Kevin Drum actually defends Donald Rumsfeld from charges leveled against him by The Weekly Standard — which has to be a first. However, Drum is exactly right when he notes:
Of course, no one seriously suggests that we should strip every last soldier from Europe, North Korea, and our other overseas deployments. Realistically, then, the maximum number of troops available for use in Iraq is probably pretty close to the number we have now: 300,000 rotated annually, for a presence of about 150,000 at any given time.
The only way to appreciably increase this is to raise the Army’s end strength by several divisions, and this is exactly what Kagan and Sullivan think Rumsfeld has been too stubborn about opposing. But as they acknowledge, doing this would take a couple of years â€” and as they don’t acknowledge, it would have made the war politically impossible. The invasion of Iraq almost certainly would never have happened if Rumsfeld had told Congress in 2002 that he wanted them to approve three or four (or more) new divisions in preparation for a war in 2004 or 2005.
In other words, when Rumsfeld commented that you go to war “with the army you have,” he was exactly right. Kagan and Sullivan both supported the Iraq war, but it never would have happened if Rumsfeld had acknowledged that we needed 100,000 more troops than we had available at the time.
For that reason, conservative critiques of Rumsfeld on these grounds strike me as hypocritical. Would Kagan and Sullivan have supported delaying the Iraq war a couple of years in order to raise the troops they now believe are necessary? If not, isn’t it a little late to start complaining now?
While I think we most certainly need to bring the Army (and the rest of the military) up in force levels, that’s going to take time. This isn’t World War II where you can create a bunch of “90-day wonders” who would be effective on the modern battlefield. Modern combat takes an appreciable amount of training and knowledge, which is why we have a professional military and why we have the most adept and best-trained military on the planet. We need more boots on the ground, but those boots have to be trained by people who are well-trained in the art of 21st Century warfare.
I supported the war in Iraq and support it today because the Hussein regime had already proven itself to be a major drain on our resources. If we’re serious about winning the war on terror, we couldn’t simultaneously keep the pressure on Saddam and still have freedom of action. We couldn’t keep the pressure on the northern and southern no-fly zones and engage in a major military operation elsewhere. Thanks to this war, we may not have to engage in more military operations in the Middle East for a while. (And don’t even get me started on the red herrings of arguing for an invasion of Iran or Saudi Arabia.)
What Sullivan and Kristol have to realize is that building up a larger army takes time and money. Attacking Rumsfeld when he’s been one of the leaders of the charge for a more efficient and adept army is cutting off our nose to spite our face. Yes, Rumsfeld has made some mistakes, the auto-pen incident was politically idiotic, and we should have had more troops on the ground in Iraq. However, Rumsfeld is also right in pointing out that we have to get those troops from somewhere, and we have to take action with the army we have, not the army we’d like.