Against half-measures

Posted: Nov 06, 2006 4:31 PM
Against half-measures

The recriminations over the Iraq War have long been raging, but now some of the war's staunchest supporters have joined the blamefest. The list of what has gone wrong is long and varied, with liberal opponents of the war and conservative supporters all having their own ideologically congenial items.

But if there's one consistent lesson from our experience in Iraq, it is to avoid half-measures -- go to war with more troops, more deadly force and more vigor rather than less. Muddling through and hoping to succeed with just barely enough resources, is a fool's policy.

As Napoleon said, "When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna." We took Baghdad, but never with the level of commitment to ensure it would stay taken in any form worth having.

With apologies to Napoleon, if you are going to invade a country, invade a country. The Powell Doctrine calling for overwhelming force might not be applicable in all situations, but it is a reasonable rule when undertaking a major ground invasion of a country with a 400,000-man army. Instead, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld constantly bid down the U.S. invasion force.

There were sound reasons for wanting to go in relatively light, but clearly more troops were necessary for the postwar occupation. Here is where liberal hero Gen. Eric Shinseki proved right in his prewar analysis when he told a congressional committee that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be necessary to secure Iraq: "We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kind of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems."

If you are going to fight an enemy army, fight an enemy army. We let Iraqi fighters escape our initial invasion out of a misplaced humanitarianism and a belief that Iraqi soldiers were the innocent victims of Saddam Hussein. Many of the Sunni fighters that we spared formed the nucleus of the insurgency.

If you are going to occupy a country, occupy it. When we arrived in Baghdad, we watched the place get looted. Once we toppled Saddam, we owned Iraq, and letting disorder spread unchecked undermined our authority and set back the already-difficult task of reconstruction.

If you are going to make Iraq your highest diplomatic priority in the Middle East, make it your highest diplomatic priority. Soon after Paul Bremer left as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, John Negroponte took over as U.S. ambassador in Iraq and was notable only for his passivity. After he left, a period of three months passed when we didn't even bother to have an ambassador on the ground.

If you are going to secure Baghdad, secure Baghdad. We announced over the summer with great fanfare a plan to secure Baghdad, but never devoted enough troops to make it remotely plausible. In August 2003 there were 140,000 troops in Iraq, as there were in August 2004, August 2005 and August 2006. Whatever the question is in Iraq, the administration's answer is always 140,000 troops. Some say that's because we have no more troops, which raises the final lesson.

If you are going to say our country is at war, act like our country is at war. On Sept. 10, 2001, when we still thought we were living in a blissful period of peace, we had a 1.4 million person military. Incredibly, after it has become clear that we are facing a generational war with Islamic radicalism, with two hot fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq and perhaps more to come, we still have a 1.4 million person military.

If President Bush is to attempt to save the Iraq War after the election, he has to really attempt to save the Iraq War. This might be his last chance. There can be no skimping, no wishful thinking, no operating on a razor-thin margin of error. As military expert Frederick Kagan recommends, he has to send 50,000 more troops to Baghdad, in what would be a long overdue end to half-measures.