Catching Up on Incompetent War Administration

Turns out in 1999 a simulation of an attack on Iraq suggested that we would need 400,000 troops to get it done — and even then there was a good chance that things would tip into chaos. As a reference point, currently we have 144,000 troops in Iraq, and things are a bit of a mess there right now, as you may have heard (although there was a spot of good news from there today as well).

Despite it being fashionable to pile on Rumsfeld at this time, I do think it’s worth remembering that the actual “fighting Saddam’s army” portion of going into Iraq was indeed done very well by the much smaller invading force that we used; that portion of Rumsfeld’s plan worked fine. Where everything fell down was in everything after desposing Saddam, where it’s clear we didn’t have the troops but more importantly, we didn’t have the plans, to do a creditable job occupying the country. I think not having the plans is clearly the major issue; it’s hard to point to a single thing that was done competently in Iraq after we took control of the place. Without intelligent planning it really wouldn’t have mattered if we had put 400,000 troops in there, or a million.

Of course, as this war gaming document notes, it may simply have been that no matter what, we’d have had a failed state. So here’s some irony for you: It may be that Rumsfeld did us all a favor by committing as few troops as possible. After all, if the end result is going to be a failed state anyway, better to have as few troops on the ground as you can, so you have fewer body bags coming home. But that assumes that Rumsfeld et al, knew from the very beginning that the end result of invading Iraq was going to be failure; I don’t imagine that was really seriously discussed.

The neocons who justified the War in Iraq, incidentally, now explain why none of the bloody mess should be laid at their feet. It boils down to the neocons saying “hey, we’re just the idea guys. You can’t blame us when the implementation fails.” Funny how so many neocon ideas fail in the implementation; at a certain point one has to reasonably wonder if every neocon idea is fated to fail when it hits the real world. This is what you get when the people who build policy are so far removed from reality that Atlas Shrugged is their lodestone for ideal human behavior.

Personally, I think they should all win a delightful expense-paid vacation to Tikrit. Hell, I’ll even cough up for a collection. God knows we’re paying for their accomplishments anyway.

Also, if you have to ask me how I feel about the administration logic that says that people who have been tortured by the US in secret CIA prisons can’t talk about being tortured to their lawyers because those torture methods are state secrets, you’ve really not been paying attention. And no, I’m not going to bother with the polite fiction that suggests that “alternative interrogation methods” are something other than torture, because, see, I’m the sort of straight-talkin, hip-shootin’ fella that tell it like it is. Hi there, I’m from the US, where we torture people now, even if we don’t want them to talk about it. Nice to meet you. I’ll understand if you don’t want to shake my hand.

I’m just glad I’m not to poor son of a bitch from the Justice Department that has to stand up in front of a judge and make that argument, because I’m pretty sure that tearing sound I’d hear in my brain when I made it would be a piece of my soul being tugged right off. Not entirely sure any job is worth that.

39 thoughts on “Catching Up on Incompetent War Administration

  1. Lovely how the Neocons will duck their culpability. Also, there were plans, the pentagon had been planning on an ongoing basis since the first gulf war, Rummey did not like the numbers and threw the plans and the army’s secretary and joint chief out. The replacement plans left something to be desired. Shinseki and White both we canned because they had the audacity to say you needed at least 300,000 troops to stabilize Iraq.

    I still believe that they wanted the troop levels that low so that the cost of the war and the commitment of personnel (the reserves) would be low enough not to tip the 2004 election. In my mind they put their interests and the interests of the Republican party before the vital interests of the nation, a nation at war, a nation they were sworn to protect and serve, a nation gambling on a preemptive war to achieve a massive strategic global realignment. To have screwed this up for political reasons is treason.

    Ultimately, the biggest problem is that we sent the world’s 4th largest standing army home, with their weapons, in a country with almost unlimited ammunition caches, with no jobs. The original plan was to provide them work rebuilding the country and a raise. That policy changed when we sent in Bremmer. Within a year the insurgents were offering $100 to anyone who killed Americans, funny how that choice becomes a no brainer when your children are hungry and the country is stagnate.

    While support for the administration is finally waning, I am dumbfounded that that support for BushCo is strong in the military. He has squandered the resources, the lives, and the reputation of our armed forces. Why do they love this guy he is not their friend, does not have their (or the country’s) interest at heart, and certainly not a competent leader. I could go on but I have to get up off the floor and stop banging my head on the furniture.

  2. They aren’t the only one suggesting more troops were necessary. Here’s a nice article I read years ago that discusses required troop levels for this sort of action.

    http://www.rand.org/publications/randreview/issues/summer2003/nation1.html

    I’ve always compartmentalized my opposition to the war into two categories:

    1. Going to war under false pretenses. This stopped being a significant issue for me a long time ago, since there’s really nothing we can do about it but complain.

    2. Poor planning and operational screw-ups, as well as understating the time and scope of the operations to make it more politically palatable.

    This one has been a continous problem since we entered the war and I don’t see it improving without a change in leadership. At this point, I’m not sure the problem is even correctable outside of an outright pull-out, unless someone can conjure up 2.5 million troops. That’s 500,000 troops stationed in Iraq, with enough troops to actually rotate soldiers out of the combat zone for a long enough period of time. I simply don’t believe that there’s enough moral capital for citizens to support tripling the number of troops on the ground in Iraq.

