Foreign Policy

War Prospects for 2005

Give them a country, they want the world

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It's official, says the Weekly Standard, leading voice of America's brigades of pundit warriors (and, says The New York Times, "arguably the most influential opinion journal at the White House"): What America needs is more war. Never mind Mr. and Mrs. America (or Mr. and Mrs. Soldier), who may be tired of the seemingly endless bog down in Iraq, the over 1,300 dead and nearly 10,000 wounded Americans (and more almost every day).

We need more than just one more war—Americans love variety and choice, so the Rupert Murdoch-owned political mag has lately laid out a buffet of belligerence that should keep us satisfied all through the new year a-borning. In their Dec. 20, 2004, issue neocon strongman William Kristol himself calls for a smackdown on Syria, including aerial bombing and city-occupying. This comes on the heels of Nicholas Eberstadt's call for war on North Korea as a live option in Bush's second term in the magazine's November 29 issue. And, of course, Iran is still out there, and as a Nov. 28 report on the Standard's Web site reported, still needs to be dissuaded of its nuke ambitions by main force.

Whole lot-a warrin' going on in 2005 in the Standard's America. Are the private-sector voices of conflict going to get their way, as they did in Iraq? Fortunately for the rest of us, it's not looking too good for them right now. Neither Bashir Assad nor Mohammad Khatami nor Ali Khameini have graced the covers of Time and/or Newsweek with ominously shaded close-up photos and colorful sobriquets like "the Demon of Damascus" or "the Terror of Tehran." Although by the technical demands established by our invasion of Iraq, Syria certainly qualifies for bombing galore (and has since before we invaded Iraq, as I pointed out back in April 2003), a full-on assault has not yet reached even trial balloon stage from the administration. A recent National Journal profile of a would-be Syrian Chalabi named Farid Ghadry, currently a Potomac-area businessman and founder of the Reform Party of Syria who advocates U.S. invasion of the homeland he left in 1964, quotes one of his Party's communiques as saying "the military option has again risen to the surface." But that dispatch quotes no one, and the Journal's reporter doesn't even quote any unnamed administration source saying the same.

Our military at its current force strength seems unlikely to be equipped to handle any fresh wars, with 150,000 in Iraq (slightly more than the number that invaded in the first place, and who were there at the official "end of hostilities" back in May 2003). Eight out of the Army's10 active-duty divisions are now fully deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. At least 10,000 troops have had a planned six-month stay turn into a 14-month one, and "stop-loss" is now a familiar phrase for those not deeply into the stock market.

For now, neither Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, nor Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seems entirely convinced that substantial increases in troop strength are needed overall. (That's one of the many reasons that Standardites are out for Rumsfeld's neck.) And while the official Standard line on U.S. military spending has it that the full-court-press will take yearly spending of around $500 to $600 billion (a delightful margin of guesstimation of $100 billion, shows you these guys are high rollers) while fiscal 2005 spending was only (only!) $447 billion, with money allotted for only 20,000 more troops.

We've currently got 272,000 soldiers serving in 120 (yes, 120) countries, out of a total 500,000 regulars and 550,000 reservists and National Guard members; the preferred minimum "rotation ratio" is two extra soldiers for every one active in the field. Not a lot of wiggle room there for many fresh wars. And resignation requests from the Reserve have jumped from 15 in 2001 to more than 370 in the year ending in September, indicating some rumblings in the ranks about extentions of terms of service and mission. If we are to have more wars, we need many more willing men.

From this vantage point, it seems likely that, barring some unforeseen 9/11-level provocation, Kristol and his crew's martial lust will go as unsatisfied as did their pre-9/11 cruisin' for a bruisin' with China. For that, Americans, both soldier and civilian, can be thankful.

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