The U.S. military is in the midst of a readiness crisis, exacerbated by President Bush’s escalation of forces in Iraq. Just yesterday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace warned in a classified report to Congress that the military is so overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan that there is a “significant” risk that the U.S. military won’t be able to respond adequately if another world crisis unfolds.
During today’s press briefing, reporters pressed Tony Snow about the strained military. “What you have seen, actually,” Snow claimed, “is a nimbleness when it comes to trying to do force protection, I think, probably unprecedented in a time of warfare.”
Actually, the U.S. Army’s preparedness for war “has eroded to levels not witnessed by our country in decades.” Virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are “rated as unready to deploy,” Army officials say, and a recent Pentagon survey found that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from chronic shortages of armored vehicles, heavy weapons, and communications equipment.
Tony Snow today frequently pointed out that U.S. troops serving in combat are doing a heroic job. That’s absolutely true. But as President Bush reminded us back in 2000:
To point out that our military has been overextended, taken for granted and neglected, that’s no criticism of the military. That is criticism of a president and vice president and their record of neglect.
QUESTION: Republicans have been saying that John Murtha’s plan, restrictions on war funding, is a slow-bleed strategy. Murtha responded, in the Wall Street Journal today, saying quote, It’s not me that bleeds the troops. It’s the president who’s bleeding the military by overdeploying them. It’s a pretty heavy charge, and I want to give you a chance to respond.
SNOW: Well, I’m not sure exactly what he means. The fact is that we understand that the forces that we have in place have been doing heroic duty. We also believe that it is important to expand the end strength, both of the Army and the Marines. And that’s what we’re doing. And we hope that Congressman Murtha is going to help us on that. Furthermore, what you have seen, actually, is a nimbleness when it comes to trying to do force protection, I think, probably unprecedented in a time of warfare — we’re on the fifth generation of armor for our vehicles — and that we continue to do everything we can to make sure that we continue to field the most capable, most motivated military in the history of the world.
QUESTION: So the military is still nimble now. How does that square with what General Pace said in his report to Congress, this new report, where he basically says, there’s an increased risk to the United States, now, essentially because the military is stretched thin?
SNOW: Well, yes, that’s — he also says we still have the capability of fighting yet another war if that is necessary. What he’s really referring to is the importance of building up greater end-strength, which is one of the reasons why we’ve done that. But what he has not said is that we lack the capability to succeed in Iraq or Afghanistan. I think he would strenuously disagree with that. It is simply an assessment of, you know, if you had what you think you’d really like and what you consider absolutely necessary in the long run, do you want more? And the answer is yes. And we believe that’s necessary and that is why that is part of the recommendation that the president has put together for this.
QUESTION: The Washington Post reported Friday that, according to Army officials, virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are rated right now as unready to deploy. So when you say you have improved end-strength…
SNOW: Well, but this gets you into part of the jargon. What happens is that, if you also ask the commanders, When time comes for deployment, will you have readiness? And the answer is yes. A lot has do with whether the equipment is here or in theater. The equipment’s in theater for the most part. No reason to sort of take stuff out and then put it back in. We’re also in the process of seeking funding to continue to improve and replenish equipment. So the really important question is: Do you send any forces into battle that are not fully ready? And the answer is no.