We need more troops, President Bush acknowledged in a news conference Wednesday.
But do we need more troops in Iraq?
The president announced his intent to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps
just days after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld departed the Pentagon. I doubt
the timing was coincidental.
I'm among those who think this is a decision that ought to have been made on Sept.
12, 2001. We had 18 divisions in the active Army at the end of the first Gulf War.
President Clinton reduced these to 10. I thought at the time this was dangerously
low, but it was possible (though foolish) in the late 1990s to imagine a long era of
After 9/11, this was no longer possible. But Secretary Rumsfeld resisted more than
token increases in the end strengths of the Army and Marine Corps.
Mr. Rumsfeld feared the high cost of military manpower it costs about $100,000 to
keep a single soldier in the field for a year would drain away funds badly needed
for force modernization. A leaner, more agile force taking full advantage of modern
technology would be more effective, he believed.
Another problem with increasing the size of the force is maintaining its quality.
Recruits to our All Volunteer Force currently have much higher IQs and levels of
education than does the youth population as a whole. But the more the force is
expanded, the more marginal applicants would have to be accepted.
Smaller faster better worked well in the march on Baghdad. But a force designed for
blitzkrieg is poorly designed for the kind of counterinsurgency war we've found
ourselves in since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Counterinsurgency is by its nature manpower intensive. A large number of troops is
required to maintain presence in contested areas. And because insurgencies tend to
go on for a long time (the average length in modern times has been about 7 years)
troop units need to be rotated in and out.
The president's remarks indicate he understands the war on terror is going to last a
long time, and that more of its battles will resemble those we're fighting now than
those we fought in the Spring of 2003.
Since it would take about two years to recruit, train and equip additional brigades,
expansion of the Army and Marine Corps comes too late to influence the decision the
president is contemplating to "surge" U.S. troops in Iraq.
An American Enterprise Institute study directed by retired Army vice chief of staff
Gen. Jack Keane and former West Point professor Frederick Kagan recommends
temporarily increasing U.S. troop levels by 5-7 brigades to secure contested
neighborhoods in Baghdad and Ramadi.
The main reason why there has been no troop surge in the past is because neither
Secretary Rumsfeld nor the senior generals he chose were in favor of it. Gen. John
Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, and Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. troops
in Iraq, think our primary mission should be training Iraqi security forces. Gen.
Keane and Dr. Kagan think it should be protecting Iraqi civilians.
But our strategic options in Iraq have been limited by the relatively small size of
the Army and Marine Corps. Some think the size of the surge recommended by Gen.
Keane and Prof. Kagan is too small to accomplish their goals. But it is the utmost
our overstretched forces can muster.
A better strategy will improve our prospects for victory. But the best strategy
won't work unless we provide our troops with the resources required to execute it.
President Bush has said from time to time that the preservation of our way of life
is at stake in the war on terror. But you couldn't tell that from our spending
priorities. In 2003 we ranked 47th among the world's nations (the vast majority of
which are not at war) in the percentage of gross domestic product we spend on the
military. The percentage of total federal expenditures devoted to defense is near
an historic low.
Currently, we spend about 3.9 cents of every dollar our economy produces on defense.
In Jimmy Carter's first full year as president, we devoted 4.7 percent of GDP to
defense. In Bill Clinton's first budget, we spent 4 percent of GDP on defense.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it would not have been difficult to obtain
from Congress the funds required both to modernize the military, and to expand the
Army and the Marine Corps to the size required to fight the war. But now, with a
Democratic Congress and a public weary of war, it will be much harder.
We can afford both a bigger military and a better military. Given what's at stake,
we can't afford not to have both.