit with a felony more serious than DUI or a simply assault will never get a waiver, period.

Then, there's the hypocrisy element. If I'm not mistaken, the NYT is the same paper that has lobbied to restore a felon's right to vote? Using that logic, if you believe that convicted murderers and rapists should regain their franchise upon release from prison, then shouldn't individuals with less serious criminal records have the right to join the military--but only if they obtain the requisite waiver(s)? Editorial writers at the Times might argue that allowing a convicted felon to vote is not the same thing as allowing them to join the military. But both actions fall under the general heading of giving someone a second chance, a principle the paper seems to support, at least on a selective basis. As in other matters, the hypocrisy of the Times is simply breath-taking.

As for the rest of the editorial, it's standard boiler-plate: our Army is over-stretched, worn out and in need money for equipment repair and recapitalization. Our toops don't have enough armor, and wounded warriors receive substandard care. There is--or more accurately--there was an element of truth in those statements, but once again, the paper is selective how it describes the current state of the Army. The armor problem has been fixed; the medical issues are the product of many factors, including cut-backs in support services that the Army made a decade ago (more on that in a moment), and political decisions that put Walter Reed on the BRAC chopping block, with a lower priority for funding. Equipment and maintenance issues are also a product of that decision-making process, but the Times--conveniently--ignores those factors. As far as the paper is concerned, Iraq is the root cause of the service's current problems, and only a pull-out can allow the Army to begin healing itself.

But how did we arrive at this point? For starters, we eliminated six Army divisions--18 combat brigades--before George W. Bush arrived in the White House. Most of those cuts occurred during the Clinton Administration, which (according to the Times) , represented something of a gilded age of military management. While the paper is quick to recognize the value of ground troops in the War on Terror, we don't recall a single peep from the Times editorial board when Bill Clinton's Pentagon deactivated four Army divisions, or when two others were cut under President George H.W. Bush. The combined strength of those eliminated units? 100,000-120,000 troops, plus hundreds of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, helicopters and other weapons that would make it easier to secure Iraq. Making matters worse, the reductions in combat strength (which the paper tacitly endorsed) were accompanied by corresponding cuts in support services, including the Army's medical corps. In other words, the seeds of the service's current problems were sown long before we rolled into Baghdad, but you wouldn't know that by reading the Times.

Finally, as we've observed in the past, the blame for these decisions extends well beyond the Oval Office, or the E-ring of the Pentagon. Many of the retired generals who provide anti-administration quotes to Times reporters are the same officers who served in key leadership positions during the 1980s and 1990s. The same officers who favored complex (and ultimately) failed weapons systems like the Comanche helicopter and Crusader self-propelled gun, over the sustainment of more combat brigades. Yet, none of these retired three and four-star generals has ever been questioned about their decisions in these matters, or the advice they offered to the Pentagon's civilian leaders.

Make no mistake. The burden of simultaneous, long-term conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have created serious problems for the United States Army. To remedy those difficulties, the service would be well-advised to ignore the counsel of the NYT. As in other matters relating to the armed services, the paper offers political diatribes disguised as "informed" analysis, proving once again that it is an unserious observer of the military, and the issues it faces.

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