Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Framing the Plan to Increase Troop Levels

Odd as it may sound, the White House is poised to put the newly Democratic Congress between a rock and a hard place with its plan to increase troop levels in Iraq.

While the Dems have no say over the actual choice to send more troops to Iraq, although that's something Senator Kennedy and others are trying to change, Congress does control the purse that would help get them there. However, by simply refusing to fund the increase, the Dems open themselves up for accusations that they don't support the troops.

The issue seems to hinge on the framing for the public. If the emphasis is on the troop increase, which hardly anyone in the country wants, the Dems will win. If the emphasis is on funding for troops, which the public doesn't want to see limited as long as troops are over there, the Dems will lose.

So how do the Dems keep the focus on the troop increase and away from funding?

You can't simply say the country can't afford to fund the increase because that brings into question your commitment to the troops and it also has the potential to hamper any domestic agenda the Dems put forward later.

But where you can focus is on military recruitment, which has faced widely-publicized troubles over the past few years. In fact, the latest recruitment blunder just happened last month when, a few days after Christmas, the Army sent letters to about 5,000 officers asking them to reenlist for another tour of duty. As it turns out, 75 of those officers were already killed in action and another 200 wounded.

Hence, the emphasis put forward by the Dems should be on how a troop surge will jeopardize US security not just in Iraq, but around the world by further stretching an already strained military that has come to rely on "stop gap" measures and reenlistments -- even of the dead and wounded -- just to survive.

And I'm just spitballing here, but the Dems could even take it a step further by demanding that funding for a troop level increase only take place if the White House agrees to expand the military ranks by allowing the inclusion of gay and lesbian soldiers. In other words, no more "don't ask, don't tell."

How would the White House react to such a compromise offer? I'm not sure. But I do know that it would help keep the emphasis on troop levels and not funding, while at the same time it would effectively toss the political ball back into the GOP's court (so it's the Republicans who get the "house divided" headlines, not the Dems).

Over the past 12 years, over 11,000 soldiers have been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" -- nearly 1/3 of those have taken place after September 11 -- and it seems likely that hundreds to thousands more have been dissuaded from even joining in the first place. And, in 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy cost the US government over $190 million in training replacement costs since 1993.

The Dem line could be that it can't fund a troop increase in Iraq if it would potentially weaken an already thin military. Thus, the funding increase needs to be tied to the most effective and immediate recruitment tactic, which is to open the military to the thousands of willing and capable Americans who have been denied the opportunity to serve their country entirely because of their sexual orientation.

Some on the left may see this as too drastic of a compromise. But, the fact is, if the Dems aren't able to directly stop a troop increase from happening, it's going to happen. And by merely cutting off funding, the Dems only hurt the troops and themselves.

Plus, they'd be giving an all-too-convenient out to proponents of an increase like John McCain who could claim the only reason the increase didn't work is because Dems didn't fund it. This effectively flips the culpability for the ongoing conflict from the GOP -- where it belongs -- and onto the Dems.

It goes without saying that this issue is as much political as it is policy-based. The Dems would be wise to start playing both sides of the coin.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you recall, the Brits, Pols, Italy, Canada, etc. withdrew many if nto all their troops. Doesn't this mean there used to be a lot more, perhaps numbers beyond the administrations proposed troop increase they're talking about now?

January 31, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

According to this site, non-US troop levels in Iraq have only decreased from a high of 25,600 in January 2004 to 18,000 currently, so the impending escalation is more than the drop in non-US troop levels.

Plus, I think the idea of the "surge" is not just the number of troops, but that they'll all be sent at once and focused mostly on Baghdad, which is strategically different from gradual increases or decreases throughout the entire country.

February 01, 2007  

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