Numbers Count

After the initial invasion of Iraq, the lightning-quick destruction of the Iraqi standing military and the removal of Saddam from power, the situation in Iraq seemed well in hand. From there, an insurgency arose, prompted by Al-Qaeda. There can be no question that mistakes were made–as they are always made in every war. The Battle of the Bulge, for instance, was a catastrophic intelligence failure on the part of the United States. The German army’s attempted breakout and encirclement of four allied armies resulted in the deaths of 19,000 American soldier. Most of these deaths occurred over a span of three days!

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s plan for America’s new military force was one whose constituents consisted of highly mobile, highly trained troops, small in number, working with as much ultra-tech as could be mustered by the likes of McDonald Douglas and Raytheon. Indeed, the wars of the future were to be “small wars” and they could take place on the filthy streets of Mogadishu or in the jungles of South America. Uprisings, coups, genocidal tyrants were what we had to worry about, not the juxtaposed might of the Soviets. To be fair to Rumsfeld, this was the thinking of almost all the generals in their war colleges as well as the authors of techno-thrillers like Tom Clancy. And indeed, Iraq’s leader was a genocidal tyrant, and one that flaunted the weakness of UN resolve in unabashed fashion.

What Rumsfeld’s new legions were not prepared for, was nation building. America’s fighting force was meant to annihilate the enemy quickly, and to be sure, they practice their craft with the utmost efficiency. But in this thing called nation building numbers count. Laser-guided bombs shatter the resolve of the enemy for hours, perhaps days, but guerrillas quickly regain confidence when they peer from the gloom of their enclaves and see–no American troops.

Approximately 120,000 troops were mustered for the invasion of Iraq. Before the invasion, Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told Rumsfeld that between 250,000 and 300,000 troops would be needed to pacify the country. There were simply not enough troops to cover the places that needed covering after the initial invasion.

Some statistics warrant inspection. Despite the “bake-sales, not bombers” bumper-stickers you may have seen, America spends far less on its military than at any time in modern history. The military’s force numbered 3 million at it’s peak in the early seventies; now it stands at 1.4 million. And of that 1.4 million, almost 85% are stationed in the United States, not overseas.

This war is far from the unmitigated disaster that so many speak of. The casualties are remarkably low, the infrastructure of Iraq remarkably intact. It is not that Americans can’t stand casualties, they just have no patience and little knowledge of history. I don’t understand at all the latter. We have more access to information that any culture ever and yet, my grandfather knew more history than many high school teachers that I know of–that’s a shame. We want to shatter regimes, and then leave as quickly as possible, and that’s fine, as long as the job is complete. The surge is completing our task. Our failures in Iraq produced lessons hard-earned, but greatly less painful than lessons of the past. Honorable men and women have shed their blood for this just war. Remember, America–there are just wars. The ease of the fight does not constitute a war’s justification. I think that before most of us pass on, we’ll see a difficult war and we shall be ashamed of our current doubts.


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