Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Iraq: Casey Strikes Out, Bush Can't Define Victory

Also at Kos.

An old adage states that you don't really understand something unless you can explain it to someone else. Not surprisingly, Mr. Bush still insists on achieving "victory" in Iraq, but also still fails to describe what that victory might look like.

A Tuesday New York Times story titled "Chaos Overran Iraq Plan in '06, Bush Team Says" reveals that Bush is concerned that General George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has become more fixated on withdrawal from Iraq than victory. As recently as last Friday, Casey continued to caution against an expansion of America's military role. “The longer we in the U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq’s security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias,” he said. “And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq’s problems, which are at base their problems.”

It seems the Decider is fed up with that kind of talk. Casey was scheduled to leave Iraq this summer. Now, it appears he will be relieved in February or March. My guess is that Casey's departure will coincide with the launch of the escalation strategy.

A Plan to Stop Not Winning

It's a relief of a sort to see that Mr. Bush has finally decided to shake up his war council and change his "course" in Iraq. How he's going about it, though, I don't find encouraging. It sounds entirely too much to me like the head moguls firmly in charge (HMFICs, in military parlance) are still putting the cart before the horse. From the Times:
As security efforts in Baghdad faltered [in 2006], a confidential briefing on possible “end states” in Iraq was prepared by officials under the command of Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarielli, who until a few weeks ago led the day-to-day operations in Iraq. It suggested the dark vision of a divided nation that haunts the administration.

There are no absolutes in the art of warfare, but a pretty good rule of thumb says that you should determine desired end states at the beginning of the war planning process. That's not just freshman level war college wisdom. It's Life 101. You can't build a plan for anything if you don't start out with an objective, even if it's only a tentative one. But from the looks of things, nobody was considering an end state for Iraq until sometime last year, which was about three years too late.

Most students of war will tell you that "victory" consists of achieving the desired end state, or coming very close to it. "A free, stable, independent Iraq" is not a coherent objective statement; it's a glittering generality, so vague as to be meaningless. And yet, according to the Times
Mr. Bush still insists on talking about victory, even if his own advisers differ about how to define it. “It’s a word the American people understand,” he told members of the Iraq Study Group who came to see him at the White House in November, according to two commission members who attended. “And if I start to change it, it will look like I’m beginning to change my policy.”

Ahem. This American person doesn't understand a thing Mr. Bush is talking about. Wasn't all this "new way forward" business supposed to be about changing the policy? Or was it about changing the strategy to support the old policy. Or was it about changing the tactics to support the old strategy?

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you change the tactics or the strategy if they support a policy described by a word that even Bush's own advisers can't define.

Fog, Friction and Chaos

The Bush team admits that "chaos" overran the Iraq plan in '06. I'm not sure they realize that chaos is the same thing that overran the plans in '05, '04 and '03. Once we let the cats out of the corral after the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue, there was no rounding them up again. Failure to plan for a post major hostilities stage guaranteed a breakout of insurgent/guerilla style warfare, and the only ones really any good at fighting that kind of war are insurgents and guerillas. The best way for a conventional force to win wars of that nature is to stop them before they start, and we blew that chance years ago.

Now we're in a conflict that makes Vietnam look simple in comparison. Yes, we faced a shapeless irregular force, but the Vietcong were a semi-organized force that fit into the command and control structure of the "other" side in a two-sided war. The bog down in Iraq has more sides than a geodesic dome.

All indications are that Mr. Bush is about to inject tens thousand or more American troops into this Hobbesian environment, based largely on the proposals of Fred Kagan. A prominent member of both the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century. Fred Kagan has become the military affairs "guru" of the neoconservative movement, which despite its proven track record of failure, still appears to be the dominant influence on the Bush administration's foreign policy.

It's telling that Kagan, who spent a decade as a professor of military history at West Point, would propose additional troops to improve the "security" environment in Iraq without delineating what side, or sides, those forces should ally themselves with. With early mentorship from the likes of Kagan, it's little wonder that today's Army office corps is an intellectual wasteland.

Please don't let anybody convince you that our troops are engaged in a "peacekeeping" mission in Iraq. "Peacekeeping" is only possible when the belligerents involved are serious about keeping peace. That, quite obviously, is not the case in Iraq.

The other term for "peace" operations is "peace enforcement," a euphamism for "taking sides in a war," which is what we're doing and not doing now, and will be doing and not doing more of if we throw more troops into Iraq's deadly circle quirk.

For America to spend more blood and treasure in a vain attempt to "win" a war in a nation that's at war with itself through a "change of course" that's a change in name only meets Benjamin Franklin's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Franklin might have added that continuing to heed counsel from sources that have consistently given you bad advice is the epitome of bull goose lunacy. If Mr. Bush heeds the neocons' advice to escalate the war in Iraq, he'll be a hands down favorite to win the People's Choice "Biggest Lunatic in Human History" award.

Which will be quite an accomplishment, given the competition in his category.


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


  1. Great observations, as always, even if I do question the statement about “no absolutes.” I quite readily admit that may be caused by a lesser, and different, military education. I do understand the Bu$hian definition of “victory” in Iraq, however. That would entail getting out of the WH without legal or criminal liabilities, and being able to spend the remainder of his days in quiet conspiracy with his oligarchical associates.

    There is a school of thought that argues the chaos in Iraq was the actual end state desired, because chaos is a desired circumstance for opportunists. I am reminded of a historical comparison I heard in 1971 from a wise and cynical O-6 I worked under who laughed at the then-popular image of the USSR as some massive, gear-meshing monolith efficiently functioning like well-oiled machinery. He maintained they were more like hotel sneak-thieves, walking down corridors, trying each door in turn. It fits some of the observed actions of Bu$hCo, too.

    RE: Viet Nam vs Iraq, isn’t that modified 2d GW vs a more sophisticated 3rd GW? Bottom line is that it’s all abut the Franklins, and getting out whole to spend them in retirement, until the chance comes up to steal again.

  2. "new way forward" When Barbara and Jena are moved to the front of the line!

  3. Lurch,

    Maybe there are a "few" absolutes, I'm not sure. But far too many "experts" pretend that warfare is a scientific endeavor and are always trying to "prove" their pet theories. Whenever their theories are adopted and don't work out, it's because they weren't executed properly.


    That ain't gonna happen. ;-)

  4. I almost feel sorry for Casey. Bush requires an endless supply of scapegoats, and Casey is the latest.

    I find the tension between honor and duty inherent in a position like Casey's poignant. Casey, like Colin Powell before him, made his choice, and now he gets to fall on his sword.

  5. I have a tough time feeling sorry for four-stars, but see what you mean.