Democrats & Liberals Archives

Bigger Military or Better Strategy

Our commander-in-chief says that we need a bigger military in order to win the “war on terror,” which will be a long war. Maybe we do need more troops to fight in various areas of the world. But what we need more than troops is a way to win the hearts and minds of Muslims and others who hate us. Instead of beefing up the Department of Defense, we should beef up the Department of State so that we may talk, discuss, negotiate, run conferences and help faltering states.

According to the International Herald Tribune:

President George W. Bush has said that the United States should expand the size of its armed forces, acknowledging that the military has been strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would need to grow to cope with what he suggested would be a long battle against Islamic extremism.

"I'm inclined to believe it's important and necessary to do," Bush said Tuesday. "The reason why is, it is an accurate reflection that this ideological war we're in is going to last for a while, and that we're going to need a military that's capable of being able to sustain our efforts and help us achieve peace."

Bush says that we are in the midst of an "ideological war." Yet he is using only military means to conquer the extremists. It's amazing that with all the social, organizational, informational, commercial, medical, technological (non-military) and judicial resources at our command, we fight with only arms. Such an approach is guaranteed to make this the longest war in history.

The Baker-Hamilton Commission said we need to talk with our enemies. Why not? Talking will not hurt. Talking does not mean giving in. Talking means give and take, agreeing to some things disagreeing with other things. As Representative Kucinich says:

The war in Iraq cannot be won militarily. The war can only end through diplomacy. You cannot have diplomacy when you do not talk. By refusing to talk to Iraq’s neighbors the Administration is slamming the door to the only path to peace in Iraq.

More than the Defense Department, we need to beef up our State Department. We need more linguists. Of 1000 people who work in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, only 33 are Arabic speakers and only six speak the language fluently.. We need negotiators. We need media people to spread the word about world facts and about democracy. We need officials presenting the American point of view on Al Jazeera and at other foreign media outlets. We need to build a caucus of democratic nations to work together to push our ideas in the UN and in other international organizations. We are already helping in disasters, but we need to do more to show the world the kind of people we are.

Let's add to the budget money for fighting the terrorists. However, we should put most of the money not in the Department of Defense to boost the military, but in the Department of State to work on a better strategy for reducing the terrorist menace.

Posted by Paul Siegel at December 20, 2006 5:43 PM
Comment #199984

Paul, I have to agree with you that we need a state department, something that Bush seems to not understand the concept for, but I also agree that we need to expand the military if we expect to maintain our economic position.

The world population is still growing, resources are dwindling, especially oil, and competition for those resources is heating up.

The OPEC countries are gaining in wealth and power. Radical Islam is very anti-US irregardless of State Policy, and only a fool would ignore that.

Like it or not, it’s stil the point of a gun that rules the world.

Posted by: gergle at December 20, 2006 7:00 PM
Comment #199989

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Increasing the size of the Army & Marines several tens of thousands seems like a reasonable approach. We are well prepared for a conventional war, if we can convince an opponent to play by our rules. The Rumsfeld version of the military failed because it is a military which is unsuited towards the kinds of conflicts we are most likely to encounter: insurgencies.

But our very vocabulary betrays us. We frame the struggle with terrorists such as the Al Qaida of Osama bin Laden in tradiitonal military terms: “war,” “central front,” and so on. In fact, the struggle agains “radical Islam” involves very small numbers of enemies. It is primarily a matter of intelligence, police work, and perhaps Special Forces. But big money drives the military-industrial complex, and training soldiers to know languages lacks that driving force.

Increasing the size of the Army & Marines makes sense, considering the stress on overextension the current force is experiencing. The idea that this will influence the “War on Terror” or the occupation of Iraq is ludicrous.

When General Shinseki gave his estimate on how many troops it would take to occupy Iraq- @ 400,000- his estimate was based on an established ratio, determined by the size of the urban population being occupied. The situation in Iraq would require at least another 250,000 troops, probably more, but once again we are caught by the hammer/nail perception.

75% of the reported attacks in Iraq are launched by Iraqis against US troops. Think about that for a moment.

Now, admittedly, a large number of “sectarian violence” is taking place unreported, with Iraqis harming other Iraqis.

Are we the only thing keeping an Iraqi genocide from being perpetrated? Or are we a major inspiration for the violence in the first place?

Sadly, we have stayed the course, and we have proceeded so far down this road that there is only one certainty in Iraq, for the US military and for US foreign policy. This will not end well.

