I was waiting for clarification on this: Defense Secretary Robert Gates just told Congress that in addition to the nearly $200 billion just for one year's worth of costs related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (mostly Iraq), the army wants another $3 billion over 4 years to increase the overall number of soldiers in the US armed forces, the US Army by 65,000 and the total US National Guard by another 9,000. The clarification I was waiting for was, "to be spent on what?" The answer, in an article by Associated Press military writer Robert Burns just now ("Gates expects to approve Army expansion"), is that that's just the routine personnel costs of having that many more soldiers on duty. That answer has me scratching my head, because it utterly fails to answer my question:
What, exactly, does Defense Secretary Gates intend to do, or for that matter does anybody in the Bush administration intend to do, to persuade 74,000 Americans to enlist? And that would need to be a net gain of 74,000, that's 74,000 on top of however many extra they have to replace a couple of hundred dead per year, at least a thousand per year too wounded to return to duty, and far higher than usual percentages refusing to re-enlist. If we call the total around 100,000, that's 25,000 more, per year, that they have to persuade to enlist or re-enlist than are already doing so. What's more, Gates made it clear that he's not going to go back to the route we went in the 70s and early 80s, where the Army is the last-chance employer for the unemployable; no, he says that he's going to bring Army recruiting standards, the minimum qualifications to join the Army, back up from where they were lowered last year.
That's good to know. Also, I expected to hear that that $3 billion request was just for cash incentives, that it wouldn't even count the routine personnel costs. So I'm pleased to hear that I was wrong about that, pleased to know that Secretary Gates understands that there aren't that many people in America who can be hired to die to protect Iraqi Shiite death squads from Iraqi Sunni death squads, and protect Iraqi Kurdish death squads from both Iraqi Sunni death squads and from our NATO allies across the border in Turkey, just for the money, no matter how sweet you make the money. That's not who the American people are, and I'm relieved to know that the Secretary of Defense knows this.
But that still doesn't answer the question, it just rules out the bad answers. How, exactly, does either George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton intend to persuade tens of thousands of Americans who hadn't been planning on going down to the Army recruiting station to do so, to volunteer to put their lives on the line in Iraq? I realize that they don't have to persuade the majority to support the war; 25,000 per year is still only 1/40th of a percent of the enlistment-age public. But so far they haven't done any of the things you'd need to do to persuade the public, in a democracy, that what we're fighting for in Iraq is worth the risk of sacrificing their lives. Not only have they not even started to do so, but they haven't even laid out a plan for what they're going to do if they ever do start!
I think maybe they think that they are making that case, when George Bush gets up there and peevishly whines about how the American people need to give him the benefit of the doubt that he knows more than we do, and trust him when he keeps saying the words "9/11" and "al Qaeda" and "Iraq" in the same paragraph, without any meaningful details or coherent explanations of what he means (or even heartfelt ones). Who if anybody in America has ever been persuaded of anything by peevish whining, I have no idea. They may think that if that isn't enough, then surely it's enough when a very grumpy and bitter Dick Cheney goes on Sunday morning talk shows that few if any potential recruits watch and attempts to bully or browbeat the hosts of those shows into believing that the war in Iraq is what's keeping us safe from Osama bin Laden somehow, not that bullying or browbeating people into enlisting in the military has ever worked very well in a democracy, either.
A few months back, the US Army had a major TV and movie-trailer advertising campaign aimed at the parents of Army-aged kids, trying to persuade them not to talk their kids out of enlisting. Even then, they didn't even try to make the case that what's going on in Iraq is worth fighting for; all they had to offer were the same arguments they use in peace-time about saving money for college, learning trade skills, and building character. And in the last month or more, they seem to have given up on even that. So who's out there making the case, if even the Army isn't seriously trying to? When terrorists (that we don't like) massacre civilians in Iraq, why don't I see tearful parents weeping on my TV screen every night for a week? Why don't I hear the names of every child that al Qaeda in Iraq or the Mahdi Army or any other in-country terrorist group accidentally or intentionally kill so often that I have them memorized? Where are the atrocity stories that are supposed to outrage me into demanding we stomp our enemies flat? The people we're fighting against in Iraq understand the importance of explaining to their potential recruits why the Americans have to be fought against; they sure make sure that everybody in the world hears about our atrocities. Why am I not hearing about theirs?
Look, all 3 of the plausible front-runners in the Democratic Party are saying we're going to be there until at least mid 2009, and maybe to 2013. And that makes them the anti-war party, compared to the Republicans, who not only want to keep us fighting in Iraq for another 40 to 70 years but who are also chomping at the bit to also invade Iran and Syria. And this week even Secretary Gates grudgingly admitted to Congress, after hearing some blunt questions about how effective an anti-American propaganda tool Blackwater has been, that he's learning to have doubts about the long-term wisdom of depending so heavily on mercenaries. Taken together, that means troops, lots more troops. If we can't quit no matter who wins the election, then it's time for somebody to get serious about winning the damned thing. When are they going to start to do the very first minimum thing that would be necessary if that's what we're going to do, namely persuade vast numbers of Americans to voluntarily enlist in it?