And, while I don't favor reinstatement of the draft, without forced military conscription and without a tax policy that more realistically transmits information about the cost of war to American taxpayers, support for this war comes relatively cheap. It is so cheap, in fact, that Americans still want more war than the military is able to supply. — Dr. X.
Glenn Greenwald discusses the Kagan-Keane call for a surge in the number of troops serving on the ground in Iraq. He notes that even supporters of the surge realize that the military lacks the overall troop strength needed to successfully implement the plan. Greenwald quotes a key recommendation in Fred Kagan's executive summary of Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq.
The president must request a substantial increase in ground forces end strength. This increase is vital to sustaining the morale of the combat forces by ensuring that relief is on the way. The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation
Greenwald argues that it is no longer defensible for enlistment eligible supporters of the war to sit out the fight at a time when even advocates for the surge believe that we suffer a critical shortage in the number of troops necessary for victory.
[we] now have a situation where those who are cheering on more war and escalation really are needed not at the computer screen but on the battlefield, in combat. And their refusal to fight is actually impeding the plans of those on whom the President is relying for "Victory."
As a result, it is now morally indefensible for those who are physically able to do so to advocate a "surge," or even ongoing war in Iraq, without either volunteering to fight or offering a good reason why they are not doing so. One of the war's key architects is sending out a desperate plea for volunteers in order to enable the U.S. to achieve "Victory" in Iraq. How can those who believe in the premise and cheer it on -- all the while depicting themselves as strong and resolute -- possibly justify not taking the necessary action to enable the U.S. to "win"?
While we can reasonably argue that moral failure explains the inconsistency of those who support a war that they are unwilling to fight, even though there is a critical shortage of troops, there are other ways to understand this inconsistency. Although supporters of the war often portray the fight as one of absolute necessity — the decisive conflict of this generation — belief in this particular war is probably not as absolute as the characterization of the need for this war might suggest.
It is arguable that for many people, perhaps even most people, there is an inverse relationship between support for the war and perceptions of both the public and personal costs of the war. As the sense of these costs rises relative to the perceived benefits of war, support for the war declines. If we could wage a war that would have no financial cost or cost in American lives, while resulting in a free, peaceful democratic Iraq, the war would surely have more widespread support among Americans. Indeed, this was the scenario presented by the administration at the outset of the war. It was believed by many Americans that the war would be relatively quick and relatively low in both financial cost and in cost of American lives. This has not been the case and, as we have seen, support for the war has diminished as the cost of the war has increased while the promise of victory has yet to materialize.
For some who continue to support the war, a substantial increase in the tax burden might diminish their support. In fact, taxes have not been raised at all since the war began and the cost of the war has been heavily deferred to future taxpayers. Thus, the Bush administration’s tax policy insulates consumers from a truer sense of the cost of the war they are buying.
We can think of this tax policy as a form of artificial government price control that deprives consumers of the price information needed to decide how much to consume of a product. In this case, the product is war. Artificial price (tax) control makes the war seem relatively cheap to the consumer, so war will be over-consumed. The result is a shortage of war supplies, and more specifically, a shortage in the number of troops needed to wage this war.
What if congress addressed this shortage by authorizing an increase in starting pay for enlistees to $100,000 annually plus all current benefits? Surely there is some wage level at which enlistment and re-enlistment rates would be sufficient to support and sustain the proposed troop surge in Iraq. There are some good arguments against such a proposal, but my guess is that the greatest obstacle to such a plan is that legislators know that their constituents would balk at the increased cost, even though current tax policy is temporarily insulating them from a significant part of the cost of war. When politicians and citizens urge support for the troops, it does not necessarily mean they would support the troops by paying them a great deal more money. When support for the troops is cheap, when it costs only as much as bumper sticker, the quantity of support for the troops is very great. It is not great enough, however, to successfully implement Kagan-Keane.
One enlistment-eligible civilian hawk, Jonah Goldberg, admits that a cost calculation affects his support for the war. He explains his decision to pass on enlistment this way:
I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter…
We know that Goldberg is willing to support the war as long as he and those he loves do not bear a far greater share of the cost, but it is not clear that he would still support the war if he and those closest to him were confronted with actually bearing more of the cost. For Goldberg, the war is still a bargain. He can still "afford" it
Goldberg can only speculate about what opinion he might have of the war if he knew that he would be forced into combat through conscription or forced to pay for the war with a substantial increase in his own tax bill. None of us really know what Goldberg's opinion of the war would be if he were required to carry a greater share of the expense of conducting this war. And, while I don't favor a reinstatement of the draft, without forced military conscription and without a tax policy that more realistically transmits information about the cost of war to American taxpayers, support for this war comes relatively cheap. It is so cheap, in fact, that Americans still want more war than the military is able to supply.