How Many Troops?

HOW MANY TROOPS?….Michael O’Hanlon sounds an oft-heard theme these days in the LA Times today. We need more boots on the ground in Iraq, and that means a bigger army:

Rumsfeld’s instincts are laudable in many ways. The defense budget is already growing enough without increasing it further through added personnel. And the armed services do need to be pushed to innovate, privatize and reform their practices.

But Rumsfeld goes too far when he claims that we can get by with no additional soldiers in today’s U.S. Army. Even with more allied help ? which Rumsfeld isn’t doing enough to recruit ? we are likely to need at least another division within a year. That’s about 15,000 soldiers; accompanying support troops will double that number. Given our all-volunteer force, we need to start recruiting now.

I’m at a bit of a loss to figure out what’s going on here. The arguments in favor of increasing the size of the army are fairly straightforward: experience tells us that we’re going to need a lot of troops in Iraq for many years to come, and even a cursory look at rotation schedules demonstrates that we’re going to be hard pressed to maintain an adequate presence.

It’s true that Donald Rumsfeld has been a pretty consistent advocate for a smaller, “transformed” military that reacts more nimbly and makes use of better technology instead of massive numbers. Still, the requirements of an occupation, as opposed to a shooting war, are unarguably personnel heavy.

So I can’t help but wonder if there’s a bit of Brer Rabbit involved in this: deny the need for more troops, wait for Democrats to attack because, after all, that’s what Democrats do to Republican secretaries of defense, then “reluctantly” give in to Democratic calls for a bigger army.

I’m not sure exactly where I come down on this issue myself, but there seems to be something a little odd about the debate. I’ll keep an eye on it.

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