One of the things that is often heard is that we should have committed more troops to Iraq. The criticism of "more troops" comes from all sides, and for a variety of reasons. When we hear it from John McCain, we can be sure it is honestly made, with the best of intentions in mind. When we hear it from leftist war critics, their motivations may not always be so kind.
Nevertheless, it is one I will consider in my series on "Iraq War Fallacies. I take it up because we hear it so often, and because those who make it are so vague when they say it.
This post is not so much military analysis as it is an attempt to define how we should think about the matter.
Lastly, please understand that because this is a blog post and not a book or academic treatise, I am not going to set things up by quoting those who have said we need or have needed more troops. Anyone who has listened to the news these past few years knows who they are.Timeframe Matters
When do the critics say we should have had more troops? We need to remember that broadly speaking the war in Iraq has consisted of two phases; the initial invasion, and the insurgency.
Unfortunatly, it has been my observation that most of those who say that we need "more troops" are either not specific on this point or they get it wrong. Most who say that we need "more troops" seem to be saying that we should have had them there from the beginning.
If they say that we should have had them there from the beginning, it is my contention that they have it exactly backwards. From everything I saw the initial invasion was brilliantly planned and executed, and the forces used were almost exactly right.
And indeed the success of that initial invasion is too often forgotten. Those who never supported the war from the beginning crow all too often that "we have been proven correct." Nothing, of course, is further from the truth. The critics predicted thousands of American casualties in the initial invasion, as well as the famed "Battle of Baghdad", neither of which took place. But my intentions here are not to make the critics eat their words.
It was only later, once the insurgency started, that we should have sent in more troops. One problem we have faced is that after we have cleared an area of insurgents (or "terrorists" if you prefer. I prefer not to quibble over terms), and our forces have moved on, the terrorists move back in. In other words, we can clear but not hold. Another problem is that the insurgency is supplied with men, material, and intelligence from Iran and Syria. We do not have enough troops to secure the border against their infiltration.
These problems are slowly but surely being alleviated with the emergence of the new Iraqi army. Unfortunately this is a slow process, burdened by a tradition of incompetence among Arabs in general and Iraqis in particular in military affairs. In another post I will tackle the fallacy that "we should have kept the Iraqi army(Saddam's army)" after the initial invasion. For now suffice it to say that we should have had more troops in the country to secure the areas we have cleared of insurgents.
But it's not that simple.Where Would they Come From?
The most absolutely frustrating thing in listening to the critics is that I have never heard a one of them
say exactly where the additional troops are supposed to come from
There are two choices for obtaining more troops; bringing them from another theater, and raising new units. Each has advantages and disavantages.Another Theater
The main advantage of bringing in troops from another theater is that it could be done quickly. It would also be cheaper than raising new units.
The disadvantage is that we have those troops in various places around the world for a reason; we need them there. We face threats around the world, and these days troops are likely to be used for anything from humanitarian relief during a natural disaster, to peacekeeping missions, to what the military calls high-intensity warfare.
So where are they to be taken from? The critics rarely say. We have troops in South Korea, so maybe we can take them from there. "Can't they defend themselves?" is something we often hear. The answer is that yes, they could, but this misses the point. We have our troops there not because the South Koreans coulnd't defend themselves (they could), but to prevent a war from breaking out in the first place
. Kim Jong Il might mistakenly calculate that he can take the south, but the risks grow immesurably when American forces are involved.
Ok perhaps we take the risk and move those troops to Iraq (to continue our example). The point is that those who say we need more troops in Iraq, and want to use existing forces, have an obligation to tell us 1) where they would come from and 2) why the risk is acceptable. That they almost never do so is simply irresponsible.New Forces
The next option is to increase the size of our military. After all, we are told, we need "more troops" both at home and abroad.
