The most trusted institution in America is the U.S. military.

General McCaffrey Heritage Foundation“There is a reason for it,” said retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey. “It is because our boys and girls, our sons and daughters, write Mom and say that ‘I’m part of an institution of courage and integrity and they care about me as a person and they’re developing me as a person.’”

Even though the military is the most trusted institution, McCaffrey said, it faces significant challenges.

McCaffrey, former commander of the U.S. Southern Command, spoke at The Heritage Foundation this week and visited with Heritage’s Jackie Anderson to talk about some of the challenges.

“I don’t think we know what we’re doing. That’s part of the problem,” McCaffrey said. “The whole goal of a strategy ought to be to look forward 15 to 25 years and understand where you’ll be and what are the threats that you need to counter, and then to construct a conceptual framework that will address that and from that develop diplomatic and military measures. I don’t think we’ve got that.”

Budget challenges, McCaffrey said, pose one of the biggest hurdles to ensuring the U.S. military readiness.

“The question is, ‘Do we have an understanding financially of how we’re going spend scarce resources a decade into the future?’” McCaffrey said. “Again, the answer is no. … Congress essentially hasn’t passed the budget on time, 12 appropriations bills, in seven years. They’re not doing their job.”

McCaffrey said that he spent last 10 years in the business world. From that experience, he’s grown to realize the federal government is not being run effectively.

“There is not enterprise in this system as badly managed as the federal government,” he said. “It is simply astonishing.”

McCaffrey said if things don’t change, the U.S. military could suffer in the future. “It to some extent is a mindless kind of mechanical process that is devastating the capability of our armed forces to react in the longer run.”

McCaffrey delivered the Inaugural Colonel James D. McGinley Lecture at Heritage on November 12.