Friday, December 15, 2006

The cost of war on the cheap

As I've mentioned, I don't know, about a gazillion times, the US spends almost as much on its military as THE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED.

But, in a clear example of the hoary Republican axiom that throwing money at a problem doesn't solve it, the US Army is near breaking.

From the Washington Post:

Warning that the active-duty Army "will break" under the strain of today's war-zone rotations, the nation's top Army general yesterday called for expanding the force by 7,000 or more soldiers a year and lifting Pentagon restrictions on involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, issued his most dire assessment yet of the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the nation's main ground force. At one point, he banged his hand on a House committee-room table, saying the continuation of today's Pentagon policies is "not right."

In particularly blunt testimony, Schoomaker said the Army began the Iraq war "flat-footed" with a $56 billion equipment shortage and 500,000 fewer soldiers than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Echoing the warnings from the post-Vietnam War era, when Gen. Edward C. Meyer, then the Army chief of staff, decried the "hollow Army," Schoomaker said it is critical to make changes now to shore up the force for what he called a long and dangerous war. [Emphases mine-CK]

So much for the all-volunteer army.

So much for war on the credit-card cheap.

And in fact, as the redoubtable EJ Dionne points out (also in today's WaPo), the two are not unrelated:

Now we know that the decision to put the war on a credit card is not simply a moral question. The administration's failure to acknowledge the real costs of the war -- and to pay them -- has put it in a corner.

The president's options in Iraq are severely constrained because our military is too small for the foreign policy he is pursuing. Sending more troops would place even more excruciating burdens on members of our armed forces and their families. And the brass fears that an extended new commitment could, quite simply, break the Army.

Yet, instead of building up our military for a long engagement and levying the taxes to pay for such an enterprise, the administration kept issuing merry reports of progress in Iraq. Right through Election Day this year, the president continued to condemn anyone who dared suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should raise taxes to pay for this war.

But Bush will never raise taxes, or re-institue a draft for that matter.

To do so he would have to truly convince, not just the American public, but his backers among the US' financial elites, that the war in Iraq is worth the cost.

That he will never do.

Because even his staunchest supporters are beginning to realize (at last) that the war in Iraq really isn't worth the cost.

And never has been.

[UPDATE: And, as Kevin Drum points out, Schoomaker's request for a bigger army would make sense if the Army had a credible plan for using them to turn things around in Iraq. Which to his knowledge and mine, and anyone else's, it does not.]

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