Monday, March 05, 2007

Iraq: The Perpetual Disaster Machine

Also at DKos.

Politicians, pundits and senior military officers alike have characterized the so-called Iraq surge strategy with words like "the last best chance for success." So what if it doesn't work?

According to Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post, a group of governors asked that question of Mr. Bush and Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace in a meeting at the White House last week. Pace's answer: "I'm a Marine, and Marines don't talk about failure. They talk about victory."

Shades of Doctor Strangelove!

There Is No Plan B, Mandrake

Governor Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn.) told DeYoung and Ricks that Pace's Plan B was "to make Plan A work."

Apparently, some within the government are thinking about a worst-case scenario. Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Congress "I would be irresponsible if I weren't thinking about what the alternatives might be."

The problem is that there is no "good" Plan B. The "best" Plan B would likely be something akin to Congressman Jack Murtha's (D-Penn.) proposal to redeploy to the periphery, but the Bush administration is unlikely to throw up its hands after Plan A fails and say "Murtha was right all along."

So even though nobody has a heck of a lot of faith in Plan A, it will succeed because it has to.

Bush supporters may call this being "resolute." I call it "faith based war fighting."

If At First You Don't Succeed…

I don't have a lot of faith at this point that the Democratically controlled Congress can stop Plan A from proceeding. The Battle of Baghdad has already commenced, and the legislature is unlikely to cut funding for troops already engaged in the field, or to provide reinforcements to an ongoing operation.

Prepare to hear a lot of talk about how "progress" in being made with the new "strategy"--more "corners turned" and "last throes" jabber.

Barring an unexpected breakthrough in the Congressional maneuvering, Plan A is here to stay.

Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is leading an effort to rewrite the 2002 authorization to invade Iraq. The new bill would not repeal the authorization, but would limit the U.S. mission in Iraq to training, counterterrorism efforts, border control and logistics support of Iraqi forces.

I like this idea in theory, but practically speaking, I doubt it could actually work. Iraq is a complex quagmire in which all the parts are interconnected. What good would it do to drive al-Qaeda out of Anbar province only to have the Mahdi Army or some other militia take over Baghdad? I'm also leery about Congress micromanaging the actions of commanders in the field. (Yes, I know that sounds like a Joe Lieberman argument, but it's a valid one.)

Operational considerations aside, though, it's not likely that Levin can craft a bill of this nature that will pass the Senate's 60 vote yardstick.

Iraq has turned into a perpetual disaster machine. Everything we do makes the situation worse, and the worse the situation gets, the more we do that worsens the situation even further.

Terms like "success" and "failure" no longer apply to the Iraq situation. We accomplished the "mission" of regime change more than three years ago, but we'll never transform Iraq into a democratic Shangri-la. Mr. Bush insists on pressing for a "victory" he can't define beyond the level of abstract platitudes, and will not tolerate a situation he considers to be a "defeat."

What is "defeat" in Iraq? The enemy (or enemies) cannot physically drive us out of Iraq. But is staying in Iraq to prove "they" can't drive us out a sane strategy or policy? It appears that Mr. Bush thinks it is. But then, to Mr. Bush, everything is a manhood measuring contest. Too bad he keeps coming up short.

Maybe that's why he's doing everything in his power to ensure we stay engaged militarily in Iraq for a very long time.


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


  1. Jeff, I wouldn't be surprised to see the "bad guys" just disappear into the woodwork of Baghdad & vicinity long enough (with a little encouragement aka "baksheesh") for the current administration to (once again) declare mission accomplished. When mission's accomplished, we can withdraw forces except for strong cordons around oil fields and pipelines. And the Shi'a and Sunni can once again pick up where they left off shooting each other. The current president can look every bit the stud he fancies himself to be, the neocon agenda of a fragmented Iraq becomes fact, Halliburton, et al, get more profitable than they are now. Win-win situation, wouldn't you say? Or is my cynicism in high gear today?

  2. EdNSted1:50 PM

    Having watched this same strategy fail in Viet Nam, I'm convinced that in highly likely event plan A fails, the solution will be implement plan A again - and this time we really, really mean it.

    When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail...

