The ever-great Victor Davis Hanson has an excellent piece on how a “surge” in troops in Iraq is insufficient on its own. Instead, we need a fundamental change in tactics to complete the mission:
If the United States sends more troops into Iraq, especially Baghdad, then we must expand the parameters of operations — otherwise, thousands of fresh American soldiers will only end up ensuring the four things we seek to avoid in Iraq: more conventional targets for IEDs when more soldiers venture out of our compounds; more support troops behind fortified berms that enlarge the American infidel profile; more assurances to the Iraqis that foreign troops will secure their country for them; and more American prestige put into peril.
As the troop levels gradually rise, there will be a brief window of opportunity as the world watches whether greater numbers will radically change conditions on the ground. If in a matter of a few months conditions do not improve, they will begin to get far worse — there will not be a continuation of the status quo. The jihadists will grasp that they have survived the last reserves of American manpower; antiwar critics will pronounce the war to be unwinable regardless of the amount of American blood and treasure spent.
These problems are not an inevitable consequence of more troops, but a consequence of assuming that manpower will make up for failed strategy. If we are to “surge” in Iraq, that surge must be accompanies by a change in the rules of engagement (ROE) that our troops follow. The gloves have to come off. We have a limited time to pacify Iraq, and that means that we cannot fail to take out violent sectarian leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr. If our strategy is to continue to react to events rather than take the fight to the enemy than a “surge” would be ill-advised. Without a shift in tactics, all we’ll get is more American casualties.
The unpopularity of this war is based in large part on the fact that we have made very little visible progress in the last few years. Americans want to win, and can’t stomach losing. We have to make visible signs of progress in Iraq, and that progress has to be communicated to the American people on a regular basis. The forces of defeat are getting their story out, but by and large the American military is not. The military is the most trusted institution in American society today. We can win this war on the ground but still lose it at home unless our military and public officials do a better job of telling the real story.
A surge in troop numbers is a risky proposition, but no more risky than allowing the status quo in Iraq to continue. We need more troops, and we need those troops to take the fight to the enemy. Maneuver is crucial in warfare, and we’ve been far too reactive in our overall strategic posture – if we put 50,000 troops on the ground in Baghdad and those 50,000 troops have a green light to take down the militias, we can win in Iraq. It is, as it always has been, a question of political will. The enemy thinks that their will is much greater than ours. We dare not prove them correct.