WHETHER you call it a "surge" or an "escalation," President Bush's decision to throw 21,500 additional troops into the Iraqi breach will put more pressure on this nation's thinly stretched military and, most notably, on the National Guard and reserves.
As we have consistently argued over the past four years, it's a dangerous idea for the United States to be staking its hopes for success in Iraq on its citizen-soldiers, who, while capable and brave, are not military professionals.
But now it's only one among a host of desperate measures Mr. Bush and Pentagon leaders are implementing in order to make a last-ditch stab at victory or, at the least, to stave off catastrophic defeat.
After the President announced the latest troop increase last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates followed up with a policy change to recall guard and reserve units that already have served in Iraq and a plan to increase the size of the nation's overall military land force by 92,000 soldiers.
Boosting the overall force is supposed to indicate to the beleaguered men and women serving their second or third deployment in Iraq that help is on the way, but it cannot be accomplished quickly.
Likewise, easing rules for mobilizing reserves cannot disguise that a major share of the "sacrifice" Mr. Bush says will be necessary in coming months will be borne by reservists and guard members who already have paid their dues in this war.
The surge won't bring fresh troops into the fray, but will only recycle units that already are or have been deployed in Iraq. This includes a 4,000-member unit of the Minnesota National Guard, which will stay an extra four months.
Under previous Pentagon policy, guard members and reservists were not required to serve on active duty more than a cumulative 24 months in any five-year period, with deployments usually limited to 18 months.
Now, those who already have served in the war zone could be sent back if their entire unit is recalled, for up to another two years.
While officials say they will "try" to limit deployments to one year, the yo-yo process weighs heavily on those who must interrupt their civilian livelihoods time and again. And, as bad as it is for the troops, their families feel the strain even more.
It is true that guard members and reservists knew when they volunteered that they could be called to active duty for extended periods, but the rules have been altered dramatically in the middle of the game.
Where the Pentagon once called up the National Guard infrequently and only in a dire emergency, these units now are being relied on to an unprecedented degree to fight on foreign shores. Of the 3,018 combat deaths recorded in Iraq as of last week, a full 20 percent were guard members and reservists.
Those who signed up to help their country on a temporary basis as citizen-soldiers now are at the mercy of a revolving war strategy that appears not only shaky but without any end in sight.
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