Tuesday, October 19, 2004

 

Blaming your subordinates

"The Strategy to Secure Iraq Did Not Foresee a 2nd War," in today's NY Times, makes clear that the Bush Administration is trying to have it two ways; or, more accurately, trying to have had it two ways. On the one hand, the story shows how leading political appointees, particularly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, intruded into the tactical preparations for the invasion of Iraq, the conduct of the war, and the post-invasion occupation far more than civilian leaders have meddled in recent US conflicts. On the other hand, senior Bush Administration figures are now basically saying, Well, we gave the military commanders everything they asked for, if they needed more troops they never told us.

And maybe that's technically true. For example, the article states:

As the war drew near, Mr. Bush asked his senior commanders if they had sufficient forces, including enough to protect vulnerable supply lines. "I can't tell you how many times he asked, 'Do you have everything that you need?' " Ms. Rice said. "The answer was, these are the force levels that we need."

Senior military officers acknowledge that they did not press the president for more troops. But some said they would have been more comfortable with a larger reserve. And some officers say the concept of beginning the invasion while reinforcements were still being sent did not work so smoothly in practice.
On the other hand, Rumsfeld's belief that the Army should be able to achieve its mission with relatively fewer troops had to have been well-known among senior commanders, so they were probably less likely to press any disagreements with him. Civilian control is pretty well ingrained in our officer corps, and the military's "can do" attitude makes it difficult to express doubts lest one be seen as timid or lacking in aggressiveness.

But it is clear from this article that Rumsfeld and his acolytes never imagined that their plans might not work out fully as planned, and they had little in the way of alternatives once the occupation bogged down fighting a bitter insurgency they had never expected.

But it's not as if they weren't warned.

In mid-April, Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld's closest aides, arrived in Kuwait to join the team assembled by General Garner, the civil administrator, which was to oversee post-Hussein Iraq. Mr. Bush had agreed in January that the Defense Department was to have authority for postwar Iraq. It was the first time since World War II that the State Department would not take charge of a post-conflict situation.

Speaking to Garner aides at their hotel headquarters in Kuwait, Mr. Di Rita outlined the Pentagon's vision, one that seemed to echo the themes in Mr. Rumsfeld's Feb. 14 address. According to Col. Paul Hughes of the Army, who was present at the session, Mr. Di Rita said the Pentagon was determined to avoid open-ended military commitments like those in Bosnia and Kosovo, and to withdraw the vast majority of the American forces in three to four months.

"The main theme was that D.O.D. would be in charge, and this would be totally different than in the past," said Tom Gross, a retired Army colonel and a Garner aide who was also at the session. "We would be out very quickly. We were very confused. We did not see it as a short-term process."

Another problem was that the new Administration seemed determined to ignore any lessons that might have been learned from their hated predecessor, Bill Clinton's, presidency.
Military aides on the National Security Council prepared a confidential briefing for Ms. Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, that examined what previous nation-building efforts had required.

The review, called "Force Security in Seven Recent Stability Operations," noted that no single rule of thumb applied in every case. But it underscored a basic principle well known to military planners: However many forces might be required to defeat the foe, maintaining security afterward was determined by an entirely different set of calculations, including the population, the scope of the terrain and the necessary tasks.

If the United States and its allies wanted to maintain the same ratio of peacekeepers to population as it had in Kosovo, the briefing said, they would have to station 480,000 troops in Iraq. If Bosnia was used as benchmark, 364,000 troops would be needed. If Afghanistan served as the model, only 13,900 would be needed in Iraq. The higher numbers were consistent with projections later provided to Congress by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq. But Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed that estimate as off the mark.

More forces generally are required to control countries with large urban populations. The briefing pointed out that three-quarters of Iraq's population lived in urban areas. In Bosnia and Kosovo, city dwellers made up half of the population. In Afghanistan, it was only 18 percent.

Neither the Defense Department nor the White House, however, saw the Balkans as a model to be emulated. In a Feb. 14, 2003, speech titled "Beyond Nation Building," which Mr. Rumsfeld delivered in New York, he said the large number of foreign peacekeepers in Kosovo had led to a "culture of dependence" that discouraged local inhabitants from taking responsibility for themselves.

The defense secretary said he thought that there was much to be learned from Afghanistan, where the United States did not install a nationwide security force but relied instead on a new Afghan Army and troops from other countries to help keep the peace.

