Magazine article Commonweal

Unintended Consequences

Magazine article Commonweal

Unintended Consequences

Article excerpt

The last week in June began with President George W. Bush delivering a rare prime-time televised speech to reassure an increasingly skeptical nation that the ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq is succeeding, and ended with the unexpected announcement of the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor from the Supreme Court. Finding a successor to O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the High Court, promises to be a brutal partisan battle, one that threatens to consume much of the nation's attention and political energies for months to come.

Supreme Court appointments are serious business and serious politics. With the Court so narrowly divided, especially on church-state questions that so animate the culture wars, much seems to hang on who will take O'Connor's place on the bench. Still, it would be a tragedy if the fight over the Court further distracted the nation from the deteriorating situation in Iraq, where this country continues to reap the consequences of the president's decision to go to war without a serious plan for how to win the peace or any notion of how to rebuild a shattered and bitterly divided country.

As Andrew Bacevich argues (page 13), among the unanticipated consequences of the rush to war in Iraq and the pursuit of the president's supposed "global" war on terror is the unraveling of the all-volunteer army. Because of the mayhem in Iraq and the undemocratic assumptions underlying both the all-volunteer military and the nation's foreign-policy decision making, "the pipeline of new recruits is drying up." According to Bacevich, "Bush will run out of soldiers long before he runs out of wars."

Bacevich, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, is not alone in his assessment of the strain being placed on the nation's armed services by the open-ended conflict in Iraq. On July 5, the New York Times reported that, in light of the ongoing deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is now reconsidering a longstanding policy stipulating that the nation's armed forces should be prepared to fight two major wars simultaneously. In March, Colonel W. Patrick Lang, former chief Mideast analyst and director of human intelligence for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, offered a stark analysis of the Iraq war at a forum on "The Ethics of Exit: The Morality of Withdrawal from Iraq," sponsored by Fordham University's Center on Religion and Culture. Like many other military experts, Lang argued that the size of the U.S. occupation force is too small. Given the reduced size of the post-cold-war army and the nation's other strategic commitments, however, he also insisted that the United States cannot significantly increase the number of troops it has in Iraq. "The fact of the matter is, our forces are too small to sustain our present commitments," he said. …

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