Discussing What Next in Iraq

There’s an interesting discussion of our future actions in Iraq and the Middle East, generally, going on over at Winds of Change. It’s managed to stay fairly civil so far.

One of the things I’d like to see from people taking any position whatever in discussions of this sort is that they confront the most serious concerns of those with whom they disagree squarely. If you believe that we should withdraw our forces from Iraq immediately, accept the worst-case scenario predictions of those who want to stay, don’t dismiss them. If we leave, how can we mitigate the effects of dramatically increased violence in Iraq, ethnic cleansing, genocide, intervention by neighboring countries, etc.?

If you believe we should stay, how do we deal with loss of American repute in the world, overtaxing our military, not devoting enough resources to Afghanistan, and so on? Since I’m in that camp, I’ll deal with one of those issues. I think that the prospect of overtaxing our Army and Marines is a real one. We need to increase our the Army to at least Cold War levels to a size commensurate with the tasks we are asking them to undertake. And we should fund that increase in size with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

Honestly, I don’t understand why the Bush Administration hasn’t been proposing such an increase all along. I don’t generally buy the claims of those who think that the Administration is exaggerating the threats we face as a scheme for extending executive power and keeping Republicans in office (it’s worked so well) but I think the strongest evidence for just such claims is the reluctance of the Administration to increase the size of the Army. If they were genuinely serious wouldn’t they have done so all along? I’m open to other explanations.


Michael Duffy at Time Online discusses withdrawal from Iraq. I’d have no gripe about a reduction to 80,000 or 100,000 if I thought it were tactically or politically sustainable. I’m not convinced.

9 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    How do we deal with loss of American repute in the world?

    I believe the Kagan piece you link to today argues that that hasn’t happened, or more precisely what has happened is part of longer trends.

    overtaxing our military?

    I don’t know, I think this is precisely the kind of question that General Petraeus needs to answer in September.

    not devoting enough resources to Afghanistan?

    I think we are devoting enough resources for the policy that we have. If we want to become more aggressive on the border, we need more troops. Are we prepared to do that? Including use of the hot pursuit doctrine?

  • I can also direct fans of an increased footprint in Afghanistan to at least one Afghan blogger who thinks there are too many foreign troops in Afghanistan as it is. My own view is that further de-stabilizing Pakistan is a bad idea, that hot pursuit into Pakistan would further de-stabilize Pakistan, and you can’t get anywhere in Afghanistan without hot pursuit into Pakistan.

  • I think that the prospect of overtaxing our Army and Marines is a real one. We need to increase our the Army to at least Cold War levels to a size commensurate with the tasks we are asking them to undertake.

    I agree that the military is over-taxed. I would also like to see the size of our military increased.

    However, I’ve been reading for years now that the military, in particular the Army, does NOT necessarily want an increase in size. The down-sizing of the military from the end of the Cold War until 2000 was primarily accomplished by raising the standards that recruits had to meet – thus a higher quality of soldier. The Army in particular has been happy about this. I believe that Army doctrine even takes this into account now on an implicit basis. Being a grunt is no longer something the dregs of a society can do. An increase in size would mean lowering of standards (this has already begun to happen as the military has needed to meet recruiting goals), and thus lowering the over-all quality of the troops. How would you propose we keep the quality high while expanding the numbers?

  • It’s a conundrum, fortunately one with which I’m not required to deal.

    There are basically only a handful of alternatives. You can have an army that’s of a size and character appropriate to the tasks you undertake, you can limit the tasks you undertake to the size and character of the army you have, or you can over-tax your army’s capabilities.

    I can see how professional military men might actually prefer the second alternative. That’s unrealistic.

  • Fletcher Christian Link


    Jerry Pournelle, on his site Chaos Manor, has a third alternative, which in some ways means an implicit admission that America is now an empire with all the trappings; have two different types of troops, and admit it, and use the lower-quality troops for the various garrisons that being an Empire involves.

    You don’t need an army capable of defeating anything thrown at it, at 5-1 odds if necessary, for garrison duty; in fact elite troops used for that sort of thing are counter-productive. What you really need is heavily-armed police. And a hell of a lot of them.

  • Fletcher, I’ve wondered about that possibility as well. I truly believe that our mistake in Iraq is that we went in and then turned it over to the Iraqis too quickly. In Afghanistan we had ready made allies in the country that were also ready to take over governance of said country, having been functioning more or less as governments in their own areas. But in Iraq, that option didn’t exist. (The Kurds wouldn’t count in this because it seems unlikely the Arab majority would stand for Kurdish rule.)

    We should have appropriated and maintained ALL aspects of governance for that country for some time. This would have also involved a build up not just of MP like troops, but also a build up of other parts of our government: Treasury people to take over finances, people from State to handle diplomatic problems, people from the Justice Department to handle law enforcement, etc. (I also know now that we simply don’t have enough people in this country who speak Arabic to have made this work. And our governing elites, both bureacrats and elected officials, lack either the will or the intelligence to bother to learn it.)

    I thought after Bush announced his policies of restraint after 9/11 (by which I mean not simply blowing the ME and select parts of south and central Asia straight to Hell) we would have built up our government for just such missions. However, Bush and his advisors apparently didn’t understand what their own vision entailed, and the success in Afghanistan led them to believe they could do the same things in Iraq. It’s actually depressing to know that the stunning success in the one arena led to our current problems in the second….

  • Fletcher, I just saw your last response on “Two Opposing (?) Views”. Thanks for the insight.

  • I see many people, particularly those on the left, continue to claim that we have somehow neglected Afghanistan with Iraq. I would like to see some evidence for this – having deployed to Afghanistan twice, I simply don’t see it. The nature, scope and circumstances of each conflict is much different and the resource requirements are also different.

    Secondly, the Army was reduced as a product of two primary factgors – first was the “peace dividend.” Additionally, the armed forces changes as a result of the change post-cold-war threat environment. The US simply didn’t need the large armored and mechanized formations permanently forward deployed to meet the Soviet threat after the collapse of the USSR. The principle military problem during the cold war was having enough massed firepower to defeat the much larger Soviet formations that were expected to stream through the Fulda Gap. Massed firepower is achieved through a lot of men with guns, tanks, artillery, etch. When that threat went away, the need for a military force to meet it went away as well.

    In short, he weeding-out of lower-quality personnel was an effect of force reductions, not a motivator for them.

  • In short, the weeding-out of lower-quality personnel was an effect of force reductions, not a motivator for them.

    Agreed. Sorry if my earlier comments implied otherwise. But I do feel that having higher quality personnel NOW, the military services don’t want to go back to lower standards.

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