James Kitfield from Defense One interviewed General Odierno about defense sequestration and military readiness. Here is an excerpt from which the headline quote comes. “Soldiers cost double today what they cost in 2001,” said Odierno. Hold it right there, that’s either a bogus comment or something is way out of whack. A good reporter doesn’t get lost in the weeds of words. Explain that General. What is the evidence and rationale for that?
“Odierno: Yes. What is happening is that soldiers cost double today what they cost in 2001. If we continue to lose money, we will have to get smaller and smaller than we are now. We are supposed to go to 420,000. We might have to go to 250,000. Then we are becoming an Army that no longer is capable of doing the things the nation needs its Army to do. So when we start to bring readiness back into balance around fiscal 2019, I’m concerned the Army is going to be too small to meet all of our responsibilities. We’ll be back in balance in terms of readiness and modernization, but will we be big enough to do what’s asked of us? I worry about that because when you look around the world, we’re in the most uncertain period that I have ever known. I’m not saying this is the most dangerous period I’ve seen, but it’s the most uncertain.”
The aggregated inflation during the period from 2001 until now is 15%, and not 50%. So the general’s math doesn’t compute. That sort of miscalculation is a part of the defense cost management problem. Flag officers get on a roll and that becomes a planning multiplier that drives budgets up faster than they need be. That is why we have things like sequestration to put on the brakes. If the General explains the cost of money over that same period, maybe one could approach a higher rate of cost acceleration.
Let’s say that the General is correct. If he is, the overall economy would have to grow substantially to sustain that rate of cost acceleration. It isn’t growing sufficiently and other social and environmental costs must be addressed as well. Military is one part of all government responsibilities. In the end, Americans and our military must go on diet without foreign policy that consumes so much military that we cannot afford it.