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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Reich: More Troops to Iraq? Really?

Robert Reich wonders how Bush plans to pay for the additional troops he wants to send to Iraq given the current state of the federal budget:

More Troops to Iraq? Really?, by Robert Reich: Bush said today he wants to send more troops into Iraq. Hmmm. The war is already costing more than $2 billion a week. So how, exactly, are we going to afford the extra 20,000 troops Bush wants?

Our soldiers comprise what’s called an "all-volunteer" army. ... You’re not forced to do it. You’re paid to do it. Since Richard Nixon ended the draft in 1973, most of the people who join the military do so because it’s the most attractive job available to them. Some are motivated by patriotism, of course, but let’s not kid ourselves. People facing a choice between a job in the private sector that’s near home and safe, and one in the military that’s thousands of miles away and may not be safe, will choose to remain civilians – unless the military job pays more. ...

When the unemployment rate is relatively low, as now ..., the Pentagon has to pay even more to attract additional recruits. That’s why the defense appropriations continue to raise military pay 3.1 percent a year, considerably faster than civilian pay is rising. ...

The military is also offering signing bonuses up to $30,000 for jobs in high demand. You can get up to a $150,000 cash bonus for re-enlisting if you’re with the Special Forces. And all recruits are eligible for up to $50,000 to offset the costs of higher education and up to $65,000 to pay back college loans. Not to mention generous housing, child care, and health benefits.

But not even all this is enough. ...[T]he Pentagon has fallen behind its targets for recruiting and re-enlisting soldiers for vital combat positions. According to military experts, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is scaring many potential recruits away. No surprise, here. ...

It’s the law of supply and demand. If we want more people to sign up, and stay signed up, we’ve got to pay them even more. But here’s the catch. Try paying them much more and we run into an incontrovertible obstacle called the federal budget deficit.

If you haven’t heard, the deficit is out of control. There’s no money left for substantially higher pay and benefits for the troops. So where will the extra troops come from? Will the White House try to reinstate the draft?

We could run the deficit up higher if we absolutely had to, so I don't think a draft is the only option. Even though I didn't support the war, if I thought this was some magic way out, I'd support increasing troop levels irrespective of the budgetary consequences. But it's surely not something to try solely because it's the only option that avoids admitting defeat.

The question is whether the extra costs are worth it. He doesn't mention the human costs, but those need to be included as well. So are the expected benefits of increased troop levels high enough to justify both the human and financial costs? I haven't been convinced of that. Not at all.

Update: It turns out that Bush does have an economic plan to stimulate the economy and help pay for the troop build-up. From today's news conference:

As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. … And I encourage you all to go shopping more.

    Posted by on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 at 02:34 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (87)

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