I must confess that in the past I too have signed a couple of letters promulgated by the Project for the New American Century. These particular letters focused on Hong Kong’s efforts to maintain as much of a democracy as possible despite quite anti-democratic landlords. I could rationalize my signing tbese because of discussions I had had with Hong Kong’s Solicitor General who seemed to be practically pleading for such attention from Americans or marshall any of a number of other great rationales.
However, PNAC’s position as chief ideological organ of the Bush administration’s neoconservative team has changed the significance of its signature-building ritual. PNAC has become an indefatigable powerhouse advocating a long list of de-thugging operations around the world (here is the roster just after 9/11) and a significant advocate of an ever larger military force to service America’s global democratization crusade.
On Friday, a group assembled by PNAC wrote to Senators Reid and Frist and Representatives Hastert and Pelosi:
The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today’s (and tomorrow’s) missions and challenges.
So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.

Check out the list of signatories on your own, but here are just some of the luminaries who caught my eye: Peter Beinart, Max Boot, Ivo Daalder, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Robert Kagan, Craig Kennedy, William Kristol, Will Marshall, Clifford May, Barry McCaffrey, Michael O’Hanlon, Danielle Pletka, James Steinberg.
My first reaction was “Wait, where are Jim Woolsey and David Frum?” Woolsey must be traveling or not paying attention to his email requests from PNAC, and I’m really not sure whether Frum signs letters. He might not.
My second reaction was “What an odd crowd this would be to have sitting around the dinner table together.” Some of these folks are friends of mine — full disclosure — but the gathering of public intellectuals on this letter signifies some important new fault lines in the debate about American defense and foreign policy.
First of all, the neocons have hijacked (or have created a collusive strategic partnership with) an important wing of the Democratic Party. I have felt for some time that the left had its own neocons — those foreign policy players who felt that American values, as opposed to American interests, ought to drive a significant part of our foreign policy calculus — and giving this a military edge might not be a bad thing.
The ouster of Milosevic and his being tried by the International Criminal Court is perceived to be the height of success by some who served in the Clinton administration. Saddam Hussein, to many of these Clintonites, was an equally appropriate target — and their opposition if any to Bush’s approach is procedural and cosmetic, not a debate about end goals.
It has become increasingly clear — but this letter seals the reality — that both political parties have some real convulsions ahead among those who want to control the helm of foreign policy. The Dems have a version of neocon-lite, and the Republicans have neocon-heavies — and they can work together when need be.
The realists and classic liberal internationalists are at odds with these policy/political machines and feel uncomfortable that America is cementing its position in the world through a rough-edged attempt at military dominance of the global system. Realists see that financial, political, and other logistical constraints will frustrate American efforts to subordinate the world this way. And liberal internationalists see this as antithetical to the kind of institution building that inspired high degrees of collaboration among nations who ended up pursuing largely U.S.-directed policies.
I feel that it is wrong-headed to solicit an increase of 25,000 (or any number of) troops a year until we step back and ask what is broken in our military/defense system.
America spends roughly the equivalent dollar amount on defense as all other nations in the entire world. It seems remarkable that given that enormous expenditure, the security deliverables seem so dismal and paltry. Americans don’t feel safe. Shouldn’t we be getting more bang for the buck? (or, maybe it is less bang if pursuing stability and peace…)
We need to review what contingencies of the future we should be preparing for — and ask ourselves to what degree the Pentagon can deliver on these. My sense is that we have no clue — and we tend to throw more money and missions at a military that is good at attacking things, but not really good at building nations or establishing civil society abroad.
I admire for their attempts to build a new bold foreign policy for Democrats — Peter Beinart, Will Marshall, Jim Steinberg, Craig Kennedy and some of the others on the list of signatories — but I believe that they have fallen into a trap of confusing “toughness” and “bigness” with effectiveness. Whereas a larger army might look tougher and more sizeable, there is absolutely nothing about size that makes the military better at confronting assymetric threats, or better at the cultivation of stable civil societies abroad, or even at fighting some kinds of war.
There is a great deal of inertia built into our current military structure — and enormous waste. We spend about $30 billion on our entire foreign policy efforts outside the Pentagon budget — and that is a rounding error for what the Department of Defense receives eacy year.
The very last thing we should be doing is throwing not only money but also human lives into a military complex that has not been held to account for its questionable performance.
In my view, PNAC’s letter evades the great questions of the day of what we as a nation are all about and how we should organize to fulfill our goals. The letter notes “the dangers of continued federal deficits, and the fiscal difficulty of increasing the number of troops,” but it does not deal with what the real trade-offs are. It has not advocated a reversal of the Bush tax cuts or argued that we ought to stop pumping tax dollars into Bush’s pet faith-based initiatives project and many other budget items.
This letter implies that America can do it all alone — that our problems abroad would be solved after an incremental increase in troops of 25,000 a year (none should be gay though remember). Some are trying to make this a battle between Rumsfeld’s notion of a “smart soldier” or “smart military unit” that is more flexible, informed by intelligence, lighter, moves quickly vs. General Shinseki’s big military solution.
The answer is that neither of these are the right solution. We need a military — and one capable of dealing with those who are hostile to our interests. But nation-building is not a competency of the military — and not a competency of our government as currently structured. Francis Fukuyama has pointed this out. But the biggest deficit in our thinking is that America has got to get beyond the hubris of its “multicultural man’s burden” and instead realize that occupation and neo-colonial like activities undermine our brand globally.
If there are not clear forces on the ground prepared to pursue their justice (perhaps with our or Europe’s advice) that are identical to the cultural and ethnic make-up of the government under attack, the the right answer is to not invade and not occupy until the circumstances are right.
More later on the Iraq elections. I would like to know whether anyone has solid numbers on the Sunni turnout.
— Steve Clemons