  3. Sounds like Vanity Fair was pulling a fast one:

    David Frum:

    There has been a lot of talk this season about deceptive campaign ads, but the most dishonest document I have seen is this press release from Vanity Fair, highlighted on the Drudge Report . Headlined “Now They Tell Us,” it purports to offer an “exclusive” access to “remorseful” former supporters of the Iraq war who will now “play the blame game” with “shocking frankness.” … My most fundamental views on the war in Iraq remain as they were in 2003: The war was right, victory is essential, and defeat would be calamitous.

    And that to my knowledge is the view of everybody quoted in the release and the piece: Adelman, Cohen, Ledeen, Perle, Pletka, Rubin, and all the others.

    Michael Ledeen:

    So it is totally misleading for Vanity Fair to suggest that I have had second thoughts about our Iraq policy. But then one shouldn’t be surprised. No one ever bothered to check any of the lies in the first screed, and obviously no fact-checker was involved in the latest “promotion.” I actually wrote to David Rose, the author of the article-to-come, a person for whom I have considerable respect. He confirmed that words attributed to me in the promo had been taken out of context.

    Richard Perle:

    Vanity Fair has rushed to publish a few sound bites from a lengthy discussion with David Rose. Concerned that anything I might say could be used to influence the public debate on Iraq just prior to Tuesday’s election, I had been promised that my remarks would not be published before the election.

    I should have known better than to trust the editors at Vanity Fair who lied to me and to others who spoke with Mr. Rose. Moreover, in condensing and characterizing my views for their own partisan political purposes, they have distorted my opinion about the situation in Iraq and what I believe to be in the best interest of our country.

    I believe it would be a catastrophic mistake to leave Iraq, as some are demanding, before the Iraqis are able to defend their elected government. As I told Mr. Rose, the terrorist threat to our country, which is real, would be made much worse if we were to make an ignominious withdrawal from Iraq.

    Michael Rubin:

    Vanity Fair’s agenda was a pre-election hit job, and I guess some of us quoted are at fault for believing too much in integrity. What the article seeks to do is push square pegs into round holes. Readers will see that the content of the piece does not match the sensational headlines. …

    I absolutely stand by what I said. Too many people in Washington treat foreign policy as a game. Many Washington-types who speak about Iraq care not about the U.S. servicemen or about the Iraqis, but rather focus on U.S. electoral politics. I am a Republican, but whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power, Washington’s word must mean something. Leadership is about responsibility, not just politics. We cannot go around the world betraying our allies — in this case Iraqis who believed in us or allied with us — just because of short-term political expediency.

    Not surprising, but unfortunate.

  4. If by “pulling a fast one” you mean “embarrassing the neo-conservatives right before an election, causing them to offer tendentious and not entirely convincing backtracking statements,” then, yes, I suppose so. And I could see how it’s unfortunate for the neo-conservatives.

    As for the “words attributed to me taken out of context,” unless Mr. Ledeen wishes to suggest he did not in fact say the words, he should probably more accurately say “the words I said were taken out of context,” and we should ask what sort of additional context is necessary to understand the particular words, which are “Ask yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes.” They seem fairly clear and straightforward.

    Indeed, unless all the quotes from all the neo-conservatives were immediately prefaced by the words “Now, understand I’m high on codiene-laced cough syrup, so I may not say what I mean here,” or something similar, then the issue of “context” is a red herring to deflect from the fact that these neo-conservatives have said things they didn’t expect to be presented so soon to the public. That’s pretty much all there is to that, I suspect.

  5. I’m just glad I’m not to poor son of a bitch from the Justice Department that has to stand up in front of a judge and make that argument, because I’m pretty sure that tearing sound I’d hear in my brain when I made it would be a piece of my soul being tugged right off.

    I’ve found that lawyers who, as part of their job, have to consistently defend evil, stupid, indefensible positions are either Nick Naylor types from the get-go, or one of two things happens. Either they burn out (find another job fast, develop substance-abuse habits), or they persuade themselves that the truly outlandish things they are saying MUST be true.

    So no, I don’t feel too sorry for whoever in Justice had to make this argument, because it’s probably somebody who’s been there for a long time (this is not the kind of thing you leave to a newbie), and they’re either a True Believer or they put loyalty to the boss over all else.

  6. yeah, it’s all that horrible medias fault.

    Yes it is, and it’s called liable, and you can sue for it. Please, all those people who were misquoted and lied to, sue for liable. If not, your blowing farts in our direction.

    Also, CoolBlue from your NRO (and they aren’t biased at all, no siree) article.

    David Frum, “And yes I do blame a lot that has gone wrong on failures of US policy… At that point in the conversation, I was discussing the National Security Council, whose counter-productive interactions produced bad results.”

    Michael Ledeen: “I have been expressing my discontent for more than three years. So much for a change of heart dictated by developments on the ground.”

    Richard Perle has already been discredited by war profiteering and collusion by meeting with Iraqi defectors who were lobbying to be put in power when the US invaded. That he is still a hawkish cheerleader isn’t surprising.

    Michael Rubin, “Who doesn’t constantly question and reassess?” That’s about the truest statement in the whole article.

    And the breast beating in all their comments about being promised this wouldn’t appear before the election, to me, shows how craven they are not to speak their minds without regard to politics.

    Also Michael Rubin, “Washington’s word must mean something. Leadership is about responsibility, not just politics.” I wish the President, VP, Karl Rove, and Rumsfield felt the same way.

  7. Yes, it is certainly understandable that these people were misquoted. After all, they clearly have no experience being interviewed by the media. I am sure that this is the first time they have even met a reporter.

