February 18, 2003



Credit where credit is due: the new Canadian budget came out, and the Federal government more than made up for not increasing defence spending after Sept. 11. The new funding is welcome: it almost certainly means the restructuring of the Canadian reserves into a much more useful organization that has been in the works for some time will go ahead, giving the army in particular much more flexibility in its domestic and foreign response to threats. This is all good.

What the papers won't tell you, of course, is that while this solves the operating budget woes for at least the next year (still not enough for major new equipment spending, though), it doesn't necessarily help the Canadian Forces all the way out of the hole. (And it's still less than the Forces got 10 years ago.) Now it's not going to be a question of funds: now it's the shortage in trained manpower. It's fair to say every trained soldier in the country who isn't nailed down is going to be involved in the deployments to Afghanistan and Bosnia in the next year... every last able and willing reservist included. That means, though, that there's no one left at home to train any new soldiers. And it takes three years, minimum, to get a soldier up to where they can train others; meanwhile attrition is always eating away. In order to meet short-term need, the army will have to sacrifice long-term maintenance of troop levels... troops that are already scarce on the ground.

By hook or by crook, if the funding keeps pace with inflation for the next three years, by the end of that time the army can probably get back to having the capability to deploy a full light infantry brigade or its equivalent overseas at one time again, for 1-2 year periods, anyway. That itself would be a massive improvement. But it's not going to happen overnight. No one should think this makes any difference on the question of a Canadian Iraq deployment of ground troops, for instance.

Posted by BruceR at 09:44 PM



The question of whether the White House forgot about Afghanistan, referred to 2 posts below, continues to spark debate. Reader James M. writes, in an email:

Enjoy reading your site from time to time and think you are far more often right than wrong. I do believe, however, that Marshall got things wrong on Afghanistan and the budget. Here are two posts on the point... I think Marshall simply didn't think long enough to realize that (1)It was completely implausible that there was no aid for Afghanistan in the budget, and (2)Aid for Afghanistan might not be in a line item with that name. He hasn't corrected it, though I am sure some one must have mentioned these facts to him.

Okay, first thing's first. This story didn't start with Josh Marshall, the blogger. It started with a statement by Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona), chairman of the Congressional Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs, which overseas U.S. foreign aid. This is the BBC version of the story.

Okay, so we've established Kolbe is a) the expert in Congress; b) a Republican. If he'd like to retract or clarify his statements, which he is utterly free to do, then he can; in the meantime Marshall is utterly right to stick by his story. The Congressional appropriations committee budget press release says exactly the same thing, btw.

Whence the confusion? The question is specifically whether the government asked Congress to budget for humanitarian aid (not any other kind of aid) for the FY03 budget (which runs from Oct. 1, 2002 to Oct. 1, 2003). The answer on that very narrow question, pretty clearly, is no. There is no doubt, either, that Congressional Republicans quickly made sure that aid was provided regardless, and that USAID was already spending their money, anyway (around $136 million in the first four months of this fiscal year). No Afghans were harmed in the making of this budget... yet.

However, Marshall's own point, that it speaks to a certain... distraction in the U.S. administration over the last several months, remains unchallenged. The alternate theory, that Republican congressmen are lying all over the place for some incomprehensible reason, certainly does not hold water.

Posted by BruceR at 02:10 PM