December 25, 2004

Iraq: What Next?

According to a Robin Wright/Thomas Ricks WaPo piece, we hear that Colin Powell recently stated, during a teleconference with Bush and Blair, that he believes we have (or had?) too few troops in the Iraq theater.

Accounts differ about the details of Powell's remarks. One U.S. official said that Powell flatly stated: "We don't have enough troops. We don't control the terrain."

But a senior State Department official familiar with the exchange said that Powell was less pointed, raising the issue in the context of continuing conversations that focused on the turmoil in the Sunni Triangle, the Iraqi elections scheduled for next month, and the shape and size of the U.S.-led military presence in the country. This official said Powell spoke about the size not only of the U.S. presence but also of the British and Iraqi forces.

"They were talking about the security situation," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing diplomacy. "They asked Powell his opinion."

The secretary of state, who is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded by invoking his background as an infantry officer. He said the key task in warfare is to dominate the ground and control the situation. Overall, Powell concluded, according to this official, the number of troops -- U.S., coalition and Iraqi -- was insufficient to ensure such control.

The conversation, which took place on the fifth day of a major U.S. offensive to retake Fallujah, then turned to the issue of Iraqi security forces and the troubles that have been encountered in developing local forces that have confidence and leadership. "They looked especially at the training and how they could expand the Iraqi forces -- and that the situation would be difficult until they could do that," the State Department official said. "The emphasis was on getting Iraqi forces."

Both officials who discussed the meeting noted that the president a few weeks later decided to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in an effort to improve security before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for the end of January. It is not clear how much Powell's comments influenced that decision. Nor is it clear whether the boost in troop strength by 12,000 has fully addressed Powell's concerns.

In addition, Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, the official historian of Operation Iraqi Freedom, had this to say recently on the issue of troop levels:

"The scarcity of available 'combat power' . . . greatly complicated the situation," he states. Wilson contends that a lack of sufficient troops was a consequence of the earlier, larger problem of failing to understand that prevailing in Iraq involved more than just removing Hussein. "This overly simplistic conception of the 'war' led to a cascading undercutting of the war effort: too few troops, too little coordination with civilian and governmental/non-governmental agencies . . . and too little allotted time to achieve 'success,' " he writes.

Still, let's put the whole troop level question to the side for the moment. Frankly, I'm sick of arm-chair generaling (or, perhaps more apropos, of getting chastised by myriad commenters for arm-chair generaling). And one could make an argument that Colin Powell, (worth noting, perhaps, that despite the fact that he's oft-portrayed as some flower child-like, tree-hugger, he's got significantly more military experience than, say, Don Rumsfeld) is satisfied with the increase from 138,000 to 150,000 (though I doubt it, very much). As for the army historian, it's not necessarily clear he's talking about our current force posture. Maybe he thinks 150,000 troops is the right number now (though again, I doubt it strongly). Regardless, what I do think is virtually undeniable and widely accepted by serious observers is that, at least during the initial phase of the war, we never fielded the requisite overwhelming force to create, if even in the short to mid-term, secure conditions in Iraq. So much for 'shock and awe.'

A much harder question now, of course, is whether we have too few, the right number, or, even, too many troops in theater. Rather than guess-timate from the proverbial armchair, however, I'm going to instead describe what I view as the most pressing challenges that currently face us in Iraq--as well as some of what I think we have to potentially prepare for down the pike a little ways. Let's then have a more intelligent debate about what force posture is needed in theater assuming some of my assessments/observations are deemed credible, cogent, appropriate.

Let me preface the below with a few general thoughts. One, the challenges facing policy-makers in Iraq right now are immense. There are simply no quick fixes (more troops!) or easy answers (Iraqify!). Second, we must be immensely proud of the efforts and courage shown by the vast majority of U.S. military forces in Iraq. They have accomplished much in the face of tremendous adversity and hugely challenging circumstances. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. And third, contra much of the predictable hyperbole, this Administration has sometimes made mid-course corrections that show that they are well capable of learning from prior mistakes (increased Arabic speakers in the field, greater attention to cultural issues, seeking negotiated outcomes with Sadr's forces rather than simply going about flattening cities willy-nilly, fostering better policy-making coordination between State and Defense--ie., improving on the Bremer-Sanchez dynamic).

