The Marine Corps will drawdown 4,000 positions between now and 2017. Total end-strength for the USMC is 202,100 and the proposed cuts will take it down to 182,100. The drawdowns could not come at a worst time.
As the article points out, part of the failure in Benghazi was the lack of an Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) on-station. The ARGs were deployed elsewhere and there are too few Marines to create more ARGs.
The other branches are also being drawing down so the responsibilities can't be shifted to the Army. To accelerate the process, the USMC is looking to offer early outs. Having gone through this myself back in 1992, I can tell you what isn't clearly addresses is the effect on combat readiness. Most of those eligible for early are your more senior people who have the combat experience younger troops may not.
The Army drawdown means Marines may be forced to be used in roles that they are not by doctrine equipped to execute. For example, Marines are an expeditionary force designed to be rapidly deployed any where in the world. They also tend to fight from ships. All of this means Marine units tend to be "lighter" than Army units (less armor and artillery support). Marine units are intended to work further in-country than 60 kilometers from the shore (although that was pretty much ignored in the early days of Iraqi Freedom).
In fact, the Army drawdown is so massive that for the first time full-qualified soldiers may be denied re-enlistment! (Source: Army Times). The long range implications for recruiting and retention is staggering. Imagine a soldier who has score high on his/her AFPT, deployed, and received excellent performance appraisals being denied enlistment.
Place all of these morale destroying moves with increased tensions in Mali, Algeria, Syria, Iran and now even North Korea and you wonder how the United States will remain engaged on so many fronts. At home, we will see massive numbers of seasoned combat troops re-entering the civilian world. How truly ready is the United States to absorb these troops into the workforce?
Unfit for Combat