It’s disheartening in the extreme, almost to the point of being maddening, that President Bush continues to look to the folks who brought you the war in the first place for the way forward. There are a few problems with the Kagan approach.That's right, they are still basing their "strategy" on faulty metrics, the same metrics that have resulted in them being wrong about everything up to this point.
This surge of roughly 25,000 additional troops, at this stage in the conflict, is unlikely to even suppress the violence significantly in Baghdad. Kaganites like to point to U.S. operations in Tal Afar as an analog. In that instance, a population of (a guesstimated) 150,000 Iraqis was pacified by 3,800 U.S. soldiers, with Iraqi forces in tow. Kagan protests, in response to those who say the forces don’t exist to replicate this strategy in the rest of Iraq or even Baghdad, that their opposition “rests on vague extrapolations of force ratios in Tal Afar to the entire population of Iraq or of Baghdad.”
But our extrapolations aren’t vague at all–they’re based on all the counterinsurgency literature out there. Kagan’s plan doesn’t use the normal metrics for stability ops–he changes them completely. He uses studies that are based on total population, but then decides, without much explanation, that only using the Sunni population for calculation is appropriate in this instance, since “it would be unnecessary and unwise to send coalition forces into Kurdistan or most of the Shiite lands.”
But force requirements in the literature aren’t based on hostile population or some sub-segment of the population, they’re based on total population. Rarely can counterinsurgencies adequately quantify the number of hostile population. So we use overall population for a metric.
How many troops would it take to make a difference?
Discussing the more useful historical ratio, Quinlivan concludes that “Force ratios larger than ten members of the security forces for every thousand of population are not uncommon in current operations. . . . Sustaining a stabilizing force at such a force ratio for a city as large as one million . . . could require a deployment of about a quarter of all regular infantry battalions in the U.S. Army.” The very study Kagan cites (.pdf) echoes this finding:International troop levels should be at least 1,000 soldiers per 100,000 inhabitants and international police levels should be at least 150 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants, especially when there is the potential for severe instability.[.....]
So then, what about cranking it up to 20/1,000 for all of Iraq? You’d need 500,000 troops.
In short, Kagan’s plan appears in any light to be a recipe for compounding the disaster of the neocons’ policies in Iraq thus far. But despite the history of the last four years, neoconservatives still have a tremendous amount of sway with the White House. Sharing the same a priori commitment to an illusory “victory” in Iraq seems to be a precondition of getting the president’s ear. It would be good if someone, at some point, would attempt to disabuse him of this idea, and confront him with the cold facts on the ground. It’s been almost four years.
The upshot, it seems, is that the neocons are going to get a “do over” in Iraq. And, unfortunately, it looks like the U.S. military is going to pay the price for their Mulligan.
Over at Reason David Weigel discusses this and comes up with the title I wish I'd thought of:
Give Us 25,000 More Troops and a Unicorn and We Can Win This Thing!