500,000 or Nothing at All


Wesley Clark, probably the Democrats' best-regarded voice on military matters, takes to the Washington Post to make the interventionist's case against a surge.

Yes, several additional brigades in Baghdad would allow for more roadblocks, patrols and neighborhood-clearing operations. Some initial successes would be evident. But how significant would this be? We've never had enough troops in Iraq. In Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of 2 million. That ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops in Iraq; adding 20,000 now seems too little, too late.

Further, U.S. troops so far have lacked the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas "cleared" can be "held." The key would be more Iraqi troops, but they aren't available in the numbers required. Nor are the Iraqi troops reliable enough for the gritty work of dealing with militias and sectarian loyalties. Even if militia fighters in Baghdad can be temporarily suppressed, they could redeploy to continue the fight in other areas.

It's almost eerie how little you hear this point of view in Washington right now. The "surge" proposal is regarded as lousy, but tough, which says so much about the city's obsession with image and boredom with results. Pretend you had shares in a failing, all but doomed business, and the board presented you with two options. One: They file for Chapter 11 and attempt to restructure. (Read: Start pulling troops out.) Two: They beat up some mobsters and hold them for ransom in a ploy to make $10 million. (Read: Send a more troops in even if they're less than you need.) The second option requires a little more physical courage, but you'd never actually take it, or the schmuck who suggested it, very seriously.

But it's all about image. As Joe Klein puts it in a truly hilarious blog post, "The Democrats who oppose the so-called "surge" are right. But they have to be careful not to sound like ill-informed dilettantes when talking about it." Because whether or not the opponents sound like sissies is so much more important than whether the idea is idiotic and won't work.