Unfortunately, however, an overly large dose of stubborness has too often been a hallmark of this Administration as well. There is simply too much by way of "stay on message"--ie. relax: elections are coming, Iraqi forces are being speedily trained, hospital construction is continuing apace, kindergarten attendance is on the rise, all will turn out swimmingly after the inevitable lil' bumps in the road. Don't get me wrong. Conviction and steadfastness are critical. But so is a more balanced and, yes, nuanced view of what is occurring on the ground. As this must-read International Crisis Group report on Iraq puts it (regarding Iraqi perceptions of the occupation):

It is not at all clear that senior administration officials have fully internalised the scope of the attitudunal shift. While privately acknowledging missteps and growing impatience with the presence of coalition troops, they also take solace in various indications that progress is being made and that the bulk of the population rejects violence, supports elections and is at worst a passive spectator of -- as opposed to an active sympathizer in -- the insurgents' campaign. Criticising the U.S. and international media's tendency to highlight all that goes wrong, they point in particular to polling results (suggesting, for instance, that some 88 per cent of the people plan to take part in the elections and roughly 76 per cent believe their results are "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to reflect the popular will); increased enrolment in Iraq's security forces; the apparently successful pacification of Najaf since late August and of Sadr City since mid-October; or the absence of popular demonstrations against the harsh military re-occupation of Falluja in late 2004.

Ah, the glass looks so full and sunny. But aren't there different narratives afoot? Put differently, isn't it time for the Administration to dampen down its too breezy recitations about hospitals rebuilt, schools re-opened, refugees "voting with their feet" by heading home? There is, of course, much good news. Admirable blogospheric personages like Arthur Chrenkoff point this out, in regular dispatches that are remarkable for their frequent non-trivialness and real import. Still, however, we need to focus on grappling with a fuller picture, no? So I offer the below observations in this, I hope, constructive vein. I look at our current problems in Iraq, as well as what might become problematic post-elections, with a view to what this might mean for our policies there.

1) We are failing in the battle to win the proverbial "hearts and minds" of many Iraqis, particularly in embattled Sunni areas (but not only there), because we cannot reconstruct areas quickly enough to showcase the prospective fruits of cooperation with the interim authority and coalition forces. There was recently an excellent WSJ article (no link available) describing this problem with regard to Fallujah. And this article helps sketch how complex the "hearts and minds" battle is in Shi'a Sadr City--despite all the valiant efforts underway there. This problem might get worse if security conditions cause more contractors to leave the country.

2) The insurgency does not merely consist of Baathist "dead-enders," on the one hand, and jihadists, Salafists, and other assorted radical Islamists (collectively, "terrorists") on the other. Unfortunately, our failure to better provide for secure conditions from the outset of the Iraq campaign has, not only emboldened these actors, but also led to more Iraqis supporting them (even if just passively) than might have been otherwise. From the aforementioned International Crisis Group report:

Of all the indicators touted by Washington, lack of support for the insurgency arguably is the most deceptive. Given the revolting methods to which militants have resorted, the insurgents' terribly damaging impact on reconstruction efforts, and their failure to articulate any realistic political program, popular passivity ought to be read as a worrisome rather than hopeful sign -- a symptom of resentment toward the U.S. and of lack of faith in the restoration of sovereignty.

In a series of visits to Iraq over the course of the past year, Crisis Group was struck by the degree to which citizen inertia had allowed the armed opposition to transform and develop itself. For the most part, it began as a grab-bag of poorly organised, isolated and divided groups facing a sceptical population aspiring to calm and ready to give the U.S. a chance. Iraqis condemned the methods and motives of home-grown insurgents, even when they were seen as settling scores with a foreign invader, and militants, therefore, were compelled to maintain a low profile. Islamist militants from abroad often stood accused of acting against Iraqi interests and feared being turned in at any time.

But the fear insurgents once felt has progressively declined, and they now operate with increased ease among a supportive or subdued population. Today, the insurrection is relatively well coordinated and structured, at least in its Arab-Sunni dimension; even those groups that don't work together communicate; even those that don't share the same background have agreed to join in a similar religious, Islamist discourse. For increasing numbers of Iraqis, disenchanted with both the U.S. and their own leaders and despairing of their poor living conditions, solace is found in the perceived world of a pious and heroic resistance. CDs that picture the insurrection's exploits can readily be found across the country, new songs glorify combatants, and poems written decades ago during the post-World War I British occupation are getting a new lease on life.
The ease with which insurgents operate in cities such as Baghdad and their ability to re-deploy outside sanctuaries reoccupied by coalition forces illustrates the degree to which they can move around and find refuge within the civilian population

