Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 6, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

AFGHANISTAN....Can we put 7,000 more troops in Afghanistan, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates would like? That's about two brigades, and after going through the current deployments of every combat brigade we have, Fred Kaplan says there's only one way for this to happen:

There is no way to put more boots in Afghanistan without taking boots out of Iraq. As one senior Army officer put it to me, having it both ways is, "in a word, impossible," and anyone who thinks otherwise, he added, is "dreaming." Gates, by the way, is not among the daydreamers. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said in an e-mail today that Gates well knows that, fundamentally, "the only way he can add significant forces to Afghanistan, while keeping the President's commitment to reduce tour-lengths, is to continue the drawdown of troops in Iraq."

Presumably, then, Gates wants to continue the drawdown. And also presumably, CENTCOM-commander-to-be David Petraeus doesn't. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Posted by: bubba on May 6, 2008 at 1:55 AM | PERMALINK

All a shell game misdirections and obfuscations for consumption of pundits and nosy journalists. They have decided what they want to do, which is to stay in Iraq till the last drop of oil has come out of the earth there, or the last drop of blood has been shed by the American soldiers, whichever comes first, and nothing will stop them. Not Obama, not Hillary, and of course not dirty f'ing hippies.

Posted by: gregor on May 6, 2008 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

Most of our policies are based on having our cake and eating it, too.

Posted by: Luther on May 6, 2008 at 3:22 AM | PERMALINK

There is a way - impeachment and imprisonment of George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney, as well as criminal prosecution of Robert Gates for war crimes. Then, President Pelosi could immediately leave Iraq, cut military spending by 75% and have enough troops to finish the job we abandoned in Afghanistan, including invading Pakistan's Northwest Territory to root out Osama bin Laden - remember him?

Piece of cake.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 6, 2008 at 5:41 AM | PERMALINK

Making no sense as military strategy is not the issue. Does it make sense as political strategy? I believe that understanding these words requires ignoring Afganistan, which after all is nothing new to these guys, and focusing instead on what it takes to continue their policies and keep them out of jail.

Posted by: Eric on May 6, 2008 at 7:02 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously you're not counting on the thousands of College Republicans, led by the Romney boys, enlisting to serve their country before the January 20th deadline, after which it becomes a Democrat War, and therefore a thing to be shunned.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on May 6, 2008 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

Is it the new thing to call the office "Defense Secretary" and not "Secretary of Defense" more since Gates took office?

I seem to notice a trend.

If so, I wonder if there is a reason behind the new usage.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

There is no way to put more boots in Afghanistan without taking boots out of Iraq. As one senior Army officer put it to me, having it both ways is, "in a word, impossible," and anyone who thinks otherwise, he added, is "dreaming."

Actually, they could send the troops--without drawing down in Iraq--but they would have to violate several policies. In the mind of this senior officer, those sacrosanct policies mean something. In the minds of the people who don't know what the hell they're doing, they don't mean anything.

For example, you could take the US Army brigade that sits on alert--I think it's the one in Alaska right now that has this duty. You could empty to Korean peninsula of all combat brigades and leave 8th US Army to continue its glorious mission of training to remove US civilians from the country. You could take two National Guard brigades and speed up their deployments and move them into Afghanistan. You might see 25% go AWOL if you tried to activate those units early, but you could plug those gaps by stop-lossing troops elsewhere and augmenting the National Guard with replacements held in the system. You could cut short the time at home for other troops as well. Anyone who has been back from Afghanistan or Iraq for more than six months could be put on an accelerated timetable to go back. You could waive the rules about who can deploy--minor injuries and whatnot need not preclude you from being deployed anymore. You could also send more Marines--any Marine who has been in for at least four years has already seen at least three tours of at least six months.

Rumsfeld's decision to break up the US Army into smaller brigades sure solved all of our problems, didn't it?

Posted by: Pale Rider on May 6, 2008 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Pressure on military recruiters is extreme. Look for further degrading of standards for enlistment. Also higher and higher monetary inducements. Huge bonuses, promotions in rank (elevating retirement pay) and other bribes to get people who've fulfilled their obligation and are beyond recall to reenlist. Also possibly expanding the age range for all classes eligible to serve. Rethinking the gay stance (gasp!). Driving hard the "citizenship in exchange for serving" program. There will be calls for various nations where we're stationed to take on more duties, freeing up our troops to leave. Or, screw it all and let the next President worry about it. Legacy is shot anyway, why even bother trying to fix it?

Posted by: steve duncan on May 6, 2008 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

There's always the draft.

You can only abuse the volunteers so much, and then they'll quit. Conscripts don't have that luxury. If the wars the US is fighting are so important, the draft should be a an option, right? We did it to fight the Nazis, we did it to fight the communists in Indochina. Why not to fight the terrorists?

