Saturday, June 11, 2005

Hate to say "I told you so" ...

... and I mean that, because I think that the Busheviks are much more likely to resort to conscription than to abandon their adventurist projects.

The Army has been sucking hind teat on recruitment for some time, and it's getting worse.

I'm going to go out on a limb vis a vis my anti-war buddies here and say that this would be happening whether the war on Iraq was justifiable or not. The current crop of high school grads were in junior high on 9/11 -- such patriotism (and such warlike sentiments) as might have been inspired by that day which will live in infamy may have grown or may have dwindled, but it's been long enough that we're past the point of mere visceral impulse. Those graduates were sophomores when the US invaded Iraq, and they've watched enough TV (and seen enough of their older classmates coming back in wheelchairs or flag-covered caskets) to figure out that humping a rifle in Ramadi is no picnic. And, of course, our chickenhawk punditry and "national leadership" have led by example -- they've made it clear that support for the war need not take the form of doing anything rash like putting one's own life on the line. That's for those other people ... you know, the ones who couldn't get into Yale (hello, Benjamin Shapiro).

So, little Johnny isn't enlisting (at least in the Army -- the Marine Corps has a "reverse psychology" approach to recruiting that works well, and the Air Force isn't in the thick of the gore, so they're doing okay).

The main solution being offered is ... bigger enlistment bonuses. Currently, the Army offers a top spiff of $20,000. I've seen proposals to raise that to $40,000, or even 50,000. Let's do the math:

The Army wants about 6,700 new recruits per month. They're getting about 5,000. Even assuming that every recruit qualifies for the biggest bonus, at $20k enlistment bonuses for a full quota of 6,700 recruits come to $134 million a month. If doubled to $40K, that would be $268 million a month, or about $3.2 billion per year (hat tip to Gnome Calculator). That's less than one percent of the US government's military budget, and about half of it is money that's already being spent on it. So we're talking less than one half of one percent of, or added on to, the military budget.

Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Just up the ante and fill the quota. But it isn't that simple. What if they hold a bonus party and nobody comes? That would be more damaging than the initial recruitment failure. It would establish that money isn't the only issue -- that there are other reasons for the kids' lack of enthusiasm. At some point, they have to find 6,700 young men and women, month in and month out, who are willing to fight this war. Increasing bonuses might, or might not, serve as a stopgap fix. But sooner or later, the War Party is going to have to justify itself -- it's going to have to make its appeal believable to those kids -- if it expects them to shed their own and others' blood. And it can't.

Over the last week, a couple of facts have moved to the forefront:

- Right now, the US casualty rate in Iraq is running little over two US military personnel killed in action each day (actually, I think it took a bit of a leap in the last 48 hours, but that may be an anomaly rather than a trend). The average KIA rate for the first two years of the war, including the conventional military confrontation of the first month, was ... about two a day.

- All casualty rates are not, of course, equal. As I mentioned in the preceding bullet point (pun not intended), that two-point-ex per day for the first two years includes the "big ticket" items such as the initial, conventional military confrontation, the bulk losses in shot-down aircraft, the street-fighting during the Rape of Fallujah, etc. If we leave those out, and look at the "between major battles" average, the US is taking more day-to-day losses now than at any point in the occupation. If we further take into account "Iraqi-ization," in which more than 100,000 Iraqi troops have allegedly been trained and inserted into the conflict to bear part of the brunt ... well, let's just say that when an army's effective, normalized casualty rate is continuing to rise two years into a supposedly "settled" conflict, that army is not winning the war.

Is it really any surprise that high school graduates aren't lining up to stick their teats in a wringer and let Donald Rumsfeld turn the crank, for $20,000 or any other price?

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