Schoomaker: Many Americans underestimate global threat
ARLINGTON, Va. — Americans don’t have a good grasp of the dangers that face them as a nation, and a result, the Army runs the risk of being underfunded, Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said Wednesday.
“Do I think Americans understand the strategic picture as well as they should? I don’t,” Schoomaker told reporters during a Pentagon roundtable.
“I don’t think they’re well informed on what the realities of what the strategic environment is in the world today.”
Schoomaker voiced many of the same concerns in a speech Tuesday to the Association of the United States Army.
Schoomaker said that victory in the war on terror requires “a national strategic consensus, evident in both words and actions.”
That consensus existed during the Cold War, in the form of the containment strategy, designed to keep Communism from spreading beyond the Soviet Union and its client states, Schoomaker said.
But “it is not evident that such a common understanding exists today,” he said.
A complacent nation might applaud its soldiers, but if it doesn’t back up that praise in the form of hard cash — funding — the praise is hollow, Schoomaker said.
“Soldiers’ effectiveness in battle, both today and tomorrow, ultimately depends on a national commitment to recruit, train, equip and support them and their families properly,” Schoomaker told the audience. “This is a matter of national priorities, not affordability.”
Defense expenditures are now less than 4 percent of gross domestic product, Schoomaker said.
He compared this spending to the height of the Reagan defense buildup in the mid-1990s, when defense spending was 6.2 percent of GDP, and Vietnam, when defense expenditures were 10 percent of GDP.
“The nation’s got to step up here,” Schoomaker told the reporters.
Schoomaker is so concerned that the Army is being underfunded that he refused to turn in the Army’s proposed fiscal 2008-to- 2013 spending plan by its Aug. 15 deadline after the Pentagon proposed a fiscal 2008 Army budget of $114 billion.
The assumption, Schoomaker said, was that the Army is receiving the lion’s share of the billions of dollars in supplemental wartime spending that Congress has approved, and “if we just keep the supplementals up that it will compensate for this pressure” of so-called “baseline” cuts.
“But you don’t get well on supplementals,” Schoomaker said. “There’s very strict rules for supplementals. They have to be tied to consumption in the fight … [and] that does not transform you … it [just] attempts to keep you where you were.”
Instead of $114 billion in fiscal 2008, Schoomaker and other Army leaders say a baseline budget in the $138 billion range is required.
Army leaders are now negotiating with senior Defense Department officials over the additional $24 billion, he said.
Asked whether he threatened to resign over the issue if the Pentagon won’t add the funds, Schoomaker said no.
“It’s not useful to walk around here threatening anything,” he said.
Rotations planned through 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. — Army leaders have developed rotation plans for Iraq that extend through 2010 and keep the number of soldiers at today’s level, or 15 brigades, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker said Wednesday.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen” in Iraq, Schoomaker told reporters during a Pentagon roundtable. “But right now we’ve got our sights on two rotations ahead of where we are.”
“So that [takes the Army] beyond 2010, at the current level worldwide of 23 brigades. Iraq’s a piece of that, and right now we’re at 15 brigades,” Schoomaker said.
The real future level of soldiers in Iraq “is all going to be conditions-based,” Schoomaker said, noting that he was meeting with Army Gen. George Casey, head of the U.S. Central Command and leader of the U.S. war in Iraq, to discuss the state of operations there.
In the meantime, “exactly what we have today, we’re continuing to plan that way,” Schoomaker said. “It’s better for me to do that, and be able to pull things off the table or reduce tour lengths, than it is to under plan,” he said.
“What we want to do is to put as much predictability into people’s lives as we possibly can, and to anticipate in a way that they’re ready in time to go.
“I don’t think you should read too much into this,” Schoomaker said. “This is not a prediction that things are going poorly or better.
“It’s just that I have to have enough ammo in the magazine that I can continue to shoot as long as it wants to shoot,” Schoomaker said.
— Lisa Burgess