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It is worth noting that before the shooting starts, another battle, fought behind the scenes, has already been lost and won. This one was waged via endless meetings and telephone calls during the past eight months between Rumsfeld and Franks over exactly how to run this war. As with any battle plan, the military has raised some doubts; one officer estimates that as many as 1 in 3 senior officers questions the wisdom of a pre-emptive war with Iraq. The reasons aren't surprising: the U.S. military is already stretched across the globe, the war against Osama bin Laden is unfinished, and even if the march to Baghdad goes quickly, a long postwar occupation looks inevitable. The military's assessment of the chances of success are less optimistic than those of the Administration's theologians. So the sessions produced an inevitable compromise between soldier and politician. And if it's hard to tell who won, that's partly because, as Franks told TIME, "It's not a matter of winning and losing; winning and losing occurs on a battlefield."
When Franks' rough draft first arrived at the Pentagon nearly a year ago, the plan was to invade Iraq from Kuwait in the south, from Turkey in the north and from Jordan in the west. Rumsfeld couldn't shake the notion that it seemed too familiar. He felt that the U.S. would face a far weaker Iraqi army than the one it crushed 12 years ago--and has bombed incessantly for the past five years. "Despite being told not to do it, [Franks] basically sent up a revised Gulf War I plan. Rumsfeld couldn't believe it," says a senior Pentagon official. Says a Central Command officer: "As soon as they started talking numbers, real disagreements broke out."
While Franks said he needed at least 250,000 troops, Rumsfeld wanted no more than 100,000, fearing that larger numbers gathered on Saddam's doorstep would present a tempting target. Rumsfeld was also enamored of the dubious idea, backed by a few gung-ho Pentagon civilians, that a small force could hook up with tribesmen in the north and south and get the job done quickly. That might have worked against ragtag warlords in Afghanistan, but it would be dangerous in Iraq, where Saddam has a 400,000-man army. As the plan bounced between Washington and Franks' Tampa, Fla., headquarters, Franks' troop count fell and then rose again as war planners became convinced that they might have to engage in door-to-door fighting in Baghdad. The final number split the difference: war with Iraq could begin with as few as 150,000 U.S. troops in the region--ready to strike by mid-February--with 100,000 or more standing by in Europe and elsewhere. "Rumsfeld is all about challenging your assumptions," says a senior Navy officer who works with him. "He wants proof of everything. His basic message is, Show me the data, and I'll show you the troops or the money."