So is the war in Iraq causing troop shortfalls for hurricane relief in New Orleans?
In a word, no.
A look at the numbers should dispel that notion. Take the Army for example. There are 1,012,000 soldiers on active duty, in the Reserves, or in the National Guard. Of them, 261,000 are deployed overseas in 120 countries. Iraq accounts for 103,000 soldiers, or 10.2 percent of the Army.
That’s all? Yes, 10.2 percent. That datum is significant in itself, a good one to keep handy the next time someone talks about how our forces are stretched too thin, our troops are at the breaking point, and so forth. If you add in Afghanistan (15,000) and the support troops in Kuwait (10,000) you still only have 12.6 percent.
So where are the rest? 751,000 (74.2 percent) are in the U.S. About half are active duty, and half Guard and Reserve. The Guard is the real issue of course–the Left wants you to believe that the country has been denuded of its citizen soldiers, and that Louisiana has suffered inordinately because Guardsmen and women who would have been available to be mobilized by the state to stop looting and aid in reconstruction are instead risking their lives in Iraq.
Not hardly. According to Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, 75 percent of the Army and Air National Guard are available nationwide. In addition, the federal government has agreed since the conflict in Iraq started not to mobilize more than 50 percent of Guard assets in any given state, in order to leave sufficient resources for governors to respond to emergencies.
In Louisiana only about a third of Guard personnel are deployed, and they will be returning in about a week as part of their normal rotation. The Mississippi Guard has 40 percent overseas. But Louisiana and Mississippi are not alone in this effort–under terms of Emergency Management Assistance Compacts (EMACs) between the states, Guard personnel are heading to the area from West Virginia, D.C., New Mexico, Utah, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Washington, Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, and Michigan. Thousands have already arrived, and more will over the next day or so.
The New York Times has called the military response “a costly game of catch up.” Catching up compared to what, one wonders. National Guard units were mobilized immediately; 7,500 troops from four states were on the ground within 24 hours of Katrina–a commendable response given the disruptions to the transportation infrastructure. The DOD response is well ahead of the 1992 Hurricane Andrew timetable. Back then, the support request took nine days to crawl through the bureaucracy. The reaction this time was less than three days officially, and DOD had been pre-staging assets in anticipation of the aid request from the moment Katrina hit. DOD cannot act independently of course; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the lead agency. Requests for assistance have to be routed from local officials through FEMA to U.S. Northern Command and then to the necessary components. In practice, this means state officials have to assess damage and determine relief requirements; FEMA has to come up with a plan for integrating the military into the overall effort; DOD has to begin to pack and move the appropriate materiel, and deploy sufficient forces. This has all largely been or is being accomplished. Seven thousand mostly Navy and other specialized assets are currently in the area directly supporting hurricane relief, and a much larger number of other forces are en route. The process has been functioning remarkably smoothly under the circumstances.
It is hard to understand what more should, or realistically could have been done up to this point. A disaster of this magnitude is certain to be politicized, but it seems early in the game to be assessing blame for a response effort that has only been underway a few days in a crisis that is still developing; particularly such a rapid response. Moreover, it is simply not plausible to use the situation to critique the force structure in Iraq. The Guard is demonstrating that it can fulfill both its state and federal responsibilities, as it was designed and intended to do. Of course, it is impossible to win in these situations; critics will always find a way. A year ago after Hurricane Charley, the president was accused of responding too quickly, allegedly to curry favor with Florida voters. Back then only a few fringe characters tried to make the Iraq/Guard connection. It is a shame that the Times has drifted in their direction.
–James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, a trustee for the Leaders for Liberty Foundation, and an NRO contributor.