- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

It’s not every day that John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and hawks at the American Enterprise Institute agree on a matter of public policy. But when it comes to expanding U.S. ground forces, they do. So far, the Bush administration has opposed expansion. Its logic is one of short-term crisis-management and spending priorities: Expansion would be a recruiting burden for the Army, the administration argues, and money is better spent on transformation. Both complications are real; it makes sense in the immediate future to worry about them. But neither is an argument against more ground forces in the long run. To fight the war on terror, the United States will need to add perhaps 150,000 or more combat infantrymen to the Army and Marine Corps in the coming years.

An interesting moment in the ground-forces expansion debate happened earlier this month when a panel of experts on the military convened at the American Enterprise Institute to discuss the subject. AEI’s Thomas Donnelly, one of the leading proponents of expansion, remarked that both the Army and the Marine Corps “are just simply too small for what we’re asking them to do now and what we’re likely to ask them to do in the future. And I think that current estimations of how much larger the force needs to be” — 40,000 more, in a Senate bill earlier this year — “are off by maybe a factor of five or so. So I would think that over the long haul increasing ground force, and I mean Army and Marine Corps, both, in strength, by something in the range of 125,000 is definitely called for.” That would hike the Army’s numbers to over 600,000 from its current level of around half a million.

A few moments later, the Lexington Institute’s Daniel Goure, a critic of expanding ground forces who in January penned an article entitled “No to a Larger Army!”, told Mr. Donnelly he thinks that the 125,000 number is much too small. “The military requirements for security strategy premised on transforming the greater Middle East are certainly immense, as Tom readily admits. I suspect they’re much greater than he suggests, particularly if you don’t allow the Army to pursue its current transformation plan… You’re going to need something much larger in that case … not 100,000 to 150,000, but double or triple that number.” All this echoed what Mr. Goure wrote in January, when he predicted a force of 750,000-900,000 would be necessary to fulfill an activist foreign policy, at “staggering” cost.

So the big-think argument against ground-forces expansion is that the policy the Bush administration has already committed to — transforming the Middle East — will be too expensive. Given that expenditures on ground forces are now about half what they were under President Reagan adjusting for today’s dollars, and that they are much lower than twentieth-century peacetime moments before the Korean War and after Vietnam, it’s worth asking what we really think “expensive” is. To be serious about fighting the war on terror, we may well have to expand the notion.

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