Colin Powell today criticized the Bush administration and Donald Rumsfeld in particular for going to war in Iraq with not nearly enough troops to stabilize the place after we toppled Saddam. Once again, the official White House spin is that the troop levels were determined by the generals who planned the war, and that Bush and Rummy gave the generals everything they wanted.
Does anyone still really believe this nonsense? According to a book I’ve been reading (Cobra II), the generals drew up invasion plans calling for a force for 300,000-400,000 troops, only to be repeatedly told by Rummy to make it much leaner, and with a much shorter lead time to assemble in Kuwait. We therefore ended up going in with only 175,000 troops. And yet Rummy still claims with a straight face that this never happened.
The thing is, Powell doesn’t impress me either. I’ve never understood why everybody loves the guy so much.
I simply don’t believe more troops would have resulted in a better situation in Iraq - it’d just be more guys to shoot at. There’s this prevailing assuimption that the problem in Iraq is too few troops, despite ample evidence, both from this incident and others throughout history, that more troops are not going to make a whole lot of difference in quelling a popular insurgency. The problem in Iraq is that they invaded Iraq, not the details of the invasion plan. Powell is taking the soldier’s usual route; if only we had more guns, all these problems would be solved! It worked so well when they escalated the war in Vietnam.
And aside from that, Powell’s the one who happily joined up with the Bush team. If you don’t want to play hockey, don’t lace up your skates. How convenient that he’s now denouncing these decisions four years AFTER he was an active participant.
I disagree that more troops early on wouldn’t have made a difference. I was in Iraq in the summer of 2003 (and I’m in Iraq now). The lack of troops led to chaos on the streets. Early on, everyone was kind of holding their breath waiting to see what the Americans would do once they were in charge. It soon became clear that the Americans WEREN’t in charge. In fact the only people in charge were the looters and the mobs.
I didn’t think the invasion was a good idea for a lot of reasons, but once begun I felt it had to be done well and this administration didn’t put the resources into play needed to suceed.
But looters aren’t the same as insurgents. Perhaps more soldiers on the streets would have stopped some lootings, I’ll certainly give you that. But they wouldn’t have resulted in there being no insurgency today. A heavier hand wouldn’t have made the Iraqis happier about being occupied.
Do you really believe that having a vast number of troops on call would have no effect on the insurgency? That there would be no way to demonstrate that stepping out of line would bring a shitstorm of GI’s your way?
It seems that many of our successes are short lived because we lack the strength to maintain a visible, useful presence in areas that we pacify.
As to Iraqi dissatisfaction with the occupation - a real occupation might have meant a shorter occupation.
I’m not arguing that looters and insurgents are the same thing, but early on during the occupation the Iraqi people were waiting to see what kind of government was going to rule their lives. It became clear very soon that there was no functioning government and this state of lawlesseness is ideal for the rise of an insurgency. Insurgencies thrive on chaos. The best way to defeat/prevent them is to focus on basic civil infrastructure: establish law and order, get the schools open and get the roads paved. Without seeing those kind of results, citizens are going to feel terribly obligated to a government and certainly aren’t going to risk their lives for it.
If you sent 300,000 soldiers, the effect would be to give you twice the manpower to stop the insurgency, and to give Iraqis twice the reason to join the insurgency. The assumption being made here appears to be that the Iraqis can be bought off with paved roads and cosnsitent electrical service. I suppose that’s true for some folks, but the truth is that what a great deal of Iraqis want more than anything is for the Americans to leave. The ones who MOST want them to leave are those who’ve had relatives and friends killed by the Americans, which is now quite a few people.
I mean, ask yourself honestly; if a foreign power invaded your country and a bomb dropped by one of their planes killed your child, would you be okay with them occupying your country just so long as the utilities seems to work okay? I don’t know about you guys, but as for me, it would become my life’s mission to kill as many cmembers of that army as I possibly could. And there’d be a lot more people in that position if you sent in another five divisions or so.
Why would you think this? The occupation will end only when it no longer suits the needs of the United States to occupy Iraq; that’s not necessarily going to end when, if ever, the insurgency is quelled.
I agreed with the invasion but disagree with the coalition forces staying in Iraq - IMHO they should have left after bagging Saddam, preferably dead. This would have caused short term chaos and the disintegration of Iraq, but it would have been better in the longer term. However, I understand one reason why Bush still keeps us there: so we can kill the insurgents there rather than have them come against us more covertly. I understand it, but I disagree with it, as it has fatal flaws, which have already been copiously detailed far better than I can write.
You do realise this line is only a sound-bite? Bush’s supporters are strongly evidence-resistant and what they cry out for is a 5 second verbal hook to hang their hats on. Then they go about their business.
The insurgency can depend on two types of support. There is active support coming from citizens who believe in their cause and assist them with money and supplies and provide them facilities such as safe houses and garages in which to build bombs.
There is also passive support from people who don’t report suspicious activity; and basically keep their heads down and try not to get involved. I think it is almost certain that this group is larger than the first. This group is essentially the swing voter in the equation and they most certainly can be bought off with paved roads and sewer systems. One has to remember that the Hussein regime did not have much legitimacy and there were plenty of people who were glad to see him go. The support of these people was also up for grabs and it was the US’ to lose, which it did.
Things like running water, electricity and open schools give a government legitimacy. Insurgencies feed on chaos and they can point to the lack of infrastructure as sign that the current government does not have legitimacy.
It is also important to remember that the people who are suffering the most from insurgent attacks are Iraqi civilians. While many people would oppose a foreign invading army, that does not necessarily mean they are going to support an opposition that regularly detonates car bombs in the middle of crowded cities slaughtering passersby.
Also, because the US invaded with less troops than the initial war plans called for, US forces raced to Baghdad and left behind huge pockets of troops. When the government of Hussein collapsed, these troops melted away and reappeared as insurgents later on. It is no accident that the cities that the US bypassed like Fallujah are the same places where the insurgency has been able to establish base of operations.
There was a great article in Atlantic Monthly last year called Blind into Baghdad that detailed the cuts Rumsfeld made to troop levels prior to the invasion. There were US military officers who predicted the results we now have.