A Risky Strain on an Overstretched Army
Sunday, October 12, 2003; Page B03
Retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former commander of U.S. Central Command, and retired Air Force Col. Richard Klass are independent national security consultants.
President Bush's address to the United Nations last month echoed his administration's two-pronged justification for the Iraq war: Iraq is better off, he suggested, and the rest of the world, including the United States, is safer with Saddam Hussein gone. The Iraqi people will render judgment on the first point after the coalition forces have departed and their new political course is set.
But the president does not have a constitutional duty to make Iraq a better place. He does have a constitutional duty to protect and defend the United States. So, regardless of the final outcome in Iraq, the administration's case for going to war -- and now, for how it deals with the aftermath of "major combat operations" -- must rest on whether Americans are more secure. In our judgment, we are not.
The argument that America is safer rests on two premises: first, that Iraq posed a threat to this country that has now been eliminated; second, that the war did not increase or create other threats. We believe both are incorrect.
The administration's primary justifications for the war were the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, and its links to al Qaeda. Neither claim has been borne out. Saddam, it is increasingly clear, was safely in a box and was being kept there. But the case that America is less safe today does not rest solely on the argument that Iraq posed no near-term threat. The Iraq war itself has made this country less safe. There are six reasons why.
• The U.S. military, especially the Army, has been stretched to the breaking point and has very limited capability to respond to a crisis on the Korean Peninsula or elsewhere. This situation is likely to last several years and be compounded by declining enlistment, which is already affecting the National Guard and Reserve forces.
• The Iraq war has diverted resources from the effort to combat terrorism, the primary threat to our security. With our intelligence, military and economic resources concentrated in Iraq, the Taliban has reconstituted itself in Afghanistan and is challenging the Kabul government. The diversion of resources has also given Osama bin Laden's organization the opportunity to regroup.
• The drain on the national budget is pulling money away from critical homeland security needs. The $87 billion requested for Iraq and Afghanistan next year is almost the exact amount recommended in vain by an outside panel to fund port security, first-responder training and equipment and other needs for the next five years.
• If Saddam did have some WMD, they are now loose in a dangerous part of the world where many groups and nations do not wish us well.
• We have created a failed state in Iraq. There is currently no effective control of its borders. Radical Arabs from outside Iraq have answered Bush's call to "bring 'em on" and entered the shooting gallery. They do not speak English. They do not have passports or flight training. They were unlikely, before the war, to be able to attack us here. But they can take their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades and attack our troops next door in Iraq. This may also have opened up a fertile recruiting and training ground for al Qaeda.
• Finally, our unilateralism has weakened and embittered our allies and undercut the United Nations. The United States cannot defeat terrorism or successfully conclude the Iraqi campaign without them.
The threat to the United States posed by Saddam was greatly overstated. The reasons for that are not yet clear. What is clear is that the dangers created by the president's decision to go to war must be addressed. We cannot cut and run.
The most urgent task is to relieve the heavy burden on the U.S. Army, the troops and their families. They are virtually the only Americans now sacrificing in this war. The new Iraqi army will help but not soon enough. If we are unable or unwilling to make the political compromises to secure a U.N. mandate that will allow substantial international participation, we will have to call up more National Guard and Reserve units in the short run and expand the Army as soon as possible. We simply must reduce deployment rates and end "stop loss" orders that keep service men and women in the military involuntarily, to the detriment of their family life and their jobs. If we do not act soon, we may not be able to achieve recruitment levels to sustain the Army's current size, let alone expand it.
Equally urgent is accounting for the weapons of mass destruction. We need an honest appraisal of what was there and, if the weapons still exist, where they went. They may well be the most lethal legacy of the war.
The task in Iraq is to transfer decision making at the local and national levels to Iraqis, to reduce the visibility of the U.S. presence and dampen hostility. This will be easier if the United Nations is engaged and troops from countries acceptable to the Iraqi authorities participate. Reconstruction assistance must be speeded up and key infrastructure projects must be offered to non-U.S. countries and companies.
There are two other overarching imperatives in the war on terrorism. We must refocus, no longer viewing Iraq as its "central front." Iraq is more Gallipoli than Normandy. And we must stop trying to conduct the war on the cheap without asking for sacrifices from anyone but military members and families. Our long-term safety also depends on paying for operations abroad and security at home and not passing the bill to our children.