General Casey At the Bat

September 27th, 2007

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The US Army is crippled.

That was the stark conclusion that could be drawn from the incredible testimony yesterday by Army Chief of Staff George Casey.

But chances are, you missed it. The New York Times, the purported “Paper of Record,” didn’t deem it newsworthy. (They put a short wire story on their website). And The Washington Post buried it in a story about the Pentagon’s request for more money for Iraq. The only print outlet we could find that did it justice was The Boston Globe.

But believe me, the proceedings were extraordinary, beginning with their origins. General Casey wasn’t called to the Hill – he actually asked to testify. This is highly unusual in the best of times, and these days, when high-ranking Pentagon officials anticipate trips to Congress with the joyous anticipation of a colonoscopy, it’s downright unheard of.

Plus, as the Globe points out, the General is the Army’s highest ranking officer – he could go talk to Congress in private whenever he wants. But he sought a public forum precisely because he is so concerned about the state of the Army, and he wants the world to know it.

The General made clear that the Army is barely hanging on, and he is apparently deeply alarmed about Army units deploying into battle in Iraq without the full complement of personnel and equipment. He told Congress that they would need to allocate significant resources to rebuild and reset the Army.

But the most startling aspect of the General’s testimony was his blunt assessment of what Iraq has done to American national security. First, he outlined how dangerous the world has become and noted the near certainty that America will need our Army to protect us elsewhere in the world sometime soon. But then he didn’t beat around the bush about the Army’s ability to do that:

“The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies.”

So how would the Army deploy to fight our battles elsewhere, if Pakistan falls apart, Iran goes to hell, or we’re attacked by an al Qaeda cell operating out of Sudan (fill in your own scenario here _)? Answer: it wouldn’t. It can’t. The well is dry. The cookie jar is empty. (Bill Clinton has been making this point too – he told NPR recently that if the United States had to respond militarily to a crisis elsewhere in the world, we’d have only the Navy and Air Force to do it.)

When General Petraeus, during his star turn before Congress a few weeks ago, was asked by Senator Warner if the Iraq War was making America safer, he answered honestly: “Sir, I don’t know.” But it’s not his job to think about that – Petraeus is our field commander in Iraq, and his job is to do his best over there.

But Casey’s job is to think about the whole world, and it’s clear that he DOES know the answer to Warner’s question. Unequivocally, his answer is no. It is clear that Casey asked to testify to get that message out. Too bad that so few were listening.