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Strains on U.S. Military Impact Presidential Campaign

October 21, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: So is the U.S. Military big enough for its current commitments or do we need a draft?

For that we turn to General P.X. Kelley, former commandant of the Marine Corps during the Reagan administration. He’s now a member of the National Veterans steering committee for the Bush-Cheney campaign; and Brigadier General David McGinnis, who retired after 29 years in the active duty Army and in the National Guard. He’s a former director of strategic plans and analysis for reserve affairs at the Pentagon. And he now advises the Kerry campaign on defense policy.

Welcome to you both gentlemen and generals.

MARGARET WARNER: Gen. McGinnis, so are we going to need a draft in the next presidential term?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.), U.S. Army National Guard: If we continue to proceed the way we are proceeding with the current strategy, there’s going to become a point in time where the draft could be very necessary. And I’ll tell you why. The president took us to war with an Army that was designed specifically to fight and win a war in about 170 days. That Army was 40,000 junior enlisted men short of what it needed in its units for full war-time strength.

If you fought the war, a 170-day war and came home, as a lot of people thought we would, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But we’ve been there three times that long now. We’ve called… we’ve had to rely on the guard and reserve. We’ve only sent two divisions into the theater, two active divisions that were fully manned with active forces. The rest have been rounded out with the guard and reserve. So if we continue this and we continue to see a reduction in the Army’s junior enlisted strength, it’s yes, it’s a possibility.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see that possibility?

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.), Former Marine Corps Commandant: No, I don’t see it at all. As a matter of fact the president said it; the secretary of defense said it. The joint chiefs of staff have said it. The service secretaries have said it. How many other people have to say it? We do not need a draft. And if we take a draft there are two issues: First of all, we are making our recruiting and also reenlistment quotas. No question about that. The guard had a problem. I think it was 86 percent –

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): That’s right.

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): — that they could for this year. That’s not bad considering all of the problems that exist.

MARGARET WARNER: Isn’t that the first time in a decade though that they haven’t made their quota?

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): It could be the first time in a decade. I’m not aware of that but the Marine Corps and the Army, the two principal ground forces not only exceeded their quotas but by a considerable amount. So there’s not a problem there. But the real problem is: Do we water down the capabilities of the all volunteer force? We have worked to build that force for years. We now have people who are skilled, who are trained. We have rotation policies that are meaningful.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re saying a draft is a bad idea. That was going to be my next question to both of you because it waters down the effectiveness of the all volunteer force?

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): I’m saying a draft is a bad idea because it will water down the effectiveness of a force that… we’re the premiere force in the world is the United States military by any measure you want to have. Let’s not because what will happen is it will seek its own level of mediocrity so no.

MARGARET WARNER: Do we have agreement on that point? Do you agree, Gen. McGinnis, that the draft is a bad idea militarily?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): Militarily it’s a bad idea; policy wise it’s a bad idea, but the numbers, the truth is in the numbers. To have a military we have to have people. And with all due respect to the General, the Marine Corps is doing a great job as they had for a long time. The Army is not. I don’t believe the Army’s assertions. I have worked the numbers. The Army right now I believe below war-time strength in their units is approaching 60,000 people; junior enlisted people. The Army did not grow in a net sense in the last year. It was required to grow 10,000 to meet the 30,000-plus-up. If you take out the stop-loss folks and the —

MARGARET WARNER: These are the people who are being told they cannot leave.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): These are people who are not allowed to leave until their tour in Iraq is over, 9600 of the 1500 growth in the Army since 9/11. If you take them out, the Army is in a large net loss against its growth projection of 30,000 people for 2004.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get away from numbers if I could just a bit and let me ask you a real-life or hypothetical question. Gen. Kelley if a crisis were to erupt elsewhere that called for military response of a significant nature, would the president have the troops he needs?

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): Yes. It depends on the crisis. We have always in this country had what we call a strategy force mismatch. In other words, we have a global strategy that requires far more people than we have in the armed forces to satisfy any commitment that’s of that nature that is global.

However, you have to be very selective and you make those decisions. So the answer is, I can’t give you a hypothetical situation. I can’t give you a hypothetical answer. But the answer is we have people in Washington, people in the field who can do… who can do those kinds of things. I am not a numbers cruncher.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think we have enough?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): No, I don’t because we have our entire active Army bogged down in Iraq right now. We have another one third of the National Guard combat capability bogged down in Iraq and another third of that capability is supporting the rotations in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in this peace operation in the Sinai. So we have a very small portion of the force and manpower left to react anywhere else.

MARGARET WARNER: Gen. Kelley, let me ask you about and we heard John Kerry, Senator Kerry use this phrase and so did Gen. McGinnis that essentially what’s going on right now is a back-door draft through these stop-loss orders. Is that fair?

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): It is not a back-door draft. Every person who goes and deploys overseas has volunteered at one time or another to collect their checks during peacetime. They are, they’ve taken and put their right hand up to God. They were volunteers so how could it possibly be a back-door draft?

MARGARET WARNER: Even if their enlistment is over.

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): If their enlistment is over, we’ve always had the authority to extend enlistments in times of crisis.

