May 31, 2005

Iraq: Troop Levels

John Burns, reporting on the major counter-insurgency operations underway in Baghdad:

The violence, including at least four suicide car bombings, was a bloody start to an operation that Iraq's new Shiite-majority government had presented as a new get-tough policy toward Sunni Arab insurgents, first in Baghdad and then countrywide. The government has said it will commit 40,000 uniformed Iraqis to the Baghdad operation in an effort to crush insurgents who reacted to the government's swearing-in four weeks ago with one of the war's biggest rebel surges.

The Baghdad toll was part of another day of bloodshed across Iraq. In total, at least 34 people were killed, including a British soldier caught by a roadside bombing near the town of Kahla that broke a protracted period of calm in the Shiite-dominated south.

A statement from the Second Marine Expeditionary Force said a marine was killed Saturday when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb near Haqlaniya, about 90 miles northwest of Baghdad.

At least initially, the crackdown in Baghdad appeared to have been met by a stiff, coordinated response that brought the toll to about 700 from the intensified rebel attacks this month. The heaviest battle raged across the districts of Abu Ghraib, Amariya and Khudra on the capital's western edge.

In the space of 30 minutes in midafternoon, the insurgents answered attempts by government forces to cordon off the districts with a sequence of attacks. They appeared to catch Iraqi forces by surprise, and prompted commanders to call for backup from American troops garrisoned nearby. Iraqi witnesses said Apache attack helicopters with loaded missile racks swooped overhead as the insurgent attacks flared into protracted gun battles below. [emphasis added]

I'm not into blogospheric pissing matches, and I'm a real fan of Matt Yglesias, but I can't help wondering if Matt now agrees with me that the time wasn't ripe to start drawing down U.S. forces? Make no mistake, we've got a long road ahead. This is particularly true given information like this:

Even before the fighting on Sunday, the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari appeared to have opened a new and potentially hazardous chapter in the war. Announcing the crackdown last week, government officials said the operation would move Iraqi troops "from the defensive to the offensive" in the war, and show Iraqis that the leaders they elected in January were capable of providing the security that just about every opinion poll in recent months has shown is their highest priority.

For one thing, few believed the government could commit the 40,000 soldiers and paramilitary police officers it had promised, since the American command's latest official count of the number in Baghdad Province, reaching deep into the countryside beyond the capital itself, totaled only slightly more than 30,000. Many Iraqis said they suspected that the government was overstating its abilities in the hope of stemming rising popular anger in the face of the new insurgent offensive. [my emphasis]

Train and equip is still not ready for prime time. Which is another reason American troops, in large number, must remain in theater during this immensely difficult and tragic period. It is quite clear that the post-election lull in violence has now been overtaken of late by a very significant uptick in insurgent activity. I don't know if this is the insurgents giving it their very all, desperately pursuing an all out effort to destabilize the newbie Jaafari government. I suspect that they could well be dealt severe strategic setbacks over the coming weeks but, unfortunately, still be left with a good deal of their powder dry left-over to fight another day still. What is clear regardless, however, is that troop draw-downs at this juncture would be all but inconceivable and grotesquely irresponsible. Indeed, it looks like troop levels are actually heading up instead. That's not something John Kerry would have done, of course. We'd have been beginning significant troop draw-downs soon, if not already, likely. And what a disaster that would have proven.

Posted by Gregory at May 31, 2005 02:27 AM | TrackBack (5)
Comments

Um, troops drawdowns already, er, happened.

Posted by: praktike at May 31, 2005 03:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

are you talking about the slight draw-down from the peak manpower period around the elections? if so, that's rather disingenuous of you praktike. Let's cut the LAT spin and get real, shall we? Kerry campaigned on a platform of a first term exit from Iraq. Bush refused to telegraph an exit and has kept manpower, I believe, above 130,000 throughout. Given this reality, who do you believe, given the massive challenges we face in theater, would be best positioned to better prosecute the conflict going forward? The President who as a candidate promised an early draw down? Or, er, the other one? I think the answer is manifestly clear.

Posted by: greg at May 31, 2005 03:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think it's clear at all, actually. Drawdown from over 150K to 139K today, per your linked arty.

