Military Capacity

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(HOST) Commentator Jay Parini has been contemplating the growing crisis in American military capacity.

(PARINI) Recently, The New York Times reported that when President Bush was asked if, given our commitments in Iraq, we still have sufficient military capacity to deal with other crises around the world that may arise, he replied, “It feels like we got plenty of capacity.”

That’s what it feels like to him, I suppose. But it may be unrealistic. At least that is what the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Richard B. Myers thinks. He reported to congress in confidential testimony leaked to the Times that the concentration of American troops in Iraq must certainly limit our capacity to deal with other threats.

What about these other threats? Let’s start with North Korea, which has recently tested a nuclear bomb. It’s probably a toss-up whether this or Iran, which is consistently and boldly in violation of international strictures about nuclear proliferation, represents a greater danger.

And then there is Darfur – a situation that has been spiraling out of control for many years. The situation in the Balkans remains perilous and could easily tip the wrong way. One could go on, as the threat to world stability seems only to increase.

As the world’s only surviving superpower, the United States has become, whether we like it or not, the world’s super-cop as well. As we saw in Rwanda during the massacre that resulted in nearly a million deaths, the U. N. has only a limited capacity to deal with major crises without our assistance.

Making matters worse, the army is having a hard time with recruitment. For three months in a row, we have failed to meet enlistment quotas. As we in Vermont know firsthand, the National Guard has been stretched far beyond the usual limits in what is considered by many to be a back-door draft.

Let’s go back to what the president said: “It feels like we got plenty of capacity.” Mr. Bush seems to believe that what feels right to him is therefore right. But feeling and being are two different things, especially in the nuts-and-bolts world of troop levels and weaponry. Indeed, already the U. S. military, according to this recent report, is operating at a greater than acceptable level of risk, owing to a lack of trained troops and lack of things like protected SUVs, precision weapons and other hardware essentials.

In the meantime, the Iraq war seems only to spin further out of control each week, as new recruits from Syria, Jordan and elsewhere slip across the borders to join the insurgency.

All this suggests that the crisis in American military capacity is real and growing, despite the optimistic feelings of our current Commander-in-Chief.

This is Jay Parini in Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College. He spoke from studios at Middlebury College.

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