Jay Reding.com

50,000 To Save Iraq

Military historian John Keegan (who wrote the best history of the Iraq War to date) argues that the US needs to send 50,000 more troops to Baghdad to save Iraq:

The object of the surge deployment should be to overwhelm the insurgents with a sudden concentration, both of numbers, armoured vehicles and firepower with the intention to inflict severe losses and heavy shock. The Mahdi Army in Sadr City should prove vulnerable to such tactics, which would of course be supported by helicopters and fixed-wing aviation.

Hitherto most military activity by coalition forces has been reactive rather than unilateral. Typically, units have become involved in fire fights while on patrol or on convoy protection duties. During the surge, the additional troops would take the fight to the enemy with the intention of doing him harm, destabilising him and his leaders and damaging or destroying the bases from which he operates.

Ultimately, I think Keegan’s prescription is the right one. Our tactics in Iraq have been largely reactionary — while we do have troops actively hunting down the insurgency, we don’t have enough to disrupt them. While it will be difficult, an additional deployment of 40,000-50,000 troops whose sole mission is to hunt down and eliminate the heads of the sectarian militias would give Iraq the breathing room it needs to find a long-term solution. While some have argued that we need a political solution, the reality is that no such solution can exist with the current level of violence.

Iraq isn’t in a civil war — that assumes that the outside influences trying to manipulate events in Iraq have little to no importance. Iraq is the battleground for a proxy war with Syria and Iran trying to control events in the region. Ultimately, the only way we can achieve a lasting peace in Iraq is to disarm the militias and keep new supplies from entering Iraq from Iran and Syria. Which means that at the same time that we initiate the “surge” in Iraq we should begin efforts to put diplomatic and political pressure on Syria and Iran. If that means blockading those countries, assassinating their leaders, or bombing their military forces into the Stone Age, we should leave no option off the table.

We cannot afford the price of losing in Iraq, and those who argue that we already have are making an argument from cowardice. Our men and women in Iraq are fighting bravely — and we dare not dishonor the cause for which so many have given their lives by abandoning it out of fear.

10 responses to “50,000 To Save Iraq”

  1. Seth says:

    It’s pretty tough for any of the right wingers to speak with authority on Iraq when you still deny the existence of a civil war.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    It’s pretty tough for any of the right wingers to speak with authority on Iraq when you still deny the existence of a civil war.

    Because it isn’t a civil war. The “insurgency” doesn’t hold territory, they don’t have a competing government, and they have no outside recognition. What this is is a proxy war in which Iran and Syria are using paramilitary death squads to prevent Iraq from democratizing.

    It’s only a “civil war” in that it’s a conflict occurring inside a state. In any event, the solution remains the same: to isolate the militia forces who are doing the killing. That requires additional manpower and a freer set of rules of engagement.

  3. Seth says:

    Not even entertaining the idea that Iraq is in a civil war already is extremely dangerous. Many people think there’s already one going on. The White House has covered up and suppressed intelligence reports that say there is a civil war already.

    Also, by your definition, Afghanistan is in the middle of a civil war.

    We need additional manpower for a military victory. But 50,000 is a drop in the bucket of what we need. We would need to commit 200,000 or maybe more. Freer rules of engagement will put big red bulls eyes on the back of every American soldier.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    Not even entertaining the idea that Iraq is in a civil war already is extremely dangerous.

    No, it’s merely a question of semantics. Iraq isn’t in a state of civil war by the formal definition of the term. Iraq is a failing state, which is just as dangerous. In any event, the policies should reflect the realties in the ground.

    Many people think there’s already one going on.

    Which is their prerogative, but just calling the situation a “civil war” doesn’t change how we should deal with it.

    The White House has covered up and suppressed intelligence reports that say there is a civil war already.

    Gee, you mean documents detailing force deployments and strategy in an ongoing conflict aren’t supposed to be open for all to see? Why it must be a conspiracy!

    Also, by your definition, Afghanistan is in the middle of a civil war.

    Nope, the Taliban don’t hold territory, nor do they have any international recognition.

    Palestine is in a civil war as Hamas is technically the elected government, but they’re in competition with Abbas.

    We need additional manpower for a military victory.

    That much is certain.

    But 50,000 is a drop in the bucket of what we need. We would need to commit 200,000 or maybe more.

    Which is all well and good except for the fact that we don’t have 200,000 soldiers sitting around (and wouldn’t even if we hadn’t been in Iraq for nearly four years). Secondly, it doesn’t take that much. Every engagement with the enemy is one-sided, which is why the enemy is using IEDs to kill our soldiers. The only way to prevent that is to go on the offensive against the militias. 50,000 US troops actively hunting down insurgents is no small force — it in itself would be a force capable of wiping out most conventional armies. Given that our active-duty personnel now have more experience in counterinsurgency tactics than in any other time, we can wipe out the insurgency so long as we have the political will to do it.

