Snatching defeat from the jaws of quagmire

Joe Klein asks “who is losing Iraq?” Klein’s evidence that Iraq is being lost consists of references to various attacks and acts of sabotage. This may be evidence that Iraq is being contested, but not that it is being lost.
Fareed Zakaria tells us that there is still time to avoid failure in Iraq. Zakaria’s evidence that we are on the verge of failure consists of an interview in which General Abizaid said he needs more troops. But generals always say they need more troops. Indeed, generals were saying this with equal conviction at the start of the shooting war.
Ayad Rahim finds that democracy is taking root in Iraq; that the economy is being reformed and revived; and that the country is largely calm and experiencing improved conditions day by day. Rahim has the advantage of being a native Iraqi and of having actually observed conditions on the ground. However, his statements are conclusory. What little evidence he presents is anecdotal.
In reality, I don’t think we (pundits and members of the informed public) are in a position to know how well or poorly things are going in Iraq. We may be losing, but I don’t see any convincing evidence that this is so. Whether it would be wise to send in more troops is a different question. In the abstract, sending in more troops is a good idea as long as we’re not clearly winning. But there are costs associated with doing so, one of which, unfortunately, might be to reinforce the growing perception that we are losing.
HINDROCKET adds: Obviously I’m no expert, but it’s hard to see why more troops would be helpful. What, exactly, would they do? Ragtag bombers and hit-and-run assassins are obviously no match for the troops we already have in Iraq. And if we had double or triple the number now there, it would still be impossible to guard all the targets the insurgents might attack. Indeed, the new troops would themselves become targets. If our goal is to guard obvious targets like pipelines, the task is much better performed by native Iraqis. It is hard to imagine a worse job for crack American troops than standing around next to a pipeline, waiting for someone to attack it. I think it is a basic fact about the kind of warfare we are now conducting that numbers of troops mean little. What is important is intelligence, mobility and superior skill and firepower. The mobility, skill and firepower we have; adding another hundred thousand troops would not, I suspect, add much. We need better intelligence, which will come from capturing al Qaeda and Saddamite forces, and more cooperation from Iraqis civilians. We are already doing a good job of capturing insurgents; that should lead to more intelligence. Whether more troops would help materially in this effort is doubtful at best.
Some have pointed to the fact that President Bush wants other countries to contribute troops as an admission that we now have too few. This, I think, is a non sequitur. Bush wants other countries to be involved for political reasons, not military. Sending troops is the best way to cause other countries to be invested in a favorable outcome in Iraq. Militarily, I really doubt whether greater numbers would be a perceptible advantage.

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