Will More Troops Help in Iraq?

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President Bush is considering an increase in the troop force in Iraq. Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has prepared a presentation that makes the case for an additional 20,000 troops. But Fred Kaplan, who writes the War Stories column for Slate, argues that Kagan's proposal has gotten more attention than it deserves. Kaplan discusses the proposal for more troops with Alex Chadwick.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick. Madeleine Brand's away today.

Coming up: What happened to that report from the Iraq Study Group? But we'll start here. The new Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Baghdad on his first official tour. Today, he talked with American troops and with Iraqi leaders and he assured them of continued support.

Mr. ROBERT GATES (Secretary of Defense): The success of our partnership cannot happen without the security of the Iraqi people, and to that end, we discussed a wide range of options. And as we said yesterday, all options are on the table.

CHADWICK: And one option, the idea of a temporary surge of thousands more American troops into Baghdad. A chief proponent of this plan, Frederick Kagan. He's a retired West Point historian who's now a scholar at a Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Here he is on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED last week.

Dr. FREDERICK KAGAN (American Enterprise Institute): So far throughout this war, it has never been the objective of the American military forces in Iraq to establish security for the Iraqi population as a matter of priority. We think that is the main reason why we're having the trouble that we're having today, and therefore we've developed this report to look into what we think the troop requirement would be actually to establish security in the critical areas of Baghdad.

CHADWICK: Many people are talking about this in Washington. Various reports say President Bush is among them, but there are doubters as well. Fred Kaplan writes the War Stories column for the online magazine Slate. Here he is with a summary of the proposal that Mr. Kagan and his associates call Choosing Victory.

Mr. FRED KAPLAN (Slate): They say we have to surge an additional 20,000 troops into Iraq, put them all in Baghdad, put almost all the troops that are currently in Iraq into Baghdad as well, and then go neighborhood to neighborhood in a clear and hold operation. In other words, in one neighborhood, they clear out all the insurgents. Several of the troops stay there to maintain order while the others move onto the next neighborhood and then onto the next neighborhood and so forth.

CHADWICK: So this is make Baghdad the focus of the fight. Make it all happen there. Secure Baghdad, and that's the route to go.

Mr. KAPLAN: Right, and then move on and do the same thing in the other unstable areas of Iraq.

CHADWICK: Now you say that Mr. Kagan actually has been very inconsistent on the numbers of additional American troops needed, and you cite an article that he wrote just a couple of weeks ago calling for much greater numbers.

Mr. KAPLAN: Right. He wrote an article in the December 4th issue of Weekly Standards - the briefing is dated December 17th, I believe. He did a calculation which showed that you would need 80,000 additional U.S. troops. He then said, persuasively, that you could probably cut that down to 50,000. And then in this briefing, he's all of the sudden got 21,000 without any explanation for the difference, and as far as I can tell, no difference in the analysis. It's unclear how many troops are really needed for this plan.

CHADWICK: But what is clear, you say, is that it's simply not possible to get even the lower number of troops that Mr. Kagan asks for - to get them trained and functioning any time soon because the Army - or the Marine Corps, either - they can't handle that number of sudden, additional recruits.

Mr. KAPLAN: It might be possible to get 20,000 for awhile. I don't think by the spring, but by sometime next year, probably. The way you would do that would be just not to send people home who are scheduled to go home and to accelerate the schedule of the people who are scheduled to go back. You could do that for a little while.

But then he says that you need to recruit a lot more people to go to the other areas of Iraq while you're holding onto Baghdad. In other words, you can't just leave Baghdad and then go on to Tikrit. You've got to hold on to Baghdad and go on to Tikrit. For that, he says, we need to recruit an additional 30,000 Army people each year for the next two years. The problem with that is that I hear quite authoritatively that the most, the highest number of new soldiers the Army can recruit in any given year is about 7,000.

You know, Alex, right after September 11th, Congress passed a bill which expanded the size of the Army by 30,000 soldiers. That was five years ago. In the five years since, the Army has expanded its ranks by 23,000 people - still 7,000 short of the 30,000 that were authorized back then at a time when Bush was at his peak popularity, at a time of - talk about surge - a huge surge of patriotism. We read a lot of stories about how recruitment was picking up because people wanted to go over there and, you know, defeat the people who had attacked us. And even so, you couldn't get more than about five to 7,000 a year.

CHADWICK: You know, Fred Kagan argues both in this presentation and on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED last week that the one thing that would be the worst for the American military in Iraq would be defeat, to see Iraqi neighborhoods fall to the insurgents, to see the terrible things that happen in people's lives, the chaos, the sectarian violence that might ensue. This would be the worst blow for the American military.

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, I can think of a worse blow yet, and that is to throw another 30,000 young men and women into Iraq and to still have a defeat. I don't see anything in this briefing which says that this path will really lead to victory.

CHADWICK: Fred Kaplan writes the War Stories column for the online magazine Slate.

Fred, thank you again.

Mr. KAPLAN: Thank you.

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