“Military Seeks More Troops in Iraq” reads a recent Wall Street Journal headline. Worried Defense specialists send e-mails to each other predicting that we are “one over-tired Reservist away from a massacre” in Iraq. The US military services are cranking up their advertising programs looking for recruits. The networks are all running stories of disappointed family members getting the news that their loved ones are having their tours extended. All of these are visible signs of what is apparent to everyone: We don’t have enough boots on the ground in Iraq and it doesn’t look like we are going to receive much additional help from other countries. It’s hardly an accident that the Iraqi thugs are attacking coalition partners — the Italians, the Spanish, the Bulgarians — in an effort to discourage other countries from sending soldiers.
There is, however, a way that President Bush could turn all this around with one telephone call. All he would have to do is ask President Chen of Taiwan for his Marines. Taiwan has about 35,000 Marines and their deployment to Iraq could be relatively immediate. That’s about the equivalent to the strength of one to two heavy American divisions or three divisions of coalition troops
Could the Taiwan Marines do the job? Yes. They have a deserved reputation throughout the Far East for their high level of training and motivation.
What’s in it for the Taiwan Marines as an institution? Gaining combat experience fighting alongside NATO, South Korean and Japanese forces would be invaluable. What the Marines learn could be transferred throughout the entire Taiwan military establishment.
If asked, would President Chen say “Yes”? Without a doubt. The island is facing an ever-increasing threat of attack from Communist China. Taiwan’s defense strategy is simple: Hold until the Americans come. If Taiwan could make a positive contribution to America’s defense needs now, that markedly increases the chances that the Americans will come later. Taiwan has already made a contribution to the war on terror through the delivery of some trucks to Afghanistan. This would be simply a logical extension of that commitment.
Would a Taiwan military contribution to our Iraq program enhance America’s overall foreign policy goals? Arguably, yes. The Iraq war began as an anti-Weapons of Mass Destruction operation but has now become a struggle between the democracies and the world’s anti-democratic forces. Taiwan is a democracy and Communist China is not. Washington would not want Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army in Iraq because we couldn’t trust them. Having the Taiwan Marines on the ground would demonstrate even more clearly who is on what side.
What’s the practical effect of having 30-35,000 Taiwan Marines in Iraq? It would save American lives. Having more boots on the ground to do the active patrolling makes it more difficult for the Iraqi thugs and their foreign supporters to organize and carry out their attacks. Further, more coalition soldiers reduces the pressures on US forces. Just more sleep can make a difference when soldiers deal with something as complex as the religious and political currents in Iraq. With the Taiwan Marines on the scene, it immediately reduces the need for involuntary retentions among US servicemen and women with positive ripple effects throughout the entire American Armed Forces. It would also save Iraqi lives because many more innocent Iraqis are murdered than coalition forces whenever a bomb goes off inside a crowded restaurant. The thugs actively target Iraqi policemen and coalition supporters in the Iraqi civilian community. Children are among the biggest victims of the daily attacks.
Would Beijing object? Strongly. The last thing the PLA wants is for any portion of the Taiwan military to have actual experience working and fighting alongside the Americans, the Japanese and the South Koreans. Modern warfare is always coalition warfare and learning how to make the connections work between the fighting forces of different nations is what it’s all about. In this case there is no substitute for experience. Beijing’s war planners know that to the extent the Taiwanese armed forces can make those connections, Taipei’s ability to deter a Chinese Communist attack across the Taiwan Strait goes up markedly.
Is this going to happen? In normal times it’s very unlikely the call would ever be made. For several decades the United States has lacked an independent foreign policy on anything that touches Communist China and Taiwan. But President Bush may feel that displeasing Beijing is worth the price if it means fewer American military families will receive the knock at the door that they all dread.