I THINK THAT KEVIN DRUM has it right on the “not enough troops” claim:
Of course, no one seriously suggests that we should strip every last soldier from Europe, North Korea, and our other overseas deployments. Realistically, then, the maximum number of troops available for use in Iraq is probably pretty close to the number we have now: 300,000 rotated annually, for a presence of about 150,000 at any given time.
The only way to appreciably increase this is to raise the Army’s end strength by several divisions, and this is exactly what Kagan and Sullivan think Rumsfeld has been too stubborn about opposing. But as they acknowledge, doing this would take a couple of years — and as they don’t acknowledge, it would have made the war politically impossible. The invasion of Iraq almost certainly would never have happened if Rumsfeld had told Congress in 2002 that he wanted them to approve three or four (or more) new divisions in preparation for a war in 2004 or 2005.
In other words, when Rumsfeld commented that you go to war “with the army you have,” he was exactly right. Kagan and Sullivan both supported the Iraq war, but it never would have happened if Rumsfeld had acknowledged that we needed 100,000 more troops than we had available at the time.
For that reason, conservative critiques of Rumsfeld on these grounds strike me as hypocritical. Would Kagan and Sullivan have supported delaying the Iraq war a couple of years in order to raise the troops they now believe are necessary? If not, isn’t it a little late to start complaining now?
I’m not convinced that “more troops” is the answer in Iraq, but I’m perfectly OK with the idea of adding troops until the cuts of the 1990s are undone, though I presume that folks at the Pentagon — usually not quick to turn down money — would jump at this if they thought it would be useful. And those who think we ought to have more troops should start agitating to undo the 1990s cuts; I’d probably be happy to go along. But the notion that Rumsfeld is, out of some inexplicable stubbornness, refusing to send enough troops has never made sense with me. We clearly had plenty of troops to beat Saddam’s army, and, as I say, it’s not clear that more troops are the answer now — read this post by David Adesnik for more on pre-invasion planning and post-invasion execution and you’ll see that troop numbers aren’t the big issue, and that critics seem mostly to be engaging in hindsight today. I think that calling for “more troops” is a way to criticize while not sounding weak, and that it thus has an appeal that overcomes its uncertain factual foundation.
UPDATE: Related thoughts here and, from Iraqi blogger Ali, here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: More here.
MORE: I found this post by Reid Stott a bit confusing, but perhaps that’s because he found me confusing as well. We had enough troops to beat Saddam’s army — and, as some have pointed out, above, the only way to have had more would have been to either wait, or strip troops from everywhere else, a situation that remains true today. That was fairly obvious at the time of the invasion, which makes me, like Kevin, wonder why people are emphasizing it now.
To Reid’s past-and-present tense, I’ll add another: the future tense. That is, the real question is whether we have enough troops to do what we’re going to do next. I think the answer to that is yes, and I think that if so, then the question of whether we should have more troops on occupation duty right now will turn out to be less important.