Posted by: phleabo on May 6, 2008 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

phleabo, the draft is anathema to both parties. Those with money or connections will somehow avoid service or get favorable assignments. Nevertheless the draft democratizes service, placing everyone eligible at risk of sudden disruption of their lives. During WWII this wasn't a big issue, it was in some sense a "popular" war. During Viet Nam it rallied antiwar sentiments. Currently you don't see strong public antipathy to the wars in the Middle East. Institute a draft and you surely will.
On a separate note I've wondered about a modified, or provincial draft. The government doesn't actually institute a draft. However, the President can declare a manpower shortage that triggers a call up from a pool of people not yet enlisted. These people have talked to recruiters, been screened for eligibility and paid a sum of money to keep and use as they please, with but one string attached. Upon the Presidential declaration they can be "drafted". They may never serve. A call up may occur and they don't get called. But the government has their obligation and they have some money. Quite a few people would likely sign up for rather modest amounts, say $2-3-4,000? Sales organizations pay for leads all the time that don't bear fruit. Why not the military?

Posted by: steve duncan on May 6, 2008 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Deflator at 5:51 AM,
You forgot Rumsfeld! If the scummy lot of them go on trial (fat chance) and somehow Rumsfeld is Left Behind that will be a gross miscarriage of justice.

Draft, yes. (Again, unlikely to happen, as steve d. says.) I write as a pacifist and a vet when I say that. If we'd had a draft -- a real, UNIVERSAL draft with no exemptions for the children of privilege -- in 2000 this whole fucking misadventure would have been tougher to sell in the first place.

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Bring in people for their 3rd or 4th or 5th tour of duty. Bring back more National Guard troops, all new-minted or for their 3rd or 4th or 5th tour of duty. Bring in more felons, more people whose brains were rattled in their skulls by IEDs, more people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Teach 'em all that Baghdad and the rest of Iraq and Afghanistan are just like living video games where you can run down the streets killing people until the streets run red with the blood of innocents. It's fun!

What are yuh, a bunch of librul panty-waists? There's always a way!

Defeatists! Commie scum!

Posted by: Anon on May 6, 2008 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Stupid question:

Has anyone seriously talked about raising the pay of the people in the army and marines in order to increase the size of the force by 20,000.

Then we could have 7,000 additional troops anywhere we wanted them.

How can anyone seriously talk about more troops when we don't have more troops and we are having trouble keeping the troops we have.

Posted by: neil wilson on May 6, 2008 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

'..having it both ways is, "in a word,impossible," '

You hear this a lot. "There is no way we can tax 30% of the economy for this or that program"

Why doesn't this military officer say, "We can do this, if we are willing to stress the troops during transition" Why can't he compute the diffeential cost of getting from this point to the next?

Civilian accounting and military accounting have some common similarities, and some subtle differences. The military knows that any move comes in quantum chunks, as Kevin pointed out. There is no intermediates solution, soldiers move in units of brigade.

Civilian accounting knows this also, but they account for this quantum jump unofficially while the military is forced, by explicit structure, to make quantum accounting part of their financial system.

Posted by: Matt on May 6, 2008 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

IMPEACH! Call Pelosi @1-202-225-0100, DEMAND IMPEACHMENT. George and Dick will make a much better sacrifice to OUR war then the troops are.

Posted by: Mike Meyer on May 6, 2008 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

After 8 years our leadership still has no idea what is possible with our all volunteer army. Bush, Cheney and company still think they create their own reality. They don't.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 6, 2008 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Does this mean we can't invade and occupy Iran?!?

Posted by: GOPer on May 6, 2008 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Does this mean we can't invade and occupy Iran?!?

Posted by: GOPer on May 6, 2008 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

neil wilson,

I think one of the problems with your idea is that the modern military can't use "warm bodies." The military requires trained and capable people. They cannot accommodate "temp" workers. Instead they either need to train their own (which takes time and money) or hire "consultants" (aka mercenaries) at high prices.

The problem is even worse than reported. The pool of experienced officers and NCOs is getting depleted so the military future is looking worse than the present.

A similar thing happened after Viet Nam and it took about twenty years for the military to recover.

Like most everything else he touches Bush has taken something good and squandered and wasted it on short-sighted failures. He is not satisfied to spend all he has, he has borrowed from the future as well. Bush takes the bounty of the present and pisses it away, borrowing from the future and leaving the 'bounty' a hollow shell of what it once was.

Posted by: Tripp on May 6, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

I've been thinking lately that the few thousand troops who have died is pretty small as a percentage of the total populations of the coalition members, and that the amount of money spent on the war is pretty small when divided up between every citizen of the coalition member nations- and that figures like these are probably how the right-wingers rationalize it and tell themselves it's all ok.

