July 4, 2008 – How many troops do we have to replace the ones deployed in Iraq today? You can make a good case the number is zero. But any stab at answering the question punctures the fantasy that the surge is an unalloyed success. And our reluctance to even consider the question tells us something else, that the surge was a sham intended to delay the day of reckoning. From its inception, the Iraq war strategy was like a plan to fly across the Pacific without enough fuel to get to the other side. The surge made the plane fly faster. Apparently, even George Packer doesn’t quite get it. So I’ll spell it out. Our troops are like jet fuel.
“How often can a soldier be put in harm’s way and still desire to remain in the Army? The answer is different for every soldier, but the deployment ratio range seems to be somewhere in between 3:1 and 5:1. That is, for every brigade that is forward deployed in combat operations or in a ‘hardship’ tour, there must exist between three and five brigades to sustain rotation. Thus a 3:1 rotation base would find soldiers deployed on such missions one-third of the time; a 5:1 rotation would see them deployed one fifth of their service time. For the purposes of this assessment, a 4:1 deployment ratio is assumed.” TheThin Green Line by Andrew Krepinevich, August 14, 2004. A study commissioned by the Pentagon.
U.S. Department of Defense Policy calls for a 2:1 deployment ratio. Senator James Webb’s bill, to require a 1:1 deployment ratio, was killed by Republicans.
The Baker-Hamilton Commission got it. The Iraq Study Group also grasped the other realities that our government and mainstream press continue to ignore. Iraq’s leaders are much closer to Iran than they are to the United States. As reported last month by Forecast International Defense Intelligence Newsletters, Iraq’s defense minister signed signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation with Iran.
And while the strategic interests of the government’s of Iraq and the U.S. are different, there is no avoiding the fact that any security solution requires the proactive involvement of Iraq’s neighbors. They control transit across the common borders and they have absorbed millions of Iraqi refugees. As David Ignatius’ column makes clear, there is no way we can gain the upper hand over the Iranians by our troop presence, because we can never match their ability to secure intelligence. Iranians can blend in to Iraq (as they have for hundreds of years) whereas our troops cannot. That’s why James Baker said it made no sense to pick and choose from the ISG proposal as if it were a fruit salad. And of course the surge played out exactly as the ISG report said it would.
The surge was like all the other bait-and-switch scams used to spin away the implications of our Iraq policy. Witness Robert Gates’ empty promises to end the stop loss program and shortening tours of duty. During his confirmation hearings, Gates emphasized that “all options are on the table” for Iraq and as soon as he took office, all of the options of the ISG report were disregarded in favor of Petraeus’ surge. And then the stalling began. First, the surge needed time to work. Then, because the surge was working well, there would be a “pause” in the rate of troop withdrawals, which was a euphemism for making troop levels higher than ever. Then, we were told to hold off on any judgement until Petraeus gave his report the following month. Now, we hear that the surge is such a success that the handoff should be slow and gradual.
If we accept the mainstream narrative on its face, the surge worked. It transformed the U.S. troop presence from being counterproductive to being indispensable for maintaining stability. But can we continue with anything close to the current level of troops deployed over there?
Here’s a very incomplete laundry list of warnings that the answer is clearly, “No.”
(By the way, guess how much The White House budgeted for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2009. Zero.)
1. “Mullen’s Choice: Troops For Afghanistan Or Troops For Iraq,” Washington Independent, July 3, 2008
2. “Iraq Troop Boost Erodes Readiness, General Says,” The Washington Post, February 16, 2007
3. “U.S. deploys more than 43,000 unfit for combat,” USA Today, May 8, 2008
4. “US Sent Medically Unfit Soldiers to Iraq, Pentagon Acknowledges,” Knight-Ridder, March 25, 2004
5. “Pentagon Ends Time Limit On Guard, Reserve, Stretched Thin In Iraq, Army Abandons 24-Month Limit On Time Citizen-Soldiers Must Serve,” CBS/AP, January 12, 2007
6. “Col.: DOD delayed brain injury scans,” USA Today, March 18, 2008
“For more than two years, the Pentagon delayed screening troops returning from Iraq for mild brain injuries because officials feared veterans would blame vague ailments on the little-understood wound caused by exposure to bomb blasts, says the military’s director of medical assessments.”
7. “Scientists: Brain injuries from war worse than thought,” USA Today, September 23, 2007.
“Scientists trying to understand traumatic brain injury from bomb blasts are finding the wound more insidious than they once thought.
“They find that even when there are no outward signs of injury from the blast, cells deep within the brain can be altered, their metabolism changed, causing them to die, says Geoff Ling, an advance-research scientist with the Pentagon.
“The new findings are the result of blast experiments in recent years on animals, followed by microscopic examination of brain tissue. The findings could mean that the number of brain-injured soldiers and Marines — many of whom appear unhurt after exposure to a blast — may be far greater than reported, says Ibolja Cernak, a scientist with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.”
9. “Invisible Wounds of War,” a report by The Rand Corporation, April 2008.
“We estimate that approximately 300,000 individuals currently suffer from PTSD or major depression and that 320,000 individuals experienced a probable TBI [traumatic brain injury] during deployment.
“About one-third of those previously deployed have at least one of these three
conditions, and about 5 percent report symptoms of all three. Some specific groups,
previously understudied–including the Reserve Components and those who have left
military service–may be at higher risk of suffering from these conditions.Of those reporting a probable TBI, 57 percent had not been evaluated by a physician for brain injury.”
Can anyone add to this list?