"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, April 17, 2006

Rumsfeld's Velvet Glove

A plethora of ex-generals came out last week, disagreeing with the conduct of the Iraq war. There are apparently two propositions: Rumsfeld (less troops) and those ex-generals (more troops).

If we do a pomo deconstruction of the contestants, we're not left with much: generals want force, the civilian Rumfeld liked nuance. (And admittedly, had a love for his own concepts.)

The argument for overwhelming force was/is plain: put the insurgency down down down before it starts.

But since Rumsfeld's more nuanced view makes little headway through the clatter, I can only say that I thought this on my own while it was happening:

---Shooting looters would be a very bad idea.
---Shooting before we knew who was whom was also a bad idea.
---It is not self-evident that maintaining Saddam's Ba'athist military in place would have been a good idea either.

I'll borrow a couple points from Victor Davis Hanson out of laziness (omitting the ones I'm not crazy about):

Whatever one's views about needing more troops in 2003-5, few Democratic senators or pundits are now calling for an infusion of 100,000 more Americans into Iraq. While everyone blames the present policy, no one ever suggests that current positive trends — a growing Iraqi security force and decreasing American deaths in March — might possibly be related to the moderate size of the American garrison forces.

So, for every argument offered by "experts," there was just as available a convincing counter-argument — something usually lost on those eager to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle.

More troops might have brought a larger footprint that made peacekeeping easier — but also raised a provocative Western profile in an Islamic country. More troops may have facilitated Iraqization — or, in the style of Vietnam, created perpetual dependency. More troops might have shortened the war and occupation — or made monthly dollar costs even higher, raised casualties, and ensured that eventual troop draw-downs would be more difficult.

More troops just might have set 'em off even more. The polls in Iraq tend to support this proposition. They hate the "humiliation" of the US/UK troops being needed to straighten out their embarrassingly dysfunctional society; neither do they want them to leave.

My own opinion is that as the iron hand faded away, the incomprehensible fratricide of today (suicide bombers in Iraqi shrines and mosques) would have commenced regardless. It was not an avoidable if, only an inevitable when.

I could be wrong, but I also think that there is no way we can have a political, strategic or moral certainty that a different course would have ended up differently. I do not know whether the iron hand or Rumsfeld's velvet glove was the best way, which is why I don't give the post hoc peanut gallery much credence.


I have no patience for Monday morning QBing. There were varying opinions all through the Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld, civilian that he is, had the last word, and that's the way we want it.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur called for more troops against the Chinese intervention and an iron hand in the Korean War. Many think he might have been correct, but all must admit he also might have plunged us into global nuclear war. With generals, what you see is what you get.

After MacArthur shot off his mouth in the press, Harry S Truman, our civilian Commander in Chief, bounced him:

"I fired MacArthur because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was..."


Truman, whose poll numbers sank far below where Dubya's are now, in his civilian wisdom, with his velvet glove, might have saved the world. Much as I respect the generals, I'll take my chances with the civilians, even when they're named Donald Rumsfeld.

12 comments:

S. T. Karnick said...

Very good observations, Tom.

Tlaloc said...

While I think the invasion was a massively stupid thing to do Rummy's "nuanced" way of doing it was even worse.

Having more troops on the ground would have meant we could have tried to prevent the initial looting (hint: people don't tend to loot if they know soldiers are standing right there, except when said soldiers are ordered not to interfere). That means we might have saved the priceless artifacts from the museum of baghdad. We might have prevented the stealing of hundreds of tons of explosives from Al-Qaaqaa. We might have prevented a total breakdown of societal order. We might have prevented at least some of the sabotage that has left citizens far worse off in terms of water and power than when Saddam was in charge.

We might have done a lot of things differently. Do I think ultimately they would have worked? No. But we at least could have said we did our best. We can't even say that now. Rummy wanted it done on the cheap. Well you get what you pay for sometimes.

tbmbuzz said...

Six ex-generals with their own agenda can hardly be called a "plethora", even with the liberal media's current orgasmic frenzy. "Tiny handful" is a more apt description.

Matt Huisman said...

