Friday, December 22, 2006

Surrender is forbidden!

W. says he's now "inclined to believe" that expanding the permanent active-duty military is a good idea. Perhaps up to 70,000 more troops will be coming into the Iraq pipeline and, according to the WaPo, this expansion will add an additional cost to the Treasury of $1.2 billion for every 10 thousand soldiers recruited. Besides the already staggering price tag of W.'s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- now up to about $600 billion -- what I'm wondering is where the money is going to come from to finance this enlargement over the long term. This isn't something that's going to happen over night and we're already up to our ears in hock to most of the richest countries in the world.

The Chinese, in particular, who we owe about a trillion dollars to, will, sooner or later, have to make a decision about whether the cost of backing W.'s serial international blundering outweighs the benefits of selling toys to bratty American children. An economy built on debt and the probability that the oil will keep flowing is not exactly an investor’s dream come true. This is probably why many countries, including China, are switching their dollar holdings to other currencies, just in case.

But even if the money is there, which is a big if, as a practical matter where exactly is the Army is going to find the 20,000 to 40,000 more bodies it says it needs to fill the ranks? There are only a finite number of folks out there in the population who the army can use and it's not like they're standing in line at the recruiting office door waiting to sign up. Theoretically the Army could buy up all the ad time on every football Sunday to promote "Army Strong" for the next ten years. Although, I don't see 40,000 young men or women deciding to risk their lives and limbs based on a glitzy ad portraying buff, face-painted men running under hovering attack helicopters and then finding good jobs back at home.

Over the past few years as the war has begun to decimate its ranks, the Army has lowered its standards for those it recruits, raised the age limit to forty and still has just barely kept up with its recruitment quota. The lowering of standards had led to the introduction of people into the Army without high school degrees and in some cases with minor criminal records. About one in six soldiers now being recruited would not be serving had it not been for the war in Iraq.

In the case of those with criminal records the Army issues so called "moral waivers," a dubious practice that in one case -- that we know of anyway -- has led to one of the most horrific incidents of the murder of Iraqi civilians in the war. Forget about or Haditha, the rape and killing of a teenage girl and her family by a soldier allowed into the Army under the moral waiver policy has to rank as one of the most glaring examples of the failure of the army's current recruiting strategy.

And the case of Steven D. Green and what he allegedly did to his "Hadji girl" might be a sign of things to come if we keep losing so many experienced NCOs and officers. As the war has become bloodier for our troops over the past year, I've started to notice in the names of the dead a steady up tick in the ages and ranks of those being killed. The Army prides itself on its institutional memory, but this great advantage is being steadily eroded by multiple deployments and the death and injury of those who represent the backbone any army. From the Legions of Rome to the modern day no army can long survive the attrition of its cadres. Particularly now, when they're most needed to train and supervise this new crop substandard recruits.

And it’s just not some whacko blogger like me saying this, either. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are said to be resisting W.'s new "surge" plan for Iraq because they realize the current condition of the Army and the Marines Corps. is unsustainable at present and the sending of 20,000 or 30,000 more troops to Iraq could push the whole thing over the tipping point. Trudy Rubin in the Inquirer quotes an e-mail from an Army officer who writes: "The idea of adding 20,000 is criminal. It's not enough to do any good, but it's more than enough to bring an already staggering Army to its knees." Former general Colin Powell, the man who basically built today's modern volunteer Army says, "The active Army is about broken." General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told Congress recently that Hamdanya under the strain of current deployments the active-duty Army "will break." When you see a sergeant from a local National Guard unit in a bar asking for donations for the family of a soldier who is being "involuntarily" (his exact word) returned to Iraq, you know something is seriously wrong.

Yet, despite all the warning, the claxons blaring red-alert, our "war president" remains supremely confident in his beleif that all the active-duty military needs is a "reset,"and that victory is just around the corner. Sure it may be "stressed" but he hasn't heard the word "broken." That's probably because all his advisers know he frowns on those who deliver ill tiddings. Such stuborn refusal to react to the disaster staring him in the face is somewhat reminicent of someone else who fancied himself a great war leader who also was trapped by his own hubris. In 1943 600,000 German soldiers of his vaunted Sixth Army found thmselves freezing, hungry and totally cut off outside of Stalingrad because Hitler didn't allow Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus to pull out of a trap he saw coming earlier on. After the situation had became impossible and the Sixth Army was facing annihilation, von Paulus asked once more for the order to save his remaining troops. Hitler replied:

"Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their position to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution toward the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world."

Von Paulus wound up suurendering his 90,000 remaing troops to the Russians and of those about 10,000 made it back to Germany after the war. So, in other words, he wasn't winning but he wasn't losing either.

Perhaps George W. Bush thinks this is the sort of national ardor required to win the "idealogical war we're in," but I doubt the people fighting and dying in it and their families would agree. There's got to be a better way to secure the salvation of the Western world.


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