Troop creep

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(HOST) While Americans have been debating whether or not to begin reducing our military presence in Iraq, commentator Bill Seamans notes that the number of American troops there – has actually been quietly increasing.

(SEAMANS) It was just last June when we were reflecting on the news that the Bush regime was planning to withdraw some seven thousand troops from Iraq in September. Well, it’s now the 22nd of September and the troop numbers situation is more uncertain than ever – especially for the relatives of those serving in Iraq.

Instead of that troop reduction, which Democrats alleged was a political gambit timed for the November elections, Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in Iraq, said this week that because of the deteriorating situation there will be no reduction in the troop level before Spring. And last June we were talking about 127,000 troops then in Iraq – today we find that the force has quietly grown to over 140,000, a troop creep which has mostly escaped public attention.

And according to some of the generals and military experts, our forces are stressed to the limit and the debate is growing over whether more troops should be sent to Iraq. The Marine commander engaged in tough combat in West Iraq says he could use another division even as other troops are being pulled back to protect Baghdad from the growing insurgency.

A survey report in the Washington Post said that “sending more troops to Iraq would, at the moment, threaten to break our nation’s all-volunteer Army and undermine national security.” An official report in July said that two-thirds of the Army here at home was classified as “not ready for combat.”

Another troop-shock was the call-up of 2,500 Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve and that even more might be called to active duty – the last source of Marine reserves. This is seen as further proof that our military is overextended.

There are just forty-six days to the mid-term election and the troop problem is getting more politicized. The word “draft” is not yet spoken out loud because it’s surely a poison pill. But after the election, we could see the “D” word emerge as the only solution to enlarging the Army to meet the demands imposed by President Bush’s global war on terrorism. Volunteerism is breaking down.

The question is if the nation is at war shouldn’t there be a fair share of the military obligation. Is it fair that the burden of dying and suffering falls on youth from the lower classes who are the bulk of the volunteers while the youth of the privileged are not volunteering for military service.

It’s time that we the people break out of the national bubble of denial. Whether we should impose a military draft and finally bring the whole nation into the war will be an inevitable and critical debate over the next two years leading up to the Presidential Election.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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