- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

In his address nearly two weeks ago about the situation in Iraq, President Bush acknowledged the “need to change our strategy.” He reported that the comprehensive review conducted by his national security team, U.S. military commanders and diplomats concluded that there is “no magic formula for success in Iraq.” Throughout their deliberations, however, “one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.”

The president then elaborated on that crucial theme. The words deserve to be repeated. “The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.”

After detailing the huge stakes in Iraq and then outlining his plan to increase military presence there by “more than 20,000 additional American troops,” the president proposed a “new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror.” The group’s first order of business, he proposed, could be an agreement to “increase the size of the active Army and Marine Corps, so that America has the Armed Forces we need for the 21st century.” The next day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined a plan that would increase today’s active duty Army (507,000 soldiers) to 547,000 by 2012. The Army would have 518,000 soldiers at the end of this fiscal year, and would then increase its force by 7,000 soldiers per year until the goal is met. The active-duty Marine Corps would increase from 180,000 Marines today (and 184,000 by the end of September) in annual increments of 5,000 until it reached 202,000.

Given the difficulty of the military challenges America faces today in Iraq and Afghanistan (and who knows where else over the next decade and beyond) and given the enormity of the stakes the president so eloquently described, we are concerned that he may not be offering an adequate long-term response. Increasing the Army by less than 1.5 percent per year for five years and the Marine Corps by less than 3 percent per year for four years may not be enough. Before Feb. 5, when he submits his 2008 budget and 2007 emergency supplemental request, which reportedly will total $100 billion, we hope the president explains why such relatively small increases in the Army and Marine Corps adequately address such enormous challenges in the 21st century.

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