    Bad, bad evil reporters.

    Or not.

  8. Who the hell cares if they were misquoted? Is *anyone* seriously going to claim that, given what we now see in Iraq, the initial plan for the post-invasion occupation of Iraq was one of the most inept, bungled, giant fuckups in history?

    I mean, really, who really buys that we’re winning in Iraq, aside from idiots and administration shills who’ll get fired if they speak the truth?

    Ever since the CPA was created, anyone who questioned the indisputable fact that the reconstruction effort was the product if incompetent nepotistic crooks was branded a traitor by the administration’s mouthpieces, and it’s willfully blind followers.

  9. Yes it is, and it’s called liable, and you can sue for it.

    It’s called libel (or, more legal-ly, defamation). You can waste money suing a newspaper for misquoting you, of course, which tends to stir up more attention to what you supposedly said.

    As John says, some of the people whining don’t make sense, but I won’t put “has/has not filed a lawsuit” as the litmus test.

  10. Mythago, yeah I know. I just get tired of the whining. Hell, I’m a village councilman and I get misquoted/context issues in our local newspaper. But most often I don’t. Seems like these guys are mostly upset because they thought their comments wouldn’t come out until January and VF published them early. Here’s something, just stick to answering reporters questions about facts, when they ask opinions say, “no comment.” Works like a charm.

    What I think, and this is my opinion, is these guys wanted their comments to come after the Iraq/Baker Study Group’s report (and to have that report delayed until after the election, IMHO, is also cravenly political). There would have been a line about how their interviews were before the report was issued and they could have seemed prescient.

    At least Kissinger popularized the phrase, “Truth to Power” (I believe the Quakers formulated it). So I’m slightly less worried about his resurgence within the West Wing.

  11. CoolBlue, “Vanity Fair should publish the full transcripts.”

    Only if you believe reporters should be no better than stenographers. I hope you re-upped your subscription so they could afford the paper or bandwidth to publish them.

    And to the NRO about “stop playing games” I can only say, “Fine, you go first.”

  12. CoolBlue:

    “Then we can all agree: Vanity Fair should publish the full transcripts.”

    Why? Unless you can or they can make a persuasive argument that the people in the article were misquoted or had words put in their mouths, releasing the full transcripts is neither here nor there in terms of the quotes in question. At best you have these guys disagreeing with the characterization of their words, not of the words themselves. The “release the transcripts” thing is just a way of these folks trying to cover their ass because what they said was not released in a manner of their pleasing. It’s designed to suggest they didn’t say what in fact they said.

    James Wolcott has responded to the “release the transcript” whine exactly how any editor who has half a brain would: by telling the people to get stuffed. Subjects of interviews don’t get to dictate the terms of publication, and speaking as a longtime journalist, if anyone I interviewed tried to do so, I’d tell them to get stuffed as well. It’s not how journalism works, and these people know this full well, because they’ve been interviewed countless times before. Their whining and caviling now is pretty damn disingenuous.

    If Vanity Fair wants to eventually release the full transcripts as an adjunct to their article, I think that would be groovy; I’m a fan of full transcripts. But Vanity Fair shouldn’t allow itself to be bullied into releasing transcripts by a bunch of interview subjects who unexpectedly find themselves caught with their ideological pants down or by their credulous supporters who appear to be under the impression that editing (and editorial point of view) is somehow a betrayal of journalism. No credible magazine would do this, including, one suspects, the National Review.

    I suspect Michael Rubin knows this, which is why he feels comfortable making a show of demanding the transcripts. If you want to make a show of hypocrisy, CoolBlue, I suggest you start with him.

  13. Ledeen is now trying to say he opposed the war from the beginning:

    “I do not feel “remorseful,” since I had and have no involvement with our Iraq policy. I opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place and I advocated—as I still do—support for political revolution in Iran as the logical and necessary first step in the war against the terror masters.”

    But in 2002, Ledeen was calling for “the desperately-needed and long overdue war against Saddam Hussein”.

    And more.

    Glenn Greenwald is all over this.

  14. Alberto Gonzalez, “Doctor, I need you to take care of this patient’s injuries- they’re quite serious.”

    Doc, “OK. What are the symptoms?”

    AG AG [Attorney General/Alberto Gonzales? Coincidence, or the REAL reason why Bush picked him???], “Ummm. Yeah. See, the thing is, those symptoms are a state secret. But I’m sure you’ll do a bang-up job fixing him up, anyway.”

  15. Something must be wrong when the rats are starting to bail out of the sinking ship called “Golly Old Pirate”. Everyone with half a brain knew from the beginning that the war in Iraq was based on false claims. The people entrusted to carry out the dirty work had no choice because it was their duty “to do or die and ask not why”. But the people giving the orders betrayed them by not giving them the manpower and proper equipment to carry out their duty.

    The “shock and awe” was patterned after Hitler’s blitzkrieg and it worked initially. We all know what happened after several years especially after opening up a second front. The tactics worked but the strategies eventually failed in the face of resilient and protracted engagement by the British and the Russians.

    Years from now this adventure will be analyzed, hopefully, on a clearer perspective and will probably stand out as nothing more than a business venture. It is Vietnam redux with body counts and number of sorties, casualty rates and cost of war reduced to mere numbers. It is not a business case study where the cost/benefit can be reduced to dollar amounts as it involves human lives. More than anything else, the damage to this country in terms of its democratic principles cannot be quantified at all.

