I keep meaning to tie together a lot of thoughts on the subject only to find that others have already done it very well for me. Today it’s Cunning Realist:
Look, at this point it ain’t brain surgery. What you see is what you’ll get. You’re in favor of keeping 100,000 or more troops in Mesopotamia as occupiers for the next five, ten, or maybe twenty years, or you’re not. You’re willing to accept about a thousand KIA’s and many thousands more injured for each of those years, or you’re not. You think spending well into the trillions and courting grave economic consequences will be worth it, or you don’t. The rest, really, is just keyboard noise.
Those in favor of the status quo are in luck. Nothing is going to change, save a token “withdrawal” of a few thousand troops in January that would have occurred by April out of necessity. But for those in favor of a different course, there’s clearly a lot of hard work ahead.
And that, really, is that. No guesses as to where I stand.
My larger question is one of recruitment and retainment dynamics among the Armed Forces, which is its own kettle of fish — still early days yet, but keep in mind that an 18-year-old recruit now would have been 12 on 9/11, and has spent nearly all of his or her adolescent life with this dynamic going on. I remember my eighties Cold War jitters in a similar stretch of time well enough, though I was never interested in serving, and my dad’s own late fifties Cold War concerns must have informed his own decision to apply to the Naval Academy. Today’s equivalents have made their choices — a couple of good LA Times stories about three new Marine recruits in what appears to be an open-ended series run here and here, and while I think the three are terribly naive in not realizing exactly how their patriotism and those of many others can be abused by the current administration, they have made a choice no less important than my dad’s at a similar age and I respect that. What they will take away from it all is up to them.
At a certain point, however, what gives and where? Assume that things continue as they do for a while yet to come, which I figure will be the case — and regardless of the result of next year’s election. Will it be the tours of duty getting extended? A further weakening of recruitment guidelines? A sense that the military is overstretched? Will the budget not be there? I don’t mean in a sense of the whole right-leaning ‘if Congress wanted to end the war they could right this second’ sniping, I mean in a sense of actual practical lack of funds, as Cunning Realist suggests by noting the insane amounts being spent.
Or will it be that those inclined like those three recruits to serve will look at the situation if there is no practical overall change — if as CR notes there’s just running deaths and injuries and destabilization and no real solution as such (I find it interesting that Charles Krauthammer has decided to argue for a very bizarre fantasy Iraq of three ethnically cleansed areas united under a central government) — and decide, “I’m a patriot, I love this country and I want to serve. But is this what I really want to fight for and do with my life? Why bother?”
Mitt Romney, of whom I am not fond at all, was recently derided in some corners because of his sons’ uninterest in serving in Iraq — but their stance is probably much more of a conventional wisdom point than folks want to admit. I think the fact that there seems to be a general rise in rhetoric in some usual corners — Hewitt et al — about a need to make sure that ‘lives were not spent in vain’ and so forth reflects a new desperation that comes out in fits and starts. More than ever these people are realizing that the war really IS that unpopular — and they’re not trying to address those who are flat out opposed to it, they’re trying to address those who are sympathetic but think it is a mistake and want out, or in this case, don’t want in.
Take this to an extreme if you like — assume CR’s worst case scenario plays out and we’re there twenty years from now, in that amount and taking that kind of casualty level. A new 18-year-old recruit would then be being asked to run a 1-in-100 chance of dying any particular year, a higher risk of injury, because to do otherwise would be insulting to the memory of citizens who had died before he or she had been born, for a country that is anything but truly stable.
I find the likelihood of people rushing to the recruitment stations for that to be pretty low. That said I also find this worst case scenario unlikely too — as I said, something will give. But what?