Amid his plan to escalate the war in Iraq, and his dead-on-arrival health care proposal, barely noticed in President Bush’s State of the Union address was the call to permanently expand the US military by 92,000 soldiers over five years. Many Democrats and much of the mainstream media have signed onto this plan without so much as raising an eyebrow.

“I am glad he has realized the need for increasing the size of the armed forces… but this is where the Democrats have been for two years,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel.

“In the post-Sept. 11 world,” argued a Washington Post editorial, “the Army must be prepared to deploy to multiple theaters, while still guarding against the rise of a strategic threat such as China.”

This decision has serious ramifications for the future direction of our country. We already have a hyper-militarized approach to security. This is a critical moment when the new Democratic Congress could lead a vigorous debate over how to best serve the national interest in an era of climate chaos, resource scarcity and geopolitical energy struggles rather than acquiesce to a size and spending increase in order to look “strong on defense.”

Despite what some supporters of an expanded military say, this policy would do absolutely nothing to help the current situation of an army stretched thin (“the active Army is about broken,” said former Secretary of State Colin Powell) due to this administration’s recklessness. Gordon Adams and John Diamond of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars wrote in a recent op-ed, “Even on a fast track, it might be as long as five years before an additional combat-ready brigade would be ready to deploy [to Iraq].” Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “An increase in the size of the Army today really won’t show up for some period of time.”

So what are the expand-the-military cheerleaders gunning for exactly? A continued course of invasions followed by occupation and nation-building? Spreading the folly of Iraq into Iran or Syria? The Bush administration has already demonstrated that such missions are as achievable as occupying the glaciers it is melting, and the American people have made clear that they have no desire to repeat the human catastrophe of Iraq.

Adams and Diamond cut to the chase: “If this is about invading Iran, or carrying out a land war in China, as The Post has suggested, then maybe we need to have a national debate about that strategy, not slip it in sideways by expanding the Army without agreeing on the mission.”

As I wrote in a previous post, the struggle against terrorism is not primarily a military operation. It is an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement, and public diplomacy effort. We already have the strongest military in the world and spend more on our military than the next twenty three leading military spenders in the world combined – increasing the military’s size will do nothing to address the very real challenges that lie ahead. What are we going to do when confronted by disappearing and melting glaciers – occupy them?

Indeed a key part of this debate should be assessing exactly what security challenges our nation faces in the 21st century. William Hartung, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, suggests defining security strategy more broadly to include, for example, global warming, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, and growing divisions in wealth, income, and access to resources. Congress should explore shifting funds that would otherwise be used to increase the size of the military (estimated as high as $85 billion over the next eight years) in order to address security challenges that are currently getting short shrift. Hartung believes Democrats need to make the argument that they are not only strong on defense – but a lot smarter too.

If there’s anyone in Congress who hasn’t yet learned to not blindly follow the Bush administration on matters of security… well, the administration has some nice glaciers they want to talk to you about investing in too. Enjoy.