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Mission Impossible?


This Fred Kaplan piece from Slate is a better-than-average anti-surge piece. I don’t find it persuasive, however. Here are some of his main points, and my quick take:  

–He says, operating off of the ratio from the new counter-insurgency manual, that 20 combat troops are needed per 1,000 residents. Since there are 6 million people in Baghdad, we need 120,000 combat troops to hold it.  

But we aren’t going to do all of Baghdad at once. Sadr City and its environs, and therefore about 3 million people, are off the table at the moment. The Keane/Kagan surge is designed to get roughly to the correct ratio of troops-to-population in those Sunni and mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad that it initially focuses on. 

–In Tal Afar, we barricaded the entire city before clearing and holding it. “Will Patraeus wall off neighborhoods in Baghdad?” Kaplan asks.  

If we wanted to do this, I don’t see why it would be a problem, given that Iraqis have already been barricading neighborhoods themselves.  

–Meanwhile, Tal Afar fell apart after the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment left.  

There’s no doubt that we left too quickly, but my understanding is that Tal Afar has not totally reverted back to the way it was.

–According to the counterinsurgency manual, soldiers need a deep knowledge of the conflict and the local culture.  

Unfortunately, this isn’t such a problem anymore since most of the guys who will be involved in this operation have been in Iraq before. Also, the concept is that by holding particular neighborhoods they will develop an intimate knowledge of those neighborhoods. 

–Even if we hold Baghdad, how will we have the troops to go secure the rest of the country? 

First, securing Baghdad alone would be a huge success. Second, the training of Iraqi troops will be taking place all during this period, and the thought is that eventually they will provide more forces. 

–Nothing will work unless we go after al-Sadr. 

Al-Sadr obviously represents a big problem, but it is not politically possible to go after him now. The standard for success shouldn’t be doing everything all at once, but addressing part of the problem (tamping down the Sunni insurgency and securing mixed neighborhoods) in a way that creates the predicate for more progress later (including political or military action against Sadr). 

–A surge will be meaningless without a political and economic strategy. 

No one disagrees with this, and the Bush administration’s plan will have political and economic components.


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