During a September 2004 visit, Crisis Group witnessed sustained mortar attacks against the Green Zone launched with impunity from the Baghdad neighbourhood of Karrada on the other side of the Tigris river. Whereas at first insurgents would quickly disperse after their attacks, they gradually gained confidence, as if increasingly secure in the support or more likely silence of ordinary Iraqis. The horrific fate of those kidnapped in broad daylight by well-equipped armed groups and then passed on from one cell to another is yet additional proof of the insurgents' freedom of action and potency. [ed. note: Add to this a more recent example, the slaughter of election officials, in broad daylight, by unmasked thugs virtually masquerading in front of large streams of incoming traffic and, indeed, media reps who may have been invited to take in the lugubrious show.)

Yes, most Iraqis are doubtless pragmatists who wish to exercise their vote, get on with some semblance of quotidian existence, and hold out hope for a better future for themselves, their families, and their country. There is probably still, all told, a silent majority that is not completely alienated by the American project (and certainly a majority that don't want the Americans out just yet given fears of the chaos that would ensue). But months upon months of lack of order have led to obvious disenchantment in many quarters so that the insurgency has clearly grown in depth over the past year. I count here those who are remaining neutral by not cooperating with American and interim authority intelligence-gathering efforts, as well as those assisting the insurgents in direct fashion (I should add that I don't think the ICG broaches what we might call the fear factor in all of this. While there is much distrust and dislike of the occupation per the above--there is also the fact that, through grisly footage of beheadings and the like, the insurgents have often been successful in cowing potential intelligence sources as well. Such people may wish to assist the Americans but are simply too scared to).

Turning to the post-election scene, add these as troublesome factors that merit serious consideration by policymakers and military planners too:

3) Moktada al-Sadr's militia, whilst relatively quiescent of late (cooling its heels pre-election), could rejoin the fight in the New Year should it feel muscled out of power arrangements by competing Shi'a factions in the elections. Put another way, we simply cannot assume that we will continue to wage a battle solely against Sunni elements in 2005. Yes, the Shi'a will be assuming power and will be very busy with assorted political machinations thereto. Yes, it is therefore perhaps likelier than not that the Shi'a will not resort to arms. But Sadr remains a definite wild card. Caution would suggest assuming Mahdi militia may take up arms again. So our going forward force structure should reflect that nettlesome contingency.

Here's more on this from the ICG report:

The October 2004 Sadr City disarmament campaign is another example. Celebrated by the administration, it is widely discredited in Iraq and the subject of heavy sarcasm: Sadr City inhabitants joked to Crisis Group about militants handing over old, damaged and often unusable material before turning around and purchasing higher quality arms on the black market. Only token searches appear to have been conducted, and militia seem to be waiting for the outcome of the January 2005 elections before deciding whether to resume their armed opposition.

4) Inter-communal strife could erupt in 2005 or 2006, forcing American intermediation of belligerents or an American role as guarantor of shaky inter-ethnic power arrangements. Such highly sensitive work cannot be done by airpower and light special forces alone, it's perhaps worth noting. As regular readers know, I've been slightly more optimistic than Les Gelb in thinking that a civil war in Iraq is not inexorably in the making. But, of course, such a scenario cannot be wholly discounted. Not by a long shot. We must be in a position to stave off hyper-nationalistic Kurdish irredentist aspirations, Shia revanchism (the Shi'a, er, have a few sour grapes to settle with assorted Sunnis) and/or Baathist restorationisism.

5) The state of the "train and equip" effort is not particularly inspiring--as the President, uncharacteristically, admitted recently. Rumsfeld likes to routinely quote and update the number of newly trained Iraqi soldiers. It's reminiscent of all the McNamara-esque, statistics-obsessed number dumps we've seen before. What good are these 100,000 troops if they do not feel a sense of national solidarity, or are conflicted between their allegiancies to the insurgency and the American-trained army, or have had some of their units infiltrated by Iranian, fundamentalist and/or Baathist agents, or are too heavily Kurdish peshmerga when sent into action in Sunni areas? From the ICG report (much more at p. 9 of this report re: the problems with "train and equip"):

