On December 7, 1941, Japan largely destroyed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 Americans. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the country. December 7, he said, was “a date which will live in infamy.” Then he continued:
“Unfortunately, there is little we can do about it. A war with Japan will necessarily mean fighting her allies, notably Germany, as well. This would require an American military force on the order of 12 million men and women. Today our military numbers fewer than 2 million. I cannot see where the extra 10 million will come from. Therefore, I will attempt to negotiate to see if we can reach a peaceful settlement. If not, I will surrender.”
As you know, this is not what FDR said. His actual words were: “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
But my imaginary reconstruction of FDR’s speech comes to mind when I hear the complaint that we simply do not have enough soldiers to win the war in Iraq. In his State of the Union address, President Bush once again described eloquently and accurately what is at stake in Iraq. Allowing ourselves to lose will be like administering a course of steroids to jihadists everywhere. It will not only create yet more chaos in Iraq and in the Middle East, but will inspire new attacks on America itself.
Will an extra 21,000 troops forestall that outcome? Who knows. But given the stakes, why are we not sending an extra 210,000? That would bring our forces almost to the numbers that General Eric Shinseki said we needed in the first place. The population of the U.S. is more than double what it was in 1941. If we found an extra 10 million troops then, why can’t we find an extra 210,000 now?
True, we had a draft then, something that no one, and especially no politician, wants now. But the number I am proposing for Iraq is, proportional to our current population, less than 1 percent of the added forces we raised between 1941 and 1945.
Bush’s surge proposal is far preferable to the Democrats’ proposed policy of withdrawal. But, as Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot have argued in their exchange on this blog, it has only a chance of success. That is not good enough.
I wouldn’t try to match military knowledge with either of these two experts, and Victor may well be right that smart tactics “transcend” numbers. But I’m inclined to side with Max: we’ve already tried winning this war by going “light,” and it hasn’t worked. It simply cannot be the case that pacifying Iraq is beyond our capacity. The question is whether we have the will to do it.