Commentary Magazine


Boot and Hanson, Round Two: Step by Step

Dear Victor,

Though a virtue in interpersonal relations, agreeableness is not necessarily a good thing in an online exchange, where a clash of views is often needed to spark excitement. Yet, at the risk of putting readers to sleep, I have to confess that my reaction upon reading your initial posting was: ditto.

You write that we need not only to increase the number of troops but also to change how they operate. I agree. You stress the need to win a military victory before we can carry out sociopolitical reforms. Here too I agree—and more importantly so does David Galula, author of the classic how-to book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964). One of his primary admonitions: “Which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is most likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population’s stand.”

Unfortunately, lack of support for the war effort on the home front makes it ever more difficult to convey the impression to Iraqis that we are the winning side. But at least we can do a better job of protecting civilians and threatening aggressors. A higher troop-to-civilian ratio is a prerequisite for this. But beyond that we need to take other important steps:

• Get troops out of their giant forward operating bases, where they have been sealed off from the population. They need to establish a 24/7 presence in embattled neighborhoods—a strategy successfully carried out in such smaller Iraqi cities as Tal Afar and Qaim.

• Conduct a census of the Iraqi population, starting with Baghdad, then issue biometric ID cards to everyone, and equip security forces with wireless data devices linked to a central registry. Most American police departments have such a setup. But we have been mysteriously remiss in bringing this basic technology to Iraq, making it difficult to identify insurgents.

• Stop the “catch and release” policy which you rightly decry. It is obvious that more violent offenders need to be incarcerated, but it’s not easy to see how to accomplish this goal given the limited resources of the Iraqi legal system and its American military counterpart. Simply arresting a lot more people (the strategy tried by some U.S. units in 2003-04) isn’t the answer, since they may be innocent. We need better intelligence to identify the bad guys; we should impose martial law in order to keep them locked up for the duration of the conflict.

• Increase support for the Iraqi army. We need to dramatically increase the number of U.S. advisers embedded in Iraqi units. (Currently the total is about 4,000; we probably need closer to 20,000.) We also need to provide more armored vehicles and heavier weapons to the Iraqi army while expanding its overall size. The police are so compromised by corruption and sectarian loyalties that it’s not clear they can be at all useful; the army at least shows some promise.

If anyone can pull off the impossible it’s David Petraeus, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up unduly. The best we can hope for in the next year is to get Baghdad to the state it was in back in 2003—hardly ideal but certainly better than today. Then we have to build on that achievement, somehow, to increase longterm stability—all the while avoiding the implosion of our overstretched armed forces and the complete collapse of support on the home front.



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