A seemingly quick and easy military victory has turned sour. The costs, in blood and treasure, have escalated. Victory looks uncertain and distant. It seems the time has come, if not to cut and run, then surely to cut our losses. If ever the principle of sunk cost applied to warfare, it would seem to apply here.First of all, this is ridiculous. How exactly is our fight in Iraq like the Civil War? Where is the Confederate Army? What provinces does this army hold? What is the analog for IEDs?
But that instinct is wrong. Warfare is not like investment banking. At precisely the moment an economist might say to stop throwing good money after bad, a wise military strategist might say to double the bet.
Why might that be so? For one thing, willingness to raise the stakes often wins the game. Why do insurgent gangs, who have vastly smaller resources and manpower than the American soldiers they fight, continue to try to kill those soldiers? The answer is, because they believe they only have to kill a few more, and the soldiers will leave. They need not inflict a military defeat (which would be impossible, given the strength of the American military)--all they need to do is survive until American voters decide to throw in the towel, which might happen at any moment.
The proper response to that calculation is to make emphatically clear that the fight will not end until one side or the other wins, decisively. That kind of battle can only have one ending, as Abraham Lincoln understood. In a speech delivered a month after his reelection, Lincoln carefully surveyed the North's resources and manpower and concluded that the nation's wealth was "unexhausted and, as we believe, inexhaustible." Southern soldiers be gan to desert in droves. Through the long, bloody summer and fall of 1864, the South had hung on only because of the belief that the North might tire of the conflict. But Lincoln did not tire. Instead, he doubled the bet--and won the war.
We are fighting an insurgency, made up of both locals and jihadists. We can add another 150,000 troops (that we don't have) and neither of these two will stop fighting. The locals who resent us aren't going anywhere. They live there. And the jihadists think it is a divine duty to fight against foreigners. They will continue to flock to Iraq as long as we are there. They will fight us if we are there. Period. Maybe they think if they kill a few more people, we will leave. But even if they don't, they would continue to fight.
The Union won the Civil War through a long, bloody slog. It gradually destroyed the South's armies and conquered its territory, first by taking the Mississippi river, then with Sherman marching to Atlanta. They took Richmond in the last days of the war, and an outmanueverd Lee, trapped between Grant's army from the North and Sherman's from the South, surrendered. When conventional combat ended, so did the war.
We beat the conventional Iraqi army in a few weeks. Resenting our occupation, the sunnis started an insurgency. Then Al-Queda type jihadists moved in. They are our counterpart. The yin to our yang. They will remain as long as we do, no matter how many people we add. Our very presence creates a destabalizing dynamic, since our presence draws conflict from both the nationalists in Iraq who resent our presence (mainly Sunni, but some Shiite like Al-Sadr) and the foreign Arabs who come only to fight the US. We cannot provide stability the way we do in Kosovo or the Balkans, becuase there are too many who are comitted explictly to attacking American troops through snipers, IEDs, RPG attacks, and the like. People who think they will become martyrs for Allah are not disuaded when you promise to double your resources.
The failure to grasp this basic issue on the part of many conservative commentators is staggering. They still believe that willpower is the most important tool in winning a battle. That if we clap our hands enough and believe, it will all work out. Do they honestly believe that if the US poured more troops into Iraq, the guerillas would say "gee, looks like they are serious. I guess I will lay down my arms?" It shows a fundamental failure to even understand our enemy and their motivations. It violates some of the oldest dictates of warfare: to know thine enemey.
Later on in the article, the author notes:
Iraq is not an unwinnable war: Rather, as the data just cited show, it is a war we have chosen not to win. And the difference between success and failure is not 300,000 more soldiers, as some would have it. One-tenth that number would make a large difference, and has done so in the past. One-sixth would likely prove decisive.This shows the conventional warfare mindset of the author. What is winning? How will these troops create a "win?" There is no army facing off against the Iraqi government. There are just gurellias fighting a US occupation, terrorists bent on havoc, and competing sectarian death squads. More troops doesn't change any of these. It might lower the amount of death squad violence, since we'd have more eyes to police the area. But it would just create more targets for those who wish to attack US forces. They attack American troops to satisfy their manhood, to stand up to the perceived oppressor. We can't conventionally win against that kind of mindset. Al-Queda is there to kill Ameicans, no more, no less. More troops = more targets.
These morons want us to play right into the hands of our enemies. They want us to waste our resources in Iraq like the Russians did in Afghanistan. We already won the conventional war. It is up to the Iraqis to win the peace. And they can't do it while we are there. Our presence distorts the entire process. Less is more (less troops, a less visible presence, and less of a target) in Iraq. We are the outsider. Once we are out of the picture, the Al-Queda types will become the hated outsider, and they will be dealt with by the Iraqis at that time.