2005 November 21 Monday
Iraq Battlefield Officers Say More Troops Needed

Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia along with Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Dayton of Minnesota asked US officers who serve out on the battlefields of Iraq what they think of US troop levels in Iraq. The officers unsurprisingly said that more troops are needed.

"We wanted the view from men who had been on the tip of the spear, and we got it," said John Ullyot, a Warner spokesman who declined to comment on what was said at the meeting but confirmed that some Capitol Hill staff members were also present. According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, the Army and Marine officers were blunt. In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told TIME that as recently as August 2005, a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat.

These are not the top and highly political officers who normally speak to Congress while sitting alongside Donald Rumsfeld. These are the middle and lower level managers who have to keep their mouths shut while the company lies in public. Surely some of you have been inside of corporations and watched them do such things. Well, same idea.

I do not think the war is worth fighting in the first place. But the position of the war's advocates is undermined by the understaffing of the effort. If it is so important to win then why be so half-assed about fighting it? The only military reason I can see for keeping US troop levels down that is that the more brothers and cousins we kill the more other brothers and cousins will join the resistance to seek revenge. But such an interpretation is hardly an argument for our continued fighting in the first place.

Donald Rumsfeld says he was just following orders.

"I didn't advocate invasion," Rumsfeld told ABC television, when asked if he would have advocated an invasion of Iraq if he had known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found there.

The US Defense chief added: "I wasn't asked," when asked whether he supported the March 2003 invasion.

Asked on ABC television's "This Week" program if he was trying to distance himself after the fact from the controversial US decision to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: "Of course not. Of course not. I completely agreed with the decision to go to war and said that a hundred times. Don't even suggest that."

Rumsfeld denies that officers in the field have ever been turned down in requests for more troops.

"No one has ever been turned down by me. The troops that have been asked for have been given," Rumsfeld told ABC television.

Rumsfeld is a great straight man. He says really absurd things with a totally straight face. He ought to retire from public office and work up a comedy act.

The Bush Administration does not want to admit more troops are needed for a few reasons:

  • An admission of the need for a larger force would be an implicit admission they totally miscalculated and make them look even more incompetent.
  • The financial cost for a larger force would require reversal of Bush tax cuts.
  • A draft to summon up the needed troops would ignite a much larger anti-war movement.
  • The call for more troops would probably not work and could well lead to withdrawal. Surely it would at least awaken Congress into providing some check on the Executive Branch. Well can't have that. An imperial presidency wants to protect its turf.
  • It would be hard to maintain the pretence that Vietnamization was going to imminently reduce the need for US troops in a few months if a large number of US troops were summoned up for training in a draft.

In a nutshell: The Bushies have a large vested interest in lying about Iraq.

Back in August 2005 Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.) and former director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan argued that all the reasons for staying in Iraq have it exactly backward.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

1) We would leave behind a civil war.
2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.
3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.
4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.
5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase.
6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors.
7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.
8) We havenít fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.
9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.

But consider this:

1) On civil war. Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. Thatís civil war. We created the civil war when we invaded; we canít prevent a civil war by staying.

For those who really worry about destabilizing the region, the sensible policy is not to stay the course in Iraq. It is rapid withdrawal, re-establishing strong relations with our allies in Europe, showing confidence in the UN Security Council, and trying to knit together a large coalition including the major states of Europe, Japan, South Korea, China, and India to back a strategy for stabilizing the area from the eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until the United States withdraws from Iraq and admits its strategic error, no such coalition can be formed.

Thus those who fear leaving a mess are actually helping make things worse while preventing a new strategic approach with some promise of success.

2) On credibility. If we were Russia or some other insecure nation, we might have to worry about credibility. A hyperpower need not worry about credibility. Thatís one of the great advantages of being a hyperpower: When we have made a big strategic mistake, we can reverse it. And it may even enhance our credibility. Staying there damages our credibility more than leaving.

Ask the president if he really worries about US credibility. Or, what will happen to our credibility if the course he is pursuing proves to be a major strategic disaster? Would it not be better for our long-term credibility to withdraw earlier than later in this event?

3) On the insurgency and democracy. There is no question the insurgents and other anti-American parties will take over the government once we leave. But that will happen no matter how long we stay. Any government capable of holding power in Iraq will be anti-American, because the Iraqi people are increasingly becoming anti-American.

Also, the U.S. will not leave behind a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq no matter how long it stays. Holding elections is easy. It is impossible to make it a constitutional democracy in a hurry.

