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Do the math to discover the outcome of Iraq

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In the observable physical world, there are laws that predict how and why things happen, and we use them all the time. For example, we can build and operate airplanes because we put to work the 300-year-old observations of a Swiss mathematician named Daniel Bernoulli. And almost 350 years ago, an Irish natural philosopher named Robert Boyle articulated the useful notion that the pressure, temperature and volume of fluids are related in a predictable way. Many modern innovations, including the hydraulic brakes on automobiles, use Boyle’s Law.

There is something of a Boyle’s Law at work in Iraq, too, and this became apparent in last week’s Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They made the rounds, appearing before both Senate and House committees with predictably unenlightening observations. One elected official asked Gen. Petraeus if he had enough troops, and he replied that he did, but this was disingenuous, since there is no such thing as too many resources, as long as you have them and the other guy does not.

Iraq has many war critics, from both sides of the aisle, most of whom supported going to war in the first place. Disillusioned with the lack of success and with the huge unanticipated cost, mostly the result of poor planning, ineptitude or both, there is a palpable ambivalence among Americans on the subject of Iraq.

Recognizing that a precipitous withdrawal would both contribute to chaos in the region and be a danger to our troops as they leave, many recognize that leaving Iraq in the lurch is both tactically and strategically a bad idea. But after years of war in Iraq, they are also pessimistic about the chances for a stable nation under any circumstances that can reasonably be posited.

More troops required
The problem is the immutability of Boyle’s Law. In war, there is generally a relationship between the resources we use and the time it will take to reach the objective. In Iraq, we desire the establishment of an Iraqi army that can keep the country relatively quiet. If we want it done quickly, it will take a large number of troops, perhaps even more than the several hundred thousand suggested by former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki. If we have no interest in committing the resources required, we must be prepared for a conflict, already longer than World War II, that will last much, much, longer.

Of course, it is still possible that Iraq will never be stable enough to operate on its own. There is a large number of factions fighting us, the government of Iraq, and each other, and there seems to be only a very tenuous agreement that representative democracy can be achieved in Iraq or even that is will work in the country at all.

But even if Iraq is fertile ground for the form of government we have established for it, anyone who thinks that the troop levels now in Iraq will be adequate to stabilize Iraq in a short period of time is almost undoubtedly wrong.

Jack Jacobs is a military analyst and a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.