(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on the continuing discussions in the Pentagon about how best to meet the growing manpower needs in the military.
(Seamans) While our congresspersons are enjoying what they call their working vacations, there is a growing national security problem that they hope the folks at home, especially those with teenage sons, don’t bring up during those grip-and-grin visits to the local town diner. The problem is the increasingly difficult struggle to find enough replacement troops to maintain a fair rotation of all the forces President Bush has sent overseas.
The manpower problem is demanding more and more attention as a result of the unexpected guerilla war that has disrupted whatever nation-building plans Bush had for postwar Iraq. For every G.I. killed several more are usually seriously wounded in the same action causing a severe drain of highly trained front-line troops.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his top generals have been in deep discussions considering how to fill those combat boots on the ground. First, they could call up more National Guard and Reserve citizen-soldiers – and Bush as appealed to reluctant allies to send more troops to ease our burden in Iraq. Iraquis are being trained for military duty. Army women could take over desk jobs still being held down by men. Tours of duty could be arbitrarily extended. They could privatize more army functions. For example, a Halliburton subsidiary received a $200 million contract to manage mess halls and build housing for 100,000 troops in Iraq.
Well, the New York Times reported that Rumsfeld and his top brass spent a weekend last month discussing whether if all the available options fail he should take the major step of asking Congress for more money to ENLARGE the military…
Then a week later Gen. Peter Shoomaker, the new Army Chief of Staff told the Armed Services Committee – with what was regarded as unusual candor – he said – Intuitivily, I think we need more people – I mean, it’s that simple. Then the vice Chief of Staff, Gen. John Keane said there is no doubt that the Army needs more troops to meet its global commitments.
Now these are controversial public statements that top generals would not make unless they had been cleared by the White House because of their vast political, social and economic implications – especially as we approach a Presidential election year.
But where will we get more troops if all the available personnel adjustments don’t fill the combat ranks and if volunteer recruitment falls off because of the rising casualty toll and reported morale problems in Iraq?
Again that nagging question comes up – will anyone in the Bush administration dare mention as a last resort – if all else fails – the possible need to resume the Draft?
This is Bill Seamans.
Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and Bureau Chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.