Posted by: phx8 at December 20, 2006 7:47 PM
Comment #199998

I don’t think it’s as simple as one or the other, especially given the damage Bush has done to our armed forces. We’re in bad shape on that front. There’s a lot that’s not going to work Diplomatically if we don’t have the readiness in our military forces required to fight other conflicts.

But I agree, we do need more diplomats and more translators. Definitely more translators. That’s been one of the primary things kicking our ass in this war. Eisenhower would have shot himself rather than send us in without German Speakers, and MacArthur wouldn’t have skimped on the guys speaking Japanese.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 20, 2006 8:29 PM
Comment #200001

Gergle: “we need to expand the military if we expect to maintain our economic position.”

This suggests to me that we need to expand the military so that we can fight wars on behalf of our corporations so that they can extract the resources of other nations that are necessary for us to maintain our lifestyle or way of life.

As you mentioned, the demand for natural resources goes up everyday and those resources are dwindling everyday. To maintain or way of living, we use 25% of those resources. As the amount of resources declines, the percentage that we need will go up. If we continue to need more, we will indeed be fighting more wars, possibly continuously, until there is nothing left to fight over.

If we use most of any increases in military spending to move our economy towards a renewable resource economy and away from non-renewables, we could possibly avoid some of those corporate wars you envision.

Posted by: jlw at December 20, 2006 8:57 PM
Comment #200003

Most of the OPEC countries are stable and in no way controlled by radical Islamists and if they want to keep it that way, they themselves are going to have to quit supporting the radicals, such as Saudi Arabia does and they are going to have to improve the economic conditions for all of their people. We cannot do it for them with our military.

While it is true that radical Islam has declared war on us and we have to do all we can to snuff them out, I think we are not going to do it with our military. We needed upwards of a half million troops to stabalize Iraq. Without them, we have increased the numbers and the threat of the radicals. In a country like Iran, we would probably need a million and a half. Do any of you have any idea what kind of increases in spending we will need to accomplish that? Soldiers and their equipment are very expensive. To keep, maintain, support and use a army of that size we will have to reinstitute the draft as well.

We need a military that can defend this country and possibly help our allies. We need a FBI and a CIA that is capable of joining forces with Interpol and other agencies across the World to hunt down and eliminate terrorists.

Posted by: jlw at December 20, 2006 9:30 PM
Comment #200004

So if it is official that the joint chiefs, Colin Powell, and pretty much everyone at the Pentagon advised Bush against more troops, then what should a responsible congress do? Regardless of how a person feels about the chances of “success” in Iraq, it is clear that Bush has flip-flopped in perfect negative correlation with the experts. Now that most people agree that it is too late for more troops to make a difference, Bush nearly unilaterally sends in more boots. If the joint chiefs are correct, then this naturally leads to more American casualties without much chance for success. What is to be done about that?

There is an poll by the LA Times that shows only 12% of Americans believe that sending more troops was the best solution. That’s pretty significant I’d say. Should congress cut funding, impeach, what? Just based on the difference in MSM coverage of Hastert and Pelosi, I’d say that republicans would be launching investigations against a democrat president by now. Ignoring your generals is a pretty bold move. Is this really chess?

Posted by: Kevin23 at December 20, 2006 9:32 PM
Comment #200007

While I believe withdrawal is our best move, the final decision belongs to the CINC, and like it or not, that is Bush. Civilians control the military. Should Congress cut funding? It should be considered, but again, I would see that as a last resort.

The bigger question is what role we should play on the international stage. That determines the size & nature of our military. As the wealthiest & most powerful nation, leadership should be a given. International leadership means multilateralism, working through the UN whenever possible, and most importantly, modeling the behavior we wish others to observe.

It is nearly impossible to restructure the military fast enough to successfully occupy & pacify Iraq.

In the future, the largest portion of the military needs to essentially be peacekeepers, capable of intervening in cases of genocide, interventions as a matter of moral necessity.

Another portion should resemble the current one, which is intended to win conventional wars with technology & overwhelming firepower.

And war should always be a last resort.

Posted by: phx8 at December 20, 2006 10:10 PM
Comment #200035

I wish someone could get the “mainstream” media to pose some simple questions to the president.

How will increasing the number of US troops curtail suicide bombings in Bagdad or any other part of Iraq?

How is stabilizing Bagdad, suposedly, by sending more US troops going to disband and prevent further recruitment of individual Iraqi militias in another part of the country?

How is sending more US troops to “secure” Bagdad going to prevent the recruitment and training of foreign muslim fighters that will eventually find their way to Iraq?

