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Commentary

More Troops, Less Victory


     
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President Bush recently announced that he would be sending an additional 4,400 U.S. soldiers to Iraq. This is on top of a 21,500 troop surge announced in January, which now appears to be just a down payment on a likely continuing escalation of the war in Iraq for the remainder of this administration. It thus seems that the Bush administration has adopted the Einstein doctrine for Iraq: continuing to do the same thing but expecting different results.

Prior to announcing the surge, the force in Iraq was about 130,000 U.S. troops. The “surge plus” will bring the total to over 150,000 troops, which is about the same number in Iraq during the fall of 2005. But if 150,000 U.S. soldiers could not impose security then, why would the same number be able to do so now? The harsh reality is that—from a purely military tactical operational perspective—150,000 troops aren’t enough to even have a fighting chance of ending the violence in Iraq. If the experience of the British in Northern Ireland is a guideline, any realistic hope of restoring security and stability requires as many as 20 soldiers per 1,000 civilians. Iraq’s population of about 25 million people translates to a force of 500,000 troops. Baghdad alone (6 million people) would require 120,000 soldiers. More importantly, the vast majority of troops need to be combat troops. But the so-called “tooth-to-tail” ratio of combat-to-combat support units in Iraq is, at best, 1:1, which means that only half the troops are combat units—or 75,000 of the 150,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq after the surge.

However, even if more troops could be found and poured into Iraq, a larger force would simply be confirmation of infidel occupation of an Islamic country and a war against Islam, creating greater incentives for more Iraqis to join the ranks of the insurgency and more Muslims around the world to side with the radicals. Even if a victory could be achieved, it would be Pyrrhic given the costs and consequences. At best, it would only be a tactical victory at the expense of losing strategic position in the war on terrorism (much like Israel’s military incursion into Lebanon was at most a tactical victory for the Israelis but a strategic victory for Hezbollah, which gained support). Thus, the strategic imperative is to leave Iraq rather than continue to linger. Although it is counterintuitive, exiting Iraq is actually a prerequisite to “victory.”

Unfortunately, the Democratic proposal for withdrawal from Iraq is still a futile attempt to salvage success. Although most of the current force would be redeployed (which is not necessarily the same thing as brought home) by March 2008, a limited number of troops (the actual number is undefined) would remain in Iraq for force protection, training and equipment of Iraqi troops, and targeted counter-terror operations—with no specified end date. This is just a watered down version of President Bush’s “as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down” policy. But if a large U.S. force contingent has not been able to train the Iraqis, how could a significantly smaller one be successful?

The hard truth is that the United States cannot fix Iraq. Only the Iraqis can fix their own country. We must have the wisdom to let them do so and respect their choices of self-determination, even if they are not the choices we would make or want them to make. Iraq does not need to be a stable democracy (however preferable that outcome is)—it only needs to be a country with a government (whatever form it takes) that does not harbor al Qaeda or any other terrorist group that threatens the United States. Fortunately, a September 2006 poll showed that Iraqis overwhelmingly reject al Qaeda and bin Laden—including a majority of Sunnis. That is enough of a victory.


Charles Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project.






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