  16. FWIW, when I went over in 2004, it looked as though there was a pretty decent plan in place. Obviously, I can’t comment on the overall strategy at work, but contrary to some corners of public opinion, we were being trained in working with the local nationals to help them build up their own country. Our stated mission was a mix of “traditional” military operations, and police/humanitarian efforts, and the training and doctrine all pointed in that direction.

    From what I saw while I was there in 2004, I think things were generally on a positive upward trend. From March to October, I saw more police, more Iraqi security forces, more security integration, and my general impression (from staring out over Iraqi villages at night) was a gradual improvement in the provision of utilities.

    I can’t speak to the on-the-ground perspective today, but I’d be surprised if the situation had fully reversed itself.

    And, all that said, from my perspective, I wonder how much good an additional 260,000 troops might have done. If you consider that, in the Marine Corps, which is a hell of a lot leaner than the Army, you have 7 Marines for every 1 Marine infantryman, you’re talking about finding space–bases, billets, buildings–for an additional 225,000 troops (assuming the Marine Corps ratio) who aren’t going to be doing any kicking down of doors and patrolling the borders.

    As the closure, and subsequent withdrawal of Sadr City last month might help demonstrate, just the very presence of US troops is an irritant to those who are chafing at the occupation and looking for targets at which to lash out. An additional 260,000 troops would increase US visibility and vulnerability without necessarily promoting a significant increase in security. Since 2004 I’ve been … asotnished, really, is the best word, that so many left-of-center pundits have concluded that the best answer to the problem of Iraq is more troops. “Really grind it in their faces,” they seem to say, “that they’ve been invaded and occupied. Make sure we have more door-kickers and heavily beweaponed Marines to strut around over there. That will make the situation better.”

    Obviously I could be wrong. But, Gen. Shinseki was wrong that we would need at least 200,000 just to take the country as you noted. The job was essentially done by two divisions and a brigade, or about 50,000 combat troops.

    So, it seems to me that, in part, the opposition to the policies of the war and its implementation are, in part, strictly oppositional. I can easily envision a world where, with 400,000 troops on the ground and things not going well, the party not-in-power would be complaining that we had too many troops there, that we were crushing the Iraqis sense of self with our vast occupation army, and ao on. There is no happy medium for people already opposed to the war, that they might find acceptable troop levels or acceptable policies or whatever.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m mindful that there have been obvious blunders. Again, I’m speaking to my perspective. The torture thing? Goes way beyond “blunder” and on into some heretofore only feared level of ineptitude. FWIW, when the original Abu Ghraib scandal broke (while I was there), with the taking of pictures and so on, the general consensus in my unit seemed to be that the idiots who took part in it were just that: idiots. They did nothing but make our hard job (security for Abu Ghraib) harder.

    Anyway, that’s long winded enough and I’ll just leave with this last, further thought: Generals always want more troops. More troops justify bigger budgets and more training and higher peacetime levels of recruiting, training, and everything. They might not always be wrong, but basically it’s their job to want more troops.

    Oh, and let’s not forget that there have been complaints about the rotation system since it started in ’04. Adding 260,000 troops to the mix would essentially drain the ground combat forces of the US, make for an even higher level of Guard and Reserve commitment, and otherwise give the opponents to the war another thing at which to point an accusing finger. Barring a return to Cold War troop strength, 400,000 just is not a feasible, sustainable number.

    Buuuuut it makes for a great talking point.

  17. Thanks, Dave. It’s always a good thing to have a point of view from someone who was actually there.

  18. David Kletcha, I think Gen. Shinseki and the report quoted above figures weren’t numbers for “taking the country” but to “stabilize and pacify” Iraq. As we can see from the ground, those are two different things. Also, this 400,000 and 250,000 (I believe that was Shinseki’s estimate) were based on the Powell Doctrine, which the current Pentagon no longer follows.

    Since you were there in 2004, at that time do you think we had “situational control” of Iraq then? That is, our troops could operate without the fear of coming under fire every time they left base? Granted, I’m an Air Force guy, we control the skies. I know from a ground perspective that war and operational control are different. So I’m asking for the ground perspective, did we have control of the situation or only specific points?

  19. David Klecha

    I can’t really argue with your description of what was going on. You were there, I wasn’t. But I’d disagree with your idea that anyone’s saying we need “more door-kickers and heavily beweaponed Marines to strut around.”

    Arguably what was needed was a policing presence. The analogy to what police do seems useful. If things get out of control, the SWAT team kicks down the door and shoots people. But that’s only if things have gone really badly. If that’s happening regularly, the police are failing.

    When people (even liberals!) call for more cops, they don’t want more SWAT teams kicking down doors. They want more beat cops on the street, keeping things calm, establishing relationships, and preventing door-kicking.

    As you said, there was a mix of “traditional” military operations, and police/humanitarian efforts. If there weren’t enough guys to go around, I suspect the police/humanitarian part of the mission was what got shorted.

    And the seige of Sadr City is hardly a fair example of what would have happened if we’d sent more guys there to begin with. Even if everythng else were equivalent (and it’s definitely not!) that happened 3 1/2 years after the invasion. That it happened at all speaks to the obvious failures of existing policy.

  20. I despise Bush and his cabinet (and those policy wonks who helped design his policies) because they refuse to admit that the planning and/or implementation of the war sucked, and when people call them out on that, Bush and Co. say “You’re unpatriotic” and “You are against the troops.” No, actually, I am against failed businessmen becoming a failed President by going to war when not absolutely necessary.

