Amid rising concern about the over-extension of
U.S. military forces and the growing budget deficit, the Project
for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative group whose past
foreign policy recommendations have often been followed by President George
W. Bush, is urging
Congress to add 25,000 new soldiers to U.S. ground forces each year over the
next several years.
The appeal, which comes on the eve of Bush's State of the Union address, is
certain to fuel the growing debate over whether Washington can afford the interventionist
vision long espoused by PNAC and its highly influential founders that of
a global "Pax Americana" in which the U.S. military acts as the effective
guarantor of international peace and security.
"The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are
asking it to assume," said
the open letter addressed to the Congressional leadership and signed by
34 defense and foreign policy analysts, mostly prominent neoconservatives but
also a smattering of retired generals and, significantly, several national defense
alumni of Bill Clinton's administration.
It was published as the lead editorial in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly
Standard, which is edited by William Kristol, PNAC's chairman and founder.
"[O]ur national security, global peace and stability, and the defense
and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force
than we have today," the letter went on, adding, "The [Bush] administration
has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to
meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges."
PNAC itself consists of a handful of people besides Kristol and PNAC's director,
Gary Schmitt. Since its creation in 1997, it has acted primarily as a platform
from which prominent neoconservatives could issue policy recommendations and
invite influential analysts from other ideological currents to sign on.
Thus, its founding charter, which called for a "Reaganite policy of military
strength and moral quality," was signed mostly by neoconservatives, such
as former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz; Vice President Dick Cheney's
current chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby; current Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz; and the current director for Middle East affairs on the National
Security Council, Elliott Abrams.
But several individuals more closely associated with an aggressive nationalist
position, notably the current Pentagon chief, Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney, and magazine
magnate Steve Forbes, also signed, as did Gary Bauer, a leader of the U.S. Christian
The signers' make-up thus presaged the three-headed coalition of hawks
neoconservatives, aggressive nationalists, and the Christian Right that
gained control of the Bush administration's foreign policy after the 9/11 terrorist
From 1997 until Bush's election, PNAC issued a number of policy statements
signed by the same or a similar cast of characters, as well as several longer
reports and a book, Present
Dangers, that prescribed many of the policy initiatives the incoming
Bush administration has since adopted.
PNAC first urged Washington to work for "regime change" in Iraq in
1998, but, within nine days of the 9/11 attacks, the group called for a similar
policy to be applied as well to the Palestinian National Authority, Syria, and
Iran, if they failed to cooperate fully with the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
While strongly supportive of Bush, PNAC first began expressing some disappointment
with the administration almost exactly two years ago for its failure to increase
the proposed military budget from 3.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)
to something closer to 4 percent of GDP, which it noted was still below the
4.8 percent Washington was spending in 1993, at the end of the Cold War.
Two months later, as U.S. forces launched their invasion, PNAC issued another
letter expressing concern that the administration was unprepared to provide
the stabilization and reconstruction process in Iraq with enough military and
That letter, which was widely construed as an attack on Rumsfeld, was signed
mostly by neoconservatives but also included for the first time since Bush had
become president a number of former senior Clinton officials, such as his deputy
national security adviser, James Steinberg; a former senior Pentagon official,
Walter Slocombe, and several others.
PNAC has since indicated reservations about the administration's coziness with
Russia and China two areas where the administration has generally spurned
the hawkish advice of the neoconservatives but the latest letter indicates
a higher level of frustration.
It is the first addressed to Congress and thus appears as a more direct challenge
to the administration's reluctance to increase the defense budget. Like the
2003 letter, the new one also includes the signatures of "liberal hawks"
mostly the same former Clinton officials who signed the 2003 letter
as well as neoconservatives.
The principal target appears to be Rumsfeld, who has strongly resisted suggestions
that U.S. ground forces which currently include almost 500,000 active-duty
Army troops, more than 175,000 Marines, and a roughly equal number of reservists
are inadequate to the tasks they face.
Rumsfeld has argued that increasing the size of U.S. ground forces will delay
the military's "transformation" into a lighter, more lethal, and more
hi-tech force capable of deploying overwhelming military power to any strategic
hot spot within hours. Additional and unanticipated expenses for equipping,
training, and maintaining an expanded ground force will take money away from
the development and deployment of new technologies.
The only way to do both is to increase the defense budget, since the price
tag for just two new divisions, totaling 34,000 soldiers, is an estimated $20
But with the budget bleeding red ink as far as the eye can see, Bush would
have to find new sources of revenue either by cutting social programs
that have already been slashed, rolling back tax cuts, or imposing new taxes.
None of these alternatives is attractive, especially to many Republican lawmakers
for whom the mushrooming deficit is seen increasingly as the Achilles heel of
their party's current political dominance.
"We understand the dangers of continued federal deficits, and the fiscal
difficulty of increasing the number of troops," the letter reassures its
readers. "But the defense of the United States is the first priority of
(Inter Press Service)