The epitome of this question is whether or not more US troops could have prevented the looting and lawlessness that characterized Iraq immediately after Hussein's government fell. Sullivan thinks the answer is yes, Powerline says no. But I don't see any reason to doubt why more US troops couldn't have stopped the looting. It's well known that looters stayed away from areas under US guard, the problem was that US troops were so overstretched we couldn't guard everything at once, or even everything important at once. If the Iraqi's are so desperate to break out into anarchy and lawlessness that they'll do it even when optimism is high and US military presence is strong, then we might as well concede defeat in Iraq now, because a democracy can never form under those circumstances. At the very least, Rumsfeld deserves blame for not giving democracy a fair shake.
But Powerline's follow-up post is far more disturbing. They write:
Sullivan finds it "blindingly obvious" that we don't have the number of troops in Iraq "needed to keep the peace, to police a country of tens of millions, to seal borders, to gain intelligence and to suppress rioting, looting and disorder." If that's our mission then, yes, it's obvious to me that we don't have enough troops. Indeed, to "police" the entire country of Iraq might require Vietnam-era troop levels. But if our mission is basically to capture and kill insurgents, train and help build up Iraqi forces, and provide enough security for elections to occur and for the elected government to assume power, then it's less than clear that our present troop levels are insufficient.
To me, this is game, set, and match in favor of the argument that we needed more troops. Why? Because the need to "keep the peace, to police a country of tens of millions, to seal borders, to gain intelligence, and to suppress rioting, looting and disorder" are prerequisites to the latter objectives. We can't expect to end the insurgency unless we secure the borders and gather intelligence. There cannot be a democracy if the nation cannot be policed. I am dumbfounded at how these issues can be separated. As I blogged earlier (quoting Robert Kagan), the looting in Iraq and the general feeling of insecurity in the region is a direct cause of the present insurgency. The two issues cannot be divided.
"The most tragic [of the Bush administration's failures] was the failure in the early days after the invasion to fulfill the 'first duty' of an occupying power: providing basic security. Much has been made of the looting that occurred immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, but Feldman notes the essential point: by allowing the looting to proceed, American forces sent a clear message 'that the United States was not in charge, and that no one else was, either.' Iraqis had to seek security for themselves in what was for a time a state of anarchy, and it was hardly surprising that they turned to their own kind for protection. Feldman says that it was not 'ancient' ethnic and religious differences that empowered armed militias, but the human instinct for survival. 'Had there been half a million U.S. troops on the ground,' he insists, 'it is highly likely that there would have been little looting, no comparable sense of insecurity and therefore a reduced need for denominational identities to become as dominant as they quickly did.'"
Rumsfeld and his allies still view this as solely a military conflict. In doing so, they neglect the other causes and issues that relate to the war on terrorism, and this blindspot has manifested itself in terms of increased instability in the anti-terror frontlines. We need a secretary of defense who sees the war holistically, and has a plan for winning it. Sure, having a plan isn't everything. But it still is something, and that something essential to winning this war.