The Corner

Bremer and Troops

My take is that the problem wasn’t the troop level, per se, but what was done with them. Just having more troops wouldn’t magically have stopped the looting unless you had a policy of cracking down on and perhaps even shooting the looters. I think that would have been a better policy, but the administration shrank from it for understandable reasons–there was a feeling of euphoria on the streets after the fall of the statue and the administration didn’t want to stamp it out. A lot of the folks now saying, “Of course we should have stopped the looting,” surely would have been complaining just as loudly if things had gone differently. “You shot [fill in your number here] Iraqi civilians the day after you liberated the country? What’s wrong with you people? How can you be so politically hamfisted? Now, you’ve alienated the population.”

As far as the insurgency goes, it was never just a military problem. Bremer knows this better than anyone. We had enough troops and firepower to smash Fallajuh in April, but Bremer called off the assault because of the political cost of not having Iraqis substantially involved in taking and holding the city. Through his action Bremer acknowledged that it wasn’t a question of the number of American troops, but the number of Iraqi troops. It’s hard to see how having even more American troops in the country not assualting Fallajuh would have improved things much.

Finally, a word on Bremer. Many people are critical of how he handled things in Iraq. Certainly, he got things wrong and over time the occupation itself became more and more of a mistake. But he was operating in very difficult circumstances, so it seems to me some humility is in order in criticizing him. I don’t think his case on troop levels quite adds up, but it, at the very, very least, deserves a respectful hearing.

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