Monday, November 20, 2006

"Go Long" in Iraq: Same Bull Plop, Different Day

The "best and brightest" of the U.S. military's brain trust never fail to disappoint me.

The Pentagon's review of the Iraq situation is worming its way into the mainstream media. The review proposes three alternative courses of action, described as Go Big, Go Long and Go Home. Here's how noted Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks describes the options:
"Go Big", the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in US troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. A classic counter-insurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional US and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police. That option has been all but rejected by the study group, said sources who have been informally briefed on the review.

"Go Home", the third option, calls for a swift withdrawal of US troops. It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war.

The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second - "Go Long" - and calls for cutting the US combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts.

The war college I attended taught that when you propose courses of action, each option should be plausible and feasible. The brainiacs who came up with the "Go" plans must have attended a different war college than I did.

A recommended course of action rejected by the recommenders is neither plausible nor feasible, so the Pentagon "study group" has really only proposed one option, and that option is merely a reaffirmation of what the Pentagon has had in mind all along.

"Go Long," according to Ricks, "…the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period." There's no word from Ricks or the Pentagon on how "long" the "short" period might be, but whatever the length of time a troop increase might involve, the overall period of time American troops will be deployed in Iraq can best be defined as "indefinite."

In other words, "Go Long" is "stay the course." Same strategy, different buzz phrase. Same bull manure, different day.

Been There, Done That

Actually the "new" buzz phrase isn't exactly new. The "Long War" phrase was officially sanctioned by General John Abizaid to describe the overall thingie on whatchamacallitism clear back in 2004. Abizaid is in charge of U.S. Central Command, and his area of responsibility encompasses both Iraq and Afghanistan. Abizaid is on the short list to join William Westmoreland and George McClellan in the Worst General Ever Hall of Fame. But with Rumsfeld gone, Abizaid is the biggest gorilla in the Department of Defense zoo right now, and anything the worker bees in the Pentagon tell him will be carefully crafted to sound like something he wanted to hear.

I was in the audience of my war college's auditorium when a four-star officer advised us that the secret to success in a military career was knowing how to size up your boss. "Figure out what the bastard wants and give it to him," the four-star said. That may well have been the very moment I decided that my days in uniform were numbered.

In subsequent years, I came to realize just how prevalent the top-down group-think was in military circles, and how exhortations to practice "original thinking" were really admonitions to think in ways that supported ideas and theories that originally came from on high. Nobody at the top of the chain of command really wants you to "think outside the box" unless the box you're thinking outside of is somebody else's and not theirs.

So go figure why "Go Long" is the Pentagon's Iraq option of choice. It's in keeping with the core value of military careerism: "go along to get along."


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


  1. Anonymous12:43 PM

    It is very frustrating to see the "planners" continue to chicken dance around the reality of what the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq has devolved into.
    General Shinseki was very clear in the very earliest sword rattling days. It will take 400,000 plus feet on the ground and Lord only knows how many more ancillary troops for support to tame a country the size of Iraq. Add the degraded situation in southern Afghanistan and you looking at another 150,000 or more front line troops.
    We haven't got those resources plain and simple.
    I'm not even sure we have the force in country to even allow us to withdraw cleanly without considerable losses.
    What's worse is that the longer we delay a decisive decision the harder it will be. I am not looking forward to the next 6 months as all I can see is a worsening situation.
    Have a great holiday.

  2. You're right, of course, in just about everything you write, day after day.

    A comprehensive evaluation of the "Go" plans, laid against the template of your professional training and experience should have revealed to you that the "plans" were not viable operational options produced by the J3 shop, but rather documents ginned up by Mr Rumsfeld's puffery department. I'm not blowing my own horn when I admit that I lack the expensive and broad-based professional advantages you have and came to a conclusion two years ago that is quite similar to your estimation. Having been on the sharp end of a failed landwar campaign I look at the indicators slightly differently. Things look differently over an M-16 sight than they do through a FLIR sight at 10,000 feet while making 400 knots. It's only a matter of perspective.

  3. Monk:

    Option 1 is unachievable, option 3 is unacceptable. Why did they even include them.


    Yeah. Option 2 is just more puffery.

  4. Well, what we're left with a continued painful fumbling around with Option Status Quo, which could quite likely end with an Option 3 forced upon us by circumstances.

    At this point I'm reluctant to be confident that it would be an orderly withdrawal. It has a chance to resemble the withdrawal of British from Kabul in the First Afghan War, although not quite so tactically tragic.

  5. Hi, Jeff. Thanks for your prose; it's refreshingly sane in an otherwise insane world. I, too, am a retired commander and attended both the Navy Postgraduate School and the Naval War College. I love your assessment of "top-down group-think" and this is one of the many reasons why it was time for me to retire as well. I was told that my combined education cost the Navy $200K but no one was ever interested in using my new-found knowledge for original thought. I've heard the same from my colleagues. If we're going to give our bosses what they want, it doesn't take a Masters degree to do it. Please keep up the good work.

  6. Karla,

    This kind of thing is particularly troubling now. We used to think, "Well, in wartime, this chicken snot will come to a stop."

    But it hasn't.