But it's not ok. Those are human lives. 4,072 Americans who were willing to put their lives on the line for YOUR country, and they got sent to this hell in Iraq instead. Those vehicles they're deployed with are eating up resources that could be used for something else. We could have used all this effort and manpower to get New Orleans nifty-as-new by now, and proved to the world how much Americans love America- how we treat our own- but instead, we keep sending all these people and using all this money up to work on a five-year-trend of disaster, and just hope that somehow that trend is just magically going to turn around all of a sudden.

And on top of it, we don't even have Bin Laden yet. What a waste of talent.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK


I'm with you. Along with the dead there are a lot of badly injured soldiers Bush keeps hidden. Many of the injuries are head or face injuries because of the nature of the IEDs.

In addition Bush has taken our young soldiers and given them a phony noble mission and has set them up for either a huge disillusionment or a lifetime of denial when they find out that they've been fighting for our freedom to drive an SUV.

Posted by: Tripp on May 6, 2008 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

This is indeed pitiful and tragic. And since the combined force level for Iraq-Afghanistan will stay about the same for many months (unless we want to lose our shirts in Afghanistan), the breaking of the armed forces continues apace.

One thing I wonder about "hidden" casualties: We hear that x number of soldiers were killed on any given day. But suppose some of those wounded one day die 5 days later, how is that reported in the news? I don't remember hearing e.g., "three US troops died today near Sadr City, and two others also died today from injuries received last week" etc. Who is keeping track of those casualties? Do you know, Tripp, anyone?

Posted by: NB on May 6, 2008 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

It's impossible to increase the troop level in Afghanistan w/o decreasing it in Viet... I mean Iraq, which shrub won't do. Does anyone else feel a draft right about now?


Posted by: Zorro on May 6, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

What it comes down to is conservatives think that human lives are currency they can trade in to make George Bush look good.

Why not try turning the US miliary into a national police force in a country where 60% of the population don't want to live in total chaos?

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Swan: We could have used all this effort and manpower to get New Orleans nifty-as-new by now

We could have, but BushCo wouldn't have bothered.
After all, who wants to be a "Rebuilt-American-City" president when you can be a Wartime President?

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites - you need to be corrected, he's not the Wartime President, he is the War President.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 6, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

It'd be interesting to somehow get some unvarnished opinions of Petraeus from commanders in Afghanistan. He (with Bush's complete acquiescence) is basically throwing the mission in Afghanistan under the bus in order to keep up the appearance of success in Iraq. It's apparently earned him a promotion to CENTCOM commander, so it was certainly a good move politically. I wonder how some of his colleagues in Afghanistan feel about it, though.

Posted by: jonas on May 6, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

"the only way he can add significant forces to Afghanistan, while keeping the President's commitment to reduce tour-lengths, is to continue the drawdown of troops in Iraq."

Those would be merely words spoken from Bush' mouth. Who on earth says Bush is going to keep that promise?


Posted by: Ole on May 6, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK


I know the military is in bad shape now because it is losing too many people they need to retain and accepting too many people who don't have the brains or the skills needed.

However, that problem CAN be solved with MONEY.

You can convince a lot of NCO's to re-enlist if you give them a bonus of $500,000 for an extra two years. The problem is that we don't offer, and can't afford, re-enlistment bonuses like that.

My point is that if we NEED to get more troops then we NEED to either pay them more or draft them.

Rumsfeld was right. You go to war with the army you have.

The army we have doesn't appear to be able to do everything that Bush and friends want them to do.

Something has to give.

Has anyone raised the idea of paying them more so they CAN do what Bush wants.

PS - In no way should you read any of this as supporting Bush. I am just saying that you can't do the impossible so you need to either change your goals or change your means.

Posted by: neil wilson on May 6, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK


I agree money could go a long way in rebuilding our military. Politically though the right wing would not support more taxes and the left wing would not support a military buildup.

Just like after Viet Nam. History will judge Bush very very badly and he deserves it.

Posted by: Tripp on May 6, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

NB -

Who is keeping track of those casualties? Do you know, Tripp, anyone?

http://icasualties.org has info including Out of Theater.
I haven't personally looked into the veracity, but have seen reports that the totals do include those people.

Posted by: kenga on May 6, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

neil - I've got an idea.
A limited form of conscription.
Most conscripts would take a number of months of training(boot camp, AIT, etc) before they would be available for deployment.
Suppose conscription was limited to persons already trained and in theater?(i.e. contract security)
It would have the benefit of avoiding conscientious objectors ...

Posted by: kenga on May 6, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Oh bullshit. It looks to me as if roughly 28% of the voting population is available to deploy to the Middle East to make us all safe from scary brown people.


Posted by: craigie on May 6, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK
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