    Really, how can we know what troop levels would give us the desired results? We cannot scientifically test this, for moral and other reasons. I guess we have to rely on the accumulated wisdom of career military personnel.

    From what I have seen of enlisted American military personnel in this war, I have been generally proud. There are pockets of scumbags – for instance, the vileness at Abu Ghraib – but then you see guys and gals in a Frontline documentary, and I think, well, I think the justification for war was a lie, and I’m still against it, but since we are there, maybe something good can come of it.

  21. John:
    Despite it being fashionable to pile on Rumsfeld at this time, I do think it’s worth remembering that the actual “fighting Saddam’s army” portion of going into Iraq was indeed done very well by the much smaller invading force that we used; that portion of Rumsfeld’s plan worked fine. Where everything fell down was in everything after desposing Saddam

    I disagree with this statement. Sure we toppled the standing army quickly but that speed is 1/2 of our problem now. We were in such a race to Baghdad that we did not have enough people to guard and dispose of the weapons we were finding along the way. Guess what the insurgents are using against us right now? Sure more weapons could have been brought in over the borders but I bet we would be a lot better off if we had had a lot more men and been more methodocal in our initial advance.

  22. John Scalzi:

    No problem, any time.

    Steve Buchheit:

    Happily, I never said “situation control.” I’m not sure where you’re getting the term, unless it’s from some policy statement with which I’m not familiar. Also happily, I’m not in the business here of defending policy, per se, but observing on my experiences in Iraq and knowledge, both academic and personal, of the military and how it applies to the debate at hand.

    I will not defend something I did not say.

    That said, “situational control” is some kind of canard and far from the point. Situational control of the sort you describe is rather hard to come by. As far as I’m aware, what troops we have in the former Yugoslavian republics do not go out without weapons and body armor. For what it’s worth, we didn’t leave base with the fear we would come under fire every time, but we knew it was a possibility. In fact, statistically it was a rarity for us, outside of the very hectic month of April 2004. And at least for convoys in my unit, what fire they did come under was never effective.

    And that said, what my unit did have control of was security for Abu Ghraib. And it was absolutely effective. Zero friendly casualties, zero escapes, and an all-for-all record at stopping attempted incursions, which were actually quite rare.

    Now, the real story is that we should have a situation where there are zero attempted incursions and no need to prevent escapes or casualties. Of course. But. We’re in a volatile situation made more volatile by our presence. I don’t think our military’s intent is to completely pacify the country on our own, but to provide the locals with enough training, resources, and backing to do the job, until they can take complete responsibility for their own security and we can draw down or leave altogether. That is the express mission we were charged with in 2004 and, according to the buddies I have over there, in Ramadi today, that’s the mission they’re executing now.

    As far as Shinseki goes, the 200k or 250k was needed for invasion and occupation. He wanted more than he got. My unit was on the hook to mobilize and invade through Turkey with 4ID and 2MarDiv, but that got scrubbed. And the invasion succeeded anyway. So, here or there, Shinseki was wrong about what it would take to invade the country and destroy organized military resistance.

    The follow-on is another matter, but as I stated above, I’m not convinced that 400k would have been the point of proper balance between militarily effective and maintaining a profile that would least upset the locals.

  23. Jon Marcus:

    There is a mistake in thinking military troops are or can be or can take the place of police.

    They cannot.

    We can be trained to perform some of the roles of police, and to, like police, perform our duties in a manner sensitive to the local civilian situation and sensitive to rights and whatnot.

    But we are not police.

    Asking for more troops is asking for more “not-police” on the streets. It’s asking for more door-kickers and beweaponed Marines, because that’s what military force means.

    Nothing else.

    And, as far as I could see at the time, the project to train, equip, and back Iraqi police was moving forward apace when I was there in 2004. But, like everything, it takes time.

  24. JD:

    Well, then I guess it’s good you’re not a military strategist.

    The situation on the ground in 2003 was this: The people we most would have had to worry about were in the center of the Iraq. The Shi’ites, in the south, while not likely to greet us with flowers and all that, were not very likely to shoot us in the back as we drove past. Likewise, Saddam was not likely to cache weapons in the Shi’ite south, since those Shi’ites, if they had the weapons, would be likely to turn them on the Ba’ath Party and other Sunnis when they got the chance. (The weapons the Shi’ite militias are fighting with today mostly come from Iran, I’m given to understand.)

    The original strategy also called for at least two divisions of infantry (one Army, one Marine) to come south from Turkey and, like the two that came up from Kuwait, bypass a largely-friendly Kurdish zone that had been all-but-cleared of enemy forces by unopposed, punishing airstrikes and supported by close air, and rush down to the Sunni-controlled areas to seize the Sunni strongholds and hopefully prevent the escape of of much of the Iraqi upper echelon and the caching of weapons. That lack of a second pincer probably accounted for more of the chaos than you realize; not the number of troops, per se, but their positioning and employment.

    Slowness would have had exactly the effect of the lone pincer, but given Saddam even more time to distribute his army and his munitions to the loyal Sunni strongholds and make them even more effective in guerilla resistance than they have been. One of the unspoken boons to our occupation today is that the insurgency is nowhere near as organized as it could have been, had more well-trained military made it into the mix.

    But then, that’s just the strategy as I see it. I’m not a general either, and I was not privy to the reasoning behind the execution of the invasion as it happened. Nor, I think, is anyone outside of the Pentagon, though everyone thinks they know.

