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The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Tue. Jan 11, 2005

Troops, Present and Past

There’s more heavily laden discussion over the subject of troop numbers in Iraq. Some people are talking in the past tense. Others are responding in the present tense. It started with this from Kevin Drum:

The invasion of Iraq almost certainly would never have happened if Rumsfeld had told Congress in 2002 that he wanted them to approve three or four (or more) new divisions in preparation for a war in 2004 or 2005.

In other words, when Rumsfeld commented that you go to war “with the army you have,” he was exactly right. Kagan and Sullivan both supported the Iraq war, but it never would have happened if Rumsfeld had acknowledged that we needed 100,000 more troops than we had available at the time.

For that reason, conservative critiques of Rumsfeld on these grounds strike me as hypocritical. Would Kagan and Sullivan have supported delaying the Iraq war a couple of years in order to raise the troops they now believe are necessary? If not, isn’t it a little late to start complaining now?

Yes, it is better to be ideologically consistent than to learn something from the past. Let’s have no complaining about mistakes that might have been made (past tense).

Let’s talk about the present, as Glenn Reynolds does in response to Kevin: “I’m not convinced that ‘more troops’ is the answer in Iraq…” No more so than ‘more troops’ is the answer for Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. The critical moment has long passed.

Glenn continues, “But the notion that Rumsfeld is, out of some inexplicable stubbornness, refusing to send enough troops has never made sense with me. We clearly had plenty of troops to beat Saddam’s army, and, as I say, it’s not clear that more troops are the answer now…

What about that vast gap of time between when we “beat Saddam’s army” and “now”?

If we had plenty of troops to beat Saddam’s army, and that was the only goal worthy of determining force structure, well, why didn’t we start withdrawing at the end of April/May, 2003?

Or was there a strategic goal beyond the tactical goal of first beating Saddam’s army? One that might have force requirements entirely separate from defeating Saddam’s army? Force requirements with which we were quite familiar from our recent experiences helping restore civil order in Kosovo and Bosnia?

In the first quarter of 2003, the Pentagon was incredibly reluctant to call up large numbers of reservists, beyond the specialties they needed for the coming war (medical, transport, etc.), and “replacements” for active duty troops sent to Iraq, to perform security for US bases and other “home” duties. But a bunch of part-time grunts to work basic security and patrol duty in Iraq? No, that would be disruptive.

Today, our force in Iraq is “nearly a 50-50 split between active-duty soldiers and reservists.” It’s my opinion that if we’d called up at least 75,000 reserves (even National Guard units, like we’ve used in Kosovo) to back our 150,000 troop Regular Army/Marine force from Day One … much of the trouble we see might have been avoided. If we’d had enough such follow-on troops in place to deter looting, to secure ammo dumps that were later raided and used by terrorists to kill our own forces, to protect oil and electrical infrastructure from the attacks that have slowed reconstruction, to just simply be a visible and prevalent armed presence during that critical first six months … it is my opinion we wouldn’t be where we are today. Nowhere near.

But opinions are like blogs. Kevin’s got one, I’ve got one, and Glenn’s got one: “I think that calling for ‘more troops’ is a way to criticize while not sounding weak, and that it thus has an appeal that overcomes its uncertain factual foundation.

Which must make me an utter amoeba, since I’m calling for more troops … in the past. Other than those that are being added in an effort to secure polling places in January, more troops now is a mistake. It’s way way too late. The “factual foundation” in Iraq was laid long ago, and it is no longer in our favor.

I think that saying more troops would never have helped is a way to marginalize partisan opponents while not sounding like mistakes were made, and that it thus has an appeal of implying it’s nothing that any reasonable person could have determined with the information they had at hand. Certainly not back in May, 2003. Therefore, there is nothing to be learned here. No potential lesson of Good War, Bad Occupation worth considering. This is just unfortunate fate, and could never have been any different. There were only two choices; no war, or what we got.

To say anything else is at least partisan, if not hypocritical. Let’s move along. It’s not like there’s an election going on, or else we might have reason to continue this debate.

Later: Michael E. O’Hanlon says all this and more, in a much better documented and less cynical manner, in “Iraq Without a Plan”


Peanut Gallery

1  Mike Spinelli wrote:

“Which must make me an utter amoeba, since I’m calling for more troops … in the past. Other than those that are being added in an effort to secure polling places in January, more troops now is a mistake. It’s way way too late. The “factual foundation” in Iraq was laid long ago, and it is no longer in our favor.”

This is true. Iraq was laid long ago and we cant do anything now about it. There nation is not supporting us and quite frankly, I think we could care less.

2  Paul wrote:

I wonder if the argument shouldn’t be (or should ever have been) whether we need more troops or not, but whether we had the right type and disposition of troops to occupy the country and make certain in the minds of Iraqis about who was in charge. That was the fundamental flaw: we went in with the angle of “liberation” instead of occupation, and that screwed-up everything down the line. In the past, we liberated countries like France and Belgium, countries that had been invaded and occupied by a foreign force. We conquered Germany and Japan, countries that were the source of the problem and whose populations were responsible for the madmen they had unleashed upon the world.

Getting back to the troop angle, I’ve always been wary of people who look at a problem and automatically throw people at it in the hopes it will be solved faster. I run into this in my job all the time. If there’s a plane that’s on a mission and develops say, an engine malfunction, some leaders will throw everyone they can at the engine to “fix it” faster. What usually happens is you land up with two guys actually doing something, while the rest just stand around, because there’s only so much space on a stand under the engine, and there’s only so many hands that can take out a part and install a new one, but it looks good to have all those people out there, even though it’s a waste of resources. In fact, having all those people slows stuff down a lot of the time, especially if you never checked to see if the ones who are actually doing the work are really qualified to troubleshoot and repair the engine.

Instead of just throwing bodies at something, the better question would be, “Do we have the right personnel who are qualified and proficient at the task, and are they at the places they need to be to get the job done as safely, quickly, and efficiently as possible?” It doesn’t matter if you have 15 troops hanging around an engine or 300,000 hanging around in Iraq; if they’re not the right people for the job and are just there for the sake of appearing to “fix it faster”, then the job’s not only going to get done wrong, it’s going to take forever just to get it done wrong.

3  Reid wrote:

A good point, Paul, and one of the reasons I mentioned the National Guard’s service in Kosovo. The first “follow-on” force into Iraq after the war (admittedly, largely due to its rapid conclusion) was the 4th ID. A fine unit, trained to operate Bradleys and Abrams that are connected with the latest digital technology, enabling a transformed lethality in combat.

The National Guard is trained to restore and maintain civil order. In May of 2003, which skill was more needed in Iraq?

But that was then. Sending in the National Guard today would be like, to continue your engine analogy, sending in a dozen engine mechanics after the wing had fallen off the plane. It’s too late.

4  emcee fleshy wrote:

On the same topic, I have always wondered why our Reserves weren’t more readily used in a civil-policing role. This would seem somewhat logical, since a disproportionate number of the Reservists are, in their normal lives, police and firefighters and the like.

5  Paul wrote:

I think the Posse Comitatus rules apply to Reserves because they’re Federals, instead of the Guard, who are nominally State forces.

6  emcee fleshy wrote:

You are correct. My fault: I meant in a civil-policing role in occupation/nation-building situtations. Not here.

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