Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the all-volunteer military "raises serious questions in a democracy, both (about) how we define ourselves (and) what the real risks politically and militarily of taking action might be."
The all-volunteer force may make it “easy for decision-makers just to try to keep it out of sight and out of mind,” she said in a speech to the foreign policy think-tank the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, called for a vigorous election-year debate about the future size and composition of the U.S. armed forces.
The New York Democrat did not call for a revival of conscription, which ended 30 years ago, but said the all-volunteer nature of the military hides from the public the costs of overseas actions.
Clinton urged an increase in the size of the Army, supporting a proposal by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to expand the Army by 10,000 soldiers.
Noting that she had conducted a tour of U.S. deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq last November, she said there are not enough American troops in either country.
Clinton said U.S. officers in Iraq had specifically told her that they did not have enough troops to accomplish their mission.
“Off the record, they’ll tell you they don’t have enough and have never had enough,” she said.
She also complained that “we have fewer troops in Afghanistan than we had law enforcement (officers) at the Olympics in Salt Lake City.”
And she blamed European countries that are members of NATO for not contributing the troops they have promised to maintain order in Afghanistan. She described the attitude of NATO members as “a little bit of pique" and paraphrased their thinking as "oh, you really need us now? We’re going to make you really sweat for it."
As for Iraq, Clinton accused Bush and his advisers of “a rush to turn over the helm to anyone” in Iraq. “The administration’s policy seems in disarray except for their commitment to the date of July 1.”
She urged Bush to “consider delaying a transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis for a few months at least.” But Bush and his aides are, she charged, “anxious to get out.”
Clinton said that before the United States transferred sovereignty to Iraqis, the Bush administration should have an idea of whether the new government would be Islamic or secular.
“We should not adhere slavishly to an artificial deadline decided for whatever reason in Washington if it risks chaos and unraveling in Iraq,” she declared.
Clinton also saw a likelihood that the new Iraqi government would repress women’s rights which, she said, had been expanded by Saddam Hussein.
“I have been deeply troubled by what I hear coming out of Iraq. When I was there and met with women members of the national governing council and local governing councils in Baghdad and Kirkuk they were starting to express concerns about some of the pullbacks in the rights they were given under Saddam Hussein,” she said.
'On paper, women had rights'
“He was an equal opportunity oppressor, but on paper, women had rights. They went to school, they participated in the professions, they participated in government and in business; as long as they stayed out of his way, they had considerable freedom of movement.”
She said now the Iraqi governing council is “attempting to shift large parts of civil law into religious jurisdiction. This would be a horrific mistake — and especially for it to happen on our watch.”
Clinton said the United States as the occupying power must not “become the vehicle by which women’s rights in Iraq are turned back.”
The New York senator recalled earlier Democratic criticism of Bush administration planning for the post-war phase of the operation to topple Saddam’s regime.
Prior to last year's U.S. invasion of Iraq, “not only were I and other members of Congress raising questions about a plan for a post-Saddam Iraq, we now know many in the administration raised similar questions,” Clinton said, adding that CIA experts and others in the administration predicted “all the problems we are now witnessing in Iraq.”
She said, “When I was in Iraq, I don’t think I met with any Iraqis who did not ask me, ‘How could you have let the looting go on?’”