Early signs point to a bigger, badder Army under Trump

The Army is getting a new commander-in-chief come January, and according to experts, the service is in for a bit of a U-turn.

After years of a military drawdown in both personnel and presence around the world, Trump will probably try to reverse course, according to a retired four-star general.

"He’s not in charge of money -- the Congress is -- but what he said was he thought the armed forces in general were grossly underfunded," retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a 32-year infantry officer who held top-level posts at the Pentagon and NATO, told Army Times in a Monday phone interview.

Confronting sequestration is key, he added, but with a Republican-led Senate and House of Representatives, agreeing on a beefed up budget shouldn't be a challenge.

That additional money could mean some job security for current soldiers and an uptick in recruiting after half a decade of drawing down.

"I sure hope so," McCaffrey said. "The Army is grossly undermanned." 

The plan was to get down to 460,000 active-duty soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2017, but as a Trump insider and current Senate Armed Services Committee member told Defense News in October, the president-elect wants to reverse that.

"He proposes an increase in the Army," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, a rumored top contender for Defense secretary. "We now have about 480,000 troops. He proposes that the Army should be sustained at 540,000 troops."

Troops can also expect a build-up in Europe and Asia, McCaffrey said, despite Trump's criticism of NATO.

"You’ve got to have a military combat capability that is believed by the Russians and the North Koreans, among others, as being capable and willing to confront them in an air-ground-sea battle," he said.

The last of the American M1 tanks left Europe back in 2013, which was a "shameful invitation to Putin to confront," McCaffrey added, saying that he wouldn't be surprised if Trump sent them back.

"At some point, math counts in warfare," he said. "If you don’t want to fight, then maintain a capability that is persuasive to your adversary as being capable of taking them on. There is inadequate ground combat power in Europe."

And Trump might be just the person to get the other NATO countries to pull their weight when it comes to protecting themselves.

"I do think he’s also at heart a negotiator and so he’s actually quite correct that the Europeans, the NATO countries, have not in any way fulfilled their obligations under the NATO treaty," McCaffrey said. "It’s a shadow of what it was 25 years ago. If you’re into real politik, you would say that weakness invites aggression. So I think that Trump’s stand on NATO, while it frightened and outraged those of us who believe in NATO, is in reality a very useful opening stance."

Support from troops

On a philosophical level, McCaffrey said, support for Trump might have a unifying effect on troops.

"There actually was overwhelming support for Trump during the campaign from the rank-and-file of the armed forces," he said. 

That had a lot to do with his rhetoric about the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, McCaffrey added, commiserating with soldiers over "inane" rules of engagement.

"If you rounded up an infantry battalion in the Army and asked, 'What do you think about all this?' you'd get a surprisingly positive response," he said.

'Ignorant and uneducated'

McCaffrey, however, warned that Trump has a lot of work to do when it comes to learning about the country's national security and foreign policy structure.

"In my judgment, Trump, if elected, would provoke a political and constitutional crisis within a year," the general wrote in an August op-ed for his hometown Seattle Times. "He is remarkably ignorant and uneducated about the world that we face and the means we may use to defend ourselves.” 

But troops should be optimistic, he said.

"The office changes the man," he added. "Trump did win with a huge wave of support against all odds. There’s an enormous anger among many American people about the way government is, so let’s roll into this."





 


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