Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A question for the president

Here's a question that reporters should be asking the president’s press secretary:

Has the president asked his military commanders in Iraq if having more troops in the country would result in fewer American casualties?

The Bush administration keeps insisting that it is not refusing to increase troop levels in Iraq for the political reason of not wanting to look like it is sinking into quagmire, and was unprepared for the occupation. Instead, they say that they are asking their commanders in the field if they need more soldiers, and those commanders had not asked for additional troops.

I don’t believe it – that those commanders could not want additional troops for force protection. Assuming the Bush administration is not lying when they say they’ve asked and received a negative response about the need for additional troops, then I think the questions asked of commanding officers have been carefully phrased. I’ll bet they are asking this: “Are you unable to meet the security tasks assigned to you with the troop levels we have given you? You are able to do the job? Okay – if you find yourself incapable of completing the mission you have been ordered to do with current forces, let us know.” Any ambitious officer will say yes, I can do it, you don’t need to replace me with someone who does not need additional troops because I don’t need additional troops.

The ability to do the job is very different from the ability to do the job with fewer casualties. This is my best guess for explaining the paradox that more troops are needed in Iraq, while Bush keeps claiming that he’s not the one that stopping them.

I’ve listened to Richard Clarke’s book, “Against All Enemies”, twice now on an audiobook. It’s very good. At one point, Clarke points out how Defense Secretary Les Aspin was forced to quit because he failed to give US soldiers in Somalia sufficient weaponry to protect themselves, resulting in 18 American deaths. The Democrats should get some respected military analysts to give their best guess on how many fewer casualties they US would have experienced if the Bush administration had not refused the troop levels necessary to protect them.

Update: Following the advice in this column, I just emailed my question to the White House. I'm sure I'll get my response in no time! (It still might be better if a reporter asked it, though...)

Update (July 20):  The following is from the July 16, print version of The Wall Street Journal:  “White House spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis [stated] ‘The troop levels in Iraq have always been guided by what commanders in the field have said is necessary to accomplish the mission.’”
I think the administration is wording that very carefully.

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