Editorial: A caldron of conflict

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 28, 2006

If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog’s survival instinct kicks in and he leaps right out, or so the theory goes. But if you put a frog in a a pot of room-temperature water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will sit tight, not realizing he’s in danger of boiling to death. Pretty soon, he’s cooked.

The United States is getting cooked in the boiling pot of Iraq. We sent in troops with both reluctance and high hopes when President Bush decided to oust Saddam Hussein, but fate keeps turning up the heat and making the situation worse.

Insurgency. Abu Ghraib. Improvised Explosive Devices. Guantanamo and debates over torture. Car bombs. Escalating violence between Iraq’s religious factions. The haunting notes of taps sounding out across the nation.

Yet we can’t hop out. National pride and fear for Iraq’s future have formed a tight lid on the pot, forcing us to stew in a destructive situation over which we have no control.

The latest notch on the stove dial says “increase troop strength.” Several politicians and military leaders say the United States needs to send more troops into Iraq to stabilize the situation. That sounds logical, but the U.S. military is not big enough to merely shift people around. Many troops have already served multiple tours of duty, and leaders warn that the Army is about to break. So, it appears the United States will have to expand the size of the military — adding between 20,000 and 40,000 troops to the Army on top of the recently added 30,000. More than half a million Americans would be wearing Army uniforms.

And to think, we were just going to remove Saddam Hussein from power and go home.

Every additional 10,000 soldiers costs about $1.2 billion a year, so the U.S. military budget will jump, too. War costs in 2007 are projected at $110 billion. That’ll be added to the cost of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq so far, a figure that has topped $500 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Imagine what that money could have done for health care or public education.

Here’s the worst of it: Even with more troops and more money, the short-term outlook is bleak. President Bush is warning the public that next year will bring more painful U.S. losses. More troops could just mean more casualties, with no end in sight. The death toll is nearing 3,000.

The next notch on the stove dial could say “military draft.”

For the record, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resisted the idea of ramping up so the United States could send more troops into Iraq, and there’s some worry that more troops could just lead to more confusion; they need a clear mission.

Rumsfeld’s successor, Robert Gates, should bring clarity and fresh insight to the situation — something to help lower the heat on the U.S. military and the United States as a whole. It’s dangerously hot, and only appears to be getting hotter.