The Washington Post

No Easy Victory

In "'Cakewalk' Revisited" [op-ed, April 10], Ken Adelman gives himself a pat on the back for having predicted in a February 2002 Post op-ed that defeating Iraq would be a cakewalk, and he accuses us of having written a "fear-mongering" article about the challenges that might be involved in doing so.

Everyone's definition of "cakewalk" is different, and if Adelman's is stretched to include a campaign in which we so far have deployed 300,000 troops, spent $70 billion, lost more than 130 servicemen and women, suffered hundreds of wounded, and killed many thousands of Iraqis, that is his right. But his trivialization of the costs of war becomes pure chutzpah when he gloats about the success of the military strategy that he and many of his intellectual allies had opposed for years.

Adelman's prediction was made in response to our December 2001 op-ed in which we challenged arguments by such war proponents as Pentagon advisers Richard Perle and James Woolsey that Iraq could be liberated and stabilized without a major commitment of U.S. ground troops [see "A Tougher Target"]. Bush administration officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, had made a similar case before they took office. We argued that to be sure of success both during the war and after, we would need at least 100,000 to 200,000 troops—an idea that Adelman mocked as overkill. His alternative? U.S. air power and "arming the Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south, and [Saddam's] many opponents everywhere."

Let us be serious about what has been happening in Iraq: A massive invasion force has been winning an ugly fight. The Powell doctrine of overwhelming force has not been repudiated. With Saddam Hussein's irregulars bold enough to engage in serious firefights, harass coalition flanks and intimidate the Iraqi population into subservience, one can only imagine what would have happened if the United States had limited its military contribution to a small number of troops. With looting in Iraq rampant today, one can only imagine how much harder it would be to restore stability—a mission that we must urgently pursue—absent a major outside force.

Adelman and company did get some predictions right—thanks mostly to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's decision to ignore their advice by sending in a decisive ground force. American casualties were not high. No Scud missiles have been fired at Israel. Only a few oil wells have been set afire. Hussein has not used chemical or biological weapons. Turkey has not intervened in the north, and Iran has not intervened in the east. We admit to having been skeptical that Baghdad would fall before at least some of these things happened—and are delighted to have been proven wrong.

We also acknowledge that this war may prove to be a major strategic success. Indeed, the two of us publicly endorsed using the threat of force to make disarmament work, supported the war effort once diplomacy failed and defended the basic Pentagon strategy in the war's early days, when many were criticizing it. Iraq is being liberated and demilitarized to the benefit of its own people, the Mideast and the world at large. But it is a misreading of what has been happening to suggest that changing the regime in Baghdad was an easy task, and it would be equally misguided to assume that stabilizing Iraq in the coming months and years will be any easier.

These are not just debating points. Those who claimed that a small force could overthrow Hussein also assumed that significant numbers of U.S. troops would not be necessary to stabilize Iraq once he was gone. We can all hope they prove right. But it would be folly to assume that stabilizing Iraq will be a cakewalk until the situation begins to settle and until we can find—or build—a security force capable of maintaining order. About 100,000 to 200,000 troops may be needed to police the country, find and destroy weapons of mass destruction, prevent remnants of Hussein's loyalists from regrouping, maintain a northern presence to deter conflict among Kurds, Arabs and Turks, and train a new Iraqi military.

That means it is time to start forming a plan for post-Hussein Iraq that our allies will support, because we will need their boots on the ground. The best idea would be to turn the military stabilization mission over to NATO and persuade even France and Germany to contribute troops. This administration's initial instincts to assume Iraqi postwar stability and treat the country as a U.S. protectorate are as flawed as the cakewalk crowd's prewar arguments about how easy it would be to remove Saddam Hussein.