Austin Bay

Last week, the Los Angeles Times featured a discussion between Phil Carter, a Los Angeles attorney who served with the 101st Airborne in Iraq, and me on military-related issues. Carter and I agreed that a 650,000-soldier U.S. Army is a more realistic figure given personnel demands and expected commitments. Carter argued that "America can no longer afford to run its steak-and-lobster national security strategy on a McDonald's budget."

I agreed with his assessment, but pointed out that the personnel issue has another subtle dimension that stretches U.S. military personnel.

America expects its military to win its wars, which means having war-fighters proficient with weaponry running from bayonets to smart bombs. But America also expects its military to competently use a trowel, auditing software and a doctor's bag, and occasionally provide legal, political and investment advice. That's been the military's burden since 1992, when the Era of Peacekeeping replaced the Cold War. Sept. 11 replaced the Era of Peacekeeping with a global war over the conditions of modernity, where the trowels and investment advice are often as important as combat skills.

We need more troops. That will mean spending tax dollars -- but with 300 million people, we have the recruiting pool to support a 650,000 soldier Army. We also need to get the skills of U.S. government civilian agencies into the field. That will take tax dollars and focused political leadership.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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