Senator Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech in Aliquippa, Pa., outlining her “solutions for strengthening America’s military.” She proposes a speedy withdrawal from Iraq regardless of the consequences on the ground, returning the Reserves to peacetime status, giving the troops enhanced GI Bill benefits, and huge new spending on VA health care. Now, it is important, for a lot of reasons, to sustain good compensation and benefits for America’s servicemen and women, but that is not primarily what national power is about. America’s Armed Forces are a military service, not a social service; Senator Clinton’s “solutions” are the kind of thing someone might suggest who was running for commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of, say, Denmark, notable chiefly because they show how far removed the Left is from taking cognizance of, much less preparing for, real threats to American security around the world.
Like her rival Senator Barack Obama, Senator Clinton acts as if there are no important objectives for the mission in Iraq. The purpose of the mission was to remove Saddam Hussein and replace him with a popularly elected government that would be an ally in the war on terrorism. It was evident ten years ago that the United States was going to have to do something about Saddam because he represented an organic threat to the security of the Mideast and because it was becoming increasingly costly and dangerous to contain him through air power and the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. Even the Clinton administration in its last two years was stepping up its rhetoric against Saddam. The democratic government in Iraq is a vast improvement, if for no other reason than what it is not doing: It is not restarting a nuclear weapons program, invading its neighbors, using weapons of mass destruction on hundreds of thousands of its own people, or training and sponsoring terrorists in the region. Moreover, if the allied Coalition can complete the process of building an effective army and police structure in country — and there is no question that the process has moved a long way in the last year — Iraq can be a working example of Muslim democracy and a bulwark against Iranian hegemony in the region.
In other words, whatever the costs of continuing the Iraqi mission, there are clearly costs to ending it prematurely as well, and any intelligent policy must at least attempt to balance the one against the other. That is what the Bush administration is trying to do now. While the administration has made mistakes in Iraq, and the mission there continues to be an ongoing burden, there is one thing that would clearly be worse than anything we have done or are doing now: If it turns out that we did it all for nothing, because the new president pulls out without recognizing the importance of stabilizing the new democracy or keeping faith with those in Iraq who have trusted our word and our honor.
Sen. Clinton rightly points out that the Reserve components of the Army are under stress. But the right answer is not to abandon the mission in Iraq. It is to reverse the cuts in American military strength that reduced the number of troops available for Iraq and for which her husband is largely responsible. In 1993, President Clinton cut the size of all three military services by one third to one half; the active Army, which had been sized at 18 divisions during operation Desert Storm, was reduced to 10 divisions by the mid-1990s, with the final and most dangerous reductions during the Clinton years. The risk to American security was not only foreseeable but was foreseen. At the time the cuts were made — even before the attacks on 9/11 made it clear that the military would have to fight a war against terror in addition to its other responsibilities — a panel of retired generals testified unanimously before Congress that the smaller Army would not have the flexibility it needed to carry out its missions without unacceptable levels of stress on the troops. The size of the Army was reduced anyway, and now the troops are paying the price.