Sunday, August 3, 2003

Lawmakers respond: Are we stretched too thin?

We asked area lawmakers in Congress: "Are U.S. forces stretched too thin? How can they stay effective and avoid being overextended?"

Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

I think we can keep our current commitments and remain effective. Today's U.S. Armed Forces are comprised of the most technologically advanced and highly trained military men and women this world has ever seen. Morale is high and recruitment is up. I believe this is due to this Commander in Chief's respect for military personnel and the sacrifices they make, as well as Congress' commitment to enhance the quality of life of our men and women in uniform. We do need to be careful not to entangle our troops in conflicts where there is no clear national interest or mission. And we need to be particularly careful not to overuse our Reserves and National Guard. But our military can handle the terrorist threat and the regional conflicts that confront us.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio

We must be careful not to think in terms of the Armed Forces we knew in years gone by. Secretary Rumsfeld has touted a "transformation" of the military to develop new attitudes in how we approach policy. Due to the technological advances in recent years, effectiveness cannot be judged in numbers of soldiers deployed, but how those soldiers perform with the ever-changing tools available.

Compare the 1991 Gulf War and this past spring's operations in Iraq. The manner in which they were fought was vastly different. Resources like the unmanned Global Hawk spy plane - connected to Ohio's own Wright-Patterson Air Force Base - have placed our military capabilities light years ahead of where they were just more than a decade ago. It is essential that Congress works with the Pentagon to advance this technology. We must keep up this quick pace so our enemies are always one step - or more - behind us.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio

The U.S. military is the best-trained, best-equipped in the world. In recent years, we have witnessed the results of that training, while being reminded of the courage and bravery of the men and women in our armed forces.

The decentralized nature of terrorist groups and the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction to nations hostile to the U.S. require that our military be prepared to effectively conduct simultaneous operations throughout the world. While the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated that our troops are prepared for that challenge, Congress and the Administration must take steps now to prevent overextending our military in the future. Additionally, to ensure our national security, we must carefully weigh the vital U.S. interests in any situation before committing our troops to action.

I have strongly supported efforts to strengthen our national defense and homeland security. Last month, the House approved legislation to bolster defense spending by $4.3 billion - including a substantial increase for special forces who play an integral role in the war on terrorism. To enhance the recruitment of the best soldiers and improve the morale of those already serving our nation, the legislation also contains a 4.1 percent pay increase and an expanded housing allowance for military personnel.

Throughout our history, the American people have come together to face the challenges that have confronted us. Nowhere has that unity been more evident than in our armed forces. While the war on terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction present numerous new challenges, I am confident that our nation and our military will continue to stand united and prevail.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio

As the world's sole superpower, American military presence spans the globe in a variety of missions. As the size of America's standing military force has decreased over the last decade, we have come rely more and more on our Reserve and National Guard forces.

I am concerned that frequent, and sometimes extended, deployments place a strain on our Reservists and Guardsmen and their families. Reservists play a key role in securing and protecting our nation. We must recognize and encourage their contributions, which is the reason I have worked on legislation to provide Reservists and Guardsmen the tax deductions they deserve for non-reimbursed travel to and from drill locations.

Additionally, I am working on legislation that would help create a safety net and allow for uninterrupted health coverage for service members and their families during mobilization.

We must ease some of the burdens on our volunteer forces because continued American military success depends on their dedicated service.

Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Ky.

The U.S. military is the best and most professional military in the world, but we must be cautious not to reach a point where over-extending ourselves becomes an issue. Fortunately, our National Guard and reserves provide us with some flexibility to fill gaps on a temporary basis.

We must also be mindful that sending forces overseas for extended periods of time is hard on morale as well as their families back home.

These are difficult times and we must take steps to ensure the safety of the American people, but this must be done without putting members of our armed forces and our national security goals at risk and I am confident our military leaders know better than to allow that to happen.

Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.

The United States' decisive military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq are not the end of our war on terrorism but only, to paraphrase Churchill, the end of the beginning. Our battlefield success could be undone by our difficulties in securing the peace.

If we let Afghanistan re-emerge as a failed state, or allow Iraq to become one, they will be incubators of terrorism and a source of anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world.

Simply stated, we have become nation-builders in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the war on terrorism we face, as we did in the Cold War, an implacable enemy who will not be defeated quickly. The "Why are we still here?" questions from our soldiers on the ground and the talk of "quagmire" in the press at home show that our leaders need to lay this out clearly to the public.

We need to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan long enough to create stable countries. Let's stop dismissing nation-building as "international social work," somehow unworthy of a great power. To the contrary, it's a basic step toward victory in the war on terrorism.

Tell us what you think

How are ongoing world conflicts affecting you or your deployed loved one? Do you think the U.S. military is being stretched too far? What can it do to effectively address ongoing conflicts in which the United States has an interest throughout the globe? Send us your thoughts by noon Wednesday. Please include your name, address, neighborhood and a daytime phone. Send to Military Responses, Editorial Page, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, fax (513) 768-8610, email letters@enquirer.com. We'll share some of the responses with our readers.

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