Another incoherent policy proposal: McCain calls for expanding ground forces by 200,000!
Posted by Max Bergmann
John McCain's comment on the draft should draw attention to one of his most jaw-dropping policy proposals. Last winter, John McCain in his Foreign Affairs article proposed expanding the ground forces by an additional 200,000 troops (ie That is 150,000 more than the current expansion target). McCain pledged:
“As president, I will increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 troops to 900,000 troops. Enhancing recruitment will require more resources and will take time, but it must be done as soon as possible.”
This is a massive massive proposal that could not only blow a massive hole in the budget - but would either require major cuts in the procurement of weapons systems or would require a significant increase in DoD's budget.
To be clear the ground forces are currently attempting to expand by about another 50,000 over current levels (roughly 700,000) to a total active force of about 750,000. A loose bi-partisan consensus emerged in favor of increasing the ground forces early in the decade. In fact, the Center for American Progress has argued for increasing the size of the Army since it was founded in 2003. But Rumsfeld resisted and it wasn't until Gates came in that the administration authorized a permanent expansion of the Army and the Marines by 92,000 bringing the total size of the ground forces to about 750,000. Obama has supported this expansion as well.
But there are two massive massive problems in increasing the size of the ground forces - even by the currently proposed amount.
First, is the cost. Expanding the ground forces costs a lot of money because expanding requires not just paying additional soldiers and Marines, but procuring additional equipment to outfit them, as well as paying for the added benefits etc. The CBO estimated that increasing the ground forces to the current goal of about 750,000 would cost about $110 billion over seven years this is roughly $15 billion per year. Applying those projections to McCain's proposal - increasing the size of the ground forces over this same period would cost roughly an additional $25 billion per year. But even this number may be a conservative projection, since McCain is proposing a roughly 25 percent increase in the size of the ground forces and attracting that many more volunteers would likely require significantly more funding as more incentives will be needed to attract new recruits.
But the biggest difficulty in expanding the ground forces isn't cost - it's getting the recruits. We are in the midst of an incredibly unpopular war in Iraq. The ground forces, especially the Army have struggled to meet both current recruiting goals and to maintain recruiting standards - meaning any expansion while the U.S. is mired in Iraq will not only be very very difficult but could force the ground forces to further abandon their recruiting standards - leading to a degradation of the overall quality of the ground forces. This very fact has led many expansion proponents to argue for a slow growth approach that does not compromise these standards.
It is important to note that this isn't some proposal McCain submitted 5 years ago. This was six-seven months ago in the article which he lays out his defining vision and goals for U.S. foreign policy. In short, you would expect that a candidate running for President would have THOUGHT THROUGH the ideas that he was espousing in the most influential foreign policy journal in the United States and would stand by them.
He therefore should be held to account for the implications of this proposal and the implications of this proposal are massive. Look at his website - McCain calls for "modernizing the Armed services," which "involves procuring advanced weapons systems." He then also call for smarter defense spending. So if he is increasing the ground forces by 25%, and modernizing weapon systems, either we should expect a MAJOR increase in defense spending (which make his already bleak budget projections even worse) or he is talking about cutting many many weapons programs. Which is it? And what weapons programs are you cutting? Is he going to abandon recruiting standards?
Or is this just another case of John McCain having a completely contradictory and incoherent policy approach - and this being the issue that he has most emphasized his knoweldge and experience.