Vietnam CREEP in Iraq continued this week as the Marines said they would recall up to 2,500 troops. Guy Stratton, the head of the Marines' manpower mobilization, told reporters, ``We've been tracking our volunteer numbers for the last two years. If you tracked it on a time line or chart, you would see it going down."
This was not the time line that President Bush hoped for, either for Iraqi liberation or American patriotism. He admitted as much in a testy press conference this week. Asked if he was frustrated, he said, ``Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. . . . These are challenging times, and they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country."
This is from the man who strained to promise us a Rose Garden war. The 2,500 reservists are not a big number in an occupation of 138,000 soldiers, but they are a huge reminder of one of the biggest lies that the administration told us to justify the invasion.
Just before the hostilities, the Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, said at a Senate hearing that ``something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would probably be required in postwar Iraq. ``We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems."
Top administration officials all but called Shinseki crazy, even though almost none of them had ever fought in a war. They sold the fantasy that high-tech weapons in the air would reduce the need for boots on the ground. They downplayed fears that soldiers would need to corral a civil war.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said at a House hearing that predictions, ``such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand US troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. First, it's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also said it was ``not logical" to him that it would take as many forces for the occupation as were needed for the invasion. ``We have no idea how long the war will last," Rumsfeld told reporters. ``We don't know to what extent there may or may not be weapons of mass destruction used. We don't know -- have any idea whether or not there would be ethnic strife. We don't know exactly how long it would take to find weapons of mass destruction and destroy them -- those sites. There are so many variables that it is not knowable.
``However I will say this: What is, I think, reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand US forces I think is far from the mark . . . Any idea that it's several hundred thousand over any sustained period is simply not the case."
Vice President Dick Cheney, in the same appearance on NBC's ``Meet the Press" during which he claimed Iraqis ``will welcome as liberators the United States," said of Shinseki's estimate, ``I disagree . . . To suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don't think is accurate. I think that's an overstatement."
There were groups with gravitas back in 2003 that knew Shinseki was right. A Council on Foreign Relations task force, one that included John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted postwar troop estimates of 75,000 to more than 200,000 and said, ``The task force recommends that deployments for peace stabilization err on the side of robustness."
Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Cheney have proven to be so wildly off the mark that Frederick Kagan, a military historian from the conservative, prowar American Enterprise Institute, last year told the Houston Chronicle, ``The Army needs to grow by about 200,000 soldiers. Reorganizing the troops we have now is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."
The ship is listing so badly that it is being abandoned by both the right and the left. In announcing the involuntary call-up of Marines, spokesman Major Steven O'Connor said, ``When Baghdad fell, we thought that this was not going to be a prolonged battle." Until we get out of Iraq, Bush has to soothe the American psyche. He can start by firing Rumsfeld, who told us the battle would not be prolonged. That would be a good first step to rearranging the chairs.
© 2006 The Boston Globe