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U.S. Army's problems got worse under Bush

By WINSLOW WHEELER, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Oct. 1, 2008 at 12:11 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Today, as it has each year since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Army is seeking to supplement its own budget with "extracurricular" money, mostly in the form of a "wish list" that it sends to Congress each year after an eagerly anticipated congressional request for it.

Citing the many problems that it currently faces, ironically the Army seeks the smallest wish list of the military services, $3.9 billion. Instead of seeking a larger "wish list," Army leadership says it seeks larger overall budget requests in future years.

The modesty of the $3.9 billion Army "wish list" notwithstanding, taking into account the amount by which the 2009 Army budget already has been increased over and above the extrapolated 2001 plan for 2009, $50.6 billion, it is apparent that the Army actually is seeking a $54.5 billion "wish list plus-up."

Of all the major military services, the Army faces the largest burden of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and all the human and material stress that pertains there-from. Appropriately, the Army therefore has received the lion's share of war funding among the services, $387 billion. However, the "plus-up" for the Army's base budget -- $191 billion -- is of the same order of magnitude as the "plus-ups" for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy -- $203 billion and $174 billion, respectively.

This would seem to indicate that the basis for each of the services' "plus-ups" is not war-related; instead, the "plus-ups" would seem to be an artifact of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, political environment: In the midst of conflicts -- however unpopular they ultimately may be -- politicians in the executive branch and the U.S. Congress are willing to support a generally rising tide of defense spending. Indeed, the additional spending has not been targeted at any specific service or even specific -- and important -- problem areas, such as shrunken force structure or reduced readiness. In fact, given how the extra money has been applied, it has coincided with the problems growing worse.

Given the failure to address problem areas in any meaningful way, the "plus-ups" can only be characterized as a generalized "money heave."

When the next president is inaugurated in January 2009, he will face serious problems in the Army and the other military services. These problems will have grown worse than ever before and have done so at a historically high level of spending. Radical changes both in thinking and how money is spent will be needed.

The major question is: Will the next president have the force of intellect and, more importantly, character needed to disband business as usual in the Pentagon and Congress and take the first necessary steps for much needed reform?

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(Winslow T. Wheeler is director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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