  3. Anonymous3:23 PM

    No professional uses a hammer anymore. It's a nailgun. These dummies kept trying to use a hammer when we have plenty of nailguns available.
    Maybe we need to send GW and all Senators and Congressmen to be inmbedded with a Marine platoon for 3 months. That would solve all these BS problems one way or another.

  4. Anonymous4:20 PM

    Think if we threatened a nuclear attack the insurgents would stop? "If you don't stop the madness RIGHT NOW we're nuking you. Get your shit together or everyone dies." That's a strategy.

  5. EdnSted4:24 PM

    This problem certainly has long term consequences our military. How can we attract (and much more importantly, retain) the best and brightest people when this is what they have to look forward to? Would you encourage your children to consider a career of military service today?

    I listened to the first 3 panels of witnesses this morning at the hearings on the problems at Walter Reed. When Kiley and Weightman were testifying, I kept thinking that they probably weren't fooling anyone other than themselves... but maybe I'm wrong about that.

  6. I suspect once Plan A fails, Plan B will be to "Tonkin Gulf" an incident with Iran, which will make a jim-dandy distraction - enough to carry us through the summer, at least.

  7. Bacon's Rebellion1:02 AM

    EdnSted said...

    .......I listened to the first 3 panels of witnesses this morning at the hearings on the problems at Walter Reed. When Kiley and Weightman were testifying, I kept thinking that they probably weren't fooling anyone other than themselves......

    I listened to some of that as well and had about the same reaction. While I have never had a great deal of faith in senior Army leadership I find that I have similar concerns about the senior leaders in the Marine Corps as well these days. That is not a position that I ever expected to find myself taking and certainly not one that I relish.

    The last witness before CSPAN cut away to some other Congressional hearings on matters of extreme trivia was General Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Staff of the Army. He began by telling the convened panel that he had spent thirty-three years in the Army. All well and good. He may be a fine officer. I don't know him.

    I then looked at the six plus decks of ribbons that he wore topped by a Combat Infantryman's Badge (CIB). He also was adorned with more pins, gewgaws and shinny metal devises than we used to see on the combined chests of a Soviet Field Marshal and a Uruguayan Admiral. The only thing lacking was a multi-colored sash of some sort slung over his shoulder. However, upon closer examination he seemed to have no personal combat decorations. He had been awarded two Bronze Stars but he did not wear a combat "V" on the ribbon (only a Gold Star indicating two awards). Still to the average civilian he must have looked most impressive and martial.

    So I pulled up his official biography.

    He graduated from College in 1969 but somehow managed to miss the Viet Nam War. His biographical sketch for some reason omits his commissioning date in the Army. There is nothing I could see in his official biography that would lead me to believe this officer has ever seen much combat and certainly none at the platoon, company or battalion level. One wonders if he has ever heard a shot fired in anger at a range that might possibly have his name on it. Yet this is the Army officer appointed as the Chief of Staff of the Army. Admittedly stranger things have happened. Walter Reed had the same job at the turn of the 20th century and he was a medical officer. However, those were much different times.

    I'm still puzzled how Schoomaker qualified for a CIB but I'm sure that Army regulations make that possible in some fashion. Those devises used to be highly prized in the combat arms branches of the Army prior to the Viet Nam War. I don't know what they really mean in today's Army.

    I don't want to unfairly single out General Schoomaker. If you look at the biographical sketches of most senior general officers in the Army and Marine Corps today you will find a similar pattern. No combat experience at the platoon, company, battalion or regimental levels. Lots of decks of ribbons awarded for being a really fine staff officer but none for actually leading troops in combat.

    My point being that the current senior leadership of our military really doesn't have much in the way of personal combat experience on which to base their actions and decisions. What they know is largely vicarious or the product of the doctrine taught at the various service schools combined with carefully orchestrated peace time maneuvers and exercises but not real combat experience. As close as most of those officers ever came to real combat was being at a Command Post during the very brief and one-sided Gulf War.

    We'd probably be better served by retiring every officer about the grade of major general and promoting the best of the current crop of field grade officers. At least they would bring with them some actual and relevant combat experience from the type of wars that we are now engaged in fighting.

    I don't think you'd see officers of that sort allowing situations that we see at Walter Reed and elsewhere to exist. As far as I know Dereliction of Duty is still a charge under UCMJ and is equally applicable to officers of flag rank.