Suddenly, “surge” is the talk of the town. Gone, for the moment at least, is “surrender” – the leitmotif, if not the stated purpose, of Jim Baker’s Iraq Study Group. Now, we are told, President Bush is preparing to put substantially more troops in Iraq at least temporarily, as part of a final push to prevail there.
This idea has a certain appeal, particularly to those of us who believe that defeat is not an option. Advocates of more troops have long believed that inadequate U.S. force levels in Iraq have made it impossible to implement a “clear and hold” strategy – the only approach that has proven successful in dealing with insurgencies.
There are, however, several problems with this proposal. The obvious one is that we may not have the additional troops to send to Iraq. Military commanders have long been obliged to reckon with the consequences of predictably short-sighted decisions in the early- and mid-1990s that unduly shrunk our force structure in the interest of cashing in the “peace dividend.”
As a direct result, what is left of our armed forces is being sorely taxed by intensive and sustained combat operations in Iraq (and, increasingly, in Afghanistan). Army and Marine units are being cycled through the theater at a rate that is tough on the troops, their equipment, their families, the defense budget and, inevitably, on the all-volunteer force.
Under these circumstances, surging more troops into Iraq on even a short-term basis may be problematic, to say nothing of maintaining an extra 15,000-50,000 soldiers and Marines there for a couple of years time (various options said to be under consideration by the President). Then, there is the further question of whether it will have the desired effect.
Commanders in the field like the top officers in Central Command and Iraq, Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, respectively, have consistently argued in public against further expanding the American footprint in the theater. They believe it not only creates additional force-protection issues – especially when U.S. personnel are assigned hazardous duties involved in securing and patrolling insurgent strongholds. They recognize that an even larger military presence can further exacerbate the perception of many Iraqis that we are an occupying power, intensifying opposition to our efforts in country.
Assuming such logistical and strategic impediments can be satisfactorily addressed, if not easily overcome, there should be one further prerequisite to the idea of adding more forces into Iraq: Call it the “surge protector.”
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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