Monday, August 25, 2003

There are some interesting stats in the latest issue of Time magazine on the increasingly loudly asked question "Is the army stretched too thin?".
America's military has been shrinking for the past 35 years. Since the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, the number of American men and women in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps has fallen, from 3.5 million to 1.4 million today. The active-duty Army, the service most needed for labor-intensive peacekeeping missions, has fallen from 1.6 million troops in 1968 to 480,000 today. All four services have been cut in strength, and leaders of both parties have overseen this decline. President Bush's father reduced the number of Army divisions from 18 to 14; Bill Clinton cut it further, to 10.
One might think that in light of the US "mission" in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, an increase in the number of US troops -- possibly via a renewed military draft (although this is still unacceptable talk in polite company) -- would be the answer, as many senators such as Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Dick Lugar and Joe Biden have indicated.

And yet the colonial logic is unerring -- "boots on the ground" wearing the American flag are far more costly than boots wearing the flag of somebody else.
But with the price of the Iraqi occupation running $1 billion a week, the Administration is reluctant to do anything that would boost that bill. And adding soldiers of any kind is not cheap. While young G.I.s earn about $16,000 annually in base pay, fringe benefits and bonuses can drive the actual cost as high as about $60,000.
Compare this to the rough cost of $40,000 to maintain a Polish peacekeeper in Iraq for a year (and that includes deployment costs), or roughly $10,000 for a Ukrainian one. I've got to believe the cost of a Pakistani peacekeeper would be much less still.

One way or another the US will be paying for the boots on the ground in Iraq. But like any responsible businessman, Rumsfeld wants value for his money. When the European powers ran out of cheap home-grown troops to fight in Europe during the world wars, they imported the necessary forces from the colonies. The US is keeping up the same fine tradition.


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