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October 19, 2006

Excessive bullishness heralds a bust


October 01, 2006

Iraq and the Military Crisis



The U.S. military hasn't failed in Iraq. It accomplished exactly what it was asked to do, which was overthrow Saddam Hussein. What its leadership didn't bargain for – and what our military isn't built for – is the messy aftermath. Simply, Washington has asked its military to do too much with too little.

With massive technological superiority, the U.S. remains the world's most capable fighting force. But our inability to crush sectarian violence and terrorist insurgencies in Iraq illustrates the limits of military might. After all, a close-quarters conflict is an environment in which an improvised explosive device is more effective than a Tomahawk missile.

This unconventional fight has deeply strained our nation's military core and resources. Congress and President Bush must confront the manpower crisis and the threat it poses to preparedness and national security. The core of this country's readiness – the men and women in uniform – must be restored as smartly and quickly as possible.

Postponing this major overhaul only kicks the problem down the road. Politicians in Washington must address this before the next war – for surely there will be one.

It's time to listen to military leaders like Army Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, who recently held back a 2008 budget plan because he believes it didn't provide enough resources to perform its mission in Iraq and meet other worldwide commitments. That move probably did little for the general's career, but it is the dose of reality that Washington needs.

Unless things unexpectedly improve in Iraq, the Pentagon forecasts needed troop levels at about 144,000 through year's end. Any call for more troops ignores the obvious. We have gotten ourselves into such a bind that we can't send more without compromising vital military readiness elsewhere.

The Army has provided about 102,000 of the U.S. troops in Iraq and 16,000 of the 21,000 troops in Afghanistan. Many of these soldiers face second and third deployments. Two brigades recently had their scheduled departure dates from Iraq delayed.

The Army National Guard and Reserves face the same manpower and overdeployment issues. Additionally, equipment needed to train yet-to-be-deployed reserve units is being used – and destroyed – in Iraq, which exacerbates the training and readiness gap at home.

Some analysts contend that the Army needs to add as many as 100,000 troops to its 505,000 active-duty force to meet current commitments and future threats. For an all-volunteer force, that is a decade-long effort – not a fix for the immediate crisis in Iraq.

As this war drains resources at a troubling rate, we now have an even tougher rebuilding program ahead, one that will demand serious sacrifice by government and the people.

The elements of that sacrifice – whether a tax increase, a draft or some other drastic measure – are unpalatable topics headed into an election.

But we can't ignore them. Whatever problems the military faces today, we only compound them by dithering before the next big crisis. We must rebuild now.