My recollection on the whole ‘more troops’ movement was that there was more going on there than ‘how to best wage war’. They basically said that you need 400,000+ troops to complete the mission, and followed it up by saying that we don’t have them (or enough to replenish them later). The implication being either a) you can’t go to war or b) we need a lot bigger budget.

Maybe they were playing it straight, but exactly what is the disincentive for being on the record as requesting more troops? Why not shoot for a million? Sorting out the ‘need’ from the ‘CYA’ here is harder than it looks.

Now Rumsfeld and Co. deserve their criticism. But at the end of the day, you either have to decide that you’re going to win these things, or not get involved in them in the first place. The only reason you replace Rumsfeld is if you can find someone more obnoxiously committed to winning than he is.

A double shot of morale, so to speak – a boost for our side, and a dagger for theirs.

James Elliott said...

The problem with Rumsfeld's strategy for running a war is that it didn't fit in with our goals. If your sole goal is to take out your enemy, the plan Rumsfeld's Pentagon devised was bold, decisive, innovative, and highly successful.

Unfortunately, while highly adaptive on the battlefield, Rumsfeld and Co.'s adoption of a hyper-movement strategy is no good for an occupation. The colossal error for which Rumsfeld must be held account for is in not recognizing the fundamental shift in the nature, and therefore the strategic goals, of the mission.

He fought a war on the cheap very well. Occupations, by their nature, do not come cheap. They require a far more rigid infrastructure than does the movement strategy of warfare, and he has, for five years, completely refused to recognize this.

Matt, our military budget is as large as every other military COMBINED. If we need a bigger budget, there's something fundamentally flawed about how we wage warfare.

Buzz, when that "tiny handful" includes those who commanded the war on the ground in Iraq, it might behoove you to take off the partisan blinders and take a gander.

Tlaloc said...

"The only reason you replace Rumsfeld is if you can find someone more obnoxiously committed to winning than he is. "

Or someone more competent.

Or simply to demand an accountability.

Frankly I'm amazed the guy wasn't instantly dismissed when it was discovered that the bodies of dead servicemen and women were being sent home as freight deliveries.

So much for supporting the troops.

The guy has made a colossal number of errors. And he has consistently compounded them. I don't know where you guys work but in my field if you screw up a lot you are likely to get canned.

Would that politics were so.

Tlaloc said...

"Six ex-generals with their own agenda can hardly be called a "plethora", even with the liberal media's current orgasmic frenzy."

When was the last time six ex-generals came out to criticize a military venture. My guess is you'd have to go back at least to Vietnam.

It is a rare thing to have multiple ex-military high ranking officers come out in staunch opposition to the civilian department of defense.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Cheap" is a pejorative, James. The skyrocketing deficits of the Bush administration belie the proposition that money is a factor in their machinations.

I've followed Rumsfeld through all this. His philosophy and analysis is more troops, more targets. Not only do populations, regardless of stripe, tend to resent occupations, but some of these guys are genuinely nuts. They kill more of their own people than us, man. Geez.

If Rumsfeld is cheap, it is toward American lives, and that's OK by me. Just like how FDR fought WWII. The incomprehensible and useless slaughter of WWI, not Vietnam, was the biggest lesson about warfare from the 20th century. If we had not lacked the proper tenaciousness or ruthlessness, we could have won in Vietnam. But nobody could have won WWI. They set records that I hope will never be surpassed for ruthlessness and tenaciousness.

The problem with Islamicism is that they draw their lessons from the latter and not the former. And frankly, with the Wahhabist conception of martyrdom, they just don't give a damn. Change the parameters of WWI around a little, and it was for them indeed a Great War, as Good as they come. Everybody dies.

And so, back to Earth, I happen to share Rumsfeld's conclusion that more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would have led to more casualties, and probably not just ours. That the Bushists favor the velvet glove or just getting the hell out of the way of the butchery is a radical concept, I know, but I think they learned the lessons of both.

That this war sucks is axiomatic if not tautological: war sucks.

Matt Huisman said...

Matt, our military budget is as large as every other military COMBINED.

All I'm saying is that no bureaucrat in their right mind would ever confess to already having enough resources on a goldmine of a project like this. (Assuming Shinseki wasn't just trying to scuttle the whole thing.)

