WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani says if he's elected he would increase the size of the U.S. Army by 10 brigades. Giuliani is running on strength. He says previous presidents made a mistake when they bought into the peace dividend of the 1990s and scaled back defense spending after the end of the Cold War.

Giuliani may be right about the need to grow the Army, but how would he do that? The military services aren't exactly turning away people at the recruiting stations. The Army has already lowered its standards because it's having trouble meeting current recruitment goals. If Giuliani is serious, then he'd have to do one of three things: bring back the draft, increase the incentives for young people to sign up, or decrease the disincentives discouraging people from joining the military.

The two principle disincentives are Iraq, a war that is un-winnable, and President Bush, a commander in chief who's out of touch and determined to stay the course. If you're a young person and see no clear path out of Iraq and you hear lots of talk about a potential military engagement with Iran, you're going to think long and hard before you commit the next several years of your life to such a risky venture, assuming you have some choice in the matter.

For many people, during war as well as peacetime, the military offers a step up out of economic hardship, a chance to go to college or learn a skill or a trade that they literally can't afford to pass up.

A rational person would look at how U.S. forces are bogged down in Iraq and conclude that there is no way that Bush could contemplate military action with neighboring Iran. Yet the administration has dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf, where they are hovering off the coast of Iran. This is a huge display of military power. These battle groups are capable of delivering as much in munitions in a short amount of time as U.S. military delivered during all of World War II. President Achmadinijad and the Iranian mullahs understand the extent of this power, and it has helped drive them to the negotiating table.

Achmadinijad can scoff at Bush in his public pronouncements, but he also fears him, and what he might do with this awesome arsenal he has at his command. Just as U.S. analysts look at the fiery Achmadinijad and see somebody who is irrational and can't be trusted, Iranian analysts must worry what Bush is capable of doing. They can see that the American public no longer supports the war in Iraq, yet Bush persists in his war policies, disregarding public opinion and a Congress that was elected to end the war. Given the quagmire in Iraq, they might be tempted to think Bush is constrained and in no position to be the aggressor in another military conflict.

But they can't rule out the possibility that Bush before he leaves office will bomb their suspected nuclear sites, because the Iranian leadership well understands that it is the executive branch that runs American foreign policy... Bush remains convinced that he did the right thing by invading Iraq, and that history will in the distant future vindicate him for shaking things up in the Middle East. He thinks that whoever follows him in the oval office won't have the nerve to take on Iran, and so he just might have to do it before he turns the White House over to the next president. It sounds crazy but maybe that's the point. Keeping everybody off guard and suspecting the worst may be Bush's plan, consciously or subconsciously. In any event, it's got the Iranians talking, and diplomacy is preferable to war.

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