MARGARET WARNER: So is this an unfair charge on Sen. Kerry’s part?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): No, I don’t think so because we’re in a situation where we are totally committed. We should be at full mobilization.

If we were at full mobilization, which the president has not done yet and I expect him or Mr. Mertha, Congressman Mertha mentioned this a couple weeks ago that he expects the president to go to full mobilization which will give him total access to the guard and reserve and total access to the inactive ready reserve which will allow him to fill the shortfall. If he does that, that will hold off the potential of the draft for months or possibly a year but if we’re going five years in Iraq as Gen. Tommy Franks has asserted in his book and other people have indicated, that we’re going to be there for a while, we’re going to need people because people are not going to be enlisting into the guard or into the active Army.

MARGARET WARNER: Gen. Kelley, the Pentagon is saying they’re expanding the force by 30,000, quote unquote, temporarily. In laymen’s terms explain how that works.

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): I don’t have the slightest idea when you safe temporarily. They are expanding the force. Also one of the big reasons is to take and allow some of those… you know, we’ve gone through various iterations. We had a time where we used to call tooth-to-tail ratio. And so we put some of those combat service support units in the guard and reserve. Now because we want to allow the guard and reserve to have a more realistic rotation time so now we want to take them out of it again and replace them.

MARGARET WARNER: Is part of though what President Bush’s plan is… does it include this kind of full mobilization that Gen. McGinnis is talking about where the reserves will be even more demands placed on the reserves and guard?

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): Well, maybe the General has access to General [President] Bush’s plan. I do not have access to that. I do have access to people. And I have to tell you that the leadership team that we have in this country today, led by a gallant president who will put his political career on the line for the defense of America, plus all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that leadership team I have faith in.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s ask about a potential President Kerry. If he were to be elected, Sen. Kerry, and he were to take office three months essentially from now and faced with the same situation, why would he be in any… why would his options be any greater? Why wouldn’t he be under just as much pressure to move toward a draft if that’s where you think it’s headed?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): Because his plan would move the military differently. His plan would focus on – would first of all be based on a real strategy.

MARGARET WARNER: What does that mean?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): A strategy that is based on legitimate political objectives and the proper use of military force. We don’t have that today. We have gone… we have a president who has gone into Iraq, he accomplished part of the first objective of any military operation but he hasn’t closed it. And that has caused it to be drawn out. Sen. Kerry, as president, would go in with specific political objectives and the use of military force against those objectives not just to chase insurgents all over the countryside.

MARGARET WARNER: But is it fair to say he himself has said he wouldn’t do any kind of rapid, quick withdrawal from Iraq?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): We’re not looking at Iraq and we’re not talking about a rapid withdrawal. We’re talking about a more effective use of military force. Let the unit commanders on the ground and the military leaders who were not consulted by this president apply their military’s art to bring a resolution and also the political process and the diplomatic process.

MARGARET WARNER: One more question to you about Sen. Kerry’s plan and then your response, Gen. Kelley. Now, Sen. Kerry is saying the regular Army needs to be expanded by 40,000 troops. How does he propose to do that if we’re having this sort of reluctance that you’ve identified in enlistments now?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): By providing leadership and a strategy that the American people can grasp and accept and understand that it is not an endless quagmire, that it is a legitimate effort to resolve the problems in Iraq so that we can get on to the basic requirements for the war on terrorism and to reduce proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is his strategic picture.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gen. Kelley, what’s wrong with Sen. Kerry’s idea to take this strain off. I think you admit there’s some strain on the personnel. The military just needs to be expanded by 40,000 troops.

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): Well, take the strain off in various ways. We’re hoping that the Iraqis, which really today are doing quite well in building their armed forces, that will take the strain. Coalition countries can take the strain off. So, it doesn’t have to be totally us. You know, one of the things that’s amazing, I heard that we don’t have a strategy. Well, let me say that there’s a president, a Joint Chiefs of Staff, two field commanders, me, I believe we have a strategy. I hear this rhetoric and I hear it but I don’t hear any meat to it so what kind of a strategy do you want, General?

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask a last quick question because we don’t probably have time to do a whole strategy for Iraq. Are you saying Gen. Kelley that you think these manpower demands that this is essentially a temporary spike caused by the situation in Iraq and that it’s quite temporary?

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): Which manpower demands are you talking about: the 30,000 or the 40,000?

MARGARET WARNER: I’m talking about what’s going on right now.

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): We are already up to 30,000. That is a very legitimate number. That was requested by the Department of Defense. So that’s a legitimate number. The 40,000 is pie in the sky.

MARGARET WARNER: And you’re saying you think there is a long-term need, Sen. Kerry is saying a long-term need to just expand the U.S. Military?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): The president talks about the post 9/11 period. And the Army is short 40,000 people. They were short 40,000 people on 9/11. And that shortage is getting bigger.


BRIG. GEN. DAVID MC GINNIS, (Ret.): Sen. Kerry saw that over a year ago and said we need 40,000 people and the administration resisted it and it resisted it on the Hill till this day.

MARGARET WARNER: And he thinks he can do it without a draft?


MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both.

GEN. P.X. KELLEY (Ret.): Thank you very much.