The latest serpent at which a drowning Washington
Establishment is grasping is the idea of sending more American troops to Iraq.
Would more troops turn the war there in our favor? No.
Why not? First, because nothing can. The war in Iraq is irredeemably lost.
Neither we nor, at present, anyone else can create a new Iraqi state to replace
the one our invasion destroyed. Maybe that will happen after the Iraqi civil
was is resolved, maybe not. It is in any case out of our hands.
Nor could more American troops control the forces driving Iraq's intensifying
civil war. The passions of ethnic and religious hatred unleashed by the disintegration
of the Iraqi state will not cool because a few more American patrols pass through
the streets. Iraqi's are quite capable of fighting us and each other at the
A second reason more troops would make no difference is that the troops we
have there now don't know what to do, or at least their leaders don't know what
they should do. For the most part, American troops in Iraq sit on their Forward
Operating Bases; in effect, we are besieging ourselves. Troops under siege are
seldom effective at controlling the surrounding countryside, regardless of their
When American troops do leave their FOBs, it is almost always to run convoys,
which is to say to provide targets; to engage in meaningless patrols, again
providing targets; or to do raids, which are downright counterproductive, because
they turn the people even more strongly against us, where that is possible.
Doing more of any of these things would help us not at all.
More troops might make a difference if they were sent as part of a change in
strategy, away from raids and "killing bad guys" and toward something
like the Vietnam war's CAP program, where American troops defended villages
instead of attacking them. But there is no sign of any such change of strategy
on the horizon, so there would be nothing useful for more troops to do.
Even a CAP program would be likely to fail at this stage of the Iraq war, which
points to the third reason more troops would not help us: more troops cannot
turn back the clock. For the CAP or "ink blot" strategy to work, there
has to be some level of acceptance of the foreign troops by the local people.
When we first invaded Iraq, that was present in much of the country.
But we squandered that good will with blunder upon blunder. How many troops
would it take to undo all those errors? The answer is either zero or an infinite
number, because no quantity of troops can erase history. The argument that more
troops in the beginning, combined with an ink blot strategy, might have made
the Iraq venture a success does not mean that more troops could do the same
The clinching argument against more troops also relates to time: sending more
troops would mean nothing to our opponents on the ground, because those opponents
know we could not sustain a significantly larger occupation force for any length
of time. So what if a few tens of thousands more Americans come for a few months?
The U.S. military is strained to the breaking point to sustain the force there
now. Where is the rotation base for a much larger deployment to come from?
The fact that Washington is seriously considering sending more American troops
to Iraq illustrates a common phenomenon in war. As the certainty of defeat looms
ever more clearly, the scrabbling about for a miracle cure, a deus ex machina,
becomes ever more desperate – and more silly. Cavalry charges, Zeppelins, V-2
missiles, kamikazes, the list is endless. In the end, someone finally has to
face facts and admit defeat. The sooner someone in Washington is willing to
do that, the sooner the troops we already have in Iraq will come home – alive.