Don't Grow the Army
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pete Schoomaker, The Post, the New York Times, and many Democrats and Republicans have converged over the past month in support of a serious expansion of the U.S. Army -- a permanent addition of 40,000 to 90,000 over the current ceiling of 507,000 troops.
This proposal is a bad idea. It is irrelevant to the stresses the Army is experiencing in Iraq. It would build enormous long-term costs into the defense budget, and it presumes a role in the world for the U.S. military that the voters emphatically opposed in November.
To be sure, the concept has a certain easy appeal, especially to Democrats. Calling for more forces and more defense spending puts forth a "strong-on-defense" posture as a buffer against the perpetual charge that Democrats are weak on national security.
And the call for more troops highlights the all-too-real damage done to the Army by the Bush administration's stubborn refusal to adjust course when it was clear the U.S. strategy in Iraq wasn't working. Expanding the Army, some would argue, would relieve the stress of repeated rotations to Iraq.
Moreover, urging an expanded Army has the political advantage of reiterating a key criticism about the Iraq mission: that President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld belittled the prewar advice of Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki and didn't send enough troops to get the job done.
Finally, for some, enlarging the Army represents a vote for the troops over defense contractors, who convinced the administration that it could wage war without having to cancel Cold War-era weapons programs.
What the advocates fail to recognize is that enlarging the Army wouldn't solve the problems they claim it would solve, and it would create serious new problems. Plainly put, it is bad national security policy.
First, deciding to add to the Army today would do nothing to deal with the stress of Iraq. The hype about our Army is true: Our troops are the world's best. And it takes time to make them so. The lag time for recruitment, training and deployment means that new forces would be available far too late to ease the stresses now facing the Army in Iraq. Even on a fast track, it might be as long as five years before an additional combat-ready brigade would be ready to deploy there.
Second, from a budgetary perspective, the costs involved in any significant increase in the size of the Army are simply eye-popping. Recruiting, training, housing, paying, equipping and supporting two additional divisions would add nearly $80 billion to defense spending between now and 2015. Add to that the rapidly growing costs of providing health care and retirement pay -- perhaps $3 billion to $5 billion. Ultimately it is the size of the force that drives the entire defense budget. Adding to that size would increase budgets by tens of billions of dollars for years to come.
At a more fundamental level, proponents of enlarging the Army, particularly the Democrats, avoid the basic question of what the mission of this larger Army would be. Are the supporters of Army expansion, many of whom opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place, now arguing that we need an Army to better carry out more Iraqs somewhere else in the world?
One of the few things all sides in the Iraq debate seem to agree on is that we want the Iraqis to take over security so we can bring our troops home as early as possible. Yet, supporters of expanding the Army appear to be creating an American force sized to better perform a global occupation and peacekeeping mission -- one deployed around the world to impose or restore order well into the future.