And how long can this little rotation game go on? C'mon, let's get real and play it straight. If CENTCOM needs more troops, let's do it right and not hold people past their time.

Posted by: praktike at May 31, 2005 03:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"this little rotation game" is far from ideal; but will have us likely north of 140K in theater through the summer. and your argument on the 150 to 139 is something of a strawman. would kerry, for instance, have put more troops in theater for the so important january 30 elections as bush did? No, I suspect. Again, he'd be doing his damnedest to get below a dramatic threshold like 100,000 to prove his bona fides to a largely anti-war party. and, in my view, regardless of whether conditions prudently so allowed. after all, we'd all like to declare victory and pull the boys home, wouldn't we? but anyone serious must have grasped that to make Iraq a sustainable democracy the presence of US forces would be required through '08. So why did Kerry say he'd have us out no later than then? Because he doesn't really care two whits about Iraqi democratization, deep down. I think you know this, but you wouldn't be able to acknowledge it without losing a lot of street cred with your readers.

Posted by: greg at May 31, 2005 03:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think it's knowable, frankly. Maybe he'd be more constrained by a fear of being called weak by the GOP. Who knows? Maybe he'd listen to what CENTCOM was asking for and give it to them. I have no idea. Maybe he'd have been more successful in bringing in foreign troops and getting Sunnis to participate. Maybe he'd have been more aggressive in getting the Brits to deal with the burgeoning Iranian mini-state developing in the south. It's kind of pointless to speculate at this point.

In general, I think we may someday discover that Iraq is less important than we think it is now in terms of regional dynamics, and that the MENA region's problems are a lot tougher and more deeply entrenched than a lot of bloggers and breathless pundits seem to think. But what do I know?

Posted by: praktike at May 31, 2005 03:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This speculation about what Kerry might or might not have done is a child's game based on nothing but baseless guessing.

I have a different question for Greg - In his first run for president, Bush made a big deal of saying that he would never commit our military to the horrific practice of "nation building". Do you think he really believed this?

I guess you just can't trust a man running for office!

Posted by: Mark-NC at May 31, 2005 04:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"In his first run for president, Bush made a big deal of saying that he would never commit our military to the horrific practice of "nation building." Do you think he really believed this?"

Yes, indeed, this is an extraordinarily insightful question, getting right to the heart of the Bush Administration's manifest hypocrisy and lies.

That is, until you account for an almost imperceptible event, 9/11.

Posted by: Tim at May 31, 2005 04:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I suspect, Greg, that the "largely anti-war party" is largely anti-war like the Republican party is "largely Christian fundamentalist" or "largely Christian evangelical" or "largely saintly." And like the evangelical and fundamentalist Christians in the Republican party, the anti-war group is pretty much attached to their party and really only important to get elected... unless you think they'll defect to the Republicans.

That's even if you think that the "anti-war" part of the Democratic party is actually significant. The vast majority of voters I know that wanted Kerry to win were against this particular war, not the use of American military power in general. That you need to build this straw man of what Kerry might've done really doesn't help bolster the case for this war or the competence with which this particular president has commanded it.

Posted by: just me at May 31, 2005 04:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I suspect that they [insurgents] could well be dealt severe strategic setbacks over the coming weeks but, unfortunately, still be left with a good deal of their powder dry left-over to fight another day still.

As long as enough Sunni figure they have more to gain by fighting than by participating in political processes, there'll be another day to fight.

Posted by: Guy at May 31, 2005 04:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Uhh, a slight feeling of UN-reality here, guys ...

You are talking about "drawdowns" and troop levels without reference to EITHER the generals telling everyone -- via the NYTimes -- that, at this moment, there IS no light at the end of the tunnel ... OR the ratcheting up in recent weeks of Sunni / Shiite sectarianism all over the Muslim world, and notably in Iraq ...

