“Surge”: A Bad Idea By Any Name
So all the indications are that in his speech tonight, President Bush will propose a "surge" of 20-25,000 troops to Iraq to attempt to tamp down the violence there.
I’ve read "Choosing Victory", the American Enterprise Institute presentation in which the "surge" idea was first put forward, and given some thought to its proposals. Allow me to explain the reasons why the surge won’t work.
First, the "new" troops won’t really be new. "Choosing Victory" proposes increasing the total number of troops in Iraq by simply holding back the troops who are already there from leaving, while continuing to rotate in the units that were due to replace them. So the "new" troops will really be troops who’ve already spent a year there and are worn out and ready to go home. What troops are new will be drawn from the already depleted National Guard and Reserve, or transferred from other theaters to Iraq. This would have substantial negative effects on morale for units that are already weary of battle, and weaken our efforts in other theaters, like Afghanistan, where we are also in the process of losing.
Next, the word "surge" is misleading. It implies that the increase would be temporary — a short-lived spike in activity. But counter-insurgency doctrine says that clearing out a region or neighborhood isn’t enough — you have to hold it after clearing it, so that the insurgents don’t come streaming back in when you leave. The plan for the "surge" is to put all but 4,000 of the "new" troops into Baghdad, to try and quiet the violence there. Assuming that can be accomplished, what happens afterwards? The insurgents will just disperse into the other areas of the country — that’s what insurgents do, they don’t get into stand-up fights to the finish. Do we take the troops out of Baghdad to pacify the other areas? If so, isn’t it likely that Baghdad will simply flare up again, while we’re off dealing with Anbar Province, or some other flash point?
Since the troops "surged" in are likely to be there for some time, a better term for the Bush plan would be "escalation". But he doesn’t want to call it what it is — he’d rather try to spin you by selling it as temporary.
Finally, the number of "new" troops simply is not enough. There are examples of successful counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq — here’s one. But they are very manpower-intensive. In the case I just linked to, an entire armored cavalry regiment — about 5,200 soldiers — was tasked with pacifying one city, Tall Afar, with a population of about 250,000. Baghdad has a population of about 7 million. That means to replicate the same tactics that worked in Tall Afar in Baghdad, you’d need 146,000 troops. Just in Baghdad.
(Just for reference, that’s about as many troops as we have right now in all of Iraq.)
President Bush knows that there’s no way to come up with 146,000 troops by cooking the books, shuffling troops around and delaying homecomings. He’d have to renew the draft — or make enlisting dramatically more attractive than it is today. For whatever reason, he lacks the guts to do what it takes to bring his policies in line with his rhetoric, so we get this deck-chair-shuffling "surge" instead. It’s foreign policy, Enron-style.
And that, in the end, is the most pathetic thing about this proposal. We can expect to hear bromides from the President tonight about how we all need to sacrifice, how the task is hard but worthy, and so on. But if actions speak louder than words, the President’s cowardice is practically deafening.
If Iraq is so important — if it is truly "the front line in the war on terror", the "generational conflict" that he has been touting it as, year after year — then ante up, Mr. President. Tell us what the true cost of your little adventure is going to be. Otherwise, it’s shameful to continue to put the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians on the line just because you can’t admit you’re in over your head.