Increased coalition casualties and growing impatience in the U.S. coupled with Iraqi resentment at the presence of foreign troops have built pressure to form an indigenous army expeditiously. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, debates about the numbers of trained Iraqi forces raged, each side endorsing the principle that this was an important barometer of success. Yet, as discussed above, while important, the sheer quantity of trained troops hardly constitutes a reliable measure of progress. The objective ought not to be to put an Iraqi face on coalition operations but rather to alter popular perceptions of those operations. Even assuming proper training, so long as Iraqi troops are being formed for the express purpose of supplementing coalition forces and alleviating their burden -- rather than as the expression of a nationally-defined project -- this will remain a serious problem. The U.S. "needs to get over the idea that one trained and equipped Iraqi soldier can replace one U.S. soldier....We need to support them rather than see them as supplementing or supplanting U.S. forces". Without an overarching cause to defend -- an independent and sovereign Iraqi state -- and faith in a better future, Iraqi troops are likely to advance their own parochial interests and evince at best an erratic sense of allegiance.

Indeed. This "train and equip" effort, in my view, needs to be measured over a three to five year time horizon--not six months or a year. B.D. will be investigating the quality of the train and equip effort in greater detail in coming weeks. Particularly as I sense Rumsfeld is very likely (given his recent comments in Mosul) to push a too hasty Iraqification process down our throats and declare that the job is done. It won't be. At least not if you care about forging a true, if imperfect, viable democracy in a unitary Iraq. Which Rumsfeld evidently doesn't. No, that doesn't mean he doesn't want us to "win." But how he apparently defines winning and how people more interested in a real, good faith effort at Iraqi democratization define victory are, shall we say, different animals.

This portion of the ICG report is worth highlighting too, with respect to the 'train and equip' effort:

Pressed by immediate security demands, the CPA sped up formation of Iraq's security forces and relied on politically-affiliated militias. As Crisis Group commented in late 2003, the rushed, haphazard and often improvised effort, dictated in large part by the urgency of showing progress in the "Iraqification" of security, ironically undermined any notion of a credible, legitimate national institution. Instead, Iraqis viewed their security forces as either subordinate to the U.S., atomised and politicised outgrowths of tribes and militias, or both. Crisis Group warned: A military viewed as neither credible nor national and that is poorly trained, divided along ethnic and sectarian lines and in which politicised militias play a part is not the ideal foundation upon which to construct a stable, legitimate political system. The CPA's relatively cavalier approach to the old and new armies and the security structure as a whole sends the wrong message as to how seriously it reads the transfer of sovereignty. The effects of costly decisions taken for reasons of short-term expediency continue to be felt. Defections from various security branches, particularly when Iraqis are confronted with insurgent assaults, continue at an alarming rate, whether in Falluja or Najaf during the mid-2004 battles, or more recently in Mosul. Over reliance on political party militias also has proceeded apace, driven by the perceived urgency of fielding more Iraqi forces. Resort to Kurdish peshmergas -- affiliated with the two principal Kurdish parties -- to fight in Arab areas has been particularly widespread, and acutely resented, most notably in Mosul where ethnic tensions already are raw. Following the deployment of Kurdish fighters as part of rudimentary Iraqi forces during the (aborted) assault on Falluja in April 2004, Kurdish residents of that city (who had been compelled to settle there by the Baathist regime after the collapse of Mulla Mustafa's Kurdish insurgency in 1975) were forced out. Separate units of Iraqi combatants also have been set up by the U.S., leading to situations in which exclusively Shiite forces, paid by the U.S. and wearing U.S. uniforms, are deployed against predominantly Sunni insurgents, with serious consequences for inter-sectarian relations.

U.S. officials in Iraq evidently are aware of these difficulties. General Petraeus, who was put in charge of setting up Iraqi forces, by all accounts has done a remarkable job seeking to address problems, focusing in particular on recruitment and training improvements. But at this point the problem runs far deeper and relates to the overall context of the war and the lack of credibility of the transition process. Even assuming vastly improved training, Iraqi forces will operate in an environment in which there is, as of now, no national cohesion, loyalty to a central state, or belief in an independent political structure and in which basic security decisions (from recruitment criteria to rules of engagement to military doctrine) continue to be made by the U.S.

Again folks, think years--not months--before an Iraqi Army will be ready for prime time.