For recent changes in the dynamics of the Iraqi situation -- which determine troop level-related issues -- see the Ides of May II:

http://www.grokyourworld.com/louisxiv/2005/05/the_ides_of_may.html

And check GYW for an upcoming analysis of the growing issue of Islamic sectarianism:

http://www.grokyourworld.com/louisxiv/2005/05/coming_attracti.html

# Sectarianism in Ummah Islamiyya – Iraq & Elsewhere

* Sunni / Shiites in Iraq Constitution
* Iraqis Seeing Sectarian Roots in New Killings
* Niall Ferguson’s BIZARRE Op-Ed piece
* Pakistan Blast at Bari Imam Shrine

# To Sell or Not To Sell -- A US Housing Bubble ???

This last not about Iraq, but something we all need to think about anyway ...

Posted by: Grok Your World.com at May 31, 2005 08:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The speculation concerning what Kerry would have done assumes that he would continued to act as arrogantly and stupidly as Bush does toward the rest of the world.

But its pretty obvious to anyone who pays attention that the insurgency is getting considerable support/acquiescence from places like Syria and Iran --- and that both nations see instability in Iraq as necessary to keep the Bush regime from invading those nations. Kerry, on the other hand, would likely have realized the counter-productive nature of sabre-rattling toward Syria and Iran, and been more successful in encouraging those nations to help Iraqi stabilization. And Kerry would have been far more likely to get international peace-keeping support in Iraq as well.

In other words, a sane competent president could have made it possible for American troop levels to be reduced without leading to chaos in Iraq.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 31, 2005 05:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not that I think there is necessarily anything wrong with refighting the election campaign, but at some point the United States will need some strategy in Iraq besides one that calls for our military to keep on keeping on indefinitely.

I agree with the objective of training Iraqi forces, but if this can only be successful in stabilizing Iraq over a 10-year time frame it isn't part of a viable strategy. The American public will not accept either the strain on our military or the drain on the federal budget imposed by the cost of so long a commitment. No one would have thought of asking it to before the war, and beyond a certain point our objectives in Iraq are going to have to conform to the cost American voters are willing to pay to achieve them.

Posted by: JEB at May 31, 2005 08:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yeah, Luka, we should have invited the Syrians in to help police the country. You know, just for a little while...

God, you're a bitter little monster.

Posted by: Tommy G at June 1, 2005 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with the objective of training Iraqi forces, but if this can only be successful in stabilizing Iraq over a 10-year time frame it isn't part of a viable strategy. The American public will not accept either the strain on our military or the drain on the federal budget imposed by the cost of so long a commitment. No one would have thought of asking it to before the war, and beyond a certain point our objectives in Iraq are going to have to conform to the cost American voters are willing to pay to achieve them.

I'll go on a limb here and predict that internal Iraqi politics will push us out long before we reach the 10 year mark.

Posted by: Guy at June 1, 2005 03:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I discuss on my blog, it is desirable that the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq with a minimum number of troops. However, it is not yet time to draw troop levels down further. Another mission may be in store for them. I will post again on these matters soon.

Posted by: Solomon2 at June 1, 2005 07:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One thing not discussed is economy of force, which I think is far more important than troop levels. And as the situation of the war change, what constitute economy of force change.

As the Iraqi Security Force mature, we should lower our combat troops. But SpecOps, Intelligence, SpyOp, and Civil Affairs should be kept at a high level.

Posted by: Minh-Duc at June 2, 2005 12:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kerry campaigned on a platform of a first term exit from Iraq.

Really? I followed the campaign moderately closely, but somehow I never heard about this part of Kerry's platform.

On Sept. 20, Kerry delivered a major speech about Iraq in New York. If a first term exit from Iraq was part of Kerry's platform, don't you think that he would have mentioned it in that speech? When pondering that question, keep in mind that Kerry did refer to the possibility of a first term exit from Iraq during that speech:

If the President would... [proposals snipped], we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years. This is what has to be done. This is what I would do as President today. But we cannot afford to wait until January.
In other words, even if Kerry wins the election, we will still be stuck with four more months of Bush mismanagement of Iraq, so a first term exit is not particularly realistic.

An Associated Press article on Kerry's speech provides a clue as to where you got your information on Kerry's platform:

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry's goal of pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq in his first term sends "a clear signal of defeat and retreat to America's enemies that will make the world a far more dangerous place.
Do you really trust George Bush enough to rely on his people to tell you what Kerry's campaign platform is?

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at June 4, 2005 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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