Four More Things That Didn't 'Go Wrong'
Today we parse the remaining 'four things' (of five) where, according to the authors of Cobra II, "we done wrong".
The U.S. Failed to Adapt to Developments on the Battlefield?
This assertion is simply more Monday-morning quarterbacking. It bears writing once again that until we won Baghdad and secured enough of the landscape to mitigate the threat of WMDs, all other threats (rightly) paled in comparison. The authors oversimplify somewhat in asserting that we incorrectly assigned Baghdad as the only real center of gravity, as we viewed the total Baathist party machine as the key center of gravity. It just was also true that control of Baghdad meant control of most of the key parts of the Baathist organization.
The complaint by the authors is somewhat misleading, as they note in their Epilogue that the forces in the field adapted quite well (although, like Prairie Pundit, I believe the authors overstate the impact of the ‘Feyadeen surprise’ and greatly understate the actions taken by CENTCOM). The authors’ real beefs are with General Franks and above. Again, while the authors bemoan that in General Franks’ view, the Feyadeen were “little more than a speed bump on the way to Baghdad”, they fail to prove why he wouldn’t think otherwise. After the war those players who would become major threats became obvious I suppose, but Feyadeen activity was just another data point in a real-time and broadband data stream that battlefield commanders have to consider when deciding action. The authors in effect, assert the odd idea that General Franks fought, and won, the wrong war. Yet if you look back at our objectives for going to war, they have all either come to pass or are moving towards fruition instead of failure. About the best the authors and other war critics can rightfully claim is that we could have (not necessarily would have) ‘done better’ and that we aren’t done ‘yet’. I would suggest they brush up on their Roosevelt (the good one).
The U.S. Relied Too Much on Technological Advancement?
This is the most simple, and simplistic, assertion made in the book. By employing the sound military judgment to minimize exposure of troops to the NBC threat (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical: what we used to call this stuff before the WMD acronym came to exist) through minimizing the number of troops employed and moving faster than the enemy could tolerate, we quickly won the 'conventional' war. This is also in keeping with established military doctrine if I correctly remember my MCSC course on NBC operations.
The authors in their summary concede that the approach taken won the war but, to employ a cliché used by critics on the left but carefully danced around by the authors, ‘failed to win the peace’. Oddly enough, with a slight change in agenda and reprioritization of the facts, the authors could have made a very good case for the Administration’s (and CENTCOM’s) strategy being a sound one up to the point that Paul Bremer, as the Provisional Coalition Authority, decided to override the military’s (and others) strong recommendation to keep and reform the existing Iraqi Army. While this probably would have gone far in suppressing the initial growth of the insurgency(as the authors imply), the authors also then would have to have given more thought to how a different set of problems, threats, and challenges would have surfaced – and they would have, because in war, the Law of Unintended Consequences plays out with every decision a commander makes. In layman’s terms: the enemy always gets a vote in how events will turn out.
The U.S Military ‘Structures’ are Dysfunctional
I actually agree with this assertion, but the authors failed to adequately present their case that it adversely impacted the war. Use of anecdotes to highlight pitfalls, problems, and conflicts in the decision-making process is interesting, but hardly damning. This has always happened with all important decisions: when the consequence of getting a decision wrong is as important as the need to make a decision. This is hardly the first time a strong SecDef, acting in accordance with the desires of the Commander-in-Chief, has dominated the decision-making process, and it won’t be the last. Bemoaning an apparently pliable JCS or CENTCOM that is responsive to the demands of the SecDef is not evidence of a dysfunctional structure in itself. The authors’ case would have been better made by a different book that more thoroughly explored and examined the long-term impact of the Goldwaters-Nichols Act on the military: specifically how the 'Law of Unintended Consequences' produced a more ‘corporate’ military than we should have or desire. Unless your business is killing large numbers of people and changing governments, there are definite limits to the amount of business experience that directly translates to military need. I believe post Clinton-Aspin, we have degenerated too much into a business mentality – Something you would have thought we would have learned before now. As this is the 20th Year (a minimum military career) since Goldwater-Nichols, it would be a good time for such a critical examination, and provide a counterpoint to a lot of the ‘other views’ now out on the subject, and shine a bright light on the Clinton Administration’s SecDef (Aspin) and Congress’ culpability in the problems with how the military operates today.
