"...and the Fool on the hill sees the sun going down
and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round..."
J. Lennon / P. McCartney
Another day, another few points of blood pressure lost watching Rumsfeld's Follies. The Agonist, an excellent warblog, provoked me into expanding on my last rant regarding the war. I include it here since