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Korb: The Bush Team's National Security Strategy and Reshaping U.S. Forces

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
Interviewee: Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
August 7, 2003

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Lawrence J. Korb, the Council on Foreign Relations’ director of National Security Studies and a former senior Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, says the Bush team’s national security strategy advocates pre-emptive war in some cases— like Iraq— but refrains from it in others— like North Korea or Iran. Korb is the author most recently of a Council Policy Initiative that lays out three alternative U.S. national security strategies.

Korb was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on August 7, 2003.

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How would you describe the Bush administration’s national security strategy?

It has one, rhetorically, that might be called “preventive war.” That relies on unilateral military pre-emption— which was applied in the Iraq war— military dominance, and an aggressive attempt to spread free-market democracy throughout the world— another justification for going into Iraq. But, in specific cases other than Iraq, the administration doesn’t [behave according to] its own rhetoric. For example, the president has said he will not allow North Korea and Iran to get nuclear weapons, but he is trying to get the rest of the world involved and is not talking about taking military action. So, rhetorically, the administration has a strategy, but when it puts it into practice, it’s somewhat inconsistent.

Is that because the United States doesn’t have enough resources? It doesn’t have the troops or resources to fight a war with North Korea right now, does it?

The United States has enough troops to fight a war with North Korea. In fact, South Korea can win militarily against North Korea, even without U.S. help. Its military is first-rate. It has much more modern equipment than North Korea has. It’s much better trained. The question there is the potential damage to South Korea, and in particular to Seoul, in any type of military engagement. There is also the question of whether the North might use nuclear weapons, if it has them, against Japan.

Why has the administration asked other countries to supply troops to Iraq but doesn’t seem to want a separate Security Council resolution to authorize such a multilateral force?

The administration will have to make a choice. If it wants to have total control over Iraq, it will get only token contributions from the rest of the world, perhaps 20,000 to 25,000 people. That means at least 150,000 U.S. forces would remain in Iraq for quite a while. If the administration wants to get other countries more involved, it will need a second U.N. resolution that would give the United Nations more control over postwar reconstruction [but would also] relieve the financial burden on the United States and reduce the number of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq. The administration cannot have it both ways.

Will the U.S. public support a large U.S. troop deployment in Iraq for several years?

The real problem will be the [rate of] casualties. I don’t think the American people are as concerned so much about the number of troops deployed. Military families are, but since the United States doesn’t have conscription, the American people really aren’t touched by this. But they will be upset if the casualties continue and the cost continues, which cuts funds for other programs in the federal budget, or the deficit increases, which would drive up mortgage rates.

What are the costs of the Iraq war so far? And what are the projected costs?

The cost of the war, counting the fighting of it and counting the occupation and the reconstruction, from January 2003 to December 2003 will total about $100 billion. Of that, about $65 billion to $70 billion has been spent so far.

And next year’s cost?

If 150,000 troops remain in Iraq, the cost— counting the troops and reconstruction projects— will be $75 billion. It won’t be as expensive as this year, because the large-scale conventional military operations from mid-March through mid-April were a one-time cost.

Are there enough troops in the U.S. Army right now?

The army has two problems. One is the number of troops and the other is the kind of troops it has. Right now, some of the army’s best combat divisions— the Third Infantry, the Fourth Infantry, the First Armored units— are in Iraq. They’re top-flight. They’re the type that would fight a war against North Korea, that fought the conventional war against Iraq. They are not suited for peacekeeping.

The army has its civil affairs units and military police, but most of them are in the reserves. It is going to have to get more of them on to active duty. The Army National Guard has eight major combat divisions that would be called up for a major continental battle in Europe— which, obviously, is not going to occur. [Policymakers] need to get rid of some of those units and, with the money saved, put more of the peacekeeping type of forces on active duty. Special Forces need more beefing-up; they are still comparatively small.

What did the United States do after World War II?

After World War II, some of the soldiers were turned into policemen. But in Germany and Japan, there wasn’t armed resistance, so U.S. troops were there more for psychological reasons than anything else— the enemy had surrendered. There is no surrender in Iraq. And, at the end of World War II, the size of the U.S. military was 12 million. Today it is 1.4 million on active duty. So you had a lot of extra people to put around.

How many U.S. troops are deployed in Iraq?

There are 148,000 troops, to be exact. And there are roughly another 19,000 from other countries.

Would more troops make a difference?

Sure. It would make a difference psychologically because, the more places you are, the easier it is to deter attacks. What the United States has adopted instead is the more aggressive posture of going out and conducting raids, which has turned out to be somewhat counter-productive because the raids have alienated a lot of the local people. That may encourage them to join up with the guerrilla forces.

What are your thoughts on the questions raised about the prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?

Intelligence basically is in many ways like predicting the weather. You look at all the information and make an educated guess. What happened is that a lot of people in the administration, particularly in the Pentagon and the vice president’s office, had made up their minds and were using intelligence to make their case. It is going to take a long time for the intelligence community— and the U.S. reputation in the world— to recover from Iraq.

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