President Bushís statements about progress in Iraq are increasingly resembling LBJ's statements during the Vietnam War. For instance, Johnsonís comments about the 1968 election are very similar to what Bush said in February 2005 after the election of a provisional parliament.

Go read the full article. He takes on every point and says the conventional wisdom is wrong.

More recently Odom has argued that "staying the course" amounts to throwing away resources better used elsewhere.

By contrast, any argument for "staying course," or seeking more stability before we withdraw -- or pointing out tragic consequences that withdrawal will cause -- is bound to be wrong, or at least unpersuasive. Putting it bluntly, those who insist on staying in Iraq longer make the consequences of withdrawal more terrible and make it harder to find an alternative strategy for achieving regional stability.

Once the invasion began in March 2003, all of the ensuing unhappy results became inevitable. The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history. In any event, the longer we stay, the worse it will be. Until that is understood, we will make no progress with our allies or in devising a promising alternative strategy.

"Staying the course" may make a good sound bite, but it can be disastrous for strategy. Several of Hitler's generals told him that "staying the course" at Stalingrad in 1942 was a strategic mistake, that he should allow the Sixth Army to be withdrawn, saving it to fight defensive actions on reduced frontage against the growing Red Army. He refused, lost the Sixth Army entirely, and left his commanders with fewer forces to defend a wider front. Thus he made the subsequent Soviet offensives westward easier.

To argue, as some do, that we cannot leave Iraq because "we broke it and therefore we own it" is to reason precisely the way Hitler did with his commanders. Of course we broke it! But the Middle East is not a pottery store. It is the site of major military conflict with several different forces that the United States is galvanizing into an alliance against America. To hang on to an untenable position is the height of irresponsibility. Beware of anyone, including the president, who insists that this is "responsible" or "the patriotic" thing to do.

A single month's burn of money in Iraq would pay for a really good wall along the entire US-Mexico border.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 November 21 09:18 PM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs

John S Bolton said at November 22, 2005 4:57 AM:

There probably is no good way out of Iraq, unless it's really a way station to a significant strategic objective. If Iraq is terminal, the best might be to phase withdrawals so as to increase the deaths from civil war, intervening against any faction, other than Kurds, who are about to sweep the field. This is what was done in the Balkans, perhaps even deliberately. Let them fight it out, but don't let anyone win, if we have some troops there who can tip the balance against a likely winner. Moslem casualties will go over 500,000, and American forces will be blamed almost everywhere. This would pacify the moslem, as 100 to 1 kill ratios can't help but do over time.

Ned said at November 22, 2005 6:13 AM:

William Odom is a genius. I highly recommend his book, "America's Inadvertent Empire." His views are such a refreshing contrast to the nonsense we get from the White House/Pentagon types. He's a real original thinker and would make a great Secretary of State or Defense. And it's hard to conceive of any outcome in Iraq that doesn't greatly benefit Iran. Did the idiots who "neoconned" us into this disaster ever even consider this liklihood? Remember, Iran under the Shah, with strong US support, was the regional superpower - even the Soviets treated Iran with respect. Looks like Iran will be resuming that role, minus the US support, of course. And if Iran really does get nuclear weapons one day, don't be surprised if Saudi Arabia (and maybe Turkey) follow.

Silchiuk said at November 22, 2005 7:43 AM:

Nuclear weapons is painting large bulles eyes on country. This muslims in Iran say nuclear weapons must be being used for cause of Allah. Is being part of religion now. This will be bringing many interesting time.

Ivan Kirigin said at November 22, 2005 8:40 AM:

"And if Iran really does get nuclear weapons one day..."

That won't happen. It won't happen for the same reason Israel didn't allow Iraq to go nuclear in the 80s. They might be able to purchase them from N.Korea, but that is an invitation for invasion. I'm pretty sure the take-home message from Iraq was not to call a US bluff.

crush41 said at November 22, 2005 12:48 PM:

I'm not convinced that higher progressive tax rates lead to more revenue. 2005 is going to be the biggest revenue generating year (p30) for the US government in the nation's history (nominally), and the fourth highest in real terms.

Ivan: "I'm pretty sure the take-home message from Iraq was not to call a US bluff."

That appears to be the only silver lining. But it could have been exponentially more forceful with the rounding up of Arab nationals in the US, 300,000 troops on the ground, heavy use of the air force (leafleting Fallujah telling the innocent to get out and having the geography checkpointed followed a day later by the city's evaporation), heavy propaganda, and the promise that any regime with economic ties to any Islamic terrorist organization that cannot keep cell training from taking place on their soil will be smashed and their families will be killed. Blatant nationalism and no mawkish crap about giving freedom to people who cannot genetically or culturally handle it. That strategy is dead, unfortunately--I only get to listen to my grandmother talk about fleeing Germany in '36 or read about it in a history book.


