While Politicians Talk About a ‘Broken’ Military, an Expert Says Things Are Not So Dire

By Chris Adams

Michael O’Hanlon has heard plenty of stories about military equipment so obsolete it can only be repaired with the help of a part the Pentagon found at a museum.

In a session with National Press Foundation Paul Miller fellows about military readiness, he warned that such stories should be taken with a massive grain of salt.

“Of course there is always stuff that is broken,” said the Brookings Institution senior fellow. “But most of the time, when people trot out this anecdote or that anecdote, they are playing political games. … You should be wary of this topic.”

In 2016, O’Hanlon and retired Gen. David Petraeus argued in high-profile pieces in The Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs that things were not at all bad on the U.S. military front. As they stated in their Foreign Affairs piece: “The United States has the best military in the world today, by far. U.S. forces have few, if any, weaknesses, and in many areas – from naval warfare to precision-strike capabilities, to airpower, to intelligence and reconnaissance, to special operations – they play in a totally different league from the militaries of other countries. Nor is this situation likely to change anytime soon.” (The Journal and Foreign Affairs pieces require registration or are behind a paywall; a Brookings piece covering some of the same ground, including the response from critics, is here.)

In his NPF session, O’Hanlon defined what readiness means and how it involves four areas of Pentagon operations: personnel, force structure, equipment and training. He gave journalists different measures they can use to compare readiness in each of those four dimensions.

And while there are challenges in each, he said, he doesn’t “want to join the sky-is-falling chorus.”

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