Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Numbers Explained

Here's something interesting. Frederick W. Kagan, one of the authors of the plan given to the Bush administration by the American Enterprise Institute's Iraq Planning Group (IPG), which recently led to President Bush's announcement that he will be sending 21,500 more troops into Iraq to pacify Baghdad, writes at The Weekly Standard about the discrepancies between the IPG's proposed troop numbers and those set by the President. He explains, briefly, how the IPG, composed of "a team of military planning and regional experts," came to the conclusions it did, and what the differences are between their plan and the one currently going forward. Bottom line: The IPG advised more troops than the President has decided to deploy, on the order of twice as many, to completely "clear and hold all of Baghdad."

I don't know what led to the lower numbers coming from the White House, whether from a solid belief that the numbers they settled on would be enough, or a belief that the American political classes and public would start a protest stampede if the number was too high, or perhaps, as some have claimed, because we don't have enough troops in our military as a whole to sustain an additional 50,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. However, Kagan doesn't make the President's decisions seem calamitous by any measure. Kagan has some criticisms of certain aspects of the way the troop deployments are going forward, and of the amount of leadership being asked of the Iraqis, but his explanation of the Bush Administration's current plans, in comparison with the IPG's proposal, make it clear that the two plans aren't as far removed from each other as the numbers would indicate.

What I found interesting about the article was the glimpse into how all those military types make decisions about what troop deployments will be necessary to accomplish a given goal. The glimpse is very glimpsy--certainly not a detailed description of military strategy, but I still found it informative. Those experienced military decision-makers seem to have a very clear understanding about what a given number of soldiers, in a given range of time and space, can accomplish. Clearly, conditions on the ground change, and can affect outcomes, but the discussion from Kagan, while addressing troop numbers, was also focused on numbers of brigades. They are thinking in chunks of capabilities and accomplishment, which reminded me that, while individual soldiers are the core of what the military can accomplish, how they are used as a whole will really determine the effectiveness of their missions. Each individual soldier may very well be brilliant and capable (and I happen to believe that our American soldiers are the best the world has ever seen), but if they are put to the wrong tasks, or in the wrong places, they will be fighting a much harder battle because of the misuse of their abilities.

I believe Iraq is winnable, and what our soldiers are doing there is crucial to the future stability of the region and the world, and I hope (along with the saner elements in America, who aren't rooting for the plan to fail so that Bush will fail and prove them right) that our leaders will use them well. I've said before that I think this surge is the right thing to do. We cannot leave Iraq to the fate of Vietnam, and we cannot leave our own reputation in the world, and future security, in the hands of militia leaders like Moqtada al Sadr and eschatologically-driven regimes like Iran, who would declare victory and impose their particular brand of Islam on the people of Iraq before the last U.S. soldier had slunk out the back door, or at the very least start "the mother of all civil wars." These troop deployments are important, as are the decisions being made as to how to use them. I pray that God will give our leaders wisdom. He's already given us an incredibly capable military force.