Last week, most of the media's and public's attention
was focused on President Bush's announcement that he would be sending another
20,000-plus troops to Iraq – a move opposed by 70 percent of the American people.
Nonetheless, the president refuses to let public opinion change his mind (he
has famously said,
"As to whether or not I make decisions based upon polls. I don't.")
and on CBS' 60 Minutes proclaimed,
"I've made my decision. And we're going forward." And despite bipartisan
criticism from Capitol Hill, there is probably no way for Congress to stop the
president from pouring more troops into Iraq. According
to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, "We have authority in
the – we have money in the '07 budget, which has been appropriated by the Congress,
to move these troops to Iraq, and the president will be doing that."
Less, noticed, however was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' recommendation
that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps be expanded
by 92,000 soldiers (65,000 and 27,000, respectively) over the next five
years. This is considerably more than expanding the force by 7,000 soldiers
a year to keep the Army from breaking under the strain of the Iraq deployment,
as previously called for by outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen.
Peter Schoomaker. So the current proposed troop surge of 21,500 soldiers
in Iraq could just be the tip of the iceberg. After all, Gates
is on record during his confirmation hearing that "the United States
is going to have to have some presence in Iraq for a long time."
Or maybe more troops are needed for a potential showdown with Iran? When he
announced his intention to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, President
Bush also said,
"Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and
stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with
addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents
to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material
support for attacks on American troops." Subsequently, U.S. forces raided
the Iranian consulate in Irbil and arrested five men, claiming links to the
Iranian Revolutionary Guard and aiding insurgents in Iraq. And Vice
President Cheney's rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of how he tried to make
Saddam Hussein a target:
"And Iran's a problem in a much larger sense. They have begun to conduct
themselves in ways that have created a great deal of tension throughout the
region. If you go and talk with the Gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis
or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried,
partly because of the conduct of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who
appears to be a radical, a man who believes in an apocalyptic vision of the
future and who thinks it's imminent.
"At the same time, of course, they're pursuing the acquisition of nuclear
weapons. They are in a position where they sit astride the Straits of Hormuz,
where over 20 percent of the world's supply of oil transits every single day,
over 18 million barrels a day.
"They use Hezbollah as a surrogate. And working through Syria with
Hezbollah, they're trying to topple the democratically elected government in
Iran. Working through Hamas and their support for Hamas in Gaza, they're interfering
in the peace process.
"So the threat that Iran represents is growing, it's multi-dimensional,
and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region."
While the need for expanding the armed forces by 92,000 ground troops is an
important question, another important question is: Where would the soldiers
The military is already having a hard time just keeping the current force in
place. The Iraq mission has forced deployments to be extended, keeping troops
in the field longer than their normal rotation. And to keep soldiers from leaving
when their enlistments expire, the military has resorted to stop-loss orders
to keep tens of thousands of soldiers. Recent
Military Times poll numbers don't bode well for retaining troops
who have grown disillusioned with the Iraq war: only 35 percent of the military
approved of the way President Bush is handling the Iraq war and 42 percent disapproved
(the first time that more troops have disapproved than approved); only 41 percent
thought the United States should have gone to war.
The good news for the Army and Marine Corps is that both services meet their
recruiting goals for fiscal year 2006 – 80,000 and 32,302, respectively
(both services have also meet their recruiting goals for the first three months
of fiscal year 2007). But one price paid to meet recruiting goals has been lowering
standards. For fiscal year 2006, nearly 4 percent (the maximum allowed by
the Defense Department) of Army recruits scored below certain aptitude levels
– so-called Category 4 recruits who represent the lowest end of the testing
spectrum. More worrisome is the fact that about 17 percent of the Army's recruits
were accepted under waivers for medical, moral, or criminal problems. Accepting
more Category 4 recruits and granting waivers allowed both services to only
just barely meet their recruiting goals, so where are they going to find an
additional 18,000 soldiers a year for the next five years?
Even if the Army and Marine Corps can find men and women to fill their ranks,
there is also the question of cost. The Defense Department is already spending
more than $450 billion a year in its baseline budget. Four defense supplemental
requests to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have totaled
$294 billion, and the most recent supplemental request is expected to be at
least $99 billion. According to the Army, every
additional 10,000 troops would cost about $1.2 billion a year. So adding
92,000 soldiers would cost about $110 billion.
If we were engaged in a war of national survival – such as World War II – the
cost of recruiting soldiers to defend the country would not be an issue. But
Iraq is not World War II. Nor is it the central front in the war in terrorism.
Iraq was never a military or terrorist threat to the United States. It has now
become someone else's civil war and rather than continuing to be caught in the
crossfire between Sunnis and Shi'ites, the United States should be thinking
about how to get out – not about how to put more soldiers in or increasing the
size of the Army and Marine Corps to sustain the force in Iraq for years to