Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mission Accomplished Indefinitely

[They] were not fighting this perpetual war for victory, they were fighting to keep a state of emergency always present as the surest guarantee of authoritarianism.

-- George Orwell, 1984

It looks like the fat lady will become a Victoria’s Secret model before she sings the finale of our woebegone war in Iraq. On Friday Feb. 27, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, young Mr. Obama announced that, “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” We can speculate till the troops come home why Obama chose to make this announcement on a Marine Corps base as opposed to, say, on an aircraft carrier, but it’s a dead cert that the mission will be no more accomplished by August 2010 than it was in May 2003.

Obama also said in his speech that 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq after August 2010. Re-label them trainers, force protectors or whatever you like, the troops that stay behind will be combat troops. They won’t be training Iraqi security forces to peel potatoes, nor will they be protecting the day care facility for children of single Iraqi soldiers.

What’s more, the enabling trainers are likely to be in Iraq past the December 2011 deadline called for by the Status of Forces agreement. Key Pentagon figures who have voiced opposition to any sort of withdrawal timeline include defense secretary Robert Gates, who may be the only civilian officer holder in Washington who understands less about warfare than Joe Lieberman. Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has said a deadline for withdrawal would be “dangerous,” and National Security Adviser James Jones, a retired Marine general, cautioned that a timeline to leave Iraq would be "against our national interest." General David Petraeus, as always, has avoided saying much on the subject that might stick to his body armor. Petraeus’s sidekick Ray Odierno, though, says he wants to keep at least 35,000 troops in Iraq through 2015, and the once credible Tom Ricks has echoed this metric over every major information outlet in America.

Both Odierno and Mullen kick started the “a lot can happen in three years” chant as soon as the Status of Forces agreement was signed. It’s evident that no one in the Pentagon considers the SOF and its 2011 benchmark a done deal, and why should they? They’re used to discarding treaties—the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Torture—like day-old candy wrappers. The SOF isn’t even a treaty. The Senate never ratified it, so how hard could it be to abnegate?

Time Bandits

The main vector of the warmongery’s timeline argument is that successful military operations can’t be conducted with time constraints. This flies in the face of reality, of course; if military operations didn’t have D-Days and H-Hours, the Normandy invasion would still be on hold.

Gates is probably unaware of this; he is quite possibly the only civilian officer holder in Washington who knows less about warfare than Joe Lieberman. Mullen and Odierno and Jones either a) know that timelines are essential to military operations and are lying or b) they’re as ignorant of the basic tenets of their profession as Gates and Lieberman are. It’s entirely possible that both a) and b) are true.

Ricks himself admits that Petraeus’s task was never to produce a victory in Iraq. He simply needed time, “to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” In other words, Petraeus needed time to fake us out of demanding a timeline.

Mullen and Gates were both circumspect message managers on last Sunday’s political gab show circuit. On CNN, Mullen said he is “comfortable” with Obama’s withdrawal schedule, but also said he is confident the president will be “flexible” with the timetable if conditions on the ground change. On NBC, Gates admitted that the troops remaining in Iraq will still be in harm’s way, “but at a very different level than in the past,” which is Newspeak for “the troops remaining in Iraq will still be in harm’s way.” Sounding eerily like Mullen, Gates noted that Obama has said he “retains the flexibility and the authority to change a plan or adjust it if he thinks it's in the national security [interest] of the United States.” Gates and Mullen both gave the impression that renegotiating the Status of Forces agreement would be along the same order of difficulty as getting a pizza delivered from Domino’s.

Both men also stressed the importance of following the advice of the military commander on the scene, who is now Ray Odierno. Thanks to a two-inch thick make-over by Ricks, Odierno has transformed from the raging ox who did nothing right in post-invasion Iraq to the military genius singularly responsible for the surge, so when he says he needs 35,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2015, gee, who’s to say he’s wrong? And oh, Gates made a point of confiding to David Gregory (with the rest of the world listening in) that “if the commanders had had complete say in this matter that, that they would have preferred that, that the combat mission not end until the end of 2010.” So anything that goes wrong after August happened because Obama didn’t listen to Ray of Arabia.

