Why Iraq Needs More U.S. Troops
By Robert Kagan
Monday, September 1, 2003; Page A25
It was just a coincidence that a car bomb killed at least 95 people and a leading Shiite
cleric in Najaf on the same morning that the New York Times headline read: "General
in Iraq Says More G.I.'s Not Needed." But a few more such unfortunate
juxtapositions will sooner or later force the Bush administration to do what it is now
desperately trying to avoid doing: Send more American troops to Iraq.
One thing is certain: There are not sufficient forces in Iraq today to
create the secure environment within which essential political and economic
development can proceed. The Bush administration knows this better than anyone.
That's why it has suddenly launched an all-out drive to get a new U.N. resolution, and
is contemplating negotiations and compromises with the French that would have been
unimaginable even a month ago. Whence comes this unprecedented bout of
multilateralist spirit? It derives exclusively from the need to get more foreign forces on
the ground in Iraq so that American forces now holding static positions can get to the
vital task of hunting proliferating numbers of Iraqi and non-Iraqi terrorists and
saboteurs. Or, to put it another way: To make up for the fact that we don't have
The same desperation to get more boots on the ground is behind the administration's
new, hurried effort to get more Iraqis involved in security operations. Loyal fans of
Ahmed Chalabi may exult that Bush officials have finally seen the light. But the
Iraqization program comes not from newfound confidence in Chalabi's or any other
Iraqi's ability to govern but purely and simply from the need to make up for the
shortfall in troops to guard pipelines and government offices and to patrol borders.
In theory, both prongs of the administration's strategy are sound. It would be good to
get more international forces into Iraq. And getting the Iraqis themselves to take
charge of their own country is the goal of the whole enterprise. But what are the odds
these two efforts can bear fruit in time to keep the security situation in Iraq from
deteriorating to the point of crisis?
The administration's U.N. gambit will take more than a month and could well fail. The
French government has, to say the least, no great interest in helping the United States
out of the mess. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has been writing poems in
anticipation of the day when the Americans would come begging for help, and the
price he and President Jacques Chirac want to exact in exchange will be exorbitant.
Probably the French demands will be set deliberately so high as to preclude
agreement. France's strategy within Europe is not to save America's bacon but to
convince the European public that every leader who followed the United States into
Iraq -- and especially Tony Blair -- should be thrown out on his ear.
The little secret, moreover, is that neither France nor any other of our leading NATO
allies has more than a handful of troops to spare for Iraq. France and Germany are
tapped out in missions in Africa, Afghanistan and the Balkans. The British and
Spanish are tapped out in Iraq. Polish public opinion is already turning against the
deployment in Iraq, and the mounting security problems in Iraq understandably
discourage other countries from wanting to participate. The administration's search for
a U.N. resolution isn't even aimed at getting European forces but at bringing in the
larger forces available from Turkey, India and Pakistan. Never mind whether Turkish
and Indian troops in Iraq are really the answer to all our problems in Iraq -- or would
instead become part of the problem themselves. The fact is, we may never get them.
The Turkish public remains hostile to any deployment. The Indian government is
reluctant to take part without a U.N. resolution. And the French have little interest in
passing a U.N. resolution solely to help the Americans get Turkish and Indian troops
to relieve the American burden in Iraq.
The administration's hopes for getting a capable Iraqi force in place in a timely manner
may be misplaced, too. Today there are about 37,000 Iraqi police officers spread
around the country. The Bush administration plans to put 28,000 more on the streets
-- but only over the next 18 months. Even assuming all goes according to plan, this
gradual increase in Iraqi capabilities is not going to make a big difference before next
The problem is, the next few months may be critical to the fate of Iraq and to the
American mission there. Insecurity and instability in Iraq will make it difficult if not
impossible to bring real improvements in the average Iraqi's standard of living. And as
the administration well knows, Iraqis want and need to see progress right now, or
more and more of them may turn to opposition, in both its passive and active, violent
There are good reasons why the administration is not sending more troops to Iraq, of
course. But they are not the reasons outlined by U.S. commanders. Those generals
are saying we have enough troops in Iraq chiefly because they know full well they
dare not ask for more. The price of putting another division or more of American
troops into Iraq will be high. It means mobilizing more reserves and using more
National Guard forces. It either means pushing the Army to the breaking point or
making the very expensive but necessary decision to increase the overall size of the
American military, and fast. Right now administration officials don't want to think the
unthinkable. Unfortunately, they may be forced to in a month or two. And,
unfortunately, by then it may be too late.