This week, President Bush announced that he would increase the "end-strength" of the Army and Marines by an amount yet to be determined. Many officers and analysts have been pushing this idea for years now. (Donald Rumsfeld, still infatuated with his doctrine of fast, lean "transformational warfare," opposed it.) But its effect will take shape over a long period. It is not, nor would any military officer claim it to be, a solution for shortfalls right now.
Meanwhile, if Kagan's advice is followed, the surged troops will have plenty on their hands. Kagan writes that they will have to fight the bad guys—and provide food, water, electricity, and other essential services. It's not as if they haven't been trying to do all that for the past three and a half years.
How long will the surged troops have to stay? Kagan writes that "the security situation" "improves within 18-24 months and we can begin going home." But given the way the numbers add up, this seems extremely unlikely. For one thing, they'll have to be replaced by Iraqi soldiers, but if all the American troops are engaged in counterinsurgency, who's training the Iraqis? Current administration policy calls for embedding U.S. advisers within Iraqi units. Kagan is opposed to that policy. He favors expanding U.S. units and having some Iraqi units tag along. He claims that those Iraqis will be trained "much more effectively" his way, "because they will be partnered with and fighting with our excellent soldiers."
This is simply wrongheaded. Indigenous soldiers are best trained by taking the lead in military operations. They gain most legitimacy in a counterinsurgency campaign if the local population sees them as being in charge, not as sitting quietly in the occupier's back seat.
One reassuring moment in President Bush's press conference today came when he said that if he did decide to surge more troops to Iraq, he would do so only if there were "a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops." Kagan's briefing doesn't spell out that mission, doesn't show it can be accomplished with more troops, at least not with the number of extra troops that are remotely available.
There may be no good solution to the sand-dune quagmire of Iraq. Kagan's proposal is getting more attention than it deserves because officials—and the rest of us, too—are so desperate for some, for any, head-lifting way out.