Is the Bush administration so stubborn that they will just keep saying we're winning with the same tepid tactics of occasionally cleaning out towns in urban fighting and absorbing casualties on a daily basis? Or will they soon have to start calling in massive air strikes to force the Sunni triangle into brutal submission and so doing admit gross miscalculations and give up on the democratization thing? Or just wait until the 06 elections turn Congress against an indefinite timetable? It's clear where you stand on what should happen--say we won and leave--but what's the prediction?

momochan said at November 22, 2005 1:57 PM:

crush41, are you saying that in order to stabilize Iraq, we need to be just as brutal as Saddam Hussein was? If that's so, why didn't we just leave him there? Despot that he was, he was remarkably effective at suppressing Muslim extremists. He banned madrassas. He threw guys into jail for starting prayer groups. He even came up with a kind of worldview alternative to Islam, by promoting Iraq's pre-Islamic ancient past (I heard that Tariq Azziz's name was originally something else, but he changed it to mean "glorious past" or something like that).
With him in power, the orphans that his brutal policies would leave behind would say "Saddam Hussein killed my daddy." With the US there, orphans of our collateral damage would say "The US killed my daddy."
Can you see how that might be worse, in the long run, for US security?

crush41 said at November 22, 2005 2:25 PM:


Yes I can. I wasn't a war enthusiast--three years ago I didn't follow anything in the news. I'm very uncertain as to how to proceed. But it seems that this middling position of slow attrition that we cannot possibly win with Shia vigilantes now involved is the worst possible 'decision' of all. With some heavy firepower we might drive Ivan's message home, to at least salvage something.

Marvin said at November 22, 2005 3:03 PM:

With Shia and Kurd assassination and torture squads hunting down former top level Baathists and killing them after extracting information from them, the complexion of the ongoing civil war in Iraq is changing. I suspect that this process will become more systematized and refined with time. Shias and Kurds never had the opportunity before to develop these resources of enforcement and retribution against their former tormenters.

Do you think they will pursue their enemies covertly into Syria and Jordan? That would seem to be a logical next step, once they feel they have stabilized most of the country outside the Sunni triangle. If Iran is truly harboring Al Qaeda operatives and contributing to the wholesale slaughter of Shias by islamist suicide bombers in Iraq (Baathists and Sunni criminals don't suicide typically), Iran itself might find some covert operations by Iraqis taking place inside its borders.

The US will not bring peace to Iraq, the Iraqis have to do that if they can, eventually. The US has certainly shifted the power structure in the middle east significantly. This shift presents a discontinuity where most predictions directed toward the middle east become more problematic.

Randall Parker said at November 22, 2005 5:07 PM:


I predict the US will start drawing down troops some time in 2006 for a few reasons:

1) The US military can't maintain the current level of troops in Iraq given their total number of troops and commitments elsewhere.

2) Maintaining even the current rate of recruitment will become impossible unless the US economy goes into recession.

3) Ayatollah Sistani will ratchet up pressure for a US withdrawal.

4) The US public will turn further against the war.

daveg said at November 22, 2005 7:06 PM:

I really don't see the big deal with Iran having nukes. Despite what the neocons want you to think, Arabs (and Persians) are prefectly rational actors. They will not be any more likely to use their nukes than China, Russia or N. Korea.

Also, a nuclear Iran will create balance in the middle east and might force Israel to start acting more reasonably. Right now they and their supporters act as though they are untouchable, and the US pays the consequences including entering into poorly thought out, expensive and dealy adventures such as Iraq.

silchiuk said at November 23, 2005 4:29 AM:

Randal predict US draw down troops in 2006. I predict sun rise in east and set in west. I am being prophet! You may be starting to worship me now.

Ned said at November 23, 2005 6:32 AM:

Daveg -

I think your point about Iran is correct. While a non-nuclear-armed Iran is to be preferred, I don't see what the big deal is if they do get nuclear weapons. Whom will Iran threaten? Iraq is the traditional enemy, but that country has pretty much been defanged, and anyway, a new Iraqi government is likely to be Shia-dominated and friendly to Iran. Israel? Israel has over 400 nuclear warheads and would blow Iran off the planet if the Ayatollahs tried anything that stupid. The Israelis might also drop a few cookies on Mecca and Medina, and the Ayatollahs wouldn't want to be seen as even indirectly responsible for that. Saudi Arabia? Maybe, but the Saudis can well afford to develop nuclear weapons on their own.

