Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In Principle, Bush Is Right To Want To Increase Size Of Army And Marines

In an interview with the Washington Post, President Bush says he has concluded the size of both the U.S. Army and Marines should be increased, and will ask the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to come up with a plan.

This should have been done months, if not years, ago. One of Donald Rumsfeld's shortcomings as defense secretary was his unwillingness to contemplate such a move.

It has been a foolhardy policy to try and wage war in Iraq with a combination of active duty, reserve and national guard troops. The smaller numbers in the American military, as compared with those available in the Vietnam war. (1.4 million now, as compared with more than 3 million then) has led to a system of frequent rotations of troops, exposed them to all the hardships this entails, including family and psychological stresses, and has impeded the country from following an effective war strategy.

Don't get me wrong. War always causes stresses and the people who lose their lives, of course, lose everything. But it has become the case in Iraq that many enlisted men and officers have served two, three or even more separate tours of duty, leading some who otherwise would stay in the Service, to leave and compounding many personal problems.

It has also necessitated calling many more reserves and national guard troops than would normally be used in such a conflict. And it has contributed to an unwillingness to have sufficient troops on hand in Iraq to get the job done.

Mr. Bush still is putting off announcement of a new plan to fight the war, and he is not saying here that he has decided to increase the number of troops, even with the "surge" of 20,000 to 50,000 more troops sometimes suggested.

But even at the present rates of deployment, under 150,000 at a time, the Army and Marine Corps has been so small that repeated deployments were inevitable.

This is going to be expensive, no doubt about it, and some adjustments in taxes might well be merited. The President has probably been too devoted to keeping taxes, particularly estate taxes and capital gains, too low anyway.

But it does not foreshadow a return of the military draft. There is little support available for such a move, and it is not necessary in order to have a draft to increase the size of the military by a few thousand, which is all that's contemplated for the moment. Recruitment of volunteers has been sufficient in the past and will be for the foreseeable future.

In his Post interview, the President has outlined the beginnings of a more sound military policy, regardless whether he does go through with an increase in troop levels in Iraq.

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