The authors make a lot of noise about Secretary Rumsfeld’s apparently single-mindedness in minimizing the number of troops involved in the operation, and while not separating the SecDef’s desires from the President’s, they seem to minimize the point that Rumsfeld was operating in accordance with the President’s wishes. This minimization overamplifed and caricaturized the SecDef’s motives and impact on the decision making process.
Another area where the authors overextend their reach is in jazzing up the impact of the apparent marginalization (as they present it) of the State Department in the decision-making process. I would assert that the authors could make the case for the State Department’s self-marginalization, given the recognized need to ‘clean up’ the 'Realpolitic' State Department – not that I would fault Secretary Powell at all: the job may take years beyond the term of this administration, and many Secretaries of State to clean out the Realpolitic deadwood.
One of the ironic points not made in Cobra II is that Secretary Powell, when Chairman of the JCS, had a long-running battle with then-Congressman Les Aspin over force sizing, and when Les Aspin was made Clinton’s SecDef, he slashed defense spending and the military to levels well below what Colin Powell and the DoD had identified as The Base Force: the minimum military required to preserve our superpower status and carry out our superpower responsibilities. It could be said that this step was the first in a downward spiral of capability and force employment that we are still going through today.
The Bush Administration Disdains Nation Building
So, the Bush Administration planned for the Iraqis to be able to reconstruct themselves and remake themselves into a Democracy. So what? The worst that can be said of the outcome is it isn’t happening fast enough (how much due to Bremer’s missteps?) to satisfy critics. How fast would things have to be happening before the critics WOULD be satisfied?
The one 'concept' that first comes to my mind and is most associated with 'Nation Building' is: "Quagmire". One also wonders how “Nation Building” squares with the constant chant from the left: “you can’t impose a democracy”. The Bush Administration had (and has) good practical and political reasons not to be TOO engaged in nation building. It was a course of action selected from among many with many other possible outcomes.
The authors point out that the Administration planned for other nations and NSAs (Non-State Actors, an older and less sugar-coated term for what most call NGOs these days) to provide much of what would be needed in post-war Iraq. Until crunch-time, how were we to know the full scope of the fecklessness and in some cases subversive natures of our so-called ‘traditional’ allies. After all, didn’t we gain imprimatur of the U.N. before we went to war? How much good did that do in the end?
The authors spend a good portion of the book trying to build support for their assertion that the military largely ignored the planning and execution required for conditions after the war, and that things would have been 'better' if only the State Department had been more deeply involved. I would ask the authors: What in the recent history of the State Department would lead you to believe that:
a.The State Department was capable of delivering a winning plan,The citation “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” comes to mind.
b.The State Department could have successfully executed such a plan and,
c.Even if the State Department were capable of creating and carrying out such a plan, would they also be flexible enough to adapt to how the insurgents of all stripes would have adjusted to their plan?
A minor nit, but illustrative of the kind of devices the authors employed in writing Cobra II, is found in the Epilogue concerning ‘nation building’. They use a trite factoid that the electrical grid was not restored quickly after the war as an example of our inability to provide essential services which somehow made us look weaker than the Iraqi’s believed. In reality, heroic work was done to get the electrical grid back on line as quickly as possible. We had no idea how bad the electrical system infrastructure had deteriorated under Saddam, but we brought electricity back on line as quickly as possible -- and while certain parts of Iraq had received ‘favorable’ treatment before the war, the people living in these areas complained more loudly after the war, because the electrical grid service was restored using a more democratic ‘distribution’ of service. In short, the Sunni Baathist enclaves that were pampered under Saddam didn’t get more power than Shia areas after the war, which now receive MORE electrical power than they did under the Baathist regime. Boo. Hoo.
Tommorow: Part IV (the wrap-up)