KAI RYSSDAL: The official position of the Bush administration is that the American military is not stretched thin by Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates extended troop deployments to those places today. And that put a slightly different spin on things.
ROBERT GATES: Effective immediately, active Army units now in the Central Command area of responsibility — and those headed there — will deploy for not more than 15 months, and will return home to home station for not less than 12 months.
We reached Gordon Adams at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington to talk about that announcement. Gordon, how are you?
GORDON ADAMS: Very well. Thanks, Kai.
RYSSDAL: One of the many things that comes to mind is, how we’re gonna pay for this? You know, Congress is still trying to figure out a $103 billion request. What do you think the White House is thinking?
ADAMS: Well, I think the Congress is gonna put forward some money. The White House will probably veto what the Congress has put forward. They’ll go back and argue about it a bit, and Congress will come up with additional supplementary funds and there’ll be some kind of a compromise on language about where we go from here with presidential waivers and the like. Congress is gonna be prepared to fund it, and frankly, the announcement they made today is not going to cost a whole heck of a lot more money.
RYSSDAL: The expense would come I would guess in troop morale and the prospect of spending now an extra three months, and extra 25 percent of their time, in country.
ADAMS: The critical issue here, and what the secretary said was he wants to send a clear signal to the troops that are there, active duty, and the troops that are gonna be sent there in the near future, that they can expect to leave to be there for 15 months and then to come home after 15 months. This seems to be an answer to two questions. One is, how do you let families know that these numbers aren’t gonna keep shifting around, how long you’re here, how long you’re there, when do you go, when do you come back? And the other is to leave open to the president an option that, frankly, has always been on the table. And that is to extend the surge past the end of this summer.
RYSSDAL: Is it credible still for the White House to say that the Pentagon’s not stretched thin?
ADAMS: Uh, no. I think the Department of Defense is stretched thin. I think the White House acknowledges that they are stretched thin. And they have been juggling. They are, frankly, juggling all the way along. That’s not the same thing as saying that the force is broken. You can stretch this military pretty far. It’s a volunteer force. What I think they’re really talking about here is how do we set up the option to insure that we can continue at a larger force level in Iraq through next March?
RYSSDAL: How do you feed it on the back end, though? The military’s already reducing enlistment standards at the same time that Secretary Gates has called for a larger standing Army, a larger standing Marine Corps.
ADAMS: They’re gonna have a very hard time getting the forces to come forward to volunteer for that larger standing Army. And it’s gonna take them a lot of years. In effect, increasing the overall size of the Army is not gonna solve the problem that we’re talking about in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those forces aren’t going to be available for you for three to five years from now before they’re gonna really enter the force and be usable. And we’re in some future situation by then.
RYSSDAL: Gordon Adams at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. Gordon, good to speak with you as always.
ADAMS: Thanks, Kai.
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