|If you needed further evidence that the Iraq war, so cherished by President Bush and his neoconservative handlers, is breaking the United States armed forces, here it is:
WASHINGTON - Pentagon officials say it's not a crisis, but it is a major concern — a battle here at home to win the hearts and minds of potential new recruits.
After more than three years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the all-volunteer military is facing its toughest test yet. In April, the Army missed its recruiting goal for the third month in a row, short by nearly 2,800 recruits, or 42 percent off its target.And for the first time in 10 years, the Marine Corps missed its recruiting goal for the last four months.
"Because the Army and Marines are too small and we're employing them in constant operations, our recruiting posture is now coming apart," says retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News analyst.
The inability to meet recruiting goals comes amid ever-more lavish signing bonuses, and intense pressure on the recruiters themselves. One I talked to last year (he was too wary to do an interview), talked about the ulcers, the quotas, military personnel being moved into recruiting from other commands, and the difficulty convincing young people, and even more so, their parents, to sign on.
It's clear to anyone with a brain that signing up for the Army, National Guard, Reserves or Marine Corps is a one-way ticket to Baghdad. With the war growing more unpopular by the day, and the Commander in Chief making no effort to encourage his supporters in the red states to turn their Bush-loving patriotism into civic action (on their part or on the part of their children), the recruiting doldrums are no surprise.
So why does it matter? Two reasons: North Korea and Iran. What will we do if there's a full-blown nuclear crisis in one, or if the neocons decide to throw caution to the wind and push for an invasion of the other? Our treaty obligations constrain us to defend South Korea in the event they are threatened by the North. And as Richard Clarke said repeatedly while promoting his book last year, the neocons have learned nothing from Iraq -- they're hardly chastened, they're emblodened by the thrill of "regime change."
But Mr. Bush has severely limited his options by pouring, so far, more than 1 million armed forces personnel into Iraq, and by squandering the military resources left to him by his predecessors.
From Salon last month (reprinted by TruthOut):
The data sheds new light on how all-consuming the post-9/11 wars have been for the U.S. military, and suggests a particular strain on U.S. ground forces. An increasing number of military experts believe those forces -- the Army and Marines -- are months away from being overtaxed to the point of serious dysfunction. The situation in Iraq must continue to stabilize. If it doesn't, and the Bush administration continues to both reject the idea of a draft and rebuff efforts to permanently increase the size of the Army and Marines, U.S. ground forces will break down to a point not seen since just after Vietnam.
"Unless things start to improve, we will start to see a serious problem in six to nine months," said Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine Corps three-star general and a former Marine Corps deputy chief of staff under Ronald Reagan. "I think they [the Pentagon] are betting that things are going to get better. But that could be a miscalculation," said Trainor. "This crowd has been pretty good at miscalculating."
Indeed, the revelation that well over 1 million U.S. troops have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan surprises even close military observers. "Those are big numbers ... a lot bigger than I would have thought," said John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense information Web site that tracks the logistics of war. Pike thinks it is too early to tell what the impact will be on the regular Army, but he said the repeated deployments have already broken the reserve forces.
Which begs the question: are things getting better? I doubt it. The increased intensity of the fighting in Iraq, between the hundreds of suicide car bombings and the current deadly offensive in the West, suggest they might be getting worse...