So what to make of all this gloom and doom? The ICG'ers thinks a crisis of legitimacy is in the offing:

The Iraqi government is seen as a poor appendage to the occupation forces, lacking genuine security forces, institutional capacity, or independence. Ministers, rather than technocrats chosen on the basis of expertise, are seen as selected to perpetuate the distribution of power to former exile parties and allocate positions on a sectarian basis. Reports of rampant corruption further tarnish the new leadership, while a legacy of bureaucratic apathy, nepotism, and clientelism thwarts performance of ministries. Notwithstanding the formal end of the occupation, a series of decrees issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) remain in effect. In this context, the notion of sovereignty has rapidly lost credibility and the milestones on the path toward its achievement have lost meaning. The process of transition -- seen in theory as a cure to the U.S. lack of legitimacy in Iraqi eyes -- itself suffers from the same infirmity and, indeed, aggravates it.

So, what to do, if one agrees with this assessment? "Dual disengagement" opines the ICG (ed. note: a play on the old "dual containment" Iran/Iraq policies of yore?). ICG describes "dual disengagement" thus: "a gradual U.S. political and military disengagement from Iraq and, no less important, a clear Iraqi political disengagement from the U.S. The new Iraqi state must define itself at least partially in opposition to U.S. policies or it runs the risk of defining itself in opposition to many of its own citizens."

More on the merits (or demerits) of such a policy prescription soon. But my first take is, I think, no sale. On the U.S. military side, and basically, the ICG wants us to scale back our forces into garrisons so that we have less of an 'occupation footprint.' They would be 'over the horizon' and called in when sh*t hits the fan. Problem is, of course, won't it be more likely that more trouble will ensue if our units are retrenched into an overly conservative force posture? (The other side of the disengagement coin, of which more another day, is how the Iraqi government needs to disengage from the U.S.).

So, there is a lot to digest in this post. Bottom line: reconstruction is not proceeding quickly enough to show Iraqis the fruits of cooperating with the coalition; the insurgency derives support from a broader swath of the Iraqi polity than Washington lets on; 'train and equip' is in its very early stages so talk of near term Iraqification is B.S. (if you care about seeing this project through); plus contingencies (Sadr, ethnic tensions, etc) loom.

Given all this, what troop mix/number is the best? Frankly, sometimes I feel I just don't know anymore. On the one hand, I am tempted to say we need to get as many forces as we can back in theater to try to, once and for all, get a better handle on security (this is what Abizaid evidently thinks we need to do now in Mosul; but the extra troops he transfers there will make another spot vulnerable). Against this, however, is the ICG's "disengagement" theme. Pouring more soldiers into Iraq would send the wrong signal--playing into Iraq conspiracy think that we view Iraq as a permanent American garrison in Mesopotamia. But having our troops 'over the horizon' with Iraqi forces taking the lead--won't that provide the insurgents too many opportunities to scuttle the democratization project--given that Iraqi forces are simply not ready to take on these responsibilities? My head and my gut tell me we need more forces in Iraq, not less. Still, I could be wrong. And I'm not a military man (though I did work on the Bosnian Federation "train and equip" program--which took at least three-four years, it should be noted).

NB: On the whole 'do we have enough troops meme, don't miss this footnote from the ICG report:

We would have to do what we did in Falluja all across Iraq -- and we would need a U.S. soldier on every street corner". Crisis Group interview with U.S. official, Washington, November 2004. Evidence of insufficient numbers of troops abounds. Thus, the fighting in Najaf up to late August 2004 required participation of troops from as far away as Mosul, creating security vacuums in other areas, such as Latifiya, which armed insurgents quickly invested. A military analyst also remarked on the connection between troop levels and reconstruction efforts: "there are insufficient military resources to even keep contractors safe". Crisis Group interview, Washington, October 2004. The debate about the appropriate number of troops is a recurring one that began at the war's outset. General Shinseki, General Abizaid, and even Paul Bremer at one point or another stated their views that far more troops were necessary in the immediate post-war period. While objections often were couched in technical terms -- with some observers questioning whether enough troops were available -- military analysts tend to agree that at a minimum a more robust deployment coupled with some restructuring in existing deployments elsewhere was feasible.

In cogitating about required force levels, btw, we should also start thinking about shifting the methods and priorities of our counter-insurgency campaign. Fallujah, in my view, cannot really be said to have proven a clean victory.