How is sending more US troops to Bagdad going to create and Iraqi government supported military that can defend itself (which is never going to happen with any guidence from the US or “the West’)?

Posted by: Kim-Sue at December 21, 2006 9:08 AM
Comment #200055

To win from a military standpoint I believe we would need to use an iron fist and in this day and age that will never happen. As far as diplomacy I just have to laugh at anyone who suggests this. Just what is it you think you can give the bad guys that is going to satisfy them? We are in this mess because the decision makers in the administration did not really understand what makes these people tick. They thought they could give them democracy and all would be well. Now the “diplomacy” crowd is making the same mistake in that they are trying to project their value system with the concept of rational diplomacy onto the radical Muslim world. Good luck. I have also noted all the praise being heaped on James Baker for his efforts which essentially amount to suggesting that the dipolmatic answer here is to treat Israel the way Chamberlain treated Czechoslovkia.
I think if we go down that road we can expect similar results.

Posted by: Carnak at December 21, 2006 12:42 PM
Comment #200062

What phx8 said — both posts.
Nice piece, Paul.

Posted by: Adrienne at December 21, 2006 12:57 PM
Comment #200072


The beauty of our constitutional democracy is that no one branch can ever act unilaterally with no oversight or accountability. Yes, the decision lies with CINC, but the checks and balences still exist…they just need to be dusted off and used. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to take a systematic approach to our foreign policy goals and responsibilities. Instead we jumped head first into Iraq as if it was blatently obvious that the role of the US government is to enoforce its notion of “freedom” upon any sovereign government which MAY present SOME sort of threat to what the US gov’t believes to be the path to global stability.

Of course many nations today are exhibiting behavoir that runs counter to our notions of a “good” society, and we are not attacking them all. No one seems to want to fight in Africa, nor in S.E. Asia. Yet for some odd reason, and UN backing be damned, we’re in Iraq using this argument of humanitarianism and helping the world become a better place. Its BS, and almost everyone knows it.

Now we have direct evidence of Bush ignoring his generals again and escalating the conflict. This will undoubtedly cause more American and innocent Iraqi deaths. If this scenario does indeed play out, the only entity with authority to do anything meaningful is congress. In fact, I’d say they have a responsibility to not allow this administration to literally get away with murder. Rather than have congress debate our role in the world, they must make a decision now that will undoubtedly serve as precedent for the bigger debate. So while I agree there is a bigger issue here, the clock is ticking and there is no time to do this scientifically. After all, even the best information is rarely complete. Only hindsight is 20-20.

So, we’re left with the burning question: what does the US congress do when more boys start dying for an admittedly failing, but yet suddenly escalated strategy? I know you were trying to give the best answer, but in doing so, you failed to address the question. I prefer to have a real answer than the “perfect” one.

BTW, if we most all agree that war should be a last resort, where is the accountability? It exists, but many “leaders” are too timid and pretentious to take the lead. In January, if the democrats are smart, they will turn this debate upside down and start forcing those responsible for this debacle to provide a justification for their actions and policies that goes well beyond the potential for some “good”.

The situation is clearly at the point where even the most stringent supporters of occupation have to admit that at least some of their underlying premises were wrong. So why do people still act as if the burden of proof is not on the white house when our people are dying?

My view? We are not “peace-keepers”. We are a nation that rose to prominance by becoming an economic powerhouse at a time when the European powers were too busy fighting amongst themselves to directly compete. Any cold war resposibilities are out-dated. It is time to wield the power of the dollar as opposed to wielding the power of the sword. It is just way too easy with modern technology to weather any storm brought on by even a nation as powerful as the US. We should not be in the business of providing physical security overseas unless we’re being paid for said services. We should keep a standing military that is appropriate for ensuring our ACTUAL activities can go on without fear. We do not need a million soldiers ready to essentially wear targets around their necks in unfriendly places. All that does is up the ante for those who seek to oppose us. Thus, using terror.

Will we be attacked? Probably. The answer is to go after the perpetrators and show the world that we bring justice only to those who deserve it. Our reputation benefit greatly from consistency over time. Let China go out and piss people in developing nations off by exploiting them. Eventually they will suffer the same kind of backlashes that the US has. They will hopefully learn quick enough. We need not worry about anything but our own goals and interests. Need a way to provide incentive? Economics, pure and simple. If China is willing to fill our voids…let them. There was good reason to leave the void in the first place.

