More Troops Yesterday -> Lower Readiness Today?

"We never had enough troops on the ground..."

Prior to the war, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, said publicly that he thought the invasion plan lacked sufficient manpower, and he was slapped down by the Pentagon's civilian leadership for saying so. During the war, concerns about troop strength expressed by retired generals also provoked angry denunciations by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Countless times, I've read this type of criticism of the Bush/Rumsfeld tactic of sending in fewer troops to Iraq than many generals wanted. Now, I don't want to get into who is "right" or "wrong" on this matter, or on the morality of invading Iraq in the first place; instead, I'm assuming Iraq had to be invaded, and that the long-term goal is to forcibly democratize and liberate Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

We know that Bush/Rumsfeld paid a large price in Iraqi instability for having fewer troops. But I have not seen addressed the question of whether having sent in more troops initially would have actually cost less in the long run, or would have better met long-term objectives.

Note that I cannot answer this question, but I think it must be asked.

I want to point out a tradeoff that many people seem to be ignoring, as if the counterfactual doesn't matter: higher troop levels at the beginning of the invasion would mean much lower average unit personnel readiness today, and that this would make it difficult to operate effectively now and in the future.

I can argue reasonably that if Bush/Rumsfeld had sent in 100,000 more U.S. troops at the beginning of the Iraq invasion--to patrol the streets, secure the borders, etc.--those extra troops would not be in a top readiness category today.

In reality, the troops not sent in actually did later on refresh and replace those who served out their combat tours and those wounded and killed. With a larger invasion, even more reserves would have had to have been called up to replace the initial cohorts. Note that this is not really an arguable point; if a unit is on the ground, in theater, with great likelihood its personnel readiness decreases, without firing a single shot.

The tradeoff is not just "fewer men, more chaos"; it is also "more men, lower readiness". Which is better? Fewer men at the beginning mean a massive degradation of civil society; more men mean it's quieter earlier, but harder to complete the mission during the critical transition period to elections and self-rule. Hence, the strategy of sending in fewer could be justified on grounds that staggering entry into Iraq keeps personnel readiness higher than it would have been; later objectives are given greater weight. The long run goal is better met with a smaller initial footprint.

Of course, one could argue that sending in fewer troops increased the drain on personnel already in theatre, but I don't think those on the ground would agree that their lives are any easier by having more for a longer time. Instead, I think life is easier for troops if they are more frequently sent home, which is far easier to do if there are fresh troops to replace them.


There is no doubt in my mind that the current strength of the rebelion is largely due to the fact that the US allowed the wide spred looting and insurity early in the occupation.

Security is number one, and without it nothing else can be achieved and the US barely attempted to provide security early.

But there is another more important question.
Anyone can make a mistake. But once you see that it is a mistake you make corrections.
But Bush has not made corrections. So the important question is why. I suggest that it is because if Bush were honest about the cost of the war it would but his tax cuts at risk.
So Bush is not making corrections, or giving the military the resources it needs is because to Bush the tax cuts are more important than the war.

Well, I think Kevin stayed pretty well out of the debate about the rightness/wrongness of the war itself. I'd normally do the same, though I do want to make at least one point that I don't find particularly partisan, though it could well be seen that way:

We just don't have that many more troops to give. Aside from abandoning all the other posts in the world, the number of uniformed military personnel is stretched pretty thin. This talk about "more troops" presupposes that there were lots more troops to begin with. The number could have been larger, I suppose, but most folks are talking about a force that is nearly a multiple of the force used during the invasion. Since this would require an increase as well in the logistics and support services to those troops that are enforcing security on the streets (not to say that everyone there isn't doing an amazing job -- just trying to draw a distinction between what people see as the "security forces" and the underlying support structure that makes it possible for them to do that job), the increase in troop size that would have made a CONSIDERABLE difference is massive. And I just don't think that the US has that many people. (And thus usually begins the issue of a different kind of "coalition" that would have made it possible. And thus I exit, since I don't feel like wading into that right now.)

the issue Kevin's bringing up, I think, is the tension between a quick fight and a long war. A bigger force might have been able to swamp Iraq with forces, but one or two years out, rotations, burn-out, separations, and more mean that a larger number of troops will be leaving, and thus more are needed to replenish the ranks on an ongoing basis. That means reserves that, again, I don't think we have.

We have a resource constraint--troops at both tooth and tail--in each time period A, B, C, etc... The number of troops available is not independent from one period to the next.

Using more troops in a period means 1) better outcomes in that period and 2) better outcomes in periods immediately following. But more troops in a period also means 3) fewer and less ready troops in the periods immediately following, which 4) degrades outcomes in later periods.

Our task is to maximize the value of outcomes by setting troop levels. This is not a simple decision to make.

If you use many troops in period A, then they're not in tip top shape for B. You send all your troops in to minimize the chaos in A, and outcomes look very good in A and maybe B. But what will you do if Pakistan or Iran explodes in period C, and you've degraded your capability? If you use them all in A, you'd better damn well believe you won't need them in B, C, etc....

That's all I'm saying.

Kevin you are completely right. It is a shame someone no one in the position to influence the President on this did so.

The reason I opposed this war was not some left-wing anti war rational. I expected Iraq to end up in the near-war situation it is in now so I
opposed the war because I believed it would end up doing more harm to US interest than anything Saddam would ever be able to do. I have seen nothing to make me change this opinion. The war has massively weakened the US and hurt our apility to influence events for years to come.


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on October 7, 2004 11:33 AM.

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