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Soldiers’ dilemma

Zach Einterz | Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last month, the Washington Post reported that suicides among active-duty military personnel have reached their highest level since 1980. It was also reported last month that the U.S. is not prepared for a catastrophic attack on the country. The suicide rate among soldiers and America’s lack of preparedness for a national emergency are both symptoms of a larger problem: Our overseas commitments have stretched our military too thin. Redeployments and longer stays in war zones are putting increasing amounts of mental and physical stress on the servicemen in our armed forces, and our two-front war has left much of our military equipment inoperable. Clearly, our current military policy is unsustainable.

Thus, it is no surprise that all of the leading presidential candidates have called for an increase in the size of our military. Hillary Clinton has called for increasing our military by 80,000 troops. Barack Obama, although pledging to remove all combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months of his presidency, believes that our military should be enlarged with 65,000 additional forces in the Army and 27,000 in the Marines. John McCain doesn’t give a specific number for a troop increase, but one can only imagine how many more troops we’ll need to carry out his planned 100-year occupation of Iraq and “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” military adventurism.

The leading candidates feed us feel-good proposals for a larger military, but they seem to be overlooking the feasibility of their plans. In 2005, the Pentagon announced plans to increase the size of the Army by 30,000, but by the end of the year the Army had had the worst recruiting year in three decades. How do Obama, McCain and Clinton expect to add 100,000 troops to our military when we can’t even increase it by 30,000? In 2006 and 2007, the Army got back on track and met its recruiting goals, but only because it enlisted a larger percentage of applicants with low test scores and it recruited more soldiers who require a waiver for felony convictions. The Army wants 90 percent of its recruits to have high school diplomas, but only 79 percent of last year’s recruits did. Lowering standards to increase enlistment can cover shortages for a brief period of time. But if done for too long, the quality of our armed services will suffer.

Finding adequate replacements for our military will be a daunting task, so I’d like to offer up the following four-part plan to any presidential candidate who wishes to adopt it as his own.

1. Reintroduce conscription. America’s youth have become too apathetic, and most college students will graduate feeling unfulfilled having never burned their draft cards, marched on Washington (or the Main Building) or smoked weed while listening to Bob Dylan. It’s time to reinvigorate a true spirit of patriotism among young Americans by reinstating the draft.

2. Increase immigration. McCain has received a lot of flack from conservatives for his amnesty-granting comprehensive immigration plan, but this plan is a surefire way to increase the size of our military. Open our borders, let immigrants in, and then send them to the Middle East.

3. Outlaw abortion. If our politicians want more pieces for their war games, our country has to stop killing pawns before the chess match even starts.

4. Reduce our foreign military commitments. This is probably the most radical part of my plan. Not including the 250,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, we currently have 300,000 troops stationed in 120 countries around the world. I don’t know why we have 1,300 troops in Belgium and another 1,300 in Senegal, which makes me suspect that they could be put to better use elsewhere. We also maintain 56,000 troops in Germany and 33,000 troops in Japan even though these countries are two of the world’s top-five economies. I realize there’s a possibility that Hitler will return, but I also think that Germany and Japan they can afford to take care of themselves. Finally, let’s put a stop to any further military entanglements. Ahmadinejad might be insane, but he’s easier to deal with than the anarchic terrorists that would replace him if we were to overthrow Iran’s government and attempt an occupation.

Our military is currently in shambles from over expansion. Our personnel are worn out, our equipment is damaged and America has been left unguarded. Instead of spouting rhetoric about an increasingly large military, our presidential candidates should be reconsidering the role of our foreign troop commitments and start making promises to bring home as many as possible.

Zach Einterz is a senior majoring in economics and environmental sciences. Contact him at zeinterz@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.