Yet, while arguably necessary, the re-occupation of Falluja -- whose very establishment as a sanctuary derived in no small part from early U.S. mistakes -- also was essentially futile, as evidenced by the rash of deadly bombings that accompanied and followed an operation officially said to have "broken the back" of the insurgency. The offensive reflected once more the dominant notion of a numerically fixed and, in this case, territorially-confined, enemy that is inherently external to the population and whose physical destruction is equated with the insurgency's defeat. Instead, the devastation of city infrastructure, failure to immediately resettle and compensate civilians fleeing impending hostilities, the use of tactics reminiscent of Israeli ones to most Iraqi minds, and the indiscriminate handling of all men between the ages of fifteen and 55 during the offensive (denied exit, water, electricity and aid ) risk both further alienating the town's citizens (supposedly among the intended beneficiaries of the operation) and being used by insurgents as propaganda tools in the battle for hearts and minds (purportedly the principal target of any counter-insurgency war). To this day, food is missing in refugee camps where Fallujans experience scant governmental assistance, the relocation of those who fled has been delayed and hampered by draconian security measures, and Iraqi security forces initially meant to secure and police the city remain unprepared. What is more, thousands displaced from the city and camping out in Baghdad mosques have become prime targets for insurgent recruiters.
Fallujah aside, and assuming more troops are deemed necessary, where will all these forces come from, you complain. As Frederick Kagan put it:
It was apparent to some as long ago as the mid-1990s that the American Army was too small. The urgency of that problem has been clear to many since September 11. The time lost in increasing the Army to proper strength cannot be regained, but we can mitigate the dangerous consequences for an uncertain future if we start now. President Bush should use the election mandate he received to take the next bold step in the war for democracy and against terrorism. He should insist upon an immediate and dramatic increase in the size of our armed forces to allow them to carry out his wise determination to prevail in Iraq and in the war on terror.

Some question whether the necessary increase, perhaps 200,000 new troops or more, can be reached without a new draft. The historical evidence suggests it can. In 1985, the active Army numbered more than 780,000 men and women. As late as 1991, there were more than 750,000 soldiers. Today there are around 500,000 troops in the active Army. Even at the height of the Reagan economic boom and in the waning days of the Cold War, the volunteer force mustered more than 250,000 troops above the current level. The threat now is just as great and more imminent. If the president called upon the American people to show their support not by flying yellow ribbons but by joining the Army, there is no reason to believe that they would not do so.

The best way to save the Army from collapse under strains too great to bear, the best way to prepare the nation for the long, hard struggles that lie ahead, is to return the Army to the size it maintained throughout the end of the last long, hard struggle. This task will take time, resources, skill, and determination. It will suffer from the time already lost. But the problems and dangers only increase when little is done to address this vital component of an effective strategy for fighting the war on terror.

After all, this is going to be a "Long War."

P.S. Rumsfeld likes to push troop-lite by pointing to our relative success in Afghanistan with few boots on the ground. But he's not comparing apples to apples. In Afghanistan, warlords like Khan in Herat or Dostum in the North provide the security. In the southeast, troubles continue. There was a warlord in Iraq too, of course. Saddam and the Baath party. They're largely decapitated. Thus, we face a much larger security vacuum there. That we've never convincingly filled. Why is this so hard to get?

Posted by Gregory at December 25, 2004 11:23 PM

Misc thoughts:

First, the head of the ICG is a man called Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and member of the Labor Party. The Australian Labor Party was against the war on Iraq and advocated early withdrawal AFTER the attack on Madrid. It's still far to the left of the British Labour Party. Gareth Evans' silence on his former party's stance was deafening. I'm therefore very suspect about much of what the ICG has to say on a variety of topics.

Second, when I see citizens of the West throwing themselves upon armed bank robbers during a heist, I'll be the first to criticise the Iraqis for not standing up to terrorists launching mortar attacks. Until then, I'm happy to let it pass without signifying much.

Posted by: Systolic at December 28, 2004 02:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On a somewhat tangent, but mentioned in your post:

I don't care if we don't win the 'hearts and minds' in the Sunni triangle.

The area was fat dumb and happy under Hussein and no matter what we do, they aren't going to have it so well again. As Ralph Peters said, we shouldn't waste time winning the hearts and mind of people who are openly against us, only those who can be seriously persuaded.

The focus should be on teh Kurds and the Shi'ites. The Sunnis are expendable so far as I'm concerned. If we must divide and conqure for now, so be it. They can work out their more permanent differences in the future, if ever, but I care little for a population so openly anti-American and responsible for most of iour deaths.