James F. Dobbins, who was the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and had also served as the ambassador at large for Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti, thought that the administration was focusing on the wrong model. The former Yugoslavia - with its ethnic divisions, hobbled economy and history of totalitarian rule - had more parallels with Iraq than administration officials appeared willing to accept, Mr. Dobbins believed. It was Afghanistan that was the anomaly.

"They preferred to find a model for successful nation building that was not associated with the previous administration," Mr. Dobbins said in an interview. "And Afghanistan offered a much more congenial answer in terms of what would be required in terms of inputs, including troops."

Next, they compounded their lack of proper understanding of the situation they faced and lack of planning for negative outcomes with a major tactical blunder: removing US troops too quickly.
Lt. Col. Joseph Apodaca, a Marine intelligence officer who is now retired, said there were early signs in the Shiite Muslim-dominated south that the paramilitary forces American troops faced might be the precursor of a broader insurgency. But chasing after potential rebels was not the Marines' assigned mission, and they did not have sufficient troops for this, he said.

"The overall plan was to go get Saddam Hussein," Colonel Apodaca recalled. "The assumption seemed to be that when people realized that he was gone, that would get the population on our side and facilitate the transition to reconstruction. We were not going to chase these guys when they ran to the smaller cities. We did not really have the force levels at that point to keep the insurgency down."

In Washington, however, White House and Pentagon officials thought that the most dangerous part was over. The goal of quickly enlisting Iraqi support appeared to be frustrated when the police abandoned their posts and Iraqi military units did not surrender en masse. But the administration thought that more of the burden could be shifted to multinational forces.

On April 15, 2003, Mr. Bush convened his National Security Council and discussed soliciting peacekeeping forces from other countries so the United States could begin to pull out troops. Even though there had been widespread opposition to the invasion, administration officials thought that some governments would put aside their objections once victory was at hand and the Iraqis began to form a new government.

Pentagon officials briefed the president on a plan to enlist four divisions: one made up of NATO troops; another from the Gulf Cooperative Council, an association of Persian Gulf states; one led by Poland; and another by Britain. The thinking was that the United States would leave no more than a division or two in Iraq.

The next day, General Franks flew to Baghdad and instructed his commanders to draw up plans to begin pulling out. At that palace meeting with his commanders, he noted that it was possible for the United States to wear out its welcome and keep too many troops in Iraq too long. A functioning interim Iraqi government was expected within 30 to 60 days, he said. He told his commanders to be prepared to take as much risk going out as they did coming in.

After that discussion, the general and his officers took part in a satellite video conference with Mr. Bush. The president asked about integrating foreign troops into the security force. Noting that Secretary of State Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld would be asking other nations for troops, the general said he planned to talk to officials in the United Arab Emirates about an Arab division.

General Franks's talk of being prepared to take risks alarmed General Garner, the civil administrator. Fearing that an early troop reduction threatened the mission of building a new Iraq, General Garner took his concerns to Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the chief allied land commander.

"There was no doubt we would win the war," General Garner recalled telling General McKiernan, "but there can be doubt we will win the peace."

Soon after, the Pentagon began turning off the spigot of troops flowing to Iraq.
So, other than invading without sufficient justification, excluding the State Department from responsibility for post-war planning and operations, not having enough troops, removing troops too soon, letting nuclear materials pour over the borders, and , did the Bush Administration do anything right about Iraq?

Well, they're pretty good at blaming everyone but themselves.

Mr. Di Rita said in an interview that he had no responsibility for force levels, but added that military commanders wanted the postwar troop numbers to be as low as necessary.

Only because they knew that was their boss's insistence. It is true that military leaders always want more than they can have - more troops, more tanks, more planes, more bombs - and their desires have to be balanced against their true needs. But the doctrine of overwhelming force that Rumsfeld disdained was not a Clinton legacy - it is better known as the Powell Doctrine, after its author, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell - now President Bush's Secretary of State.

And as of this morning, no one has been held accountable for the failures of the Iraq invasion. Indeed, if you listen to and believe President Bush, there have been no failures - Iraq is a glorious, unbesmirched success.

One of the worst things you can do in life is fool yourself. But in this case, trying to fool others is at least as bad. Because in this case, many people are needlessly dying, many more are needlessly suffering horrible wounds and injuries. Money is being wasted that could have been used for far more productive things. All so George W. Bush can play Douglas MacArthur.

And they don't have the minimal moral courage to take even the slightest responsibility for any of it.
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