When Gen. James Mattis returned to command as secretary of defense, there was rejoicing among enlisted men, but Mattis discovered something that “shocked” him. The readiness for combat of the American military was in a dismal state.
In a series of congressional hearings last week, Mattis painted a dim picture of our military's current ability to wage war effectively and pointed the finger of blame in one direction: Congress.
In his prepared testimony given to three different committees, Mattis declared that Congress caused more “harm” to our troops than their enemies on the battlefield through inadequate funding and approval of budgets.
“I returned to the Department, and I have been shocked by what I've seen about our readiness to fight,” Mattis said. “While nothing can compare to the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration.”
The four-star general made his point eloquently, arguing that America has “no God-given right to victory on the battlefield”:
We in the Department of Defense are keenly aware of the sacrifices made by the American people to fund our military. Many times in the past we have looked reality in the eye, met challenges with Congressional leadership, and built the most capable war-fighting force in the world. There is no room for complacency and we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield. Each generation of Americans, from the halls of Congress to the battlefields, earn victory through commitment and sacrifice.
And yet, for four years our military has been subject to or threatened by automatic, across-the-board cuts as a result of sequester — a mechanism meant to be so injurious to the military it would never go into effect. In addition, during nine of the past 10 years, Congress has enacted 30 separate Continuing Resolutions to fund the Department of Defense, thus inhibiting our readiness and adaptation to new challenges.
In the remarks, Mattis noted the forthcoming challenges with terror groups, Russia, Iran and particularly the threat from North Korea. Yet Mattis reserved his harshest language for America's legislative body, routinely impressing upon the committee that it holds the key to defeating these global foes.
Mattis punctuated his remarks by saying the Armed Forces Committee has put the American servicemen at “greater risk” through its budget dithering.
“In the past, by failing to pass a budget on time or eliminate the threat of sequestration, Congress sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role,” Mattis said. “It has blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative and placed troops at greater risk.”
According to Politico, Trump has proposed military budget increases, but the increases are not enough for some:
President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 budget requests $603 billion in national defense spending, including the Pentagon's base budget as well as national security programs under the Energy Department.
Republican defense hawks, however, have called the request insufficient to “rebuild” the military, noting the president's proposal is only 3 percent higher than projected by the Obama administration. Instead, they've called for $640 billion.
All those proposals, though, are far above the $549 billion permitted by the Budget Control Act.
The battle over the budget will be a looming battle Congress will take up later in the year.