Unmasking the Great Military Readiness Crisis Fraud

By Isenberg, David | USA TODAY, March 1997 | Go to article overview
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Unmasking the Great Military Readiness Crisis Fraud


Isenberg, David, USA TODAY


The Pentagon's claims concerning American combat forces' lack of preparedness to fulfill their missions proved false, but succeeded in generating Congressional funding when the budgets of other executive branch departments were being cut.

Remember the military readiness crisis? It seems only yesterday the media was filled with material about the perilous state of American combat forces. Starting in late 1994, the public was inundated for several months with reports of Navy crews on extended deployments, canceled training exercises, and grounded aircraft. Critics of the Clinton Administration charged that American military forces were increasingly unready to carry out the national military strategy.

This deluge of criticism achieved its objective. Military readiness became the newest sacred cow. On Dec. 1. 1994, Pres. Clinton announced he would seek an additional $25,000,000,000 in military spending over the next six years. of which up to $11,000,000,000 could be earmarked for readiness? and requested a $2,600,000,000 supplemental appropriation to pay for unbudgeted operations the U.S. military had participated in during 1994, such as Haiti, Rwanda. and the Persian Gulf. This was increased :by Congress to $3,040,000,000 and was approved in April. 1995.

This money and attention were the result of trying to close a highly political readiness gap." In that sense, Clinton followed the actions of presidential predecessors who became politically vulnerable to charges of allowing bomber and missile gaps. History subsequently showed that these "gaps" were created or manipulated artificially. Nevertheless, in an age of attack politics where anything goes, defenders of the status quo military establishment have decided that the best defense is a vitriolic offense.

The truth? however, is that charges of unreadiness are vastly exaggerated. They are the result of a combination of misunderstanding of what actually constitutes readiness; tardy Congressional action with respect to appropriating funds; insistence on maintaining an excessively large and costly force; funding Cold War weapons systems such as the B-2 bomber and Seawolf submarine; refusal to acknowledge that turbulence during downzisingly is a normal occurrence; and, most Importantly, an unsound military strategy.

Some observers recognized all along that military unreadiness charges were false. Rep. Ronald Dellums (D.-Calif.), former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the ranking Democratic member. maintained that "there is no short-term readiness problem." Dellums thinks the debate is driven by pure politics. "This is the `readiness dance' where everybody's trying to out-ready the other person. Because if that's the political issue on the table, one side says `readiness,' the other side says `more readiness' and so it's like armament escalation? where everybody wants to pour more money in."

Even Secretary of Defense William Perry, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in early 1995, admitted that "the forces which are forward deployed overseas--and are standing in readiness for early deployment--are at historical high rates of readiness. And that history goes back more than 10 years, and it is staying at essentially a constant and a very high level."

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that there really is a readiness problem, it is of very recent origin. A report released by the Congressional Budget Office in March, 1994, found that "overall, the readiness of deployable units is high now relative to historical levels." Three months later, the Pentagon's Defense Science Board, chaired by retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Edward Meyer, released a study on the issue of military readiness. It found that "the general readiness posture of today's conventional and unconventional forces is acceptable in most measurable areas." Ironically, later that year, after Administration critics started charging the President with allowing military readiness to diminish, Meyer complained that the continuing emphasis on maintaining peak readiness was hollowing out the force of the future.

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