Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Y.G.T.B.F.S.M., General Zilman

The expression "Y.G.T.B.F.S.M" is fairly popular in military jargon. If you don't know what it stands for now, I expect that you will by the time you finish this article. The "official" responses to a pessimistic intelligence report on the situation in Iraq's Anbar province recall another favored military saying that translates into polite company language as "baffle them with bull feathers."

On September 11, 2006 Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post filed a story titled "Marine calls situation in Anbar province dire: U.S. military can do little to secure region in western Iraq." The intelligence report was written by Colonel Pete Devlin, who according to Ricks has the reputation of being "…one of the Marine Corps' best intelligence officers, with a tendency to be careful and straightforward." Ricks writes:
The "very pessimistic" statement, as one Marine officer called it, was dated Aug. 16 and sent to Washington shortly after that, and has been discussed across the Pentagon and elsewhere in national security circles. "I don't know if it is a shock wave, but it's made people uncomfortable," said a Defense Department official who has read the report.

According to Ricks's sources--and trust me, Ricks, a twenty plus year veteran of the Pentagon beat, has reliable sources. He doesn't cite disgruntled buck privates who don't like the chow in the mess hall--things in Anbar are grim indeed.
Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said [an] Army officer, who has read the report. Another person familiar with the report said it describes Anbar as beyond repair; a third said it concludes that the United States has lost in Anbar.

Ricks's sources also describe the Devlin report as saying the Anbar situation is due to lack of sufficient numbers of U.S. and Iraqi troops, that military operations are facing a stalemate, local governments have collapsed, and the central government has almost no presence.

Bring on the Spin Clowns

Not surprisingly, not everybody in Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense agrees with Devlin's findings. "Lawlessness is a way of life there," one DOD official told Ricks. The official also said that the Devlin report is "one conclusion about one area. The conclusion on al Anbar doesn't translate into a perspective on the entire country."

That's a bit too much like saying that if the Symbionese Liberation Army had taken control of California, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona in the 1970s, it wouldn't have translated into a perspective on the United States.

White House mouthpiece and former Fox News on-camera personality Tony Snow told the White House press corps on September 12 that "Earlier today, General Zilmer, who outranks the Colonel, but is aware of the report, said that, 'Recent media reports fail to accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation in the al Anbar province. The classified assessment which has been referred to in these reports was intended to focus on the causes of the insurgency. It was not intended to address the positive effects coalition and Iraqi forces have.'"

Positive effects of coalition and Iraqi forces? Al Qaeda has taken over a region that comprises 30 percent of Iraq's landmass, local governments in Anbar have collapsed, the situation there is lost and beyond repair, and there are positive aspects that haven't been reported?

Y.G.T.B.F.S.M., Snowplow.

Zilmer Meets Heller

The General Zilmer whom Snow spoke of is Marine Major General Richard C. Zilmer, the two-star U.S. commander in western Iraq. In a telephone conversation with Ricks and other reporters, Zilmer said that he agrees with Colonel Devlin's analysis of the Anbar situation. "I have seen that report and I do concur with that [intelligence] assessment." Zilmer also said that he found Devlin's report to be "frank and candid."

But then he pulled a farcical about face reminiscent of characters like General Beedle and Coronal Kathkart in Joseph Heller's immortal anti-war novel Catch-22.

"I think we're winning this war," he told reporters. "We're certainly accomplishing our mission." And he also said that he doesn't think he needs any more troops to accomplish his mission in Anbar.

But his mission, if you pull the string a little further, isn't to get Anbar province under control. His mission is to train Iraqi police forces so they can get the Anbar province under control. How on earth the U.S. trained Iraqi police--who have proven so hapless, corrupt and counterproductive in Baghdad--can do in Anbar what U.S. troops haven't been able to accomplish for three years is beyond any sane military analyst's imagination. If Zilman considers training unreliable Iraqi police forces "winning the war," I'd hate to see what his idea of "screwing the pooch in the front yard" looks like.

Zilman also told reporters that "I have never heard any discussion about the war being lost before this weekend.''

Y.G.T.B.F.S.M., General! The entire world has been talking about the possibility of America "losing" in Iraq for at least two years, and you're just now hearing about it? What sand dune have you been hiding your headquarters under all this time? How long have you had your helmet buried up your trench?


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Words generally mean the same thing to people, yet when strung together in sentences are frequently subject to different interpretations. When MG Zilmer states that he agrees with COL Devlin's G2 assessment of Anbar's current state he's going pretty far out on a limb for someone in uniform who hopes to continue in Mr Rumsfeld's rather unique interpretation of a Defense Department.

    MG Zilmer appears to have taken pains to indicate that he's got enough troops to train Iaraqis, but not enough to halt the province's slide into complete politcal and military anarchy.

    That's a pretty ballsy statement to make when you know your words are going to appear in print. The message I see is that MG Zilmer is saying he hasn't been instructed to reduce the chaos, eliminate hot spots of insurrection and resistance.

    Two possibilities: The political necessity of winning at the polls in November 2006 and thereby avoiding subpoenas, impeachments and possible later trials for war crimes is more vital than saving Iraqi lives by stifling insurgency. Training Iraqis to stand up so we can stand down? Yeah, well, that's just make-work; Mr Rumsfeld's version of line-dressing rocks and painting them white. (Yes, I know, very cynical. Who would suspect Bu$hCo of cynicism?) Second possibility: maybe the Iraqis really will be able to get a handle on things and we'll be able to on with the Likudnik's real goal: conquering Iran.

    Either way, MG Zilmer is saying he's got the troops ("X") to hang onto a small base area and go through the motions of training Iraqis but estemates he would need 3X to pacify the area (again).

    As for the not having heard about losing Iraq, lert's remember that he does want to retire, but not today.

  2. I could almost feel sorry for Zilmer. But then I remember that he chose to pursue high rank--nobody forced him have the ambition it takes to become a general.

  3. What's even more interesting is that the generals quoted recently in the press have said almost verbatim the same thing "We have sufficient force levels", which is the DoD mantra of Donny. I guess that the real word comes back through Jack Murtha and other "outsiders" hooked into the back-channels at the Pentagram.

    I, for one, don't believe that any sentient being above the rank of 0-3 in Iraq wearing a US uniform believes that there are sufficient force levels for the mission as it's been scoped out. Now that seems to be becoming the case in Afghanistan as well. Unfortunately, it's going to be either hearings in 2007 in a Democratic congress or post-2008 election before the truth begins to come out. Shinseki will be vindicated, in toto, by the military establishment. The question them becomes how to bring the sorry mess to a satisfactory close.

    Gordon has an iteresting post up about the military in the late days of Vietnam. I remember how it was for the Navy in the period of 1972-79, and it was not always pretty. Had it not been for Elmo Zumwalt, it might have been the worse for the wear. I wonder who the Army's Elmo Zumwalt will be? They're gonna need one, badly.

  4. Good point, Joe. There's an entire block of officers above the O-something level who are playing the Rummy game, and it's going to take, what, a generation to let them die off? That's bad juju, when most of the senior officer corps has no credibility with their subordinates.

  5. This is certainly an era of extremely opaque press comments. Of course a report on al Anbar did not address the entire country. I think all the generals that have commented on the report have agreed with it, including Chiarelli.

    Al Anbar is not a priority because we need to re-take Baghdad again. Devlin's report is a tautology: we are not winning a counterinsurgency because we are not trying to win a counterinsurgency. Defeating the AQ insurgency (which seems like a reasonable mission objective) is not a mission objective.

    Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

  6. Musical objectives. Thanks for the post. Give me an idea for a future article.

  7. Your comments on Gen Zilmer are of poor taste!