Surge Lite?

There has been considerable speculation that President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq, to be announced in a televised speech next week, will feature a “surge” of additional troops on a temporary basis. This Associated Press story suggests that the increment will be far fewer than the 30,000 or so that some have suggested:

The military approach, which has attracted the most attention and skepticism from Congress, is expected to include an increase in U.S. forces, possibly 9,000 additional troops deployed to the Baghdad capital alone.
One option being considered by Bush includes sending 8,000 to 9,000 more troops to Iraq, primarily to reinforce Baghdad. There are roughly 140,000 troops in Iraq.
The option involves sending two additional Army brigades, or roughly 7,000 soldiers, to Baghdad, and two Marine battalions, totaling about 1,500 troops, to western Anbar Province, the center of the Sunni Arab insurgency.

I am deeply skeptical of the “Goldilocks” theory of victory in Iraq: we have to have just the right number of troops to be successful; not too many, not too few. It’s hard to imagine what 149,000 troops can accomplish that 140,000 couldn’t–especially if the mission of most of those additional 9,000 is to pacify Baghdad.
I don’t particularly object to sending more troops to Iraq, but to what end? As long as we implicitly accept the proposition that violence in Baghdad means our effort is a failure, we put our fate in the hands of the extremists on both sides. If some Sunnis and Shiites are determined to kill one another, I doubt that 9,000 more troops, or even a much larger number, will stop them.
I think that what Bush mainly needs to do is to define our strategic interests and goals in such a way that they realistically can be met. The lions don’t have to lie down with the lambs for our interests to be vindicated. As long as violence doesn’t lead to the collapse of either Iraq’s economy, which is showing strong growth, or of its government, to which there is not currently any serious challenge, Sunnis killing Shiites and vice versa is a much bigger problem for them than for us.
Of course, gaining our strategic objectives requires time and patience. The Democrats will do all they can to ensure that the American people run out of patience, and President Bush runs out of time. Hence the letter that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid delivered to President Bush today:

Despite the fact that our troops have been pushed to the breaking point and, in many cases, have already served multiple tours in Iraq, news reports suggest that you believe the solution to the civil war in Iraq is to require additional sacrifices from our troops and are therefore prepared to proceed with a substantial U.S. troop increase.
Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. They, like us, believe there is no purely military solution in Iraq. There is only a political solution.
Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror.

Actually, the range of options open to President Bush, or anyone else, is relatively narrow. Reid and Pelosi don’t dare advocate a pullout, which they know would be disastrous. President Bush, meanwhile, wants to draw down the troops as fast as reasonably possible, and toward that end has made training Iraqis the centerpiece of his strategy for a long time. If the principal tangible difference between the President’s position and the Democrats’ is the addition of 9,000 troops on top of the 140,000 already in Iraq, then the differences are even narrower than I thought.
This assumes, of course, that the administration has no appetite for going after Iran. I don’t know whether we could cut off the flow of weapons and other support from Iran, and I doubt whether, even if we could do so, it would make a big difference in the level of violence. In any event, that option doesn’t appear to be on the table.
Maybe the new military commanders in Iraq can come up with a tactical breakthrough that will somehow change conditions on the ground, but I doubt it. I don’t think the problems in Iraq have much, if anything, to do with our military tactics or, at the margin, with the number of troops we have stationed there. The problems arise from Iraq’s deep internal conflicts. My guess is that over time, those conflicts will come to be resolved through a democratic political process rather than bloodshed, and, more likely than not, our strategic objectives in Iraq will ultimately be achieved. It is already too late, though, for such eventual success, if it comes, to do any good for the architects of the administration’s Iraq policy.
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