WASHINGTON - With the US
intelligence community agreed that the invasion
and occupation of Iraq have made the United States
less safe from terrorist threats, President George
W Bush appears to be facing a growing revolt among
top military commanders who say their ground
forces are stretched close to breaking point.
According to Monday's Los Angeles Times,
the US Army's top officer, General Peter
Schoomaker, has called for a nearly 50% increase
in spending, to nearly US$140 billion, in 2008 to
the situation in Iraq and maintain minimal
readiness for emergencies.
To convey his
seriousness, Schoomaker reportedly withheld the
army's scheduled budget request last month in what
the Times called an "unprecedented ... protest"
against previous rejections by the White House of
And this week, several
retired senior military leaders told Senate
Democrats that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
should go, arguing that he had mishandled the war
in Iraq. The former soldiers claimed that Rumsfeld
had ignored advice for more troops, failed to make
a post-invasion plan or equip troops properly, and
hid information from the public.
of Schoomaker's action, which is almost certain to
intensify the debate over what to do in Iraq just
seven weeks before the November 7 mid-term
congressional elections, comes just days after the
New York Times reported that the army was
considering activating substantially more National
Guard troops or reservists.
decision, which would run counter to previous Bush
administration pledges to limit overseas
deployments for the Guard, would pose serious
political risks for the Republicans if it were
made before the elections.
soldiers, the National Guard consists mainly of
"citizen-soldiers" with families and jobs and deep
roots in local communities. When the Pentagon last
called up substantial numbers of Guard units for
service in Iraq and Afghanistan in late 2003 and
2004, the move elicited a strong backlash in
communities across the country.
Iraq war even less popular now than it was then,
any major new call-up is likely to trigger renewed
protests, particularly in light of the growing
sense both among the national-security elites and
the general population that the Bush
administration's decision to invade Iraq was a
major mistake and that the war is unwinnable.
Recent opinion polls have shown that the
US public has become increasingly pessimistic
about the war's outcome and its impact on the
larger "global war on terror".
for example, a New York Times/CBS (Columbia
Broadcasting System) poll found that nearly
two-thirds of respondents believed the war in Iraq
was going either "somewhat" (28%) or "very" badly
For most of the past year, a
majority of respondents in various polls have said
they believed the decision to go to war in Iraq
was a mistake and that it had made the US less,
rather than more, safe from terrorism.
fact that a similar conclusion was reportedly
reached by the 16 agencies, including the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA), that make up the US
intelligence community in April in a rare National
Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is likely to add to
the public's pessimism.
The NIE, some of
the contents of which were leaked to the New York
Times and the Washington Post over the weekend,
found that the Iraq war had invigorated Islamic
radicalism worldwide and aggravated the terrorist
threat faced by the US and other countries.
While the director of national
intelligence, John Negroponte, insisted on Sunday
that the newspaper accounts of the report's
conclusions were partial and selective, they
nonetheless backed up what a number of former
senior intelligence analysts - most recently, the
retired head of the CIA's Political Islam
Strategic Analysis Program, Emile Nakhleh - have
been saying individually for much of the past
While Democratic lawmakers called on
Monday for the Bush administration immediately to
declassify the NIE, "Trends in Global Terrorism:
Implications for the United States", so that the
public could decide for itself, it is certain to
intensify the debate about whether to begin
withdrawing from Iraq or whether to "stay the
course" there despite the growing sectarian
violence and the wear and tear on US ground
For most of the past year, the
administration and senior military commanders have
expressed hope that they could reduce US forces in
Iraq from the approximately 140,000 troops who
were there last December to help protect the
parliamentary elections by as many as 30,000 by
the end of this year.
But with the rise in
sectarian violence, particularly in Baghdad, that
followed the bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine in
Samarra, Washington has been forced to abandon
those hopes. Last week, the senior US Middle East
commander, General John Abizaid, made it official
when he told reporters in Washington that he
needed at least 140,000 troops in Iraq through
Even this number of troops,
however, has not proved sufficient to curb the
violence in Baghdad, while a recent report from
the senior Marine Corps intelligence officer in
al-Anbar province, which comprises about one-third
of Iraq's total territory, warned that the 30,000
US troops deployed there could not defeat the
Sunni insurgency without the addition of at least
13,000 personnel and substantially more economic
Adding to the burden on the
army and the marines, the resurgence of the
Taliban has forced Washington to cancel plans to
reduce forces in Afghanistan from 19,000 earlier
this year to about 16,000 by autumn.
Instead, Washington currently has more
than 20,000 troops deployed there amid signs that
more may be needed if the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization fails to provide more troops of its
own or if, in light of the retreat of Pakistani
forces from neighboring Waziristan, the Taliban
mount an even bigger offensive from across the
border next spring after the snows melt.
These commitments have taken a huge,
unanticipated toll on US land forces, not just in
manpower, but in equipment and money as well.
Before the war in Iraq, the Pentagon's
political appointees confidently predicted that
the Middle Eastern country's oil production would
very quickly pay for the invasion's financial
costs and that Washington could draw down US
forces to as few as 30,000 by the end of 2003.
In fact, about $400 billion - almost all
of it for military operations - has been
appropriated for both the Iraq and Afghanistan
wars since September 2001, and current operations
there are running at about $9 billion a month.
The US Army, which has some 500,000
active-duty soldiers, has been allocated $98
billion this year, and the White House has cleared
it to receive $114 billion for 2008. But
Schoomaker has reportedly asked for $139 billion,
including at least $13 billion to repair
equipment. "There's no sense in us submitting a
budget that we can't execute, a broken budget," he
warned recently in a speech in Washington.
In addition to strains on both the land
forces and their equipment, senior military
leaders are also worried about attrition among
mid-ranking officers, in particular, and the
quality and cost of new recruits.
military has greatly intensified its recruitment
efforts, relaxed its age and education
requirements for enlistment, and offered
unprecedented bonuses and benefits packages -
worth thousands of dollars - to enlistees and
active-duty soldiers who re-enlist.
also increased enlistments by individuals with
"serious criminal misconduct" in their records and
eased requirements of non-citizens - of which
there are currently about 40,000 in the US armed
services - and made them eligible to citizenship
after only one day of active-duty service.