Fareed Zakaria has a convincing-sounding rundown of the mistakes that put us in our current position in Iraq. (Robin Wright has a different list in the Washington Post.)
Zakaria and Wright both quote what seems like a crucial number, and one I hadn’t heard before: based on experience elsewhere, the estimated troop strength required for effective pacification is 20 per 1000 population, which would have indicated an occupying army of about 500,000. (Recall Gen. Shinseki getting publicly dissed by Rummy for saying we would need several hundred thousand?) Instead, we have about 6 soldiers per thousand Iraqis. (And, Zakaria points out, an inadequate number of civilians in the CPA as well.) [Update: The Defense Department planned to have drawn down the force to 30,000 by late summer of 2003.]
An alternative to more U.S. troops might have been the recruitment of Iraqi forces (assuming that we were going to dismantle the existing Iraqi Army). But that effort, it seems to me, was probably doomed from the outset given the miserable pay offered to the soldiers and officers of the reconstituted Iraqi army: $50/mo. for the rank and file and $180/mo. for the officers. Is it any wonder those troops have melted away or simply refused to fight in the current crisis?
It seems like a case of insane penny-wisdom. Do the arithmetic: 100,000 soldiers at $2500/yr. would only only come to $250 million per year, a drop in the bucket compared to the $100 billion or so we’re likely to spend this year. Why be cheap about it?
More generally, as Zakaria notes, spreading more of our money around among the Iraqis to produce a large number of locals with a financial stake in the success of the occupation would probably have done more good than spending the same money on huge contracts for U.S. firms.
Of course, the best time to buy support is when you aren’t desperate. Still, if I were in Bremer’s shoes I’d be reconsidering the pay levels for the Iraqi army, police, and civil service.
As things now stand, Zakaria thinks that we’d better start dealing with Sistani and try to internationalize the occupation. He thinks it isn’t too late. I hope he’s right.