Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans' Day Vanities: Rummy's Out, Timelines Are In.

Does anybody see a rhyme or reason to what we're doing in Iraq now? As best I can tell, it looks remarkably like a farcical sketch from an old Broadway variety show featuring comedian Leon Errol blowing a martial air on a trumpet as his knees knock together while he tries to march across the stage without falling down.

Before the election, Rumsfeld was going to stay the course as Defense Secretary and the election results wouldn't have much effect on the overall Iraq strategy. Jim Baker and his Iraq Study Group were looking at new strategic options, but the strategy wasn't going to change, just the tactics.

Then the election results came in and Rummy was out. Hours after he announced his resignation, according to the U.K. Times, "American, British and Iraqi officials spoke openly about accelerating the handover process… All sides said that Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure provided an opportunity to set a clearer timetable for withdrawing all foreign forces."

It's too bad there wasn't a clearer timetable for removing Rumsfeld.

A new plan is being drawn up in Baghdad, with the Bush administration's approval, to extend the United Nations mandate for foreign troops in Iraq by one year, but the plan states that responsibility for security in all but the most violent of Iraq's 18 provinces will be turned over to Iraqi forces by December of 2007.

I'm not clear on how that's any different from what we're doing now. And is this December 2007 date a timeline, a deadline, a benchmark of merely a friendly suggestion? If the same provinces U.S. troops are fighting in today are still up for grabs come two Christmases from now, what then?

And who's calling the shots in Iraq? The UN? The White House? Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Malaki? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace? General John Abizaid, head of Central Command? General George Casey, U.S. commander in the Iraq theater of operations? U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad? Iraqi Shia clerics Ali Husaini Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr? The private security forces protecting Halliburton and the other war profiteer contractors in Iraq? Dick Cheney and his CEO pals at Exxon-Mobil and Chevron?

I don't think anybody can give a straight answer to that question.

Tactics, Strategy or Policy?

The U.K. Times reports that British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said that despite the U.S. election results and Rumsfeld's exit through a trap door, it's unlikely there will be a "major upheaval" of U.S. policy in Iraq. Was she actually referring to policy, strategy or tactics?

No two "experts" are likely to agree on the precise meanings of the vocabulary of warfare, but a general understanding exists that armed conflicts are conducted across a spectrum of loosely defined "levels." At the bottom of the spectrum is the tactical level, the level at which combat occurs. At the top of the spectrum is policy, an overarching concept that defines the war aim that can be expressed in terms like "unconditional surrender," "containment," "regime change," and so on. Strategies are broad plans for use of military force to achieve the policy aims, and the operational level of war is where tactical actions are coordinated to achieve the strategic goals.

In a "perfect" war, every tactical engagement or battle leads directly to an operational victory. Every operational victory reaches a decisive point in the overall strategic scheme and marches the war ever closer to the desired political conclusion.

There is, of course, no such thing as a "perfect war." Despite all of the U.S. military's advances in precision and information technology, the Clausewitzean notions of fog and friction still apply. (Simple Simon definitions: "fog" means you can't know everything you need to know. "Friction" means that people, plans and stuff seldom work like they're supposed to.)

Net-eccentric Warfare

Donald Rumsfeld's biggest mistake was his "all in" bet on transformational, futuristic concepts like network-centric warfare, shock and awe, effects based operations and the rest of the malarkey cooked up by his Director of Transformation Arthur Cebrowski, the retired (and now deceased) Navy vice admiral and fighter pilot who toward the end of his active duty career was president of the United States Naval War College.

Cebrowski and his acolytes like John Gartska convinced Rumsfeld and others that a force armed with precision weapons and networked through modern communications and data processing technologies could quickly and decisively win any war America chose to fight. In 2002, Cebrowski had the temerity to describe his network centric doctrine as a "new theory of war," even though, years earlier, he had refused to define what exactly this new theory was. In a 1999 address to the Command and Control Research and Technology Symposium, Cebrowski said:
Network-centric warfare is a concept. As a concept, it cannot have a definition, because concepts and definitions are enemies. Concepts are abstract and general, while definitions are concrete and specific. Thus, if a concept can be defined, it is no longer a concept.

Subsequent to that statement, anyone in his right mind might have suspected that Cebrowski's network-centric concept was a bull feather mattress. But Donald Rumsfeld didn't. Nor did Rumsfeld pay a tick of attention to the results of Millennium Challenge 2002, a pre-Iraq invasion war game that proved the fallacies of Cebrowski's indefinable concepts.

Rumsfeld pressed ahead with Cebrowski's ideas in the conduct of the Afghan and Iraq wars. In both cases, network-centric practices failed because they 1) did not, as advertised, eliminate fog and friction from the tactical and operational levels of war and 2) did not translate tactical and operational success into achievement of strategy and policy goals.

The Price of Ignoring Warfare Principles

A key flaw of Cebrowski's network-centric concept was that it implied that modern technology had made previous theories and principles of warfare obsolete. He--and his advocate Donald Rumsfeld--could not have been more wrong.

One of the most important of the principles of warfare is Unity of Command/Unity of Effort. From U.S. Army Field Manual 100-5"
For every objective, seek unity of command and
unity of effort.

At all levels of war, employment of military forces in a manner that masses combat power toward a common objective requires unity of command and unity of effort. Unity of command means that all the forces are under one responsible commander. It requires a single commander with the requisite authority to direct all forces in pursuit of a unified purpose.

Unity of effort, on the other hand, requires coordination and cooperation among all forces even though they may not necessarily be part of the same command structure toward a commonly recognized objective. Collateral and main force operations might go on simultaneously, united by intent and purpose, if not command. The means to achieve unity of purpose is a nested concept whereby each succeeding echelon’s concept is nested in the other. In combined and inter-agency operations, unity of command may not be possible, but the requirement for unity of effort becomes paramount. Unity of effort coordination through cooperation and common interests is an essential complement to unity of command.

As things stand now in Iraq, we don't have unity of command because we don't know who's in charge. We don't have unity of purpose because we don't have a coherent statement of what the purpose is. Succeeding echelon's concepts aren't nested in each other because there is no overarching concept other than one expressed in "stay the course" style misleading buzz phrases, false aphorisms and glittering generalities. In all, our woebegone wars in the Middle East are little more than what military historian Fred Kagan describes as "organized but senseless violence."

It's a fog and friction fricassee.

I'll regard all "victory plans" for Iraq that have no perceivable connection with tried and true principles of warfare and foreign policy the same way I treat what my dogs leave in the yard every morning.

In the meantime, I'm still endorsing Jack Murtha's proposal to redeploy to the periphery. That's in keeping with one of my own warfare principles:

"If you keep getting your butt whipped in stupid bar fights, either learn to walk away from them or stay away from the bar."


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


  1. I'm reminded of the Apocalypse Now scene of chaos near the bridge, with the soldier firing wildly into the darkness:

    Martin Sheen: "Who's your CO?"
    Machine-gunner: "Ain't you?!?"

  2. There actually is a strategy: to somehow hold on until Mr Bu$h can get himself another lightning rod. As for who's in command, the US is, unless Mustada al-Sadr really, really, really wants something bad.

    Sadly, there is no unity of effort because the only defined strategic goal is to hang on.

  3. Jeff,

    Yes, that's how I see the whole thing. Tom Ricks talked about that fairly extensively in FIASCO, and from where I sit, I've only seen things get more fragmented.


    Hanging on. Yep. There's a winner strategy, huh? Pray the course.