Sen. Jim Inhofe badly misquoted Gen. Martin E. Dempsey when he claimed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff described the current state of the U.S. military as “so degraded and unready, it would be immoral to use force.” Dempsey warned seven months ago that budget cuts could hurt future military readiness and that it would be immoral to use force “if ever the force is so degraded and so unready.”
Inhofe, who opposes President Obama’s plan for military airstrikes in Syria, made his remarks Sept. 1 on Fox News Sunday when asked about congressional support for a military use of force resolution. Inhofe expressed the opinion that the president’s call for limited airstrikes could lead to a full-blown war with Syria that the U.S. military is ill-equipped to undertake.
But in expressing his opinion, the Oklahoma Republican misquoted Dempsey.
Inhofe, Sept. 1: This could be war in the Middle East. It’s serious. And now, you’ve got to realize what this president has done to our military. And our military is so degraded now. It’s not just me who says this.
I want to read one quote by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey. He said, ‘Our military force is so degraded and unready, it would be immoral to use force.’
That’s exactly what they are talking about doing — is using force.
That’s not at all what Dempsey said. He was not talking about the current state of the U.S. military. At a Feb. 12 Senate hearing on the impact of budget cuts on the military, Dempsey responded to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s observation that the sequester cuts — which will occur over a 10-year period as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 — are putting military leaders in “an almost untenable position.”
Dempsey, Feb. 12: Well, your point is a good one. Look, none of us walk away or run away from a crisis or a fight. You know, that is not our nature. But I will tell you personally if ever the force is so degraded and so unready and then we are asked to use it, it would be immoral to use the force unless it is well trained, well led, and well equipped.
Graham: Are we on the path to creating that dilemma?
Dempsey: We are on that path.
So, Dempsey wasn’t talking about the current military or its ability to carry out the president’s plan in Syria.
In fact, Dempsey testified at a Sept. 10 House Armed Services hearing that airstrikes in Syria are “well within our capability.” Dempsey specifically addressed his earlier statement about the impact of the sequester cuts on the military, and reiterated that he was talking about “the future if sequestration continues.”
Rep. Buck McKeon, Sept. 10: General Dempsey, you heard the concerns that I raised in my opening statement about committing our military to another mission, in this case a combat mission, without addressing the issue of sequestration and the associated readiness crisis. Will you agree that it’s not possible to anticipate all of the second- and third- degree — or third-order effects of military action, and therefore, it’s not possible to determine the final cost of a strike against Syria in terms of impacts to our combat readiness and the cost?
Dempsey: Thanks, Chairman. As you know, America’s unmatched in our ability to employ military power. This is conceived as a limited operation, and therefore, well within our capability to conduct it. I share your concern and have expressed it in this hearing room and elsewhere about the possibility that due to sequestration, the force that sits behind the forward-deployed force will be — won’t be ready. So I am concerned not about this operation but in general that unforeseen contingencies will be impacted in the future if sequestration continues.
We note that Inhofe has correctly quoted Dempsey on other occasions, most recently in a Sept. 10 opinion piece that he wrote for U.S. News & World Report. There Inhofe wrote: “If this conflict escalates and Assad attacks our partners and allies, our military may not have the resources, capabilities or readiness to respond appropriately. Already we’re on a path in which, as Gen. Dempsey warned, the force may become “so degraded and so unready,” it would be “immoral to use the force.”
We should also note that on Fox News Sunday, Inhofe blamed Obama for the military being “so degraded now” and suggested Dempsey agreed with him when he said it’s “not just me who says this.” As we’ve noted, the sequester cuts were agreed to by both parties in Congress and signed into law by the president. The Budget Control Act passed in the House with 174 votes from Republicans and 95 from Democrats. And the bill cleared the Senate with 74 “yea” votes, including 45 Democrats, 28 Republicans and one independent. Inhofe did not vote for it.
— Eugene Kiely