  25. David Kletcha, like I said, I’m Air Force but from the mid 80s. “Situational Control” is a generic term for what we called, “Air Superiority,” of which the basic concept is “unless it has our permission, if it flys, it dies.” This isn’t a “policy word” it’s a military concept, one that is integral to the Battle Cube. In this case for ground superiority, I mean did our troops ever have situational control of the ground. Could we move with impunity, when we showed up did people feel safe, were our bases secured from attack? From what I can hear (which is limited by my time-out), see, and get through the noise is that we never really had it after the first few weeks, and it’s continually worsened since then. This is especially true as Bremer’s term continued and then ended quickly.

    That the Corps is understandably proud that Iraq fell to a Thunder Run, and given that the battle architect was a Marine Colonel I can understand that this is a source of pride. I don’t think you’ve seen people complain about the tempo of the battle. What you hear is people questioning why wasn’t the aftermath planned for. This is when all those other troops would have come in handy.

    We could talk about command and control issues of deploying 400,000 (or even 250,000) people to Iraq, or what they’re job would have been. I wouldn’t consider them police, more like armed security. That is, “wear a mask and black pajamas, carry an open weapon, and you’re going to have a bad day.” Prevent the militias from even getting past their first meeting. And having enough people in place to respond to the changing situation, like they tried this past fall with drawing troops into Bhagdad that left where they had been stationed at risk of falling. Would they all have been able to rush over the Kuwait border at once? No, that wasn’t their task. They could come in behind the front line to secure the rear and finish mopping up. Imagine if we could have left soldiers behind at the cache that saw 300 tons of Simtex “disappeared” only to now show up in IEDs (shaped charges). Would this have created a police state after the invasion? Yes it would have. Given the state of affairs something needed to fill the vacuum.

    What would your tour have been like if we hadn’t had to open Abu Ghraib?

    Comparing this to Yugoslavia is a red herring. Different mission, different plan, different goals, different command. We went in to prop up an existing government and end a shooting war, one that didn’t regard civilians as non-targets, unlike Iraq where our intended goal was to star a shooting war and overthrow a government. Or as Gen. Powell said to the President, “you break it, you own it.”

    Also, your response to JD’s question shows the current lack of military history being taught these days. JD’s argument was directly from the “lessons learned” from Korea and our march to the Yellow River. The fallout of that was one of the worst routs the American Army ever faced. We nearly lost the whole peninsula because of it. We only came back through Inchon, a very risky gambit and one that eventually lead to McArthur leaving the Army, even though he won.

  26. Speaking of Atlas Shrugged, are there any good critiques of the book and of the philosophy, ones that might be available to someone who (like me) lacks any formal training or eduction in philosophy? I am facinated by the novel (at 1168 pages, you’d have to be), but I am not certain that I accept the premises at the foundation of Rand’s philosophy.

  27. Steve Buchheit:

    Air superiority is a completely different animal than what we experience on the ground. Y’all have luxuries that just aren’t available to those of us on the ground. I don’t know that ground superiority is a possibility.

    I mean, I know this is a stretch, but I can drive around Michigan with impunity, but that doesn’t mean I have any kind of control over the situation here, nor can I make any guarantee that I will not be the victim of violence. Much closer, it’s not like when we drove around Kuwait that we did it with weapons unloaded, or without a police escort, or what-have-you. And that’s an allied country.

    I think the expectations of “control” have to be a little different over there. And like I said, the idea of control is still a non-starter. Our goal is to prepare the Iraqis to control the situation over there.

    Likewise, I’m not very confident in anybody’s “impression” of the situation over there, when viewed from over here by way of a media lens. You’re welcome to your impression, of course, and I’ll join you (and John) in asserting that Bush did not manage the occupation as well as possible. But I’m not convinced that your impression of a worsening situation is at all definitive.

    Nitpicking: You criticize me for comparing the situation there with what’s going on in Bosnia, then say that “lessons learned” from Korea are applicable to Iraq? That’s just a bit silly, don’t you think? I’m not sure if the situation in Korea in 1951 could have been more different than that in Iraq today, but I’ll be it’s close. The counter-invasion of North Korea, while superficially similar, lacked the ethnic fragmentation that absolutely defines the picture in Iraq. Without taking that tripartite structure into account, your strategy is going to be flawed from the start.

    And, to that point, it was not 300 tons of Semtex, or even 380 tons that went missing. It was 380 tons of HMX, RDX, and PETN, the former two which are components of Semtex, but not ready-to-use Semtex themselves. My Army combat engineer friend said that the missing explosives were not in a form readily usable by the insurgents, short of serious reprocessing. Nitro glycerin is a component of dynamite, after all, but not dynamite and not usable in the way that dynamite is; the same with HMX and RDX, from what I understand. If you happen to have sources that indicate the missing explosives have been reprocessed into Semtex and used against troops, I’d be interested. But, far and away, the most popular IED component is artillery shells for their pre-fab explosive power and wicked fragmentation. For that matter, shaped charges don’t work well as IEDs for a variety of reasons. (And I think you’re confusing shaped charges and plastic explosives.)

    But if you (or anyone) is interested in a more comprehensive discussion of explosives, might I suggest e-mail? You can get me at dave at klech dot net.

