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Before 9/11, Rumsfeld Almost Gutted the U.S. Military

April 8, 2009

Despite the Obama administration's 4% increase in the Pentagon budget, Republican leaders and their conservative echo chamber are predictably issuing dire warnings about draconian cuts in defense spending and "disarming America." Of course, critics of Secretary Gates' strategic shift of resources to boost the nation's ability to fight current wars and future counterinsurgencies neglect to mention the Department's proposed budget (excluding funds for Iraq and Afghanistan) jumps next year to $534 billion, a $21 billion increase. And as it turns out, in their selective amnesia Republicans also forget that on the very eve of the 9/11 attacks, Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld almost gutted the American military.
To be sure, as Gates was quick to admit, "There's no question that a lot of these decisions will be controversial." The Gates budget expands the badly overstretched U.S. Army and Marines, boosts special forces and funds more combat helicopters, F-35 joint strike fighters and unmanned drones. But the slowdown in funding for missile defense, the refocusing of the Army's Future Combat System and especially to decision to end production of the F-22 fighter in 2011 is prompting calls of near-treason from the raging Republican right.
With 25,000 employees engaged in F-22 production in his home state, Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price claimed President Obama "refuses to fund programs critical to our national defense." On Tuesday, Fox News host Sean Hannity helped propagate the myth, pronouncing, "President Obama has ordered his secretary of Defense to make drastic cuts in the military budget, particularly in the area of missile defense." Even as Obama and Gates ramp up spending and resources to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their safe havens, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) while in Afghanistan pronounced that the President instead "cuts funding for our troops in the field during an ongoing war."
In his YouTube video making the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere, Inhofe rages:

"President Obama is disarming America. Never before has a president so ravaged the military at a time of war...
Here in Afghanistan, while the war is intensifying and the number of US forces increases at the direction of President Obama, he undercuts those he sends into harm's way. It is not just is unconscionable."

Of course, the Obama administration is doing no such thing. But as the record shows, in the months just before the September 11 attacks, President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld were contemplating slashing divisions from the Army, moth-balling aircraft carriers and trimming air wings.
Given that candidate Bush in 2000 had successfully perpetuated the "readiness" fraud that under the Clinton/Gore administration "two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir,'" the 2001 planning to gut the American military was all the more surprising - and hypocritical.
After merely continuing the proposed Clinton defense budget after assuming office, President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld in the spring of 2001 launched the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process. With the Cold War over, the 2.1 million person military featuring 16 Army divisions to fight the USSR and China was long since a thing of the past. Rumsfeld began his strategic overhaul with the Army down to 10 divisions and with the steep price of the missile defense - and the $1.4 trillion Bush tax cuts - hanging over his head.
And heading into the fall of 2001, Rumsfeld was looking at steeper cuts in conventional forces in order to fund the missile defense and his vaunted "smaller, lighter, faster" transformation of the U.S. military. Abandoning the 1990's doctrine of winning two regional wars simultaneously (involving, for example, Iraq and North Korea), Rumsfeld by July was proposing new requirements calling on the military" to fight and win one such war, while maintaining sufficient forces abroad to deter aggression by another enemy and to carry out an unspecified number of smaller-scale deployments like those in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti."
By August 2001, just weeks before the September 11 attacks and 18 months before the invasion of Iraq, Rumseld was on the verge of dramatically reducing American war fighting capacity. While a "steady state" scenario to maintain current force levels was one option being considered by Rumsfeld's panel of military and civilian advisers, another represented deep cuts. On August 9th, 2001, the Washington Post reported, "Rumsfeld mulls two options: status quo or 10% military cut." And that same day, the New York Times detailed what those cuts could entail:

The panel analyzing the number of soldiers, sailors, pilots and marines needed to defend the United States, as well as how much weaponry they should have, has been in intense and angry debate owing to limits in military spending imposed by President Bush's tax cut and other domestic priorities...
The other option included a range of reductions in personnel and force structure, with the Army on the block to suffer the most serious cuts, losing perhaps 2 of its 10 active divisions.
The review panel discussed reducing the Navy by 1 or 2 of its 12 aircraft carriers. And the Air Force was subjected to the widest swing in analysis, with options on the table ranging from cutting two air wings to adding two wings.

The rest, as they say, is history. One month later, the World Trade Centers lay in ruins and with them, any notion of trimming U.S. military manpower. In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, an optional war which undermined the hunt for Bin Laden in Afghanistan while straining the armed forces to the breaking point. As Iraq descended into chaos and the insurgency exploded, Donald Rumsfeld's vaunted "10-30-30" American war fighting timetable (10 days to overthrow a rogue regime, 30 days to restore order and 30 days to redeploy for the next adventure) was completely shattered.
Had Donald Rumsfeld has his way with the pre-9/11 QDR, it could have been so much worse. And that, the frothing at the mouth Republican foes of President Obama and Secretary Gates conveniently forget, is what disarming America looks like.

2 comments on “Before 9/11, Rumsfeld Almost Gutted the U.S. Military”

  1. We must protect our U.S. sovereignty by not spending ourselves into greater debt. That is the issue. There are no party lines, each party is to blame. If the US dollar falls because of debt created by over spending then mostly likely we would be forced into a deal with the IMF for a new currency. Remember as the old saying goes, " He who has the money... has the power". Wake up people and realize what is at stake!


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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