By Rowan Wolf
Everyone is expecting for Bush's "new" strategy in Iraq to be a "surge" in the number of troops deployed there (CSM, BBC). While the "surge" plan is likely to not be popular on either side of the aisle, the plan to increase the size of the military seems to have more bipartisan support.
The call for increasing the number of troops in Iraq is not popular with either the public or the troops. According to a Military Times poll, slightly over a third (35%) of troops served stated the approved of the way Bush is conducting the war, and only 41% still thought we should have gone to war. This is a significant change since a poll done in 2004 when the troop approval was 63% and 65% respectively. The responses of troops has drawn much closer to that of the general public.
The Army has been "stretched to the breaking point" for over three years. In December 2003, I wrote What to do about the thinning ranks?. Articles in the NY Times and Wa. Post also spoke of thinning ranks and the initial strategy for holding the line - stop loss orders. By January 2006, "stop-loss" had been "used to retain 50,000 US troops". However, other strategies have followed:
recalling the inactive reserve (a mistake they chose not to correct) - May 2004;
calling up the Individual Ready Reserve - June 2004;
coercing reenlistment by threatening immediate redeployment - September 2004;
adding "sugar" to reenlistment with signing bonuses - April 2005;
the Army National Guard paying $2000 bonuses to Guard members who sign up new recruits.
perhaps most egregious of all is sending people who were seriously wounded back into combat.
Throughout it all, the number of redeployments have steadily increased. To argue that a "surge" will break the Army is an understatement. It has been broken for three years.
Recruitments have consistently fallen short, so they have changed limits and requirements numerous times to increase the pool. They have increased the enlistment age to 42. They have lowered educational requirements and the test scores. They have increased signing bonuses (up to $40,000) and educational benefits. They are barely breaking even.
The "new" strategy is to directly recruit more non-citizens. I am still waiting for the issue of immigration and military recruitment to collide. Something along the lines of the military as the fast track to citizenship. I know that this has to be under discussion somewhere. Unmentioned is that the number of contract employees in Iraq are estimated at 100,000. Many of them are on military or security contracts - we just pay far more for them than actual troops.
On January 1, 2006, The New York Times reported "Death Toll for the American Military in Iraq in 2005 Is 844, Near the Level for 2004. On December 31, 2006, that death toll had grown to 3003. Now, it seems that more troops - from where who knows - will be sent to stabilize the war we are not "winning or losing." I do believe that this sort of situation is called a "quagmire."
Will Bush get his additional troops? Can Congress stop him from getting those troops? That remains to be seen. Kucininch has suggested taking the last $70 billion appropriation from September of 2006 to withdraw the troops from Iraq, and to not approve to $100 billion request heading towards Congress. Other Democrats have brushed off either suggestion. However, the purse strings may be the only control that Congress can exert.