    As far as Abu Ghraib is concerned… I’m confused how a policing presence, that breaks up militia meetings in their infancy is going to result in fewer detained Iraqis an eliminate the need for Abu Ghraib. But I think that kind of policing presence, a modern police state in a society without much of the modern technological infrastructure, was not possible with any realistic number of troops. If you’re going to resrtict the Iraqis’ freedom of assembly that much, you would need to create permanent curfews and have enough Marines to stand on every street corner and watch every house. Anything less would be the ineffective muddle that I talked about in my initial comment. If you commit troops to create a police state, it better be an absolutely PERFECT police state, or you’re going to wind up with much, much greater casualties than we’re seeing today.

  28. John: “Despite it being fashionable to pile on Rumsfeld at this time, I do think it’s worth remembering that the actual “fighting Saddam’s army” portion of going into Iraq was indeed done very well by the much smaller invading force that we used; that portion of Rumsfeld’s plan worked fine.”

    As you yourself have pointed out, the requirement for more troops was based on the occupation – what would happen after Saddam’s statue was knocked down, so to speak. And the US had some incredible advantages: Air supremacy with lavish forces and bases next door, ground forces which were at least one ‘tech level’ above Saddam’s and knowledge of the Iraqi Army capabilities which was gained during the first Gulf War. The Iraqis, on the other hand, had exremely limited resources – I recall reading a DoD publication which stated that Republican Guards tank units fired fewer rounds per year than US National Guard tank units. Combined with that, there was an incredible morale hit on Iraqi forces – many didn’t feel like dying for Saddam, and many more didn’t feel like dying for Saddam when defeat was almost guaranteed.

  29. I’d like to comment on some of Dave’s remarks – I’ve seen the failure to have the ‘Turkish pincer’ mentioned many times, but nobody has ever given good reasons as to why it mattered. To the extent that Iraqi forces were already prepared to ‘go guerrilla’, they should have been able to do so in hours, or a day or two. Weapons and ammunition stashes were, from what we know, already in place. It’s actually far worse than that – in November, 2003, a french film crew followed a guerrilla unit into a regular Iraqi Army ammunition depot, to resupply. A regular depot, not a covert cache. In broad daylight. Six months after Saddam’s statue fell, and regular Iraqi Army depots were so unguarded that guerrillas were entering them in daylight. This might be the first case in history, where a guerrilla force actually had more ammunition than they could expend.

    Dave: “From what I saw while I was there in 2004, I think things were generally on a positive upward trend. From March to October, I saw more police, more Iraqi security forces, more security integration, and my general impression (from staring out over Iraqi villages at night) was a gradual improvement in the provision of utilities.”

    Attacks on US forces increased, and the US forces were fighting larger battles – a bad sign for counter-insurgency warfare.

    Dave: “I mean, I know this is a stretch, but I can drive around Michigan with impunity, but that doesn’t mean I have any kind of control over the situation here, nor can I make any guarantee that I will not be the victim of violence. Much closer, it’s not like when we drove around Kuwait that we did it with weapons unloaded, or without a police escort, or what-have-you. And that’s an allied country.”

    Um, that’s getting into rather stretchy logic. How many US troops have been killed in action in Kuwait, by hostile fire? In Michigan?

    In Iraq?

    Dave: “That said, “situational control” is some kind of canard and far from the point. Situational control of the sort you describe is rather hard to come by. As far as I’m aware, what troops we have in the former Yugoslavian republics do not go out without weapons and body armor.”

    The current tally of US and NATO forces deaths from hostile fire in Yugoslavia is rather low (IIRC zero, but I might be wrong).

    If the situation in Iraq was like that in Yugoslavia (wear body armor, carry weapons, be prepared for hostilities), then the Iraq War would be a historical item, rather than a current affair.

  30. Barry:

    “Attacks on US forces increased, and the US forces were fighting larger battles – a bad sign for counter-insurgency warfare.”

    Over what span of time and sustained for what duration?

    I mean, anecdotally, April 2004 was a bad month for us, but June 2004 was library quiet. September 2004 got frisky again, but nowhere near the April levels. But then, through 2004 our forces were moving into a lot of areas where we had no presence at all, such as Ramadi and Fallujah.

    I gather that, statistically, like the casualty counts, this kind of thing can fluctuate rather dramatically, and I’m loathe to give credence to a statement that asserts an unqualified “increase.” I know that the “increase” is a talking point, but I’m not sure it stands up as a statistical reality.

    “Um, that’s getting into rather stretchy logic. How many US troops have been killed in action in Kuwait, by hostile fire? In Michigan?”

    Two US personnel, driving in civilian attire in a civilian vehicle between two bases in Kuwait were pulled over by a police officer and shot repeatedly in 2003. Also that year, one Marine was killed and several wounded while training on a Kuwaiti island in the Persian Gulf. And then there was the Saudi barracks-bombing.

    In other words, it’s a region inherently unsafe to US military personnel, even in countries that are “secure” and allies and all that.

    So, again, that kind of “situational control” is a canard. No argument that the situation is worse in Iraq, but I fail to see how more combat troops and their attendant, sevenfold support troops, provide anything to the situation other than additional targets and a potential for a doubling or trebling of the casualty counts.

    “If the situation in Iraq was like that in Yugoslavia (wear body armor, carry weapons, be prepared for hostilities), then the Iraq War would be a historical item, rather than a current affair.”