    Freer rules of engagement will put big red bulls eyes on the back of every American soldier.

    Like there isn’t already? Freer ROE means that our troops can have the freedom to go after the enemy — which is exactly what we need to do. Much of the animosity against our troops is because we’re not protecting the Iraqi people — so what good are we to them? If we can restore order we’ll have an easier time. One always has to consider the Arab psyche — strength is admired and weakness abhorred, and as long as we show weakness the Iraqis will never quite trust us.

  5. Seth says:

    1.) The Taliban doesn’t hold territory in Afghanistan? We must have different definitions of “holding territory.” See, I would say that if you have soldiers that stand in the open and you run your own form of government with your own laws, you pretty much hold that territory.

    And if you don’t think Afghanistan is in a civil war because they haven’t been recognized, then surely you agree with your buddies that Pakistan is in a civil war. All of which is patently absurd. The United States doesn’t recognize the government of Cuba. Does that mean Castro is not in control? People know recognizing the Taliban would invite American bomb raids and military. To you that means no one thinks there’s a real faction, to me that means governments are interested in self-preservation.

    2.) Calling it a civil war puts us in the appropriate paradigm. The goal is then to broker a settlement between the factions and try to keep our troops out of the middle of a bloodbath–not “kill anyone who looks like a terrorist,” like you say.

    3.) The generals were calling for the several hundred thousand troops from the start, but Rummy and Bush thought they knew better. As the generals have recently pointed out, if we’re going to send more troops, but still have insufficient levels for a military victory, then we’re just send over more targets.

    4.) They are targeted now, but if you want the terrorists to recruit ten times as many people as they are now, all we need is a hunting season on anyone that looks like a terrorist.

    5.) As long as we have the political will to do it, huh? Too bad the President has shown us he can’t be trusted to adminster this war. Oh, and too bad 11% of Americans think more troops is a good idea. So, while it would be nice to live in never-never land where Americans think this war is a great idea, I’ll be hanging out here in reality.

  6. Jay Reding says:

    1.) I’ll grant that it’s arguable that Afghanistan is in civil war. Again, it’s a question of semantics.

    2.) And what kind of “settlement” would there be? The idea that we can sit at a negotiating table with Moqtada al-Sadr and come up with some plan that doesn’t end in a massive bloodbath is preposterous. This conflict is being driven in large parts by a larger ideological civil war within the Muslim world. The idea that there’s some magical negotiated settlement to this is hopelessly naive. The only way to get the parties to agree is to ensure that they can’t use bullets to get what they want. Defanging the militias is a necessary first step that has to come before any attempt at a political solution.

    3.) The whole point was that we didn’t want this to look like an occupation — which was a mistake. I agree that we should have expanded the military years ago, but none of that is remotely helpful in fixing the situation we’re in now.

    4.) No, terrorism flourishes in the climate of violence. We’re not going after anyone who looks like a terrorist – we’re going after the brazen death squads that are murdering countless innocent Iraqis. We have the intelligence resources on the ground, we just need to use them. We now have years of largely successful counterinsurgency experience under our belts, we just need to apply it in a meaningful way.

    5.) Thankfully, our military doesn’t plan its operations based on poll numbers. What matters is not the popularity of our actions, but whether they achieve victory. People want to see progress made, and we have to do what it takes to give them some progress.

  7. zzx375 says:

    At the end of the day, whether a person hates Bush and thinks going into Iraq was a mistake or supports him and thinks going into Iraq was the thing to do, the situation in Iraq will not go away and it will still require resolution.

    Let’s see what the most powerful woman on the planet can do with regards to 1) a resolution and 2) the exact nature of the resolution.

  8. Seth says:

    2.) It’s a settlement that realizes a unified Iraq is no longer an option.

    3.) It is precisely because we did not expand troop levels years ago that expanding them now would only create more targets.

    4.) I’d have to see the actual policy, ut I somehow doubt our current policy is one that forces our troops to look the other way from the “brazen death squads.” I would say the problem is most likely more related to the fact that our presence has been large enough to make recruitment easy, too small to keep the situation under control and not financed enough to show Iraqis we were committed to helping them form a democracy.

    5.) Yes, thankfully the military doesn’t form its opnions based on poll numbers. But on this one, the Joint Chiefs and public opinion are on the same team. It seems like the military leaders agree sending more troops is a bad idea. But if Jay Reding says otherwise, I guess he’s the expert.

