Rep. John Murtha is right when he says, “The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.”
Even if victory could somehow be achieved, it would be Pyrrhic given the costs and consequences. Moreover, it would only be a tactical victory at the expense of losing strategic position in the war on terrorism. What the Bush administration refuses to understand is that the U.S. military occupation in Iraq is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Therefore, the strategic imperative is to exit Iraq rather than stay. And although it is counterintuitive, exiting Iraq may be a prerequisite for victory.
Even if one is willing to believe President Bush’s promise of complete victory, substantially more boots on the ground are needed to have a fighting chance of achieving it. Historically, the force ratio for successful counterinsurgency operations is 20 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants, which is what the British—often acknowledged as the most experienced practitioners of counterinsurgency operations and demonstrably more successful than the U.S. military—deployed for more than a decade in Malaya and more than 25 years in Northern Ireland. With a population of nearly 25 million people, to meet the same standard in Iraq would require a force of 500,000 troops—more than three times the current Iraq deployment of 150,000 soldiers and equal to the size of the entire active-duty U.S. Army which has already been strained by the current Iraq deployment of 150,000 troops—for perhaps a decade or longer.
Charles V. Peña is an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, and analyst for MSNBC. He is a co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the United States Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War against Al Qaeda and author of the forthcoming Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.