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Troop Surge Not Enough To Save Iraq

GENERIC: Iraq, War, Soldier, Soldiers, Troops
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This column was written by Victor Davis Hanson.

There are troop surges, and then there are troop surges in military history. Some radically alter the calculus of the battlefield. Others simply add to the stasis and sense of quagmire, ending up as nothing more than preludes to defeat.

The Allied offensives of August and September 1918 that finally broke the Kaiser's armies followed from a surge of thousands of fresh American troops into the western front. But the victory wasn't due just to the increase in numbers. After all, the Germans themselves the previous spring had tried to break through the Allied trenches with thousands of additional storm troopers freed from the Russian Front.

The difference was that the Allies created a new unified command structure under Gen. Foch, employed greater combined use of tanks, exploited the element of surprise by means of shorter bombardments, and depended on much better organized logistics to sustain initial breakthroughs.

In the first dark months of the Korean War, Gen. MacArthur increased U.S. troop strength for the September 1950 Inchon assault. But that dramatic breakthrough and recapture of Seoul came as a result of risky amphibious operations — not just more boots on the ground.

William Tecumseh Sherman's Army of the West finally reached a level of nearly 100,000 troops in late summer 1864. Yet its success was predicated not on increased numbers per se, but rather on a radical shift in tactics, abandoning reliance on rail support and living off the land.

When Sherman left on his March to the Sea, he actually pruned his forces. A good argument could be made that Lee finally cracked, not because Grant's surges smashed his lines, but due to southern desertion and loss of morale, once it was known that a huge and unpredictable Union army under the unconventional Sherman was approaching the Confederate rear through the Carolinas.

In contrast, the troop surges of the Athenians under Demosthenes into Sicily in 414 B.C., the steady increases in the Union Army of the Potomac in Virginia from 1862-64, the British build-ups in Flanders from 1914-17, the French rise to nearly 400,000 troops by 1956 in Algeria, or the American escalation from 1964-67 in Vietnam did little to change the dynamics of any of those wars. In all these cases, tactics went largely unchanged, in the mistaken view that prior failure was primarily due to an absence of manpower.

If the United States sends more troops into Iraq, especially Baghdad, then we must expand the parameters of operations — otherwise, thousands of fresh American soldiers will only end up ensuring the four things we seek to avoid in Iraq: more conventional targets for IEDs when more soldiers venture out of our compounds; more support troops behind fortified berms that enlarge the American infidel profile; more assurances to the Iraqis that foreign troops will secure their country for them; and more American prestige put into peril.

As the troop levels gradually rise, there will be a brief window of opportunity as the world watches whether greater numbers will radically change conditions on the ground.

If in a matter of a few months conditions do not improve, they will begin to get far worse — there will not be a continuation of the status quo. The jihadists will grasp that they have survived the last reserves of American manpower; antiwar critics will pronounce the war to be unwinable regardless of the amount of American blood and treasure spent.