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Time for a Heavier Footprint

Recently in The Weekly Standard:
More American troops are needed to break the cycle of violence in Iraq.

Nov 27, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 11 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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How can one say that there are enough troops in Iraq now in these circumstances? The only way to make that argument is to assume that we have time to take things slowly--time to train Iraqis, time to let them make the inevitable mistakes and suffer the inevitable losses and defeats, time in which we can allow the insurgency to spin out of control and the violence to escalate. We do not have such time. The sectarian violence is rising, the insurgency is strengthening, and the control of the Iraqi government over its people and state is slipping. And America's will to continue the fight is breaking.

In fact, most serious people now concede we need more troops. The backup argument for not sending more troops is that we don't have them to send. Abizaid alluded to such concerns. It is true we should have expanded the military long ago. It is true that it is urgent that we do so now. And it is true that surging 50,000 more troops--with the equipment they need--into Iraq in the coming weeks and months will strain a strained military further. But it is also true that we can do it--if we think success in Iraq is a national priority--by extending tours, moving troops from other theaters into Iraq, and calling up expanded numbers from the Guard and Reserves.

None of this will be easy to do. Nevertheless, if more troops are needed for success in Iraq, we must bear the strain now--while making up for lost time in expanding the military. There is every indication that the men and women of the U.S. military are willing to tackle this extra burden--if they believe we have a strategy to win, and that help is (finally) on the way. Incoming defense secretary Robert Gates should have no higher priority than providing this help--in addition to directing his commanders not to let self-imposed constraints prevent us from winning the war in Iraq. Win the war and expand the military, both as soon as possible--that's Gates's task. Meanwhile, the military commanders need to think and speak in an unconstrained way to our political leaders about what has to be done now.

We cannot, in the end, control how quickly Iraqi forces become ready to fight. We cannot control whether or not Maliki makes the necessary political and military decisions. What we can control is security. When U.S. forces in adequate numbers, together with Iraqi troops, cleared Tal Afar, Mosul, Falluja, Sadr City, and Najaf in 2004 and 2005, levels of violence in those areas dropped enormously. Economic activity picked up. Political leaders, rather than militia commanders, took charge. We know what success looks like, and we know what it demands--more U.S. troops, operating together with such Iraqi forces as are available, to establish security above all else. And we know what failure looks like--waiting for the Iraqis to take the lead they are not capable of taking and allowing the violence to continue in the meantime. Abizaid and Casey have good reason to be proud of the improvement in the situation they have overseen, but better reason to be fearful that it will not last if they do not change course dramatically. We must change our strategy to reflect the new reality, and we must send the military resources needed to achieve that strategy. If we do not, it is likely that we will fail in Iraq.

--Frederick W. Kagan and William Kristol