Posted by: JackC at December 28, 2004 02:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have to agree with Systolic in the 1st comment. After reading many of these think tank assessments I've come to the opinion that most of them have a serious bias when it comes to describing the events in Iraq. The background of the ICG doesn't surprise me and I take it's assessment with many grains of salt.

I do very much appreciate the effort you put into your blog. It's always worthwhile to read your posts and think through the issue with you.

However, when I read Iraqi blogs (Iraq the Model, Healing Iraq, Democracy in Iraq) I don't get this same sense that they are desperate for more American troops in Iraq or that they think more American troops are going to solve their problems. They seem quite aware that security is an issue that the Iraqis need to solve on their own.

I'm not sure it can be any other way. If we overwhelmed the area with troops right now it might eliminate some of the immediate violence. But sooner or later all the pent-up frustrations of the past 35 years would still need to get resolved, probably through more violence.

Posted by: Marlin at December 28, 2004 03:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, a couple of thoughts. First, somewhat of a concession, if you will. I now believe we need more troops (not necessarily in Iraq, however.) After our last discussion, I took your thoughts to heart and did some serious research on troop levels. As a result of my research, I'm convinced that we need a larger army than we presently have. (Interestingly, Rumsfeld agrees and has authorized a temporary increase of 30,000. The main problem is, Congress must authorize an end strength increase, and they have yet to do so.)

However, here's the conundrum that Rumsfeld has to deal with. We have, not counting Guard troops, approximately 490,000 troops in the Army. At any given time, 1/3 is resting, 1/3 is training and 1/3 is in Iraq. Given those numbers and our committments around the world, it's not hard to see why we're using the Guard so heavily or why we need to increase the force. But the reality is, there just are not that many additional troops to send to Iraq, even if it was the right thing to do.

One comment on the ICG study. It's not surprising to see passivity in the Iraqis. For over 30 years dissent has resulted in death or dismemberment. Many Iraqis still bear that pain just below the surface. They're going to need to see law and order and peace before they will speak out against injustice. Right now they are simply trying to survive. (Many others, however, are risking their lives daily to bring democracy to their country.)

Posted by: antimedia at December 28, 2004 06:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: "My head and my gut tell me we need more forces in Iraq, not less."

Same here. We may offend some Iraqis with additional US presence, but winning Iraq is more important than trying to please everybody.

re troop numbers, maybe we should ask the french how they were able to manage the situation in the Ivory Coast with minimal troop presence.

I think the anti-US media plays a key role too.

Why is it that whenever an army of French soldiers open fire on unarmed civilians in the Ivory coast and massacre a few of them, it gets little coverage?

Posted by: john marzan at December 28, 2004 01:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Powell was a failed infantry officer. He only came into his own as a political officer.

Posted by: Bullshark at December 28, 2004 05:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What would we do with more troops in Iraq? Specifically.

For example, how would more troops have helped in the Mosul homicide bombing incident? What would be the role of more troops than we presently have?

And where would we get them from? We're already stretched dangerously thin because of decisions made in the 1990's (I blame Congress.) At the most, we might be able to add 30,000 troops in Iraq, but that would mean even longer deployments and increased use of the Guard.

Are those acceptable prices to pay for a perceived benefit that isn't provable? And why is it that the generals aren't asking for more troops? (When asked recently, the general in Mosul said he didn't need more troops but he could use more surveillance drones.)

Posted by: antimedia at December 28, 2004 06:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Another issue I don't hear anyone addressing is logistics.

When we bring all these additional troops in theater, with what will they be equipped?

According to the media, our troops are fighting with plastic sporks and no body armor and riding around in Yugos.

If you buy that (and I don't think you do, but on the other hand our supplies aren't infinitely expandable), what makes you think we can miraculously equip an additional... what was that figure exactly? Or has anyone put an exact figure on the number of people needed to put down what is essentially a guerilla insurgency of the kind an overwhelming troop presence in Vietnam was unable to defeat?

Sheer massed troops don't do very well against an enemy that attacks with suicide bombs in ones and twos, do they? Unless you want them to wade into the civilian areas and just start killing people indiscriminately.

But no one likes to address that unpleasant home truth. If that were true, Israel would not be putting up with terrorism now.

It may well be that we could have put the kibosh on this at the start, and failed to, for political reasons. It doesn't logically follow that pouring lots of troops in there now will necessarily put the genie back in the bottle.