I digress. The point is that our foreign policies have gotten out of line with our priorites. Instead of being reactionary and responding to percieved yet inconclusive threats, we should do only what we are certain will work in our universal favor on a government and especially military level. How does one do this without being in the white house? The constitution does speak to the subject. It just seems like modern politicians are too busy putting fingers to the wind (a surefire way of getting mixed signals) than acting in accordance with their oath of office.

Posted by: Kevin23 at December 21, 2006 1:50 PM
Comment #200083

“what does the US congress do when more boys start dying for an admittedly failing, but yet suddenly escalated strategy?”

The real answer, as opposed to the perfect one? I think conservative pundit David Brooks summed it up the other day:

“So what’s going to happen? These Republicans do not want to run in 2008 with Iraq hanging over. They never want to face another election like that. So at some point, six months, eight months, there’s going to be men in gray suits. There’s going to be a delegation going into that White House saying to President Bush, “You are not destroying our party over this.” And Bush will push back.”

If the situation remains the same, or, more likely, worse, Congress can and should cut off funding.

In the meantime, the Democrats will conduct oversight hearings & investigate. If it turns out Bush is guilty of impeachable offenses, he should be impeached.

No question, economic power & Soft Power and perhaps our greatest strengths. For some reason, The Bush administration seems to perceive our greatest strength as literal strength, as military power.

While we cannot be policemen for the world, we do have a moral obligation to do what is right; for example, intervening to prevent genocide, when the intervention has a practical chance of success. (And I do not think we can succeed by intervening in Darfur).

In Iraq and in dealing with Islamic fundamentalism in the largest sense, it is a matter of Soft Power, westernization through globalization, and diplomacy. Always has been.

There have been some very positive developments. The ISG recommended Israel trade land for peace by returning the Golan Heights to Syria. Syria seems open to discussions. This is a terrific idea. The Camp David Accords successfully separated Egypt & Israel by trading land for peace, and the same equation has an excellent chance for working with the Golan Heights.

It is impossible for any military to seal the borders of Iraq, whether it is the US, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. The only solution is a long-term solution, a diplomatic one which removes the underlying motives.

If we have learned anything from Iraq, it is the wisdom of the Powell Doctrine.

“The point is that our foreign policies have gotten out of line with our priorites. Instead of being reactionary and responding to percieved yet inconclusive threats…”

Exactly right. Again, the “real” solution is to wait out the Bush administration. The “War on Terror” has not been an appropriate focus for our foreign policy since 2003. But in the meantime, Bush continues listening to the Neocons, and so it will probably take another two years before we can regain our focus- unless the Republican “men in gray suits” convince or threaten Bush into refocusing first.

Posted by: phx8 at December 21, 2006 2:30 PM
Comment #200103
In the future, the largest portion of the military needs to essentially be peacekeepers, capable of intervening in cases of genocide, interventions as a matter of moral necessity.

Quite right, phx8 (though I’d argue it’s necessary more from security rather than moral imperatives). The majority of new troops raised should be Special Forces and Civil Affairs.

Some have even suggested a seperate branch of the military to deal specifically with stabilization and counter-insurgency operations.

Posted by: American Pundit at December 21, 2006 5:16 PM
Comment #200104


Thanks for the interesting and honest assessment. I especially liked David Brooks’ comments. Who is he? I’ve never heard of him.

Posted by: Kevin23 at December 21, 2006 5:17 PM
Comment #200109

re: our int’l humanitarian leadership

Shouldn’t there be some system of payment for our role if it is the international community that asks and benefits from our tax-funded involvement?

re: China

In case it sounded funny, I didn’t mean to bash China, only that they seem to want to do business with everyone we shun due to violations of int’l law.

Posted by: Kevin23 at December 21, 2006 5:28 PM
Comment #200122

David Brooks is a moderate conservative commentator. He writes a column for the New York Times, and regularly appears as a talking head on tv. Occasionally he will make insightful comments, and other times he will sneak off to the corner for a few sips of kool aid and spout nonsense. But you will never see him engage in idiotic shouting matches, and every so often he contributes a worthwhile observation. See the link in the most recent article above, by Paul, which quotes David Brooks concerning Obama.

Posted by: phx8 at December 21, 2006 6:51 PM
Comment #200127


It is to my discredit that I don’t pay more attention to who authored articles that I read. I have probably read him plenty of times in the NYT, just never noticed. I read the Times almost religiously, so I be surprised otherwise. I’ll check out the link.

Posted by: Kevin23 at December 21, 2006 7:21 PM
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