WASHINGTON, July 5 (UPI) -- The United States doesn't have the manpower to attack Iraq, fight the war on terror, protect its military bases and be ready for contingencies on the Korean peninsula, in the Taiwan Strait or elsewhere.
I could not escape this conclusion after reading two articles by the Hoover Institution's Stanley Kurtz in National Review Online. The first, dated June 20, is titled "New World Realities: Are we up to this war we are in?" He followed on June 24 with "Our Readiness Problem: And the need to draft."
Kurtz's articles were informed by the May 24 NRO essay "Why Is Our Military Not Being Rebuilt? The case for total war," by Adam Mercereau, and a May 24 New York Times story by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt.
Mercereau, who left the Marine Corps as a first lieutenant in 1995, is an Atlanta attorney. He defined "total war" as one that not only destroys the enemy's military forces but also makes its civilian population willing to abandon the cultural underpinnings of its belligerency. Without this, any "victory" over a country such as Iraq would be hollow.
"Fighting limited wars against populous, culturally driven enemies is like trying to hold back the tide," Mercereau wrote. He believes Afghanistan has shown that "limited warfare, which is always marked by an over-reliance on technology and air power, does not destroy the enemy as much as it disperses him."
Total war calls for large forces -- including occupation troops -- but the down-sized U.S. military was struggling to maintain its peacetime operations tempo even before Sept. 11. Mercereau believes President Bush and his advisers have not rebuilt the military because they have been seduced by the idea that the United States can prevail by using only limited measures aided by high technology. By failing to rebuild, present and potential enemies can see that the administration has taken the option of total war almost completely off the table.
The New York Times story reported the results of a highly classified war game, code named "Prominent Hammer." The exercise revealed that the need to divert troops to domestic defense and base protection after Sept. 11 means that an invasion of Iraq -- or any other major campaign -- would stretch U.S. forces to the limit.
Kurtz wrote that this is why the Joint Chiefs have discouraged the president from invading Iraq. Even so, no one is talking about augmenting the all-volunteer force, much less bringing back the draft.
"Isn't the fact that we are already being pressured to forgo an invasion of Iraq because we lack the manpower ... the biggest story in the country right now?" Kurtz asked. "Are we not living in a dream world?"
Yes and yes.
Kurtz favors a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. I'm an agnostic thankful to have no part in the decision. But there's a big problem.
It's one thing for a great power to forbear from using force for any number of reasons. But it's contemptible for the United States to threaten and rail against Iraq and then balk because it is too effete to ask its young men to fight. This is the mark of an exhausted and degenerate civilization -- and an invitation to further aggression.
Even the Sept. 11 attacks did not bring young Americans to the recruiting offices. And Kurtz is also correct that the hijackings did not restore the pre-Vietnam national security consensus, which few people under age 55 even remember.
Kurtz believes politics keeps the Bush administration from taking steps to institute conscription. "A draft would panic the country, launch a divisive debate over such issues as deferment policy and whether women should be eligible, and likely sweep the Republicans from power," he wrote.
A formal call for volunteers, such as the one President William McKinley issued in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, "would be an admission that we do not have enough troops." Kurtz predicts that alone would "raise the specter of a draft," which would "send the president's approval ratings plummeting."
A cliché that bears repeating is that the philosophy of McKinley's successor, Theodore Roosevelt, has been turned on its head. TR was fond of the West African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." Conversely, bravado is dangerous and unworthy of the United States.
Kurtz suggests the long-term expedient of the president calling for the institution of Junior ROTC programs in every American public high school. "Above all," he asks, "what if the president were to insist that any college or university that takes even a penny of federal money must make a place for the ROTC?"
He thinks the president would win the ensuing fight, a victory that would have enormous cultural impact. "The problem, at base, is the question of what sort of country we have become in the wake of Vietnam and the sixties," writes Kurtz, who is an anthropologist. "So in the end, the real war and the culture war are the same war."