The Magazine

Sustaining the Surge

Bush has more options than people think.

Sep 10, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 48 • By GARY SCHMITT and THOMAS DONNELLY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

By all accounts, General Petraeus will not be asking for additional troops. Even so, the end of the surge cycle won't mean a precipitous decline in U.S. force levels. General George Casey, the Army chief of staff and Petraeus's predecessor in Iraq, recently suggested to the Wall Street Journal that, over the next year, 6 of the 21 brigades now deployed may be withdrawn. That's a return to the pre-surge level of about 135,000 troops. While the press insists upon portraying Casey and the rest of the general officer corps as unreconstructed surge opponents, the fact is that his numbers reduce the strain on the force "without significantly reducing the force level [that President] Bush and General Petraeus want to keep." When the Joint Chiefs of Staff offer a range of troop-level options for Iraq, they're simply doing what they're paid to do: offer professional risk assessments. When Casey declares that the Army is "unbalanced," he's right--the force is too small to meet its worldwide requirements. But the way to rebalance the Army is not to declare defeat in Iraq but to increase the size of U.S. land forces.

Until then--and President Bush ought to bring the same sense of urgency to the task of expanding the force as he does to fighting the war--the Army appears committed to doing what needs to be done to support Petraeus. Indeed, we are well into unit rotations that will keep force levels up even as the surge comes to an end: The 101st Airborne Division is in the midst of a deployment that should last until the end of 2008, followed by the 1st Armored and the 4th Infantry divisions, and ultimately the headquarters of the XVIII Airborne Corps as the lead ground command. The I Marine Expeditionary Force is slated to replace the II MEF in Multi-National Force-West.

Petraeus's bet is that a force of that size will be sufficient, although probably just sufficient, for expanding the counterinsurgency effort of "clear, control, and retain" in other areas of Iraq. Given the results of the surge thus far, it will be hard to gainsay his judgment--especially for Democrats in Congress. But rather than meeting Petraeus's minimum needs, we should be seeking ways to maximize his chances of success.

Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow in defense studies and Gary Schmitt is director of advanced strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute.