Officers say military weakened, not broken, by Iraq and Afghanistan

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have weakened the military, stretching it dangerously thin. The civilian leadership has imposed unrealistic expectations on the armed forces, particularly in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure. Iran and China, not Iraq or the U.S., have been the biggest beneficiaries of the 2003 invasion. Those aren't talking points from the latest anti-war rally; they're the opinions of over 3,400 active duty and retired military officers who took part in a just-released survey from Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for a New American Security, a centrist think tank. About one-tenth of those polled are active-duty officers, and roughly the same proportion have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Three out of five told pollsters the military is weaker now than it was five years ago, a decline they attributed primarily to the pace of troop deployments overseas, the civilian leadership and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly nine in 10 said the Iraq war had stretched the military "dangerously thin." Concern centered in particular on the front-line soldiers in the Army and Marine Corps; those service branches were rated less ready to complete missions overseas than were the Navy and Air Force. Only a third of the officers said the equipment and protection provided to U.S. troops in the current conflicts are adequate, and three-quarters said the civilian leadership has set unreasonable goals for the military in Iraq. Four in five told survey-takers it would be unreasonable to ask the military to wage another war somewhere else while troops are still deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while the officers worried about the future readiness of the military, they were more bullish about its present condition. Sixty-four percent said the morale of U.S. forces today remains high, and 88 percent predicted Gen. David Petraeus and the "surge" strategy would help achieve American military goals in Iraq. "The Army is not broken," retired Gen. Robert Scales said at a Tuesday press conference announcing the survey results. He later added that evidence of a severely weakened military "isn't going to show up in the statistics; it's going to show up anecdotally. It's something we'll have to look for in the months ahead, the canaries in the coal mine." At the same briefing, Lt. Col. John Nagl noted that two figures particularly surprised him as an active-duty officer. One was that nearly a quarter of those surveyed said defense spending should remain the same or actually decrease over the next decade. Nagl said he also wasn't expecting to find that officers condemned torture as "never acceptable" by only a very slim majority (53 percent), while 44 percent indicated it was acceptable under some circumstances. When it came to addressing recruiting needs, officers sometimes took positions diametrically opposed to the approach of military and civilian leaders in Washington. Only 7 percent said they support increasing the use of waivers for recruits with criminal histories, medical conditions and low test scores -- something the Army has been doing for years now. The most popular step, with nearly four in five officers agreeing, was to offer citizenship to those who serve -- a proposal that died in the Senate last October.
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