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Tuesday, December 5

The “Five Percent Solution” to America's military resourcing woes, and the need for civic education

“Greetings, Pundita:
I’m not going to ask what you think about what’s been leaked so far about the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. When it comes to getting answers about the situation in Iraq, I feel as if I've pushed the elevator button and when the doors open there is just the shaft there. I don’t have the faith that what comes out of the commission will be a clear course for victory in Iraq. It does not seem they will recommend what is the most rational course of action, which is to put more troops in Iraq with a firm commitment to achieving victory there. Bush says he wants to win in Iraq, but he supported a defense secretary who was more concerned about pushing his ideas for modernizing the armed forces than about victory in Iraq.

So I guess I’m just writing to vent my anger and frustration. How far do you think our people will go toward betraying our commitment to the people we conquered and now plan to leave in ruins?
Claudia in Taos”

Dear Claudia:
I share your feelings, but the question is whether the US can marshal the resources needed to achieve a victory. I strongly recommend that you read the entire article, but here's the essence of the bottom line:
[…] as Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has noted, America's military buildup has been "a hollow buildup," filled largely with funds for operations, maintenance, readiness, and health care--but not for the acquisition of new military systems or added manpower. […] To be sure, between FY 2000 and FY 2006, spending for planes, ships, and systems increased from $55 billion to $78 billion, and the Army's end strength was bumped up by 30,000 troops. Nevertheless, these increases are inadequate given the needs of the military, the wear and tear of war on both men and materiel, and the set of global responsibilities placed on the American military by existing treaty obligations and the strategic policies of the last two presidents. […]

Given the Bush team's campaign rhetoric in 2000 that "help [was] on the way" for the military, one might have expected the Bush administration to have substantially increased procurement spending. It has not. If the CBO estimate is taken as a baseline, the shortfall in spending from the Bush years now totals an additional $100 billion. And, for FY 2007, the defense procurement budget remains at just over $84 billion, below the $90 billion target suggested by the CBO. When inflation is taken into account, the shortfall is even larger in real terms.

Nor has there been much relief on the personnel front. From 1989 to 1999, military end strength was cut from 2.1 million to 1.4 million. For the Army in particular, this meant a dramatic reduction in the number of divisions--from eighteen to ten. As early as 1997, the House Armed Services Committee reported that the Army was being worn down by repeated deployments and that readiness levels were low and getting lower. Factor in two major wars, stabilization, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency operations, and the marginal increase in Army manpower (approximately 30,000) in recent years is little more than a Band-Aid for what ails America's ground forces.
-- from Gary J. Schmitt’s Hollow Military 2.0, November 2006

I think those in the know and who support sending in more troops to Iraq, such as Senator John McCain, are aware that the call for such a deployment is the tip of the iceberg that Gary Schmitt writes about. Schmitt’s paper backs up what General Eric Shinseki observed even before the invasion of Iraq: the US military is under-resourced for the job it’s being asked to do in that country. But to up the resources to an adequate level calls for a civilian consensus on the need to increase military spending. As Schmitt observes:
Despite the fact that the country is at war, defense spending as a percentage of the national economy remains low relative to any set of years since World War II. Hence […] the U.S. economy is more than able to handle what needs to be spent on defense. That cost, moreover, like any investment, should be calculated based on the benefits it secures: success in Iraq, the defeat of the global jihadists, and deterrence of other hostile states would be an immense return on money spent. […] Dedicating 5 percent of the country's GDP -- a nickel on the dollar -- to defense is a wise investment.
When Jim Ellsworth of the US Naval War College sent me Schmitt’s article a few weeks ago I replied, “Iraq and Dem-GOP battles suck the oxygen out of the air, leaving little for very important stories such as this one.” It’s worth repeating his reply:

“Yup; ultimately so much gets back to the civic education issue […] We are in desperate need of intelligent discussion that weighs and assesses competing priorities, guided by a national strategy that needs to be developed in synch with a national conversation of its own.

"All of which requires an educated and informed citizenry that understands the importance of these discussions, has some degree of respect for the judgment/ analysis of the professionals who have spent entire careers studying these issues and pursuing solutions under administrations of both parties, possesses the information-gathering and critical thinking competencies to participate meaningfully in the conversation, and feels an obligation to do so grounded in a sense of civic duty.

"The latter seems to have been systematically bred out of our society over the last couple of generations by political and educational systems too ready (at both extremes of the political spectrum) to confuse patriotism and civic obligation with blind adherence to a particular point along that spectrum.”

Most Americans I’ve spoken with over the years say they want a US a victory in Iraq, whether or not they think victory can be achieved. However, several made it clear that they didn’t want their representatives in Congress to make politically unpopular decisions that wreak havoc on their political party, whether Dem or GOP, in order to gain victory.

War always wreaks havoc on politics in a democracy. Everybody knows that, but many Americans refuse to see Iraq as part of the war on terror. That’s their escape clause when they argue for quitting Iraq: We’re not actually betraying the Iraqis by pulling out because invading Iraq was not part of America’s defensive war against al Qaeda.

They argue that the invasion was simply an act of madness by an insane president. Ergo, the American people are absolved of responsibility toward the Iraqis. That kind of logic is dangerous sophistry, yet it's a tempting argument while the toll for American dead and wounded keeps rising.

Yet all the Iraqis ever asked of the United States in the situation was to please kindly restore a semblance of order, and keep the order while they built a functioning government from the ground up. For that, we need a lot more troops and funds, and equipment.

It does not take a general to observe that it's unwise to open a major theater in a war then say, "Well, this is turning out to be a more expensive proposition than we envisioned so we'll come up with a graceful exit."

There is no graceful exit in war; there is only victory, defeat, or truce. We are not up against a truce-making enemies, and unlike the Vietnamese when we quit Vietnam, our enemies can chase us back to our lair when they read our exit from Iraq as defeat.

Yet those Americans who argue for a graceful exit from a war theater we created are reasoning from the arrogance of a superpower nation. The arrogance easily lulls us into believing that we can survive a clear military defeat without undue consequences. This, despite the lesson of 9/11.

There is no way out of the war in Iraq for the United States except the path to victory. The problem is paying for the path.
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