This is Part II of an informal series looking into Liberal arguments against the Iraq war, as precipitated by an interview of Robin Wright on the Hugh Hewitt show. See here for Part I.
… Wright says this:
“I think the military action itself, we did not commit enough troops to pull it off in a way that would have prevented the insurgency.”
This argument goes back to the debate in the Pentagon regarding the invasion & occupation strategies of the Iraq war, and we can start by assigning them to their respective advocates, Gen. Franks and Gen. Shinseki. Contrary to the popular narrative, it was not SecDef Rumsfeld who did operational planning for the invasion; that was done by military professionals in the Pentagon and the man in charge of it was Gen. Franks. As former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith writes in his book (and see here for a fascinating interview with Feith by Hewitt that touches on this), it was Gen. Franks who had difficulty accepting the input of both the civilians in government and other generals. To be sure, Rumsfeld was in favor of a much smaller force of about 100,000 troops, somewhat larger than a Division, carrying out a lightning strike aimed directly at Baghdad and overthrowing the Saddam regime, followed by a fairly rapid withdrawal. However, the role of the Executive Branch in working with the Pentagon on a military course of action is to set clear objectives and then choose from amongst the options that the military provides. Once a unanimous consensus is reached the Executive Branch then must see to it that the Pentagon receives all the support that is needed to accomplish the mission. During this process Gen. Shinseki expressed his belief that the invasion force would be insufficient for the subsequent occupation and he advocated having an overall footprint of several hundred thousand troops to keep civil order in the post-war.
SecDef Rumsfeld concurred with Gen. Franks in his disagreement with Gen. Shinseki, and they were almost certainly wrong. We can now look back on the post-invasion history and it’s pretty clear that the Jihadists and insurgents would have filled in the power-vacuum in much of the rest of Iraq after we had taken Baghdad. I think it would have looked somewhat similar to what we saw after we overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan, where control was solid in the capital of Kabul but the rest of the country was largely controlled by warlords with some Taliban enclaves (and I’ll just note here that the situation there has been dynamic for the last several years as the Karzai government has extended control using NATO and the increasingly numerous and respectably effective Afghanistan National Army – read the excellent reporting at The Long War Journal to keep up with the latest news).
What Rumsfeld (and Wolfowitz, for that matter) envisioned was an Iraq free from a post-war insurgency, and that was overly-optimistic. They did not take into account that a substantial number of Sunni Baathists would rather take up arms than let a democratic process hand power to the majority Shiites and minority Kurds whom they had brutally subjugated and, at various times, slaughtered. They also did not anticipate that Osama bin Laden would, after Baghdad fell to the Coalition, declare Iraq to be the central battlefront in the Jihad, and call upon his followers to go there to kill the infidel invaders and establish the first province of a new Caliphate, although that can be more easily forgiven as being a part of the changing dynamics of war. War is about moves and countermoves by all sides, and we are facing a thinking enemy.
It should be noted that the size of the initial invasion force was upped to about 148,000 troops. Three divisions were slated to invade Iraq, although when the time came we could only send in two because the parliament of Turkey tried to extort tens of billions of dollars from the United States before they would honor their pledge to allow the 4th Infantry Division to pass through Turkey to Iraq. This Turkish perfidy forced the 4th ID to pack up and sail around to Kuwait, arriving just in time to help with post-war security. It should also be noted that General Shinseki gave his approval and signed off on this invasion plan, a fact that rather dramatically undercuts his later claims to Congress that his objections to the smaller invasion force had been ignored.
Feith also notes in his book that Gen. Franks turned this to our advantage by invading with an even smaller force than had been deployed. Let me quote Feith here from his interview with Hewitt:
“There was a general assumption that Saddam knew we were coming. And so the question was if we can’t get strategic surprise, can U.S. forces at least get tactical surprise? And one way to try to achieve that, Franks and Rumsfeld worked out, was if we could start the war with a much smaller force than Saddam would think we would need to initiate the operation. And that’s in fact what happened. And one sign that it worked was Saddam had put wires and explosives at various key points in the country to destroy infrastructure, like bridges, oil equipment and the like. And we know that he had done that back in the Gulf War in 1990-91. And he put that stuff out this time around, but didn’t hook it up. So it was clear that he was making preparations for a war that he thought was not going to start for a while yet. And so we were able to achieve an important degree of tactical surprise by starting the war with a smaller force than Saddam thought we would need.”
Where Gen. Shinseki and Liberals are mistaken is in their wholly unsupported belief that a large footprint with the initial invasion would have quelled the insurgency before it began. In retrospect that seems even more unlikely than it was when Gen. Shinseki made his case at the Pentagon, and wherever I’ve heard this claim from Liberals – in this Hugh Hewitt interview with Wright and elsewhere – I have yet to see any justification for this claim presented. The 2007 Surge was more than the addition of some tens of thousands of troops; it also carried with it, as Noocyte has noted, major changes in the ROE and COIN strategy. Furthermore, even during the height of the Surge, Coalition troop levels never rose to the level of the “somewhere on the order of several hundred thousand” that Gen. Shinseki testified were necessary before the Senate Select Armed Services Committee, and yet the success of the Surge has become obvious to all but the most partisan. It is therefore incorrect to ascribe the success of the Surge to a late implementation of Gen. Shinseki’s recommendations.
Had we committed the troop levels Gen. Shinseki advocated it’s more likely that more American troops on the ground would only have provided more targets for the insurgents rather than having provided a substantial increase in security. If Shinseki’s recommendation had been implemented and were proven wrong, as I believe it would have been, then it would have put the United States in a more difficult bind further down the road in the post-war. If you believe as do I that the Armed Forces of the United States are being stretched thin now, imagine what would have happened post-invasion when we had to rotate out our forces with a division or two fewer to relieve them.