The Magic 20k

David Brooks gives us a pretty standard surge narrative:

For over three years, President Bush sided with the light-footprint school. He did so for personal reasons, not military ones. Casey and Abizaid are impressive men, and Bush deferred to their judgment.

But sometimes good men make bad choices, and it is now clear that the light-footprint approach has been a disaster. If the U.S. had committed more troops and established security back in 2003, when, as Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek recently reminded us, the Coalition Provisional Authority had 70 percent approval ratings, history would be different.

So, given all that, would adding troops now help? "Many in and out of the administration think so, hence all the talk about a surge — putting 20,000 more troops into Baghdad, finally occupying the dangerous neighborhoods, finally starting a jobs program, finally forcing national reconciliation." Brooks actually thinks it's too late for this. Instead, we should combine a surge with "giving up the dream of national reconciliation and acknowledging that Iraq is in the process of dividing itself" and "using adequate force levels (finally!) to help those who are returning to sectarian homelands. It would mean erecting buffers between populations where possible and establishing order in areas that remain mixed."

A bunch of questions arise. Is it really plausible that the difference between a stable democratic Iraq and the current mess is whether or not there were 20,000 more troops there in 2006? Note that 20,000 just coincidentally happens to be the number of troops currently logistically available for a surge. The standard "more troops" doctrine has always maintained that the initial occupation force should have included 400,000-500,000 troops, not 20,000 more troops. It's just too trivial a number to make a real difference (except, of course, to the people who will see their deployments extended, to those who die on extended deployments, to their wives, children, husbands, etc.).

What's more, almost four years into the war, if Bush is about to implement yet another new strategy and Brooks thinks that strategy is doomed to fail, isn't it time to just give up on the war? To stop offering further helpful suggestions? Why is Brooks so nanchalant about the wastage of lives looming in what he acknowledges is a doomed military escalation.