Sunday, December 24, 2006

Iraq: the Generals Ebb on the Surge Option

General George Casey, the highest-ranking officer in the Iraq theater of war, has changed his mind. Julian E. Barnes of the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Casey, who along with Central Command chief John Abizaid has long resisted increasing troop levels in Iraq, is now open to the idea a "surge" of combat troops in the war torn country.

Something fishy is going on here. I'm not sure what, but I think I hear the sound of Dick Cheney's thugs breaking legs in back rooms.

Neo-connect the Dots

You've got Dick Cheney's office prepping Bob Gates for his Senate confirmation hearings, you've got John McCain banging on Gates at the hearings about the need for more troops in Iraq. You've got neocon Fred Kagan who came up with the surge plan proposal that just happens to refute darn near every suggestion of the Iraq Study Group that Bob Gates just happened to be a part of before Bush nominated him to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. You've got… Well, I could go on, but you've got the idea. You've seen it all before.

The surge plan has been in the can for a while now, and the plan for selling it to the public has too. By the time Bush goes public with his decision on the "way forward" (the only part of the Iraq Study Group report he'll adopt is its marguee catch phrase), the public will think that it's inevitable, and that "everybody agrees" a surge is the way to go, because the only choices are to surge or withdraw, and we can't give up on young democracies and all those moms and dads and kids yearning to be free and blah, blah, blah.

I could be wrong. I have been once or twice before. But it will take something very big to knock this surge train off its tracks, something a lot bigger than Congress. If anyone from either side of the aisle tries to block a troop surge, you'll see a blizzard of Rovewellian bull feathers start flying.

Then What?

So we send 15-30,000 more troops to clean up Baghdad. What happens then?

It's a mistake to think you can reliably predict how the enemy will react, but in plotting branches and sequels, military planners usually project a spectrum of possibilities.

At one extreme of the spectrum, all the disparate militant elements in Iraq plus jihadists from outside the country could descend on Baghdad for the mother of all brouhahas. That's not likely: from all indications, the bad guys are all smart enough not to risk a decisive defeat, and even if they're dumber than I think they are, they aren't organized enough to coordinate in a formal battle of that magnitude.

At the other extreme, the bad guys could all run away and hide long enough for us to start putting Baghdad back together and give Iraq's unity government a chance to get its act together.

Reality will probably play out somewhere between the extremes. Whatever happens, it's a safe bet that the Clausewitzean principles of fog and friction will apply--nothing in warfare ever goes quite as planned.

In a worst case scenario, we'll suffer significant casualties without dealing a decisive blow to the adversaries or rebuilding Baghdad and the Iraqi government will fail altogether.

At that point the possible courses of action get grim. If we decide to redeploy to the periphery, there won't be any way to spin around the fact that we gave it a shot and failed. My guess is that Mr. Bush won't accept that.

Which leaves us with one other course of action--further escalation. I'm not sure how much further we can escalate a group war in Iraq. We could throw everyone in uniform at Iraq for the "duration," but I suspect we don't have enough working gear to equip them all and that we can't maintain what gear we have for very long.

If we go all or nothing and wind up with nothing, well, that would be really, really bad.

The decision to escalate a war involves--or should involve--a complex but imprecise calculation: the probability of success versus the cost of failure versus the cost of not escalating. By my reckoning, the "surge" option offers little probability of success and carries the risk of profound failure costs.

I'd guess that the generals who oppose a surge escalation conducted a similar analysis, and would like to think that the folks who champion a surge did a similar analysis as well. But then I remember who the folks pushing a surge are.

All the Vice President's Men

The crux of the surge plan is contained in a presentation by Fred Kagan titled "Choosing Victory: a Plan for Success in Iraq." Kagan is a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and a key member of the neoconservative cabal that includes his brother Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, all those guys in the administration who work for Vice President Dick "Kingpin" Cheney. This is the same flock of chicken hawks who pawned the Iraq fiasco on us in the first place, and all indications are that they still have their clumsy mitts on our ship of state's helm.

Based on their track record, I doubt that any of these neocon "think tank" types ever heard of a cost/risk analysis, much less ever conducted one. What's Fred Kagan's number one argument for adopting the surge strategy?
"Other Approaches Will Fail."

If that's critical thinking, raw sewage is a cure for hepatitis.

But raw sewage is precisely what the administration is about to pour down our throats. They'll pinch our noses and tell us we're drinking a chocolate milk shake.

Like General Casey, the four stars on the Joint Chiefs of Staff who have opposed the surge will cave in and endorse it before Mr. Bush announces his decision. They'll do so because Dick Cheney's White House made them an offer they couldn't refuse. In return for endorsing the escalation, the generals and admirals will get their wish to increase the size of the force and the size of the military budget.

Congress won't dare object to a continued military build-up, and the military industrial complex that has Congress in its pocket won't object to it either. And ideologues like Bill Kristol and the Kagans won't have any objections because their entire purpose from the get-fo was to turn America into a militaristic hegemon controlled by their neoconservative oligarchy.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Here's hoping you all survive the War on Christmas. ;-)


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


  1. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Happy Holidays CH and to those close to you. permit us to express our appreciation for this site and those others with which you write. It is difficult to find 'rational' discussions on military matters, so critical in these times, that are not propaganda driven. We discovered this site over at Fallenmonk and visit often. I can think of no greater service than the education/liaison you provide between civilians desperate for 'real' information and experienced military who can operate outside the box. Much thanks. Have a good New Year.

  2. Mandt,

    Many thanks for the sentiments, and the same to you.