Friday, December 15, 2006

Troop Increase in Iraq ?

Troops ! Troops ! Where does he expect me to get them ? Does he expect me to make them ?
Napoléon I to the messenger of his field commander, Marshal Ney, asking for reinforcements, at Waterloo, 18 June 1815.
There appears to be a consensus developing that President Bush is about to order a large increase in numbers of troops sent to Iraq, probably after the first of the year. The always prescient Gerald Baker at the Times thinks so, in my opinion correctly, and his article this morning is worth reading. Senator McCain is quoted in the New York Times, in an article by John Burns, as saying 35,000 troops -- five to ten additional brigades, the Senator says -- are under consideration. According to the thankfully re-elected Senator Lieberman, who also supports sending more troops: "[a] failed state in Iraq will be a disaster for the region and the world." Quite correct.
Presently, there are about fifteen brigades in Iraq -- 50,000 troops of our 140,000, a statistic which points up another problem right there, which I will discuss another time.

Ann Tyson, in the Washington Post discusses testimony by the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Peter J. Schoomaker, before a congressional commission. Among other things, General Shoomaker says that ". . .without recurrent access to the reserve components [that is, the Army Reserve and the National Guard], through remobilization, we will break the active component." To persons familiar with Vietnam War history during the 1967-69 period, this sounds eerily familiar.
General Schoomaker wants expansion of the regular component by 7,000 men a year (probably insufficient), and changes in the rules governing call-ups of Reserve and National Guard elements. The problems inherent in utilizing the Reserves and National Guard (recruited, like the regulars, on a voluntary but part-time basis) are at the heart of our military difficulties in Iraq, and the Washington Post article provides an introduction to the problem. Although the regular components have met or exceeded their recruiting goals, the reserve components have fallen short. Another view on the type of expansion needed (closer to my own views) can be found here.
Liberal Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) has in weeks past renewed his call for conscription – that is, for a military draft. Plenty of other intelligent people have, recently and in the past, agreed with him. Representative Rangel (a Korean War veteran) has argued, among other things, that elitist politicians are quick to involve the country in wars and armed conflicts because, quite frankly, it’s not their kids, or mine, doing the fighting and dying.

Even a cursory tour of the internet will dredge up plenty of conservative condemnation of Representative Rangel’s modest proposal, which is no doubt a bit of a poison pill, designed to influence foreign policy in the more non-interventionist direction designed by many Democrats and liberals. Reputable conservatives condemn it on both libertarian grounds as the ultimate in involuntary servitude, and on military efficiency grounds.
Well, riddle me this, my brothers and sisters. What if Rangel’s right ?
No, I’m not agreeing with Rangel, necessarily, or saying that conscription should be considered for Rangel’s reasons. But there are other considerations. First, the people who argue for additional troops in Iraq are correct that they're needed, as smarter minds than mine (William Kristol, among others) argue elsewhere. Besides, in addition to Iraq, there is the possibility of war with Iran; and a continuing war in Afghanistan. Additionally, there is the necessity of keeping reserves for unforeseen contingencies – Korea, or some development someplace else. More troops for Iraq seem to be required, but there are precious few to send.

Think of how much different the war in Iraq would look if the Army were significantly bigger than its current end strength of approximately 500,000. If military history proves anything, it’s that counterinsurgency takes vast amounts of military manpower – precisely what is provided by a conscripted army. If the United States had its Vietnam-era army, or an increased ability to mobilize substantial numbers of soldiers from civil life with reserve obligations: the Army and Marines would have long ago had more than sufficient soldiers to hunt down and destroy the rebels there and the war would have, long since, probably been over. But we have been operating two counterinsurgencies -- don't forget Afghanistan -- on a shoe-string.

No, I don’t think this is politically possible, at present -- I'm certain its not, in fact. I’m not even sure it’s desirable. But I'm not sure it's not either.

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