F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
October 22, 2000
Downsized Defense, Weary Warriors

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Our armed services are having recruitment problems, but it's not because of a good economy.

"A number of things have gone wrong since the stunning victory we and our allies won in the Gulf War in 1991," laments former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. "The first and most serious," he contends, "is the loss of morale which has resulted in the failure of almost all our services to attract enough people to fill recruiting goals." Weinberger recalls the successful recruitment efforts of the 1980s, when "we had substantial numbers of qualified people on waiting lists to get into the armed forces." Rejecting today's good economy as the explanation for current recruitment shortfalls, he points out that "we had very prosperous times during the Reagan years, and a large number of people who could easily get jobs elsewhere. They wanted to be in the military."

Writing in the October issue of The American Legion magazine, Weinberger attributes the recruitment crisis to "a failure of the leadership now. The Clinton Administration never seems to understand the military," he observes, "nor in many cases even to like it. As almost its first act, the Clinton Administration began advocating reversal of years of careful handling of the issue of homosexuality in the armed forces. This had the effect of polarizing the military. . . ."

This unnecessary controversy "set the stage for a long list of actions which weakened the military and reverted to the dangerous days of neglect and lack of preparedness," Weinberger asserts. "First among these was the drastic reduction in funding between fiscal 1990 and 1999. Active Army divisions were cut from 18 to 10; Navy carrier task forces were reduced from 15 to 11; Air Force active fighter wings went from 24 to 13; and Marine Corps active-duty strength dropped from 197,000 to 174,000."

Weinberger denounces "the major cuts in military procurement [and] research and development funds." He charges that "some of the recruitment promises have been broken, and there has been a failure to keep pace with inflation." Weinberger also detects "a lack of trust in senior policy makers. We again have soldiers on food stamps, as we did in the decade of neglect, the 1970s. All of this," he concludes, "has contributed to lower morale and poor recruiting."

According to Weinberger, "Overseas deployments have increased more than 300 percent since we won the Cold War. The worst part about many of these futile overseas engagements," he concludes, "is that they are indeed futile. They represent attempts to pander to domestic pressures of particular lobbies and an increasing willingness to turn a great many matters of security over to a United Nations that has neither the competence nor the training to conduct military operations. This started with Haiti, includes Bosnia and Kosovo, and forays into Rwanda and Somalia. Our forces have been given nonmilitary, so-called humanitarian, housekeeping, and peacekeeping tasks in areas where there is no peace. Typically," Weinberger notes, "these forces have been seriously undermanned and without the proper weapons for the task. The tasks themselves," he adds, "have been unclear and fuzzy, as indeed have the rules of engagement."

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