Dueling views on Army size: Congress vs. Rumsfeld
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This war "has been way too demanding on ground forces," says Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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Pentagon officials note that they have acted on the issue, using emergency war powers to increase troop levels temporarily by 30,000. But so far, they have taken a dim view of congressional efforts to raise those figures even higher and make them permanent. Perhaps some part of the reluctance is just stubbornness, say critics, with the secretary unwilling to admit that his vision for a smaller Army was - at least in the case of postwar Iraq - potentially a mistake.
For his part, though, Rumsfeld has contended that it is a question of simple math: The United States still has 2.6 million active, Guard, and Reserve soldiers at its disposal, which should be adequate to maintain 150,000 troops in Iraq.
"That suggests that the real problem is not the size of the force per se, but rather the way the force has been organized over the years and the mix of capabilities at our disposal," Rumsfeld told Congress during this same point in the process last year. "And it suggests that our challenge is considerably more complex than simply adding more troops."
This challenge is a part of the secretary's broader goal: transforming the military from a force arrayed against the relatively static threats of the Soviet Union to one capable of coping with unpredictable flash points. It means recasting the military into smaller chunks - brigades rather than divisions - that can be moved around more freely. It means redistributing duties throughout the military so that active-duty soldiers are not sitting behind a desk or trained in a skill more suitable to mechanized cold-war warfare. And it means pulling back soldiers from installations in Europe so they are ready to be redeployed in new global hot spots.
All this takes time. And Congress's push to add more troops before the process is finished only adds more duties to the complex job already under way. "Ask the question [of Army size] in another two years," says Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "Don't add additional problems in the guise of doing good."
After all, with the ongoing recruiting problems, it's not at all certain that the Army could meet higher goals. And more troops mean a much bigger bill, not just for salaries, but also for training, supplies, housing, and healthcare. If the cost of the war escalates, the Pentagon could be forced to cut other areas, such as research and weapons. To some, these are just pet projects that could use a little fiscal restraint. But to others, they are the source of American military dominance.
Says Mr. Goure: "If you confront the military with a choice: Would you rather have a larger, poorly equipped Army or a smaller and well-equipped Army? They would go for the latter every time."