Published January 06, 2012
President Obama, in outlining proposed defense cuts at the Pentagon on Thursday, urged officials to remember the "lessons of history" and to make sure the country does not repeat the mistakes of the past by leaving the military "ill-prepared" for the future.
"As Commander in Chief, I will not let that happen again," he said.
But some officials are worried that the planned cuts could do just that, as few programs are expected to be left unscathed by the defense cuts and new military strategy outlined this week.
Hardest hit will be the Army and Marines, which are slated to lose about 100,000 troops. After every war since World War II, military historians explain, presidents have cut the Army hoping for quick savings and the ability to rely on superior air power, which often leads to the next ground war.
Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, former commandant of the Army War College, told Fox News in an interview Thursday that Obama is actually forgetting the lessons of history. "One commodity we always run out of is regular combat soldiers. We said we'd never fight another World War II, another Vietnam, another Korea."
But, "we always do," he said.
Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Fox News that drawing down ultimately leaves the military unprepared.
"Time after time after time, we found that was the wrong strategy," McKeon said. "Starting in World War II, we had men going across Africa with inadequate equipment, inadequate training, inadequate leadership, and it cost us lots of lives."
In 1946, President Truman cut the Army from 8 million to 500,000. According to Scales, Truman did not plan on fighting another land war.
Dov Zakheim, comptroller at the Pentagon at the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, agrees. "The last time we had anything as significant strategically was just before the Korean War, where Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson drew down the forces to the point where the North Koreans and the communist Chinese thought we wouldn't fight," Zakheim said in an interview with Fox News.
Following the conflict, President Eisenhower increased the Air Force budget and tried to rely on B-52 bombers and nuclear weapons. After Vietnam, the Army was cut to such a degree during the Carter administration that it became "hollow."
"We were stunned by what we found," KT McFarland, who worked in the Pentagon during the Reagan administration, said.
"We had planes that couldn't fly because the pilots didn't have enough hours of training to be qualified as pilots. Ships that couldn't sail because they didn't have fuel," she said.
President Obama and his military brass said Thursday that there are some who will think the cuts are too deep and some who will think they did not go far enough. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution thinks they could be just right.
"I do not think it's a problem to cut the ground forces by 100,000 at this moment in history. That's about how much they grew after 9/11," he said.
Obama is not the first to want a leaner, more agile army. Donald Rumsfeld did at the start of the Bush administration, and the Iraq war was supposed to be won with the "shock and awe" bombing campaign.
The Pentagon has not said explicitly how deep the troop cuts will be. Precise numbers are expected to be released during the first week in February.