Monday, May 24, 2004

The Army has asked for a temporary increase in "end-strength" of 30,000 troops - the equivalent of two new divisions - to see it through the stabilization of Iraq.

But why temporary?

Nobody - especially not President Bush - expects the War on Terror to end anytime soon. How does it hurt to bring the Army's active component up to 510,000 troops permanently?

Sure, the Army doesn't want to have to field more troops for the same amount of budget, and that's not an unreasonable concern.

But most experts reckon that it costs about $5 billion a year to field a division of 15,000 troops.

Even taking start-up costs into consideration, that's not a lot of money in the context of an $11 trillion economy.

Total spending on national defense stands now at less than 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

Indeed, just one-half of 1 percent of America's GDP totals a walloping $55 billion.

In that context, can America afford not to invest in sufficient numbers of well-trained troops?

It's still not clear how much 9/11 sawed off the American economy - but neither New York City nor the nation has fully recovered from it.

How much damage will the next attack do? And how much more likely will another attack be, if America's ability to take the War on Terror to the enemy is constrained by lack of troops?

Two unanswerable questions, to be sure. But adding two infantry divisions seems like a reasonable hedge.

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