Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Army Question: Part Two

The second real question that is part of the question how large should our Army be (the first question, should the Army be larger, is here) is how many troops do we need in Iraq to win?

I have long argued we have enough to win if you consider all American, Coalition, and Iraqi forces. And the fact that we have an elected Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces when we did not in May 2003 is proof that we've had enough to move the country forward. The enemy couldn't stop that progress and can't even operate in platoon strength for the most part.

I'm not automatically opposed to any troop strength additions. We've had more in Iraq in the past than we do now. The keys to deciding whether to add troops are military missions and managing civilian expectations back home.

If more US forces are sent, they should have a specific mission to achieve. In the past it was based on supporting elections. Once the elections were held, we could draw down a bit and nobody thought we were fleeing. We achieved something tangible. What will we use our extra troops for if we send them in the new year? Will they fight under the same restrictions we now have in place? Can we point to a useful achievement that justifies straining the Army and Marines more and the casualties?

And if the Iraqi government doesn't support using the extra troops wisely to take down threats with a specific mission, we've just added targets and worn out our Army and Marines for no purpose. Consider our failed surge into Baghdad in the late summer and fall. Though some supporters of a surge will say we used too few troops, the main problem is that we failed to fight the main enemy in Iraq today--Sadr's militia which is killing Sunni Arabs at an accelerating rate. If we couldn't get Maliki's permission to do it then, why would we get it next year? And if we get it next year, why surge more troops before we see if we can use what we have more effectively?

And worse, if we send more to Iraq with flags flying and the expectation they will win the war in less than a year, our people will expect victory and when we cannot provide it in a year (500,000 more couldn't do it), will decide wrongly that we can't win ever. This is not the expectation we should encourage. This war is not a sprint but a marathon.

As I've said before, counter-insurgency takes time and I'd rather have more patience than more American troops. Surging risks exhausting our already limited patience. So I cannot support a surge of American troops under the current terms of the debate.

Go on offense? Sure. But do it with forces inside Iraq under war-fighting rules of engagement. Go after Sadr and break him while pressing the jihadis in Anbar. And push the Iraqi government to be right there with us as we do both. And do all these things long enough to win.

And if we have the Iraqi government on board to jointly take down Sadr even as we hit the Sunni insurgents, and we have better rules of engagement, and we've reconfigured our existing troops to go after the Sadrists and jihadis, then talk to me about surging more troops. I might be supportive then. Of course, we probably wouldn't need them at that point.

No troop surge now. The President seems on the verge of supporting a surge into Iraq. I hope he reconsiders this apparent choice for now. The surge in our public's expectations will far outstrip what our extra troops can do.

Now, about the apparent decision to expand our ground forces? That sounds good.