The Coming Push for More Troops -- for More and Bigger Iraqs

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET

For most Americans, the Iraq debacle confirms the self-defeating character of occupying any Islamic country and trying to control it. But those whose interests lie in maintaining and expanding the Army and Marine corps, Iraq is only the beginning.

For years, the Army and Marine Corps and their acolytes in Congress and in the think tanks have wanted to increase U.S. ground forces by at least 100,000 men, arguing that the Army and marines are "stretched too thin" by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That may sound reasonable to many, but only because they haven't stopped to ask what kind of war those troops would wage and in what countries they would fight over the next decade.

It turns out it is very hard to come up with credible answers to those questions. The obvious targets of a big U.S. ground war have all disappeared. For many years, the Army had North Korea and Saddam's Iraq to justify the size of the ground forces. But now South Korea's superior military strength and the détente between North and South Korea have made the North Korean attack scenario irrelevant. What is left is the half-baked idea that U.S. ground troops might have to occupy North Korea if the regime collapsed and disorder loomed. But the military knows perfectly well that there is no possibility of U.S. troops occupying a state on China's border.

Now Saddam and his big but vulnerable conventional army are gone, and the U.S. Army and its army of propagandists have had to invent a new justification for the big war army they want. The answer they are about test market with the media and Congress is that the United States must be prepared to fight more wars like the one in Iraq -- to occupy militarily and "stabilize" one or more major Islamic countries in the face of widespread Islamic-nationalist domestic opposition supported by elements of the former regime.

That is the explicit message of a paper by Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution calling for an increase in ground forces by at least 100,000. Both co-authors have labored for years as propagandists for the occupation of Iraq. Kagan was the genius behind the paper published in January justifying an escalation in U.S. combat involvement in Iraq by 50,000 troops. O'Hanlon, a Democrat who appears to be positioning himself for a position in the next administration, insists that the United States cannot withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of how obviously the adventure is failing.

The list of Islamic countries which Kagan and O'Hanlon suggest the United States should prepare to invade and occupy begins with Iran. That recommendation can only be called truly bizarre. Dick Cheney has more or less openly advocated the military option against Iran, but even he does not advocate trying to occupy a country three times bigger than Iraq and fully mobilized to resist a U.S. invasion. Kagan and O'Hanlon insist, however, that the occupation option cannot be ruled out, invoking a scenario in which Iran would go to war against Israel "as it also neared completion of a nuclear weapon". Aggressive war by Iran before it even has a nuclear weapon? Even in the magical world of national security scenarios, the illogic of that one is spectacular.

Kagan and O'Hanlon devote most of their attention to what they call the "Pakistani collapse scenario". That refers to the possibility that Pakistan could degenerate into civil war between secular authorities and jihadists and suggest the United States would then have to be ready to prevent "extremists" from gaining access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The objective of such an occupation, they write, would to "restore order".

They freely admit that Pakistan has six times more people than Iraq and a land area more than twice as large. They don't deny that U.S. forces probably would have to fight not only Islamic extremists but a significant segment of the Pakistani army and the intelligence services. And they say that such an occupation could "easily require several times as many troops as the Iraq mission".

The authors suggest, somewhat soothingly, that the U.S. contribution might be as little as 50,000 to 100,000, but then remind the reader that it might be necessary to send "significantly more" troops. That caveat is central, of course, to their message that the United States cannot be truly prepared without a bigger Army and Marine Corps.

They go on to call for preparations for a possible occupation of Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic country, with 245 million people, which they note would require three times the scale of the Iraq mission. Then there is Saudi Arabia, where we are advised the United States might have to "consider carrying out forcible regime change" should a "fundamentalist" regime come to power. And of course they offer the option of "seizing the oil fields" -- an idea considered briefly in the late 1970s and rejected by the Pentagon as completely impractical.

There are two ways to read this strange paper. The first is that it is a glimpse of the thinking of Army strategists about wars of the future. The second is that neither these propagandists nor the Army brass take the notion of occupying Iran, Pakistan or Indonesia seriously. They are simply citing any argument they can think of for a bigger army as part of the Washington power and policy struggle, which is seldom preoccupied with reality.

The second view is undoubtedly closer to the truth. But what is essentially a cynical propaganda line, if successful, could contribute to preparations for such loony scenarios ultimately being made. That is the way the system has worked in the past: institutional interests shape the military doctrines, roles and missions, which lead to certain budgetary and program decisions, and are translated into contingency plans. Thus today's throwaway line can become tomorrow's conventional thinking.

Hopefully the advocacy of such extreme options will help provoke a strong counter-attack in Congress. It is difficult to imagine a more popular slogan in today's America than "no more Iraqs." And the correct response to the "stretched thin" argument is to end the aimless, festering sore of occupation in Iraq.