Posted by: Cassandrat at December 28, 2004 07:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let me add to the skepticism about a report by "International Crisis Group". Let's take a quick look at its Board of Directors (the Americans, at least, since I am not familiar with the political leanings of most of the non-Americans):

Morton Abramowitz - Left-winger
Stephen Solarz - Left-winger
George Soros - Need more be said?
William O Taylor - ?
Kenneth Adelman - What's he doing with this crowd?
Zbigniew Brzezinski - Left-winger
Wesley Clark - Left-winger
Stanley Fischer - ?
Carla Hills - Left-winger
James V. Kimsey - ?
Elliott F. Kulick - ?
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman - ?
Douglas Schoen - Left-winger
George J. Mitchell - Left-winger

So excuse me if I find ICG's analysis less than compelling. Give me a FAIR analysis, Greg. Not some far-left, Soros-funded group that probably had their conclusions written before they even set foot there.

Or, at the very least, tell me why I should take ICG's analysis at all seriously.

Posted by: Al at December 28, 2004 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The "far-left, Soros-funded group" line is a convenient way to avoid actually thinking hard about the group's analysis, no? Give me a break.

By the way, "left-winger" Carla Hills has a lengthy career working in Republican administrations.

Posted by: Guy at December 29, 2004 01:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm with JackC about not caring about the Sunnis, the more we kill the better off Iraq will be. This does not include the moderate Sunni, such as the *Iraq the Model* bloggers, who just visited the U.S.A. We need more like them, although brother, Ali, seems a little thinskined.

We need more troops, period. We may need more in Iraq, but we definately need a larger Army and Marine Corp. I'm 74 and served during the Korean War. If they would take me I would gladly join again. I don't think the draft should be started, taking reluctant misfits and mixing them with the bravest, finest young soldiers any nation ever had, would be a huge insult to them and undermine their dedication.

This conflict is going to take longer to resolve than the years I have left. It's the 21st Century War to save the world from a fate worse than death. That scum like OBL and the terrorists should even think they have a chance is outragious.

Armchair generals are a joke, they are all sitting in La-Z-Boy recliners with no workable ideas or alternatives. They suffer from acute diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain.

Anybody can figure out what needs to be done! Few can do it and see it through to success. Spend one day in a soldiers boots, in Fallujah, and see what you think. Spend one day as president listening to advisers and see what your decision will be. There is NO quick fix.

Posted by: James Martin at December 30, 2004 04:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We have reached a dichotomy, a crux. Two choices are each better than any third choice that's between them.

On the one hand we can train and equip enough troops to fully intimidate all of iraq, with no help from any iraqis. Quite possibly we'd get considerable help from iraqis but we can't depend on it. As long as it's our occupation army that's intimidating people we can't expect iraqis to be loyal to whatever puppet government we pretend to install. But once things settle down we can withdraw the troops and expect it to stay stable. Say it takes 700,000 troops. There's no better time to recruit them than now when the job market is so small. We can't equip them fast enough? Build the capacity, we don't know when we'll need to build a bunch of stuff quick later, either. It might take a couple of years before we can build up the strength we need and we'd have to hang on that long, but them's the breaks. If we can't follow that path then we have no choice but try the other, or some third approach I haven't thought of.

The second way is to pull out our forces completely. Presumably that means first pull out of kurdistan except what we can reliably supply through turkey or by air. We pull out of advance bases and then main bases starting north and moving south, and if anybody makes it hard for us then we launch punitive expeditions against them -- bomb them, hit them with our offensive guys, and pull out. We'd gradually retreat south until we're out. The iraqi government might have the loyalty of their troops, who weren't at all loyal to us when they were under our orders. They might have the loyalty of most of their people. If not they'll maybe have some kind of civil war and get it sorted out. They'll eventually wind up with some sort of government in each area that most of the people will tolerate. It won't particularly be our problem -- we can send them money to help rebuild, but they'll handle it without our military.

Anything between pulling out completely and putting in a force strong enough to cow the insurgents, is worse than the two extremes.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 30, 2004 10:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Despite Systolic's comment, the ICG did not oppose the war in Iraq. In fact, the ICG board was split. William Shawcross, for example, was a vocal advocate for the war.

The ICG published a very interesting report prior to the war, "Voices from the Iraqi Street", based on talking to ordinary Iraqis (they sent someone in from Jordan). What they found was that most Iraqis were willing to go through with the war if it was the only way to return to normality.

I don't think you can dismiss the ICG as anti-war or anti-American.

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