Sunday, November 21, 2004

The fact that will not speak its name

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: A Doctrine Left Behind
They might have said that it is a deeply uncontroversial fact that the United States has from the beginning had too few troops in Iraq: too few to secure the capital or effectively monitor the borders or even police the handful of miles of the Baghdad airport road; too few to secure the arms dumps that litter the country; and too few to mount an offensive in one city without leaving others vulnerable.

They might have said that it is a deeply uncontroversial fact that the insurgency is spreading: when I arrived in Iraq 13 months ago, the insurgents were mounting 17 attacks a day; last week there were 150 a day. If the old rule of thumb about counterinsurgency warfare holds true - that the guerrilla wins by not losing and the government loses by not winning - then America is losing the Iraq war. The Iraqi insurgents have shown 'outstanding resilience,' as a Marine intelligence report compiled after Falluja put it, and 'will continue to find refuge among sympathetic tribes and former regime members.'

In every discussion that goes nowhere, there's an elephant in the room who's name cannot be spoken. The elephant in this room is the draft.

Yes, we don't have enough soldiers to conquer Iraq. Half-conquering Iraq has inflicted vast sorrow upon that nation; the humane choice would have been either to give up on the sanctions and focus on assassinating Saadam, or to invade with 350,000 troops.

So where would we get 350,000 troops for a 2-5 year period? It's not clear we have them -- not given other commitments, even if we did redeploy.

We're not a very youthful nation any more. Qualifications for troops have risen. Commitments have increased -- even outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if we increased compensation by 50%, could we really fill a volunteer army large enough to meet demands?

I've read the arguments against the draft. They don't persuade me. It's true that the draft is a lousy way to create a modern fighting force -- but the draft could be used to fill a lot of non-critical non-fighting spots. This is particularly true in supporting services -- from packaging gear to sewing up abdomens.

So those of us who say Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney are probably war criminals, are also saying that the decision to conquer Iraq implied a draft. That's not a popular thing to say -- either on the right or the left. That's why no-one names the elephant in the room -- and the sterile argument continues.

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