Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
Like the British Empire a century ago, the sun never sets on President Bush’s Pax Americana. He has globo cops hunting down terrorists in every angry nook and corner of this troubled world while attempting to spread democracy along the way.
The big difference between the U.S. of A. circa 2005 and the mighty Brit Empire of yore is that the Brits fielded enough mud soldiers to control their vast holdings. That is, until the cost of their imperialism nearly bankrupted them, and an exhausted shell of a crumbling Britannia finally had to cede the globo-cop baton to us.
But current flash points and other potentially serious threats stretch all the way from the Middle East’s Iraq, Syria and Iran to Asia’s North Korea and Red China – more turf than we’ve patrolled since World War II. And meanwhile, we don’t have enough grunts to maintain our forces at decent combat strength in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone police the rest of Planet Earth.
Let’s face it, folks: Our gallant military, from our active-duty Army component to the Army National Guard and Reserve, is gutted and in no way has the end-strength to jump into fresh fights in festering places such as North Korea, Syria or Iran.
Take North Korea and its recently spiked-up war rant that it has nukes aplenty earmarked for us. There, the increasingly paranoid Dear Leader Kim Jong Il carries on and on these days that he needs nukes in order to prevent the Bush Avengers from doing unto his Hermit Kingdom what they did unto Iraq.
Pentagon contingency plans call for massive U.S. military reinforcements if the Korean peninsula explodes into another shooting war. The problem is that the Pentagon can’t produce even a fourth of that commitment when it comes to grunts. Yes, we have more than enough air and sea power to blister all of North Korea, but Korean War I (1950-1953) proved in spades that bombs and missiles alone won’t hack it on a fortified battlefield like Korea – where Pyongyang’s army of fanatics is dug 60 miles beyond the front line deep into granite mountains backed by tens of thousands of cannons, missiles, mortars and bio-chem weapons. And where now, per Kim and his propagandists, these crazies also have nuclear-tipped missiles capable of targeting any city in South Korea and Japan and, according to some estimates, even thumping Pearl Harbor, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
If the North Koreans really have nukes and they’re nuts enough to keep ratcheting up the current war fever until they cross the line, we’re talking about a war without winners and with human casualties in the millions, during which South Korea and Japan would be irrevocably destroyed. And as for North Korea, nothing would be left of that sorry land and its tortured people but a radiated crater.
But guess what? North Korean leadership has been certifiable since the 1940s, and now, with the probability of operational nukes, that unpredictable country is like an insane asylum where during the past 60 years every survivor has been lobotomized and issued a meat cleaver.
So our military planners must be prepared to execute their contingency plan with real soldiers rather than the virtual projections the staff officers are so fond of showing off on their slick and oh-so-fanciful briefing charts.
Which right now is mission impossible.
In 1991, our Army had 28 active-duty and Reserve divisions. Today it has 18 divisions marching exhaustedly in too many directions at the same time. Top Army brass to rifle-squad leaders all say they need more troops for the jobs at hand, as well as to meet probable threats.
The sensible option is the School Solution: expand our regular Army.
Here’s the rub: The SecDef is still into toys, not boys. Rummy’s apparently stuck in the same kind of fallacious thinking as when he initially miscalculated on the war in Iraq and then for months refused to accept that our fine troops were battling thousands of organized insurgents he kept stubbornly referring to as “a few dead-enders” and “criminals.”
We can thank the big Ranger in the sky that Rummy wasn’t in charge in the 1940s when George Marshall and FDR had the common sense to save our skins by their bold and unpopular decision to pump up America’s then-anemic Army.