The insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have thus far cost fewer U.S. lives than the Filipino insurgency of 1899-1902. Yet Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker warned Congress last week the U.S. Army "will break" without more troops.
We started this war "flat-footed," with 500,000 fewer soldiers than we had before the Gulf War, says the general, who wants 7,000 soldiers added yearly to the 507,000 on active duty.
The Army is "about broken," agrees Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Powell believes we "are losing the war" in Iraq, but opposes any "surge" of 15,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops, as urged by Sen. John McCain.
"There are no additional troops," says Powell. "All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there, there longer, and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops."
CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid lately told an audience at Harvard, "This is not an Army that was built to sustain ‘a long war.’"
Retired Gen. Kevin Ryan agrees: "Today, the 37 combat brigades of the active Army are almost totally consumed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With all units either deployed, returning from deployment or preparing to deploy, there is none left to prepare for other contingencies."
Yet, adds Ryan, "Our published defense strategy requires a military that can defend our homeland, sustain two major wars, be present in key regions abroad and fight a global war on terrorism. With Marine and Army ground forces barely able to fight the two major wars, the other security tasks are left to flyovers and ship visits from our Air Force and Navy."
What these generals are saying is ominous. Not only is the United States "losing" the war in Iraq, the Army is breaking and we do not have the troops to meet the commitments America has made all over the world. In short, U.S. foreign policy is bankrupt. We cannot meet all the IOUs we have outstanding if several are called at once.
What kind of superpower is it whose army can be "broken" by two insurgencies that have required only half the number of troops we sent to Korea, and a third of the number we sent to Vietnam?
If our Army is "about broken" now, how do we propose to defend the Baltic republics and, if Bush and the neocons get their way, Ukraine and Georgia from a revanchist Russia? How could we fight a second Korean war, the first of which required a third of a million men?
If our Army is "about broken," has our commander in chief lost his mind when he issues bellicose ultimatums to Tehran? And if our Army is not built to "sustain a long war," are not those people insane who talk wildly of fighting "World War IV"? In World War II, we had 12 million men under arms on V-E Day.
Our Army, says Abizaid, is not "built to sustain a long war." Yet we are committed by NATO to defend Central and Eastern Europe — including the Baltic republics and the eastern Balkans, against a resurgent Russia. We are committed to defend Israel, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states from Iran. We are committed to defend Afghanistan from the Taliban, South Korea from North Korea, and Japan and Taiwan from China.
Who do we think we are kidding? America today is like an auto insurance company with the cash on hand to handle one or two fender-benders, but anything beyond that means Chapter 11.
In the Reagan decade, writes national security analyst William Hawkins, the United States had 18 Army divisions. Clinton cut it to 10. Yet, since Reagan, we have not cut commitments, but added to them: in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Gulf and the Taiwan Strait.
The American Imperium is hollow. We have nowhere near the troops to sustain the security commitments and war guarantees we have ladled out. Like the Brits in 1945, ours is an overstretched empire with a sinking currency, whose enemies are salivating at the prospect of being in on the kill.
America may need a larger Army. More imperative is the need for a radical reduction in treaty and war commitments.
While the U.S. Navy and Air Force remain supreme, the Army and Marines are, as Abizaid says, too small a force to fight a long war. We must adjust our commitments to reflect our capabilities and, beyond that, to defend only what is truly vital to the national security.
While our armed forces are more than adequate to defend us, they are insufficient to defend an empire. Rather than bleed and bankrupt the nation endlessly, we should let go of the empire.
Americans must learn how to mind our own business and cease to meddle in other nation’s quarrels. Iraq was never a threat to the United States. Only our mindless intervention has made it so.