The Surge: Just Enough to Lose?

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John Moore / Getty

U.S. Marine Cpl. Jesse Costa walks down a street January 10, 2007, in Anbar province, Ramadi, Iraq.

The U.S. military may have officially signed off on President Bush's new Iraq plan, but there is still a healthy dose of skepticism about the so-called surge strategy. Many officers have taken to using the acronym "JEL" to characterize the number of troops dedicated to the new effort. It stands for “Just Enough to Lose." "Look, is this a national effort, or more of the same mid-level one?" asked a senior officer who has served in Iraq. "What I heard last night is more of the same. We either needed to go big — and that means 100,000 soldiers to fight, take on the nastiest elements like Moqtada Al Sadr, and police that country alongside Iraqis — or we should have found a way out."

But don’t expect any generals to be resigning over the President's decision. Army General William Wallace, who was one of the key ground commanders in the initial invasion in Iraq in 2003, said in a response to a question about the additional 20,000 troops and whether there were enough troops at the beginning of the war: "As a combat commander, you get what you get and do what you gotta do."

It remains to be seen if the intellectual godfathers of the Bush plan — scholar Fred Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute, and retired four-star Army general Jack Keane — will admit that the 20,000 number is less than they called for. When asked by TIME last week how many troops would be the absolute minimum to accomplish the counterinsurgency goals, Kagan replied that it was the number cited in their proposal — which was at least 30,000.

Hours after Bush spoke, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates overturned six years of resistance by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, and recommended to the President that the Army and the Marine Corps both be significantly increased over the next few years. Gates proposed that the Army grow by 65,000, to 547,000 and the Marine Corps grow to 202,000, an increase of 27,000. Both services have been calling for bump-ups for years, and some observers believe the the service chiefs' official support of the new strategy is the trade-off for getting their overall increases approved. Gates will also abandon the Pentagon policy of restricting National Guard and reserve troops to two years of combat duty for every five served, in order to be able to call up more for service in Iraq.

What worries generals in both the Army and Marine Corps is being able to actually find enough recruits to fill out the new, bigger services. The Army, in particular, had serious problems over the past few years reaching its recruitment goals and has had to allow older, less qualified newcomers. But Gen. Wallace told a small group of reporters this morning that recruiting is holding up remarkably well at the moment. In fact, he said, they are about 120% of where they expected to be at this time in the year, on their way to an annual goal of some 80,000 new recruits.