The latest bad idea for Iraq.

Military analysis.
Dec. 20 2006 6:18 PM

The Urge to Surge

The latest bad idea for Iraq.

(Continued from Page 1)

Kagan acknowledges that putting all these additional American soldiers on the street might trigger still-greater waves of violence, both sectarian and anti-occupation. (An intriguing chart in Tuesday's New York Times indicates that, although an increasing number of attacks are aimed at Iraqi civilians, the vast majority are still directed at U.S. forces.) Kagan's proposals for how to counter the escalation (on Pages 30-32 of the briefing) are a bit jaw-dropping:

Clear message that security operations are underway that protect all Baghdadis. Step up civil security focus of units in Baghdad. … Tell the nation and Iraq that high casualties are the effect of enemy actions, but that we are taking the fight to the enemy.

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Yes, that should do it. We're so good at sending messages to the Iraqi people. And, by the way, who's this "enemy," Kemo Sabe? Is it the insurgents and sectarian fighters (all Iraqis), or is it (gulp) us?

Kagan also explicitly states that U.S. forces should focus their efforts in the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite areas of Baghdad, the source of most sectarian fighting. He ignores the internecine fights among the Shiite militias. Is this intentional? Is he tacitly proposing—as Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be doing these days—that the United States take the Shiite side in the Iraqi civil war? If so, his briefing's advocates should make this clear, so the audiences know what they're getting into. If not, and we have to go clear, say, Sadr City too, do we need still more troops?

However they're counted, a lot of extra troops are necessary, because not only do they have to "clear" a neighborhood of bad guys, some have to stay there ("hold" the area) while others move on to clear the next neighborhood. (This was the problem at Tal Afar. The city was cleared, but then the troops were called to Baghdad, and the insurgents returned.)

In Kagan's plan, after Baghdad is secure, we have to go clear and hold the rest of Iraq. This means still more troops will be needed, beyond the initial surge, because the troops in Baghdad have to stay there.

Where will these troops come from? Kagan says that the Pentagon will have to expand the size of the Army and Marines by at least 30,000 a year over the next two years. However, according to some very high-ranking officers who deal firsthand with these sorts of issues, the Army can recruit, train, and equip only about 7,000 combat troops a year. This is a physical limit, constrained by the number of bases, trainers, supplies, and other elements of infrastructure.

Kagan writes, "The President must call for young Americans to volunteer to defend the nation in a time of crisis." Given the unpopularity of the president, and of this war, this seems unlikely. After the Sept. 11 attacks, when Bush was at peak popularity, and when the country was experiencing a surge of patriotism, Congress passed a bill expanding the size of the Army by 30,000 troops. Five years later, the Army has actually expanded by just 23,000 troops. It's still 7,000 troops short of that target. How does Kagan expect to attract 30,000 more in just one year, much less to do so two years in a row?

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