The advantage to this is that given the level of threats around the world, and the use to which our forces are put, we do
need more troops. We constantly hear that our forces are "stretched thin", and in this the critics are right.
is that the process of reactivating units takes time. Most sources that I've read put the time at about two years. That new units would not be ready for action for some time raises two issues; one that in the meantime they are not where they are needed, and two that when they are ready they might not be needed.
"Not needed!?!" you say. Yes, "not needed". Far too many critics seem to think that they have a perfect crystal ball and can predict with absolute certainty what the future will hold. They act like they predicted the insurgency, when few of them did. They act like they know how long it will last, which none of them do.
The other problem is one of money. We already face a mounting federal deficit. Where are we to get the money from? There are two options; raise taxes or increase the deficit. Either would hurt the economy. Again, my problem is not that we should not do one or the other, but rather that those who are on the "more troops!" bandwagon have an obligation to tell us where we will get the money and why the negative effect on the economy is worth it
. But they almost never do.It's the Logistics, Stupid
The old aphorism "amateurs talk strategy, pros talk logistics" is true. Modern armies consume vast amounts of food, ammunition, fuel, and a million other things without which they would deteriorate rapidly.
During the Gulf War of 1990-91 we had access to the excellent port facilities of Saudi Arabia, and also to bases thoughout the country. Ever since the 1970s we had contingency plans for putting troops in that country, and years of building facilities paid off.
Saudi Arabia did not want lots of additional American troops coming to their country for an invasion of Iraq. As such, their help was limited to what we already had in the country, and the use of some clandestine bases for special ops work.
American troops, therefore, were limited to Kuwait as their staging area for Operation Iraqi Freedom(OIF). Kuwait's port facilities are smaller than that of Saudi Arabia, and the country itself is much smaller. The first meant that the amount of material that we could off-load into the country every day/week/month was limited and could't support a Desert Storm size force. The second meant that it would be harder to keep a large army dispersed enough to prevent preemptive attack by Saddam.Dynamic vs Static Analysis
A static thinking model assumes that if you change one thing in history, everything else would have turned out just the same.
A dynamic thinking model understands that if you change one thing, everything else may change too, and not necessarily for the better.
Consider for a minute that you had married a different person. Today you wouldn't just have a different person in the house, everything else about your life would probably be different too
. You would probably have a different job, be living in a different house in a different city, and so on.The Fallacy of only Assuming the Good
Suppose you conclude that you should have gone to a better college. With a degree from a better institution you would have a higher-paying job. This is good. But while daydreaming you forget that you met your spouse at your current job, and you have a wonderful marriage. If you had a different job you would not have met him or her, and indeed might be in a bad marriage.
The point of course is that people who say that we should have done this or that tend to only assume the good results that would have come from such a decision
People who say that we “need(ed) more troops” or that we should have “kept the Iraqi Army together” assume that only positive results would come from such a decision. They seem not to realize that there were potential negative consequences from taking a decision other than what we did (I dealt with the fallacy that we should have kept Saddam's army together here
For example, we are often told by war critics that the mere presence of American troops upsets the region. Ok...so wouldn't more troops make things worse?
Suppose we took troops from the western pacific, and China took that opportunity to make a move against Taiwan? Or, to return to our previous example, we took them from South Korea and Kim Jong Il decided that the time was ripe for an attack? What would the critics say then?The Advantages of a Small Force
As Rich Lowry of National Review
pointed out last year in "What Went Wrong" (subscription required), there were significant disadvantages to having put more troops in the field of battle:
If more troops would have enhanced security in the aftermath of thw war (a debateable proposition, as we shall see), the lighter and more mobile force had significant advantages in the prosecution of it. "The decision was made to collapse the regime as quickly and violently as possible," says a senior administration official. the most kimportant advantage of this approach, he sways, was simple: "A quick collapse saves American lives and Iraqi lives."Shoot Them?
It served other objectives as well. It made it possible to take the oilfields - crucial to Iraq's rebuilding - mostly intact before Saddam had time to destroy them. And there was the political consideration. It was thought important to avoid a drawn-out war, and the destabilizing effect it might have on the region. "You don't want an American army slogging it's way to an Arab capital," is how one official puts it.
