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December 4, 2006
Momentum For More Troops Building

Over the last few weeks, a momentum appears to have built for the deployment of more troops to Iraq within the White House, rather than beginning a withdrawal from the country and its efforts to provide security for itself. The departure of Donald Rumsfeld and the nomination of Robert Gates, a member of the Iraq Study Group that is expected to recommend a slow retreat, supposedly signaled an exit for George Bush. Instead, as the Wall Street Journal reports, it may have freed him to try one big push to secure Baghdad:

Outside the military, most of the debate is focused on a U.S. troop withdrawal. But inside the Pentagon, the recent dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has given some new life to arguments by military officers who say the U.S. must pour more troops and money into the country to expand the Iraqi army -- the one institution in Iraq that has shown some promise -- and stabilize the capital.

Right now there are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Though there are no firm plans for an increase, some military officials said that as many as 30,000 more troops could be needed. Most of the U.S. troops would be focused on patrolling Baghdad and training the Iraqi Army. ...

The push among the uniformed military to do more in Iraq is being driven, in part, by a small study group working for Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The group's work, which is classified, lays out several options for Iraq. But it seems to favor a temporary increase in U.S. forces as part of a broader effort to build the Iraqi Army, says an officer familiar with its work.

The officers' recommendations largely run counter to Mr. Rumsfeld's own ideas, which were revealed in a leaked memorandum written by Mr. Rumsfeld in early November and published yesterday by the New York Times. In the memo Mr. Rumsfeld suggests a pulling back of U.S. forces to bigger bases and possible withdrawals of U.S. troops "so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Most military officers, however, seem to believe that a pullback of U.S. forces would only trigger more violence and make political compromise in the country impossible. These officers argue that 20,000 U.S. troops are needed to bring order to Baghdad. Another 10,000 U.S. soldiers would also be needed to work as advisers with the Iraqi Army, which currently numbers about 134,000 troops and might need to double in size.

This option has gained more credence since the election. Rumsfeld apparently opposed the idea, not because he wanted to withdraw from Iraq but because he wanted to keep a small footprint there. His field commanders backed him on that strategy, but John Abizaid and George Casey may be replaced when Gates takes office. The incoming Secretary of Defense might decide to replace them with commanders who see a use for a larger force in Baghdad.

The key will be the dedication to the mission by the United States. As General Jack Keane, a retired commander, tells the Wall Street Journal, the American military can certainly secure Baghdad if it chooses to do so. So far, however, we have not seen that level of commitment. We would have to build an overwhelming force and impose our will on Baghdad in a manner we have not yet appeared willing to contemplate. The US would also have to find the wherewithal to attack Moqtada al-Sadr aggressively, even if it defies the wishes of Nouri al-Maliki.

Can we find that will to win? If the recent reports are accurate, it looks like the White House may be willing to try. They will have their work cut out for them, especially with the new Democratic majorities in Congress. They will have to acquire materiel and reposition troops, all expensive propositions that will have to find funding in the budget process. They will also have to extend some deployments, which does not require Congressional cooperation but which can get very complicated without it. Democrats will press hard to stop it, mindful of the impression they gave the American voters that they would stop the Iraq war once elected to majorities.

It may set up a no-win situation for the White House, where the will to win still exists but the means remain out of their reach. It will make for a difficult two years.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 4, 2006 6:27 AM

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