How many soldiers is enough?

The Bush Administration is adamant that it will not reinstate the draft. Let’s just assume, for a moment, that is true and not the kind of thing the first President Bush said on the campaign trail (“Read my lips, no new taxes”) before he raised taxes in office.

We can, however, look at how the administration has deployed troops and judge the use of American lives and resources in response to the terrorist attacks and then in the invasion of Iraq. The numbers tell a story of an administration more dedicate to reelection than protecting our troops, that has responded to increased attacks with fewer troops and that does not enjoy the complete support of the people serving in our armies.

Way back in August 2001, when President Bush was on vacation and ignoring the terrorist chatter he was being told about before heading out to play some golf, the Department of Defense didn’t report on Army, Navy and Air Force reservist and National Guardsmen called to duty. In September of that year, after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, there were 15,600 National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers called up to duty, along with 1,470 Naval and 2,652 Coast Guard reservists.

Four months later, in January 2002, after the invasion of Afghanistan, the National Guard and Army Reserves on active duty was up to 72,203 soldiers. So far, so good, as we won the war in Afghanistan and controlled most of the country. With that force level, we appeared to be prepared to win the peace, as well, but Iraq beckoned and in the intervening years much of Afghanistan has fallen back into the hands of warlords and the Taliban.

The Afghan elections were bracing examples of the desire for democracy, but since it is very dangerous to travel in most of Afghanistan, the U.S. seems to be more interested in the B-roll footage of Afghan voters than in actually making the country a democratic society that does not harbor terrorists.

Okay, in January 2003, two months before we invaded Iraq, the total Reserve and National Guard troops on active duty had increased to 94,624. We were still getting a lot of security for our money and in return for the American lives lost.

Three months later, in April 2003, the number had soared to 224,528 Reserve and National Guardsmen on active duty. We’d swept through much of Iraq and “major operations” were underway with very few casualties. All in all, it looked like a success, as fewer than 100 U.S. troops had been killed.

Now, here the logic of “support our troops” at the White House seems to have fallen apart. By January 2004, when the number of U.S. soldiers killed each month began its dramatic acceleration, the number of reservists and guardsmen on active duty was down to 193, 804.

Why, given the increased risk to troops, wasn’t the force level increased? But, hey, it was an election year, so the story needed to be about reduced troop deployments. Meanwhile, more U.S. soldiers than ever were dying each month.

By this month, the total number of Reserve and National Guard troops on active duty was down another 20,000, to 173,172. Yet, so far this month 48 U.S. soldiers have died, meaning the ratio of casualties to active duty troops is actually rising.

This suggests that the Bush Administration has put the election ahead of the safety of our troops, despite its repeated statements that it stands firmly in support of our men and women in the armed services. Either that, or they are incompetent, because they should be deploying troops to increase security rather than reducing active duty numbers. Absent incompetence, this may be the result of soldiers refusing to re-up when their service obligations are finished. In any case, none of these explanations jibes with the statements by the administration, which is made up of people who avoided service when they had the opportunity to go to war.

The Bush Administration says it supports our troops. On the contrary, it is failing to provide sufficient force and resources while arguing that its motives are not political, competent and fully supported by members of the armed forces, none of which seems to be the case.

It would probably be advisable to listen to everything President Bush and Vice President Cheney say about the Kerry/Edwards’ ticket’s plans and motivations and simply swap out “Kerry” and replace it with “Bush” in any statement about flip-flopping or failure of leadership, because that’s what the numbers prove.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.