I spent much the first nine months or so of the war arguing with people who seemed to think that military manpower is fungible, if they bothered to think about it at all. On to Damascus! By the time our little adventure had turned out so badly that even their FAUXNews watchin' worldview couldn't ignore it anymore a curious thing happened: they amped up the insanity. Flypaper! Fifth Columnists! Iraq is Safer than Detroit! Stay the Course!
And that was before US casualties exploded last spring, and while they were still insisting we'd find those WMDs.
My argument was a simple one. I keep it simple when talking to my friends on the Right; I don't care for arguments that go round the bend faster and farther than Kevin Drum's comments. "We have committed in haste to a generation-long presence in the Middle East and we do not have the troops to do so," I said. "That's bullshit, we've got two million men in uniform," would have been the response, except it usually stopped at the Bullshit part. Mostly there was a distinct indifference to the problem. One blogger suggested we could simply raise military pay until enough people signed up. Confronted with a rough estimate of the cost of such a move, even if it had a chance of success, he went back to ignoring the problem altogether.
The Washington Monthy piece linked below puts the argument to rest for good. We've broken the Army's manpower equation. We have a two-million man military, not two million foot soldiers, and we have global obligations which are in our interest to maintain. We could now field a big enough fighting force to face most serious challenges head-on, if it became necessary, but that's about all we can do. And these problems are cumulative. It'll take a decade to fix, unless we adopt extraordinary measures.
At the moment the insanity is quieter. I don't mean there's less of it, or that it's ever delivered at anything less than bullhorn levels anymore. The Right got a little happy pill with the elections--never mind what actually happened, it's the PR value that counts. Then Syria/Lebanon and Mubarak's speech, which were to the Right what rumors of a Phish reunion would be in certain other quarters. Democracy On the March! Only it's meaningless in terms of US involvement; if we don't maintain our troop levels into the unforeseeable future we'll be able to see the smoke from here. The manpower problem is real, it is critical, and it's the problem we can't solve by changing the slogan.