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The Creaky Army

By Matthew Yglesias

"The Creaky Army"

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A bunch of American Progress dude point out some serious problems in The New Republic:

But the decline in equipment readiness is nothing compared with the growing manpower crisis. The Army is trying to keep the dam from breaking, but it is running out of fingers and toes. After failing to meet its recruitment target for 2005, the Army raised the maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 40 in January–only to find it necessary to raise it to 42 in June. Basic training, which has, for decades, been an important tool for testing the mettle of recruits, has increasingly become a rubber-stamping ritual. Through the first six months of 2006, only 7.6 percent of new recruits failed basic training, down from 18.1 percent in May 2005.

Alarmingly, this drop in boot camp attrition coincides with a lowering of recruitment standards. The number of Army recruits who scored below average on its aptitude test doubled in 2005, and the Army has doubled the number of non-high school graduates it can enlist this year. Even as more allowances are made, the Government Accountability Office reported that allegations and substantiated claims of recruiter wrongdoing have increased by 50 percent. In May, for example, the Army signed up an autistic man to become a cavalry scout.

This is clearly no good. The sort of counterinsurgency war the administration says it wants to keep fighting in Iraq, and that I agree we need to keep fighting in Afghanistan, probably requires a somewhat higher standard of soldier than was widely available in the pre-9/11 regular Army. Instead, we’re reaching down to a lower one. This strikes me as among the good reasons to withdraw from Iraq sooner rather than later to create the circumstances under which we can start reconstituting our forces. For the longer term, though, it’s long past time to look seriously at revisiting the ratio of spending between the military’s different components. Simply put, the current international situation puts relatively less strain on the capabilities of the Air Force and the Navy and relatively more on those of the Army and Marine Corps than did the Cold War. Fewer ships and planes and more, better-trained, better-compensated infantry would serve the country well. Similarly, within the Army there’s a need for less firepower and more manpower than what we currently have.

This is no particular knock on the Air Force and Navy. Rather, it’s simply a fact about the world that different situations call for giving different relative weights to the different services. The United States doesn’t face any serious rivals for control of the sea or the air and, what’s more, the foreign countries with the most capabilities in those arenas are our close allies.

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