November 13, 2003

A Turning Point in Iraq

A Turning Point in Iraq

The significant uptick in violence of the past few weeks, the rapid-fire Jerry Bremer visit back in Washington--speculation is mounting that we are at a pivot point in Iraq.

Some are getting a bit carried away (speculation that Saddam planned all of this to happen just so; that U.S rule in Iraq is simply collapsing etc.) but we are clearly at a critical juncture.

Like often in the past, I think John Burns has got the best pulse on the situation when he reports:

"Aides to General Sanchez said the choice of the word "war" was part of a conscious effort by senior military officers to inject realism into debates in Washington. American officials disclosed Tuesday that the chief American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, had left abruptly for talks in Washington."

If true, and if the new realism is being appropriately digested by the key actors in Washington--than this is actually a good development--if we back all this newfound realism up with more troops.

As John McCain recently put it (and I quote at length for those who don't routinely click through to the links):

"It was clear during the summer that we didn't have sufficient forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations within the Sunni triangle, secure necessary facilities, guard the borders to prevent foreign jihadists from flooding across or responding to an upsurge in violence if it occurred. In early September, the U.S. commanding officer in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, admitted that his forces could not handle any new eruption of conflict in Iraq. Quote: "If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt," he said, "that would be a challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for."

Since then, attacks on American forces have doubled to over 30 a day, and their increasing sophistication has made them more lethal. American military commanders have acknowledged that the Iraqi resistance shows signs of being centrally planned and coordinated. Yet the number of American forces in Iraq has not increased. Given the large support tail required of such a force, it is estimated that the number of American troops on patrol in Iraq at any given time is under 30,000. This is an insufficient number of troops to even play defense, much less take the fight to our enemy and create the conditions for the lasting peace that will enable Iraqis to assume full political authority and Americans to go home.

Our overall troop level in Iraq does not reflect a careful assessment of what it takes to achieve victory. It reflects the number of American forces who were in Iraq when the war ended, minus the Marines who were sent home. Simply put, there does not appear to be a strategy behind our current force levels in Iraq, other than to preserve the illusion that we have sufficient forces in place to meet our objectives. It makes even less sense to defend a troop ceiling that has been in place since April as American forces and our Iraqi allies come under increasingly savage attack.

U.S. military forces have sealed off the town of Tikrit. This is a welcome step. It's a hotbed of resistance. It would make sense to pursue this same strategy in Ramadi, Fallujah, and other Ba'athist strongholds within the Sunni triangle. But we do not have the forces in place to do that.

To win in Iraq, we should increase the number of forces in- country, including Marines and Special Forces, to conduct offensive operations. I believe we must have in place another full division, giving us the necessary manpower to conduct a focused counterinsurgency campaign across the Sunni triangle that seals off enemy operating areas, conducts search and destroy operations and holds territory. Such a strategy would be the kind of new mission General Sanchez agreed would require additional forces. It's a mystery to me why they are not forthcoming. We cannot achieve our political goals as long as a strategic region of Iraq is in a state of fundamental insecurity. The transformation that matters is in Iraq and the Middle East, not in some abstract conception of military reform."

Put differently, I'm not sure these types of invigorated tactics will get the job done adequately (though they might induce some chest-thumping among some of the dimmer Fox News anchors and commentators).

But even worse than merely relying mostly on air strikes that don't really lead to controlling territory and truly pursuing the long, hard slog of a sustained and serious counterinsurgency campaign--even worse would be a rush to Iraqify followed by a sizable reduction of U.S. forces.

Many Dems are likely hoping this happens, and are already spinning it as the Karl Rove 'get the boys home and the poll numbers up' option.

Note that those fledgling Iraqi forces, especially if they are too hastily trained, could well be bloodied up very badly by Ba'athist remnants, Saddam Fedayeen, criminals killing them for cash, and foreign jihadis--especially in the midst of a serious dimunition in the American force presence.

If that's our game plan (and I still believe it's not--but have Adesnikish gnaws of doubt)--Bush loses me and, I suspect, many others who are serious about the disciplined pursuit of the American national interest in the post 9/11 world.

UPDATE: Oh, and sending in the blue helmets ain't gonna cut it either.

Posted by Gregory at November 13, 2003 01:06 PM
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