Rummy: Just Enough Troops To Lose

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - June 22, 2005
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On Wednesday morning last week, respected New York Times foreign policy columnist Thomas L. Friedman called for increasing United States troop levels in Iraq: “I still don’t know if a selfsustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible,” wrote Friedman. “I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying (Iraqi) national leaders to emerge in a caldron of violence.”

Friedman blamed the current chaos in Iraq on “Donald Rumsfeld’s disastrous decision, endorsed by President Bush, to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain.

“Almost every problem we face in Iraq today — the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals — flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.”

Friedman concluded his column arguing that the president should abandon the Rumsfeld Doctrine of “‘just enough troops to lose.’” Instead, he should “double the American boots on the ground” and redouble diplomatic efforts to bring Sunnis into the process.

On Thursday of last week — a day after the Friedman column appeared, Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie stood with Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ron Paul (RTX). Martin Meehan (D-MA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) to introduce a resolution calling for President Bush to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

“Our troops have done everything we’ve asked of them,” said Abercrombie in a prepared statement. “Their patriotism, bravery and professionalism have been superb. Thanks to their sacrifices, Iraqis now have the opportunity to shape their country’s destiny.

“By keeping our troops in Iraq indefinitely, we’re asking them to resolve political and social issues that need to be resolved by Iraqis themselves. That’s unfair to the troops, their families and the country. The strain of unending deployments has put unbearable strains on our military, particularly the Reserves and National Guard.

“It’s time to get serious about an exit strategy.”

That it is. Friedman thinks as clearly about foreign policy as anyone writing today, but he’s wrong on this one for at least two reasons. First, because the Bush administration has proven time and time again that its leaders are incapable of listening to any save the idealogues who share their point of view. It doesn’t matter the issue — stem-cell research, the Schiavo right-to-die case, private savings accounts as part of Social Security, or the U.N. inspectors who said they could find no weapons of mass destruction — Bush’s administration constitutes an ideological gang that can shoot straight, but almost invariably in the wrong direction.


Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki learned that before a shot was fired in Iraq. The Kauai native warned repeatedly that larger force levels would be needed to prevail.

But of course Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld knew better. Two years and more than 1,700 dead American servicemen and women later (not to mention the dead Iraqis, whom we don’t even keep a count of; what do they matter?), very few — even among the idealogues —would dispute that Shinseki knew of what he spoke.

The second problem with Friedman’s prescription for success in Iraq is that there won’t be enough bodies around to fill the boots he wants to put on the ground. The Bush administration has succeeded (to paraphrase an old Vietnam era bumper sticker) in giving us a war to which no one — or damned few — want to come. For the past several months, military recruiters have been falling far behind their enlistment quotas. Iraq is a rotten war, entered into for spurious reasons by a political leadership that tried to wage it on the cheap. Young Americans and their parents know increasingly know that.

“Patriotism light” it’s been called. Spend $370 billion on a war, but don’t pay for it; give a huge tax cut instead and charge it to the next generation. And, of course, let someone else’s son and daughter fight it: not banker’s sons or congressmen’s daughters. No, let a volunteer force made up primarily of working class or poverty class kids do it.

Patriotism light will not put more boots on the ground; and when only 37 percent of the American people currently approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq, neither the Congress nor the president have the political will to resurrect the draft.

Abercrombie got it right last week. Friedman exercised a flight of fancy.

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