Tuesday, January 09, 2007

More troops won't be the answer.

Some on the right have suggested that we on the left are hypocrites for suggesting that the President invaded Iraq with too few troops to get the job done, but opposing a troop surge today.

In fact, there is no hypocrisy here. Just an acknowlegement of fact. Facts that involve both scale and timing.

It is true that Eric Shinseki was right when he cited a 1999 exercise that showed that 400,000 troops at a minimum would be required to occupy Iraq in order to prevent an insurgency. I've blogged on that a number of times, most recently two weeks ago in the post, Don't buy into George Bush's Iraq trap.

Unfortunately President Bush did not take Shinseki's advice, in fact he was punished and forced into retirement for giving it, and we invaded with too few. And just as the 1999 exercise predicted, an insurgency occurred.

Further, that number was only good at the time. The exercise did not model actually fighting the insurgency, although since it takes more energy to fight anything (be it a disease, a weed, a fire or an insurgency) after it has taken root than it does to prevent it, we can presume that what would have been sufficient to prevent it, would still not be enough to end it, even if that many troops could be found.

The highest number of American troops to since occupy Iraq was 160,000, a level reached in February of 2005. As we can see, that did not stop the insurgency, which has since become even more extensive than it was before that. Yet this is the same troop level which the President is today proposing-- a drop in the bucket which will if anything only increase the violence. In fact, in February 2005 there were more international troops. Today there are fewer so the President in fact is proposing to get the violence under control using fewer troops than what we've already tried and failed with. And it is doomed to further failure.

He may claim that there are Iraqi forces which will make up the difference. Oh, yes. Those Iraqi forces which have been so infiltrated by Shi'ite militias that the British have had to fight Iraqi security forces in Basra and had to destroy a police station just a couple of weeks ago on Christmas day, to stop the torture and murders that were going on inside. In fact, we saw a fine demonstration of the discipline and control of the Iraqi security forces during the hanging of Saddam. The government was so incompetent or has such little control over their own handpicked execution team that they couldn't even find a dozen men among their security who they could be sure were not members of Shi'ite militias. It would be almost impossible to find a way to make Saddam look like a commanding presence anymore, but they managed to find the fools who could bungle the hanging badly enough to achieve that outcome (and turn him into a Sunni martyr). Yet these are the people who the Bush administration thinks will be able to help us gain control of Iraq?

I think I once wrote a post in which I referred to Elliot Ness. He had no success against Capone's organization as long as he was taking along any Chicago police on his raids-- because Capone's men by that time pretty much had infiltrated every single police unit, all the way up to the top. And so it is with Iraqi security. Not only the Shi'ite Mahdi militia of Muqtada al-Sadr (though there were obviously some Mahdi militia members who got onto the Saddam execution detail). But also the much more dangerous and disciplined Iranian-backed Badr brigade. The Badr brigade has almost ceased to exist as an independent and identifiable force in Iraq because they have followed the advice of their handlers in Tehran and signed up for and donned the uniform of the Iraqi army and police.

Yet this is who the President proposes to take along on raids against Shi'ite militias and death squads. It would be as if Elliot Ness had invited the Chicago police to go with him on a raid personally targetting Capone himself. When our troops are lucky, the raids will be failures and the targets will have quickly "left" the area, as if they knew we were coming. When our troops are not so lucky, the raids will turn into bloody ambushes. I don't know about you, but I can see that new 'phase' of the war coming just about as plain as the sunrise, what with the talk about going after the Shi'ite militias and the parallel talk about taking the Iraqi units along for the fighting. Does George Bush not see that? Or does he no longer care, just as long as he can buy time to get through the next two years, at whatever cost in American blood, and have his successor be the one to realize that we have to negotiate our way out and pull the plug on continued pointless American military action in Iraq? Once again, we find ourselves stuck in the middle of somebody else's civil war. 'Out Now' makes a heck of a lot more sense than 'raise the ante.'

So no, there is no hypocrisy here. There was a time when a large enough occupation force would have worked. But that was a force three times as large as we have now, and the time was in mid-2003. Adding twenty thousand troops today will produce absolutely nothing except to fill more coffins.

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