As for the looting, one wonders what exactly additional troops would have done. Shoot them? Detain them? Fire tear gas? No potential human rights violations there! One can see the CNN reporter now, interviewing an Iraqi: "I was just out to go buy a loaf of bread and the mean Americans arrested me!"
Some will say that simply the presence of American troops around targeted buildings(another issue, how to know this) would have done the trick. Ok...so exactly what orders do you issue the troops, what do they do if the crowd turns hostile and tries to force their way past your line?
Further, soldiers and Marines are not trained in riot or crown control. They do not even normally carry quantities of tear gas. Train them, you say? When, how, and who will do the training of 150,000+ troops? All done in the sands of Kuwait while they're waiting orders to attack?
What bothers me is not that the questions never get answered, for there may be good ones to all of them. What gets me is that so few seem to think it necessary to bring them up.The Most Wrongheaded Criticism
"We shouldn't have invaded if we didn't have enough troops"
This is actually something I heard from a caller to a radio talk-show last week, and figured I may as well use it in this post.
First, we needed to take down Saddam. OIF was right for many reasons, but that is not the subject of this post(I went over why it justified here
Second, we did have enough troops for the invasion, as events proved correct. That we did not anticipate the insurgency was a failure, but one that was largely unforseen by anyone at the time. And that includes war critics, who spent their time telling us about the tens of thousands of American casualties that would result from battle with the regular Iraqi army, especially in the "Battle of Baghdad" that would resemble Stalingrad of WWII fame.Everyone Wants More
Just about every commander in history wanted more troops or more resources. McClellan always wanted more troops, and refused to invade the south unless he got them. He didn't get them, so he didn't attack. When other Union generals finally did attack, they suffered huge losses and were often defeated. Was McClellan right? Not in this instance, because by waiting he sqandered much time, allowing the South to build up their defenses.
Even "planning for the worst" entails risks. Overallocation of resources in one spot means that fewer will be available elsewhere.
During WWII field commanders always wanted more troops, yet Eisenhower, Nimitz, MacArthur etc only had so many go go around. During the drive across France after D-Day Patton and Montgomery each demanded more fuel than was available, so Ike had to ration between them, satisfying neither. Both Patton and Montgomery said that they could have won the war earlier if they
had had been given the resources, and maybe so. Each wanted to spearhead a thrust into Germany, leaving the others behind. Ike knew this entailed the risk of the invading army being cutoff Stalingrad-style, so he opted for the "broad front". Ike may have been wrong, we'll never know. The problem with history is that you can't go back and replay it with different variables.
What I've been trying to say - which I hope has come across - is that everything is a calculated risk, and that there are trade-offs for every decision.
It just seems to me that if you're going to advocate more troops, you have an obligation to say roughly where they would come from, what other area of the world can do without and why, or how additional units will be financed.
I am not saying that Rumsfeld et al did not err in not sending in additional troops at some point. I think they did, and will offer my ideas on what we should have done next. But too many of the critics seem to think that if you go on TV and repeat "More Troops! More Troops!" often enough it will pass for a reasoned argument. Not on my watch. Final Thoughts
Simply put, we had the right number of troops for the invasion but should have sent more in later. We should have taken them from Europe, especially the former Yugoslav republics, and demanded that the Europeans pick up the slack. We should have increased the size of the Army and Marines (and let the Navy and Air Force remain at current levels). Taxes should not have been increased, and painful as it is for me to say this, it should have been done through deficit spending. The economy is doing relatively well, and the worse option would be to increase taxes.
While the President is partially at fault, both parties in Congress must also shoulder some of the blame. The Republicans because they lack the courage of their convictions, and the Democrats because they seem intent on reverting to Jimmy Carterism.
But how easy it was to write those last two paragraphs with the knowledge of hindsight.