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”