Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 9, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

NOT ENOUGH TROOPS IN IRAQ?....Fred Kagan takes a swipe at Donald Rumsfeld this week in the current issue of the Weekly Standard. Andrew Sullivan links approvingly and agrees with Kagan's primary complaint: Rumsfeld went to war with too few troops in Iraq, and this has been the primary reason for the vast array of problems we've encountered there.

They might be right although it's also arguable that we would have had all the same problems no matter how many troops we had committed to the war. Still, taking their criticism at face value for the sake of discussion, I wonder if they know what they're really saying?

Here's why I ask. Suppose Rumsfeld had agreed with guys like Eric Shinseki and proposed an invasion with more troops. How many could he have called on?

Several months ago I chatted with Phil Carter about this and then did a bit of research on my own, and as near as I can tell the answer is this: if we used every single active combat brigade of the Army and Marines denuding our forces everywhere in the world to do it and then filled up every possible National Guard and reserve brigade, we might scrape up about 500,000 troops.

Of course, no one seriously suggests that we should strip every last soldier from Europe, North Korea, and our other overseas deployments. Realistically, then, the maximum number of troops available for use in Iraq is probably pretty close to the number we have now: 300,000 rotated annually, for a presence of about 150,000 at any given time.

The only way to appreciably increase this is to raise the Army's end strength by several divisions, and this is exactly what Kagan and Sullivan think Rumsfeld has been too stubborn about opposing. But as they acknowledge, doing this would take a couple of years and as they don't acknowledge, it would have made the war politically impossible. The invasion of Iraq almost certainly would never have happened if Rumsfeld had told Congress in 2002 that he wanted them to approve three or four (or more) new divisions in preparation for a war in 2004 or 2005.

In other words, when Rumsfeld commented that you go to war "with the army you have," he was exactly right. Kagan and Sullivan both supported the Iraq war, but it never would have happened if Rumsfeld had acknowledged that we needed 100,000 more troops than we had available at the time.

For that reason, conservative critiques of Rumsfeld on these grounds strike me as hypocritical. Would Kagan and Sullivan have supported delaying the Iraq war a couple of years in order to raise the troops they now believe are necessary? If not, isn't it a little late to start complaining now?

Kevin Drum 5:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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