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March 21, 2006

My Pet Jawa: Fire Rumsfeld

The main criticism seems to be that Rumsfeld attempted the Iraqi invasion with as small a force as possible to win the war, but not necessarily the peace.

He quotes and endorses an editorial in the NYT by Paul Eaton, at least with regard to this argument:

Now the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review shows that Mr. Rumsfeld also fails to understand the nature of protracted counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and the demands it places on ground forces. The document, amazingly, does not call for enlarging the Army; rather, it increases only our Special Operations forces, by a token 15 percent, maybe 1,500 troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld has also failed in terms of operations in Iraq. He rejected the so-called Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force and sent just enough tech-enhanced troops to complete what we called Phase III of the war — ground combat against the uniformed Iraqis. He ignored competent advisers like Gen. Anthony Zinni and others who predicted that the Iraqi Army and security forces might melt away after the state apparatus self-destructed, leading to chaos.

It is all too clear that General Shinseki was right: several hundred thousand men would have made a big difference then, as we began Phase IV, or country reconstruction. There was never a question that we would make quick work of the Iraqi Army.

I really don't buy this argument and never have. The problem wasn't that the "state apparatus self-destructed, leading to chaos." The entire point of the war was to destroy the "state apparatus." That's what regime change is. It's a decapitation of the government and of course the police, army, and secret police that propped that government up for so long. It's almost absurd to think that we could have just removed Saddam and his inner circle and left behind nearly the entirety of his military and para-military forces to "retain order."

Chaos did not ensue because we didn't retain Saddam's old security apparatus. That was never a realistic option. Chaos did not passively ensue; it was actively created by Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists.

If there was a mistake along these lines, the mistake was Bush's, and Cheney's, and all war supporters, for not comprehending deeply enough that any tyranny, no matter how repugnant, must be popular with a significant portion if not majority of the public, or else it simply could not endure. A tyranny simply cannot continue without some significant base of support. And Saddam's base of support was, of course, the Sunni Arab population, which enjoyed perks and power denied to the Kurds and the Shi'a.

Now, a miscalculation was committed here. Many, like myself, believed that most of the Sunnis would actually welcome the removal of Saddam; it turns out that the majority, or at least a very significant fraction, of Sunnis did not support his removal and did not and do not support any sort of government in which they are not the masters of Iraq.

But is "more troops" the answer?

We are not fighting a conventional war. In a conventional war, more troops are almost always the answer. Or if not the answer, at least a very good one. We are actively fighting a smallish number of actual enemy "soldiers," supported with money, shelter, and moral support by a good number of non-combatant Sunnis.

I'm not certain that "more troops" would help. We have plenty of troops to easily rout the actual terrorists, if only they would show themselves. (And when they do, we obliterate them.) How would "more troops" decrease Sunnis' support of the terrorists? Would we have soldiers patrolling inside private homes to make certain Sunni civilians aren't harboring or supporting terrorists?

Of course we do break into private homes and detain suspected terrorist-enablers, but only when we have some kind of intelligence on a specific house. These operations are frequent, but do not require huge numbers of troops. We have all the troops we need; what we lack is intelligence.

There is also a practical rebuttal to the call for several hundred thousand troops invading Iraq. We just don't have that size army any longer. Bush I had a large army; Bush II, after all the cuts in the military during Clinton's years of reaping peace dividends, does not. As Rumsfeld said, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you wish you had. A major deployment strains the entirety of the armed forces; even with troop levels at around 120,000, our military is overtaxed and exhausted. It would be worse if we had 450,000 soldiers based in Iraq for several years.

Of course, the "more troops" proponents believe that they wouldn't have been based in Iraq for several years. They believe that only if we had had three times as many troops in Iraq post-war, the insurgency would have quickly been put down, order restored, the country put to peace, and then the bulk of those troops could have been brought home. So the big deployment would have been a short-term strain which would reap large rewards further down the road.

But again: the whole point of an insurgency/terrorist campaign is to avoid direct confrontations with regular military forces, who will exterminate you quickly. How would having three times the number of troops, among a Sunni population of seven or eight million, have significantly cut down on Sunnis' ability to hide and support terrorists, or terrorists striking quickly and melting back into the civilian population?

I do admit that a larger troop level would allow us to turn hotbeds of Sunni resistance -- Fallujah, Samarra, etc. -- into virtual prisons. But the terrorists seem to be able to move between cities with relative ease. There is no realistic level of troops we could have committed to Iraq that would allow us to turn the entire Sunni portion of Iraq into a closely-monitored prison camp.

Thanks to Craig for the tip.


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posted by Ace at 03:38 PM

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