"The only reason you replace Rumsfeld is if you can find someone more obnoxiously committed to winning than he is. "

Or someone more competent.


That's fair. I personally don't care for the way Rumsfeld operates, but he has the big idea right - and that is an absolute requirement. I could easily support a different 'competent' person if they were 'on board'.

Tlaloc said...

"All I'm saying is that no bureaucrat in their right mind would ever confess to already having enough resources on a goldmine of a project like this."

I understand what you are saying and you are right to a degree. But the issue is that Shinseki said we'd need 4-5x as many troops.

That would be going hugely overboard for just padding out your margin a bit for safety.

In other words, yes people do ask for more than they strictly need by way of resources in order to give themselves some slack. But they don't, unless they are idiots or pentagon contractors, blow that request all out of proportion to the actual need because then they simply look incompetent.

You need 10 people? You might ask for 15 but you aren't going to ask for 50.



"I personally don't care for the way Rumsfeld operates, but he has the big idea right - and that is an absolute requirement."

Honestly I tend to think he has the big idea right and wrong. The idea of a smaller more mobile and more flexible fighting force makes sense, but only if you abandon the kinds of projects that the PNAC has lined up for us.

For their goals we need a huge standing army because they want us to have troops everywhere all the time. They want nothing less than a global US military dictatorship.

James Elliott said...

Tom, I should perhaps clarify what I meant by "cheap." It was not intended as pejorative. Rather, by cheap, I meant that Rumsfeld's vision led to a war that was fought with a minimum of infrastructure compared to classical models. That is the glory of the movement strategy of warfare.

In undergrad, I had the opportunity to study with the likes of Gartner and Jackman, men who've made their work the study of warfare. I had great fun participating in after-class discussions about the nature and strategy of war. Their research clearly showed one thing: Movement is the best all-around strategy for winning a war, whether one is on the defense or the offense. The more nimble an army, the greater its chances for success.

Rumsfeld's critics ignore the good things he has done for the military, but he is not without his faults. Tlaloc is correct when he mentions accountability. My grandfather, who rose through the ranks as a buck private in the Engineers during WWII to second lieutenant, taught me the most valuable lesson he learned while serving: A leader is responsible for what his men do under his command, for their victories, and most importantly, for their crimes and defeats. This is a lesson that the civilian administration fails to comprehend.

Evanston said...

T-Man, could you provide a link/reference regarding improper shipping of our war dead? I know a little bit about escort duty as executed by the Marine Corps, and as a career logistician am interested in the details (such as choice of shipping).
JFE, thank you for your intelligent posts. I sorta disagree with everyone here. I think Rumsfeld has done a good job on the war. Certainly the occupation phase has been troublesome, but I think it's been due to an overall overestimation in the West of the merits of Islam. It's a death culture and trying to inject a democratic peace is quite a challenge. Going in to the war I told everyone it was militarily "doable" but also "ballsy." The 2 things working for our long-term success are that the oil requires cooperation, and the three-way division of Iraq (Shia vs Kurd vs Sunni Arab) favor a balance of power realpolitik with the U.S. able to shift allegiances in its interest. Militarily all we could do was a holding action until a semi-democracy stood up. It's happening right now. We'll be drawing down substantially this year (not always sending replacement units as current units return to CONUS). My main beef with Rumsfeld has not been the war, but his stupid comments on changing retirement calculations to make the people stay in longer. Sure, folks are still competent in their 50s, but they're usually behind the times technologically. Most weapons and support systems that were fielded when I entered the Corps (1984) have either been retired or soon will be. I found myself less-and-less current the past 4 years. I retired in October to leave the field to those guys who are super-dedicated and able to keep sharp. We've got some lousy post-Vietnam (mid/late 1970s commissioned) generals and colonels right now, but they're supported by a really sharp 1980s group of officers and enlisted. The U.S. military is the one thing keeping that keeps a lot of despots and crazies in line, merely terrorizing their own people instead of the West. The fact that other nations hide behind us "on the cheap" should not be taken as a negative, but instead as a measure of our effectiveness in keeping a Pax Americana.