The answer to military strain is not more troops but less war.
LONG BEFORE they were clamoring for more troops in Iraq-30,000, 50,000, even 80,000 in Frederick Kagan's fondest imaginings-neoconservatives needed to swell the ranks of the American military to accomplish their global mission.
Now the Bush administration has granted their wish. The latest defense budget requests $715 billion for fiscal year 2008-bloated enough that the president's $50 billion to begin expanding the Army and Marine Corps seems comparatively temperate.
It's not. By this blueprint, the temporary increase of 30,000 Army personnel approved in January 2004 will become permanent Bush then proposes adding another 35,000 troops over a five-year period, 7,000 each year, bringing total Army "end strength" to 547,000 in 2012. The Marine Corps, 180,000 strong today, will add 22,000 to its ranks.
Democrats eager to ensure that their newfound opposition to the Iraq War doesn't tarnish their national security credentials can't wait to vote yea. During a January hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton congratulated himself: "Every time I had a chance to say, 'We need more Army troops, more Marines,' I said it. ... This increase is a smart policy. I'm more than pleased to say, better late than never." Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, grudgingly praised the president for "realiz[ing] the need for increasing the size of the armed forces," but was quick to note, "this is where the Democrats have been for two years."
The think-tank community adds an enthusiastic second. In January 2005, the Project for a New American Century published an open letter to congressional leaders calling for "at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years." The statement was signed by foreignpolicy luminaries from across the spectrum from Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Instituto to The New Republic's Peter Beinart to AEI's Danielle Pletka.
But as it was in Iraq, the bipartisan consensus is again wrong. Incrementally expanding ground forces won't extricate us from the Baghdad bramble, it costs too much-far more over the long-term than the $12.1 billion included in the president's budget-and it reflects a flawed conception of the nature of the threats we will likely face in the future. Advocates for a larger Army assume that all of the military's current missions are essential and that we must embark on many more. A better approach than arguing that we have too few troops to do all that we are doing would be to ask whether we should be doing all of these things in the first place.
It's tempting to assume that pouring troops into Iraq will rescue our failed policy. But by the time they are recruited, trained, exercised, and deployed, President Bush will be out office, and whoever moves into the White House on Jan. 21, 2009, will not want American troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely. As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin noted, "it is important that we understand exactly what these additional personnel are needed for, in the long term, that was not foreseen in the Quadrennial Defense Review submitted a year ago that rejected such increases. Do we intend to stay in Iraq for years to come? Does the administration think the 'long war' with terrorism is going to be won with large ground forces operating in foreign nations?"
Levin's concerns are well-placed. Expansion will cost $95 billion from FY 2008-12, and Gordon Adams, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, estimates that it will add another $15-20 billion each year after that. More soldiers need more helmets, uniforms, boots, and food, airplanes, helicopters, and trucks to get them to a fight, not to mention rifles and bullets once they get there.
If the troops are not going to salvage our sinking fortunes in Iraq, what would be this larger force's mission? …