Surge Toward What?

Iraq’s condition worsens with each passing day. Corruption and violence infect every sphere of daily life. Drug trafficking is on the rise and more than a million and a half Iraqi Arabs reside as refugees inside neighboring states.

Simultaneously, the cost of Iraq’s military occupation will soon reach $1 trillion; and this in the context of a fragile American economy where 65% of the working population lives paycheck to paycheck, where nearly 50 million have no health insurance, and where major problems in both the housing and automobile industries may well herald a recession.

Worse, the hostility of the Arab population combined with the loss of 25,000 American dead and wounded during three years’ of occupation provides little evidence the commanding generals in CENTCOM know how to effectively employ the 140,000 troops already in Iraq.

Seemingly oblivious to the disaster, the President is resolved to commit more troops to the occupation of Iraq while pressing for increases in the nation’s badly stretched army and Marine ground forces. The President’s message seems to be that America needs larger ground forces designed to conduct unwanted military occupations of Muslim Arab countries while crushing the resulting internal rebellions against us that we call insurgencies.

Lawmakers like Ike Skelton from Missouri aren’t buying it. He and others are asking how the U.S. will benefit from reinforcing the already ruinous occupation with new, large-scale conventional combat operations? Part of the answer depends on what these forces will do when they arrive.

If the fight is for Baghdad, one target for the additional troops is Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, the largest Shiite militia numbering somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters depending on the estimate. Some readers will recall that Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric and darling of Tehran’s ruling Mullahs, was previously the target of American forces when U.S. generals promised in the spring of 2004 that Muqtada al-Sadr would be punished for his opposition to the U.S. military occupation and U.S. sponsored Iraqi government. Like so many other claims made by U.S. generals in the last three years, this one also turned out to be erroneous.

Muqtada al-Sadr survived and thrived. Today, he is the vanguard of the Iranian-backed forces inside Iraq’s green zone government and he would welcome a direct assault on his force.

Not only would a U.S. attack on his militia mobilize the entire Shiite Muslim Arab population against the United States and further strengthen Iran’s hand inside Iraq, expanding the American military presence and widening the conflict would eliminate any possible incentive for the multitude of Sunni and Shiite Arab factions from reaching an accommodation with each other.

It’s also time to get out of Iraq before more of our talented soldiers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains vote with their feet turning the “Army of One” into the “Army of None.” One of the biggest reasons so many junior officers leave the service is the character, competence and intelligence of the senior military leadership they see when they look up the chain of command. What the ground forces need is new leadership along with genuine reform and reorganization, the kind of transformation Rumsfeld’s high-tech obsession ignored and the active and retired four stars successfully obstructed.

Sadly, none of these points figures in the President’s strategic calculus because sending more troops to Iraq now provides just about everyone with something they need: The White House along with Democrats and Republicans in Congress can claim to be doing something. The generals, eager to shift blame for their failures on the ground in Iraq to the White House get their old built-in excuse for their failure (we didn’t have enough troops) and even the enemy on the ground in Iraq wins because he gets several thousand more targets to wound or kill.

Iran wins because our increased presence offends Arabs everywhere and we mobilize support for Tehran’s bid to lead the Muslim World. It is clearly a win-win situation for everyone except the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines doing the fighting on the ground in Iraq.

The late Peter Drucker wrote, “We have tried to substitute mass for purpose. We have tried to regain military potency of defense by making it gigantic, unwieldy, complex. It never works.” Drucker was right.

In 1991 and again in 2003, our superb combat soldiers and marines easily overpowered their weak enemies regardless of what decisions the generals took. But the enemy adapted and the generals did not. Now, more soldiers and marines will not compensate for misguided strategy and failed generalship in Iraq.

Col. Douglas A. MacGregor, Ph.D., is lead partner in Potomac League, LLC. He is the author of “Breaking the Phalanx” and Transformation under Fire: Revolutionizing the Way America Fights. Macgregor served in the first Gulf War and at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe during the Kosovo Air Campaign. He was an adviser to the Department of Defense on initial Second Gulf War plans and is an expert on defense policy issues of organization and transformation.