For the moment, Ricks is the chief propagandist of the Iraq Forever movement, but he has capable help from the likes of neocon luminaries Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollock. In a Feb. 25 New York Times op-ed piece, O’Hanlon and Pollock baldly assert “The mission ceased to be a ‘war of choice’ the moment American forces crossed the border in March 2003. Now we have no choice but to see Iraq through to stability.” This is akin to saying that once we board an airplane, we have no choice but to ride it until it runs out of gas and crashes into the sea. Wahoos like O’Hanlon and Pollock never admit that there is a broad menu of sane alternatives to what they propose, the best of which amount to taking control of the airplane, returning to the airport and landing safely.

One hopes that Obama can resist the pressure from the lunatic right to perpetuate the counterproductive occupation of Iraq, but it’s important to note that in his Camp Lejeune speech, he said, “I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”

Even in the Newspeak Dictionary, you could drive the entire Army and Marine Corps through the distance between intend and shall.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Anonymous6:15 PM

    Perhaps the gov. will call them Military Assistance-Advisory Groups (MAAG). Or have we done that before?

  2. My wife asked me about all the mercenaries at work in Iraq. But I'm sure there'll only a few 10s of thousands of them as well.

  3. You guessed right, Anon, we've done that before, or something just like it.


    I'd bet you a shiny new penny there will be more contract workers in Iraq than GIs.


  4. Jason in VT11:37 AM

    Jeff: Long time lurker, first time commenter. Just wanted to say thanks for your posts, I haven't found anyone on the web who puts together such rational, logical arguments for why we need to change our way of doing things in Iraq/Afganistan. Your commentary should be required reading by our civilian/military leaders.

    On a side note-did they stop teaching military history at the academies? It sure seems like anyone who pulled at least a C- out of an intro MH class would be able to see that the stuff we're doing in I/A hasn't worked before and there is no reason to believe it will suddenly start to work.

    Keep up the good fight

    Thanks again

  5. Thanks for the kind words, Jason. Yes, they still teach military history, but keep in mind that Fred Kagan, father of the surge until Tom Ricks changed it to Ray of Arabia, used to teach military history at West Point.

    So, you have to figure the intellectual gene pool has been poisoned.


  6. One of the problems you highlight is likely to be what kills humanity with the military leading the way in death.

    When someone is good at what they do, we promote them to something they haven't been doing and may not be any good at. If they are good at that which we promote them to, we promote them again, and again and again until we get to them to a point of their incompetence wherein they are either allowed to screw up long term or, they are in effect punished for their previous competence. It is a mandatory implementation of the peter principle.

    If we have a guy who is good at leading men in combat, who can make the tactical decisions and who can adapt quickly as is so often necessary in combat, why not pay him(her) more to do that job? Why must we force them into strategic planning or diplomatic liaison positions?

    As I indicated, the problem is not limited to the military. Throughout corporate America, people are promoted into positions where they are incompetent and even destructive. The primary difference is that in the private sector they would also get bonuses. The current economic crisis is a great example. Triple "A" ratings were given to companies that were in the process of going bankrupt. The pros were talking about the "fundamentally strong" economy. Multi-million dollar per year MBAs were running companies into the ground.

    At some point, we will have to come up with a rational means of assessing competence and acting upon that information or, we can get used to being extinct. I am not looking forward to watching the progressive deaths of the military and the nation.


  7. Excellent subject, Cafkia. Neither Clausewitz nor Moltke ever had command of large units in combat. Ike did not.

    I can't remember who said this, but one of the Civil War big shots mused that the best colonels often made the worst brigadiers.


  8. What can change in three years? A lot. But I'd imagine, not much.

    A low level 'ínsurgency' that keeps the 'trainers' in camp, in armour and ill at ease will continue until the American public gets fed up enough, or the Mexicans swarm across the Rio Grande enough, to require the legion at home.

    Then Iraq will convert to what it is truly to become. And I don't think LasVegas east, or 'The Church of Tomorrow, To-day' is gonna be it.

    Post Script: how come your 'dulcet tones' aren't up-dated on Did you grope somebody's senora at a soiree?

    Best regards.

  9. I still don't get why Petraeus, especially, isn't afraid that Iraq might blow up again, as has been predicted by many. If that happens, his halo will quickly come crashing to earth.

  10. Pop,

    Ward Carroll spiked my second piece on Tom Ricks, and did a lot of other things I didn't like besides. Too much Tomcat Guy behavior for me.


    I think Dave of Arabia is very afraid of just that, hence the desperate info campaign. We either stay or whatever happens after is Obama's fault.

    Jeff Huber

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