Stephen said at November 23, 2005 8:11 PM:

Seems to me that the smart strategy is to bring Iran in from the cold, integrate it into the international trading system, and thereby give them something to lose. If only the US had adopted such a strategy early during the Clinton era*, by now Iran would have a large middle-class with little interest in revolution.

From Israel's perspective, there's the little problem of it being so small that its a 'one bomb' target, while Iran could survive a number of hits. That said, my guess is that Iran's primary interest in going nuclear is to protect itself from the potential for US military action - and lets face it, anyone in their shoes would also be pulling out all the stops to do the same, given the neocons psychos in Washington.

*I cite the Clinton era for no other reason except to identify a period in the post-Shah timeline where normalisation would have been possible - ie a temporal rather than political statement.

Randall Parker said at November 23, 2005 9:28 PM:


Iran has plenty of countries to trade with. US sanctions are not a major obstacle for Iran's economic development.

Iran's bigger problems are its government's economic policies, corruption, and its people. They are probably smarter than the Arabs but not as smart as Europeans.

As for motives for pursuing nuclear weapons: The Shah was pursuing nuclear weapons development. Surely this wasn't to protect Iran from the United States. Other countries really do things for reasons other than reaction to the US. We aren't that important.

seelow heights said at November 24, 2005 9:56 PM:

Staying the course" may make a good sound bite, but it can be disastrous for strategy. Several of Hitler's generals told him that "staying the course" at Stalingrad in 1942 was a strategic mistake, that he should allow the Sixth Army to be withdrawn, saving it to fight defensive actions on reduced frontage against the growing Red Army. He refused, lost the Sixth Army entirely, and left his commanders with fewer forces to defend a wider front. Thus he made the subsequent Soviet offensives westward easier."
It will come as no surpise to anyone that Hitler was a problematic character. After stating the obvious,it should be clear that the Leftist worldview that has dominated the West since the defeat of NS has created some serious ideological problems. I told a Marxist Prof tonight in a Central American bar I was sick of his BS- I think I may have gone farther than that. He called the cops on me but I got away with no problem. But if Nats had the same "free speech rights" as commies I would have said nothing. Let me say that I despise Bush and the neocons as much as I despise the lefties.

Karnovsky said at November 25, 2005 9:02 AM:

Ivan and crush41,

You've both totally missed the point about the folly of the Iraq War. The Iraq War teaching other countries a lesson about "not calling the US's bluff"??? C'mon, are you truly that clueless? Have you forgotten that Iraq *did not* possess WMD's, making the country an easier target for the US? Future would-be dictators and despots will glean the lesson that Saddam's mistake was not being sufficiently armed. In fact, *had* Saddam been in possession of nukes (like North Korea), the US would have probably backed off from attacking him. It was precisely because Saddam truly, honestly didn't possess WMD's that he was attacked. Hence, Iran's penchant to go nuclear-- they figure it's the only way to keep the US at bay from attacking their oil- and natural gas-rich state.

Crush41, as others have stated here, Saddam was doing the "dirty work" of suppressing Islamist forces in Iraq for us. He was a secular Baathist and beat up on the Salafis and al-Qaida types much more intensely than we ever have, in fact Osama bin Laden had put Saddam high on his target list. Saddam disliked fundamentalist cities like Fallujah and Ramadi as much or more than the US administration has, and he actively suppressed them. In removing Saddam, we've essentially done Osama's work-- gift-wrapped for him.

As for your little wet-dream fantasy of wiping out Fallujah-- if you want to start a genocidal war like that, you're free to go ahead and lead your own private army in there. From your other posts, it seems like you're vehemently pro-Israeli. I'm pro-Israeli too, but I'm in favor of a rational, wealthy, free-market pro-Israeli state that isn't launching stupid wars of conquest against its neighbors. You seem to be of the rabid Likudnik "Greater Israel" crowd with the extra edge of wanting to commit outright genocide against Arab cities. I'm really getting sick of jerks like you involving the US in your own bloody wars of conquest for your own bastard objectives, pissing off the rest of the world and endangering Americans as a whole in consequence. As I said, if you want to go forth and attack Fallujah and start your little war of Israeli expansion, you are welcome to do so on your own initiative and with your own troops, money and blood. But stop trying to snow the US population into doing the work for you with American money and American blood.

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