The fifth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq is upon us. In that time, we’ve lost nearly 4,000 brave soldiers, spent over $500 billion and our military has experienced a deterioration of readiness, equipment and recruitment standards not seen since the end of the Vietnam War.
Before the Iraq war, 80 percent of all Army units and almost 100 percent of active-duty combat units were rated at the highest level of military readiness. Just the opposite exists today. Virtually all of our active-duty combat units in the United States are rated “not combat-ready.”
For the National Guard, it’s even worse. There is not one Army National Guard unit fully combat ready.
It will literally take years and tens of billions of dollars to rehabilitate this equipment and to re-equip the U.S. military and National Guard.
When it comes to recruitment, the Army is accepting a higher percentage of recruits who would previously have been disqualified from service for lack of a high school diploma, a previous criminal record, drug or alcohol problem or a health condition. Since the invasion of Iraq, the percentage of Army recruits with a high school diploma has decreased from 94 percent to 71 percent. Before the war began, 4.6 percent of Army recruits required a waiver for a criminal record; today that figure has risen to 11.2 percent.
Similar trends exist for retention and enlistment bonuses. In 2003, the Army spent $157 million in retention and enlistment bonuses. Four years later, the Army spent over $1 billion in retention and enlistment bonuses in 2007, an increase of 537 percent.
These are the results and realities of an endless war in Iraq.
In another troubling sign, Defense Secretary Gates has endorsed keeping troops in Iraq at their pre-surge level. Someone who was praised for providing straight talk on Iraq in an administration not known for it, Secretary Gates appears to be caving into the President’s desire to leave office with at least 130,000 American troops still in Iraq.
The Secretary’s comments came on the same day the New York Times reported on the Bush Administration’s attempt to cover up a RAND Commission Report that criticizes the Bush Administration’s planning for post-war security in Iraq.
In April, the next installment of General Petraeus’ report to Congress is due. It appears unlikely to diverge from the administration’s wishes. Instead of listening to the American people and providing a new direction in Iraq, the Bush Administration’s mismanagement of the war is leading to a significant military readiness crisis, deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan, and a readiness crisis for National Guard forces.