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Ed Ross | Monday, May 7, 2012

Deep cuts in the U.S. defense budget will have a negative impact on U.S. national security. Equally, if not more worrisome, are the effects of the strain we are putting on our warriors by endlessly placing them in harm’s way with no clear victory they can tell themselves was worth their sacrifice.

Last week Americans marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin-Laden by SEAL Team 6. All Americans that played an active and supporting role in that event, have the right to take pride in it. It cauterized an open wound in America’s psyche.

Killing bin-Laden and other battlefield victories, however, are fleeting events during the decade of continuous war since the attacks on 9/11/2001.

Clear victories in Iraq and Afghanistan remain elusive and ill defined. Iraq was a victory of sorts, but not one the U.S. can place in the display cabinet next to World War II, The First Gulf War, or even the Korean War. The outcome in Afghanistan is even more uncertain.

U.S. forces departed Iraq at the end of 2011 after almost 9 years of war, but the future of Iraq remains in doubt. Failure to conclude a status-of-forces agreement resulted in withdrawal of all U.S. forces rather than maintaining a U.S. presence there to insure lasting peace, stability, and democracy and an ongoing side-by-side relationship with the Iraqi military. Now, political unrest in Iraq again is on the rise.

At the end of 2014, U.S. combat forces will leave Afghanistan. According to the terms of the strategic partnership agreement President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed in Kabul last Tuesday, U.S. training and support troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2024, if we also can conclude a status-of-forces agreement with Afghanistan—a U.S. requirement for stationing troops in any country.

Given the demands for Afghanistan to try U.S. troops that inadvertently burned Qurans and the staff sergeant who massacred 17 Afghanis, no one should underestimate the challenges of concluding a status-of-forces agreement.

The majority of Americans may be only too happy to see all U.S. forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan; but if anyone thinks we are nearing the end of our military involvement in the Muslim world, regardless of who occupies the White House, they need to think again.

The buildup of U.S. air and naval forces in the Persian Gulf in anticipation of a conflict with Iran is ongoing. Iran has no intention of abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions; Israel has no intention of allowing Iran to realize them. The odds of U.S. involvement in a conflict with Iran are high.

No one should underestimate the ability of the U.S. armed forces to inflict a devastating blow on the Iranian armed forces. The chances of that blow resulting in the liberation of Iran and establishment of a free and democratic government, however, are as low as the chances for a conflict are high.

Furthermore, the instability and wider war a conflict with Iran would lead to could keep U.S. combat forces engaged in the region for another decade or longer.

How has and will all his affect the troops? Despite the few incidents that have marred U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. warriors have performed magnificently. They have made the U.S. military the most respected institution in America. The all-volunteer military, however, is not a bottomless well from which America can draw water to douse a perpetual fire.

Repeated deployments, family separations, and wars without clear victories have taken a huge toll on U.S. warriors.

ABC News reports that since 2003 suicide rates in the U.S. armed forces are up 80 percent. Incidents of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are twice what they were during the Vietnam War, when many more warriors served.

Benjamin Karney, an expert on military divorce and researcher with the RAND Corp. says “. . . the overall divorce rate among military members has risen from 2.6 percent in 2001 to 3.7 percent in 2011. While the year-to-year rise is statistically small,” Karney said, “the big picture view shows a military force replete with struggling marriages.”

DoD reports that military recruitment and retention remains strong, but will it when the U.S. economy rebounds and more civilian jobs become available; and what is the state of overall military morale?

Behind the statistics is what takes place in warriors’ and their family’s minds. In today’s all-volunteer military, individuals and families chose military life for different reasons; the overwhelming majority, however, feel a sense of pride in serving and defending their country. All they ask in return, beyond the pay and benefits they earn through personal sacrifice, when they go to war, is the ability to justify those sacrifices to themselves and their families. Victory serves that purpose.

It’s difficult to measure how large of a role this latter factor plays in morale, but just ask any Vietnam War Veteran and you’ll get a sense of its importance.

We hear much these days about the occupy Wall Street movement—the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. The percentage we should be more concerned about is the .5 percent. That’s the percentage of the American population serving on active duty in the military.

Decisions America makes to intervene militarily or not have and will continue to affect the strategic realities of our world. When we intervene, however, Americans must demand that the commander-in-chief, Congress, and our military leaders not precipitously cut the defense budget and degrade the military capabilities our warriors need. And we must demand that they give our warriors achievable missions that lead to clear and lasting victories.

Military victory is not an outdated concept. Critics will point out that political rather than military solutions are what are necessary in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military victory, however, almost always makes political solutions easier to achieve.

Look back at the history of American military victories and you will find watershed moments when the world changed for the better; and underestimating how important winning is for military recruitment, retention, and morale undermines the most important U.S. military capability—the American warrior.

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