I agree that we should have more forces in Iraq and more in reserve. But there are considerations that transcend numbers. Remember Vietnam: 530,000 Americans on the ground in 1968 didn’t make Saigon any safer than in 1973, when our military presence numbered 50 personnel. Also consider the Second Boer War. The British began to win (after nearly 250,000 troops failed to secure the disputed territories) only when they changed tactics and began to make use of aggressive, small-party raiding, relocation of insurgents, and rules of engagement specifically loosened for asymmetrical warfare. They began to win, in other words, when they took their tactical gloves off.
Our problems in Iraq can be ameliorated, but not solved, by more manpower. Part of the West’s commitment to Enlightenment ideas proclaiming the value and dignity of human life is a belief that inflicting casualties on the enemy is, in moral terms, not all that different from outright murder. We are fighting a war in which a few seconds of tape on al-Jazeera, showing the effects of our campaign, can be lethal to morale at home.
With the surge, the existing U.S. forces, other coalition troops, and the Iraqis, there will be nearly 500,000 allied soldiers in the field. Even if half of this force is of questionable quality, it is no more ill-equipped or ill-trained than the insurgents. So the questions remain: why and how is a relatively small force holding such a large one at bay?
We discussed possible answers previously, but, as you imply, better leadership and better communication are essential. Our political leadership at home must explain, clearly and forcefully, why asymmetrical warfare intrinsically favors the enemy, why there will continue to be collateral damage, and why the media will continue to report the war the way they do.
All this will serve as a means of preparing the American people for the considerable struggle yet to come, if we are to win. It will also serve a larger purpose: apprising the global audience that whatever downside a greater use of force on our part entails, it is far, far outweighed by the specter of a jihadist victory.
One of our serious mistakes has been trying to fight the war with one eye on the 70 percent approval rating our first actions in Iraq garnered. By keeping troop levels low, granting Moqtada al-Sadr a reprieve, and a whole host of other actions, we’ve attempted to pacify our increasingly vocal critics at home and in Iraq and keep the war’s violence at “tolerable” levels, thereby maintaining much-needed public support.
But the effect of these half-measures was to erode public support for the war anyway. More aggressive tactics would have had a better chance of defeating the insurgency and creating the necessary window for economic and political reforms to take effect, and for Iraq’s nascent democracy to flower.