    I can’t believe people are buying this bullshit about it being a “surge.” This is an escalation of the war. The people that have been yapping about how a time table will just allow the bad guys to hide until we leave are now saying that if we send more troops for a few months, we’ll be able to get things under control. Using the logic you’ve always used, the bad guys will just hide for a few months, wait until we bring the “surge” home, and then go back to business as usual. Which means precisely that all we’ll be doing is sending target practice for militias.

  9. Jay Reding says:

    2.) If not a unified Iraq, then we must absolutely demand on an Iraq that is not a breeding ground for terrorism. We cannot let the Iranian-backed Sadrists take control (any more than they have already) – otherwise we will be back in Iraq sooner rather than later, and only after the situation has escalated beyond anyone’s control.

    3.) One does not follow from the other. Yes, we should have increased security initially, but we’re not fighting the same war we were in 2003. The enemy is different and their tactics have changed. We have to change our tactics to match — the idea that more troops = more targets is simply untrue so long as the troops that are added are specifically there to take the fight to the enemy.

    4.) There’s an assumption there that the conflict is about us — it isn’t. This is a sectarian conflict, which is why the Iraqis are taking more of the brunt of the attacks than we are. Now, I agree we haven’t done enough to secure Iraq, which is why it is so crucial we not compound that mistake now.

    Many troops are saying that the ROE in this conflict is too restrictive and won’t let them fight. That has to be changed for us to win, especially now that we’re dealing with a very different tactical situation.

    5.) The article states that the Joint Chiefs don’t oppose a surge, but are worried about what the objectives are and the effect over the long-term — both of which are real issues. That’s why I (and Gen. Jack Keane (Ret.) whose plan is the right one) believe that a “surge” in itself won’t be enough — the purpose of that surge has to be tailored towards disarming the sectarian militias and actively combating the enemy.

    The people that have been yapping about how a time table will just allow the bad guys to hide until we leave are now saying that if we send more troops for a few months, we’ll be able to get things under control. Using the logic you’ve always used, the bad guys will just hide for a few months, wait until we bring the “surge” home, and then go back to business as usual. Which means precisely that all we’ll be doing is sending target practice for militias.

    Which is why it’s imperative that we not allow that to happen — if the goal of this “surge” is to hunt down and disarm the militias, ensuring that they cannot hide, then we can make the situation better. That requires us to have a more active rather than a more reactive force and using intelligence in a smarter way. We’ve been in Iraq for three years — we have the ability to determine who is a bad guy and who isn’t — but the rules made it harder for our troops to fight. When we wanted to clean out Sadr City, al-Maliki blinked and we pulled back. We can’t trust al-Maliki, nor can we trust the troops from the Interior Ministry.

    Our priority #1 should be to find and kill Moqtada al-Sadr. It may make him a martyr, but martyrs can’t kill people. The next step is to take out the top people in his organization. Cut off the head and prevent resupply by Iranian forces, and you can disrupt the sectarian violence long enough for a political solution to be possible.

  10. Seth says:

    2.) Iraq has been a breeding ground for terrorism since we attacked it with motives that turned out to be false. Increasing the number of people we kill will increase the number of innocent people we kill. That makes Iran’s position stronger, not weaker. Short of putting 100,000 troops on the border and stopping all migration, we need to come up with a better solution.

    3.) Troops engaging Iraqis on a whim makes the troops there to provide security bigger targets.

    4.) We sure haven’t come up with a plan for Iraq or much help that would stop a sectarian conflict. Oh, yeah, that’s because Bush didn’t think there would be any, despite warnings from military commanders.

    5.) You should read the article. Your post is entitled, “50,000 to save Iraq.” I’m guessing that about says it all. And the article to which I linked, in clear, plain, unadultered English, says:

    The idea of a much larger military deployment for a longer mission is virtually off the table, at least so far, mainly for logistics reasons, say officials familiar with the debate. Any deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 would force the Pentagon to redeploy troops who were scheduled to go home.

    So, basically, your strategy is not even being considered by the people whose job it is to run the military. Any other great ideas?

    If the goal of the surge is to send people here to kill bad guys and then we’ll leave, why not do that with the whole strategy? Let’s just say the 20,000 troops will kill a bunch of bad guys and then next year there won’t be many left and 10,000 of the bad-guy killing troops can go home and then less security will be needed so we can send 10,000 security troops home. That’s the logical conclusion of your strategy, and yet you’ve been calling the same thing “cut and run” for two years. Not to mention that up until now, our efforts to kill all the bad guys are creating more of them, not less.

    I also think you’ve been quite vague in what types of rules of engagement should be changed and to what they should be changed. I think you’re just going along with the typical conservative talking points now that you officially have nothing left to blame these failures on than the leaders you pushed towards the war, but I’d enjoy being shown otherwise.