    But, of course, as Steve Buchheit so helpfully pointed out, the situationis not the same there. The political situation is different, as is the cultural situation, the economic situation, the strategic situation… it’s all different. So, in a situation, Yugoslavia, so different, so much less intense than Iraq, the US troops are still required to go about armed and armored… using that as a metric of “control” in Iraq is, also, a canard. It’s not a measure of “succcess” or “control” anywhere else, so why is Steve trying to apply it here?

    As far as the “Turkish pincer” is concerned… I’m confused as to how it’s not a good idea. Instead of, for example, having to go through Baghdad to get to Tikrit, forces could have arrived in Tikrit first and presented a blocking force to those trying to back away from direct engagement and melt away. More direct engagements mean more loyal forces defeated in the field, rather than being given time to present a credible defense, then melt away. If we had managed to overrun caches before the loyal forces got to them, we may have been able to capture them early. And, as I said above, the actual invasion featured only about 50,000 troops. Adding two-plus divisions would have put another 40-50,000 troops in the field. How is that not a good thing, given the “more troops” logic?

    If possible, make your target of invasion fight on as many fronts as possible. Attacking on only one front gives the invaded the invaded the opportunity to withdraw and maneuver, and leaves open lines of resupply and retreat.

    So, again, how could it not have been a good thing?

  31. Dave Kletcha, I never said Yugoslavia was less intense, I said it was different. We don’t own the situation in Bosnia/Macedonia, there is an existing government which is in charge of policing, and we were intentionally inserted between two waring/shooting factions that weren’t done shooting each other. In Iraq, we were the government, until Bremer was forced to cut and run (he outlined a 3 year plan, cut to 1 year by the civilian leadership in our country). We had one enemy and allowed the situation to deteriorate until we have a fractional civil war going on complete with opposing militia operating in the open. In Iraq we also had greater latitude in operations and engagement. A completely different situation.

  32. Again, Steve, that’s not what I’m saying.

    If, in such a dissimilar environment, the troops go around armed and armored (read: with some acknowledgment that they might be shot at), how is that a reliable metric for how well things are going in Iraq? Last I heard, things were going really well in the former Yugoslavia. War criminals had surrendered or been rounded up, democracy was on the move, all that good stuff. But our troops still treat it as though it is a warzone. So, again, how is that a metric for control, or success?

  33. David

    So what metrics would you use? You say training seems (seemed?) to be going well. But 3 1/2 years into the occupation the State Department describes the Baghdad police force as “…poorly trained, poorly equipped and corrupt. They play a limited security role in a city dominated by U.S. and Iraqi military forces.” And Baghdad’s been a focus of our efforts.

    You point out that troops can’t function as police. While that’s true, we clearly needed some force to prevent anarchy. What we’ve done so far isn’t cutting it. (What’s going on there now isn’t an anomaly. And even if it was, an occupation that allows this scale of “anomaly” this far in is clearly not going well.)

    You’re saying more troops wouldn’t have helped. Then what would have worked? Or was the whole project foredoomed to failure?

  34. Dave, op-tempo of the opposition. How many incidents of fire-fights/attacks are there in Yugoslavia per day, how many in Iraq? I haven’t heard numbers for Yugoslavia, last numbers I heard for Iraq were 400 per week, and gaining (middle of October, tempo was 200 per week back in January). Most of those may not be much, but it’s still a metric. Big difference between being prepared for it and actually having incoming.

  35. Sorry for taking so long to reply; life is like that sometimes.

    Dave, your comments pretty much support my point. In Kuwait, it sounds like (at a guess) that the most likely way for US forces to get killed would be a vehicle accident. In Saudi Arabia, there have been several successful bombings directed at foreigners (from what I’ve heard in the news for the past few years) – that’s what – a week? – in Iraq.

    That implied good ‘situational control’. Rumsfeldian rhetorical questions aside, when one looks at various countries in which US troops operate, Iraq will stand out. The only question is by how many orders of magnitude?
    Dave: “The original strategy also called for at least two divisions of infantry (one Army, one Marine) to come south from Turkey and, like the two that came up from Kuwait, bypass a largely-friendly Kurdish zone that had been all-but-cleared of enemy forces by unopposed, punishing airstrikes and supported by close air, and rush down to the Sunni-controlled areas to seize the Sunni strongholds and hopefully prevent the escape of of much of the Iraqi upper echelon and the caching of weapons. That lack of a second pincer probably accounted for more of the chaos than you realize; not the number of troops, per se, but their positioning and employment.”

    This assumes that weapons were not pre-positioned, and we know that they were, in vast quantities – Saddam had something known as ‘ammunition depots’, cleverly disguised as ‘ammunition depots’. US forces, once they were in Iraq, didn’t seem to have plans to deal with known sites. This is probably due to Rumsfeld aiming for Baghdad, and confusing war with chess.

    As for stopping people from dispersing and going guerrilla, how long does that take? If they’re prepared at all, they’d have civilian clothes with them, possibly with ID papers to match.

    As for unprepared people, like most troops, I never heard of anything which indicated that US forces were making a big effort to sweep up prisoners, as opposed to by-passing and continuing on. Another case of ‘on to Baghdad’.

  36. Dave, I think that the short version is that phrase I used ‘confusing warfare with chess’. The theory that the administration operated on was that driving to Baghdad and ‘toppling Saddam’ would win the war. One of the reasons for thinking that seems to be that any scenario which wasn’t based on that chess analogy indicated that it’d be a long, messy war, with very large deployments needed for a long time. Since that would have made the war politically unacceptable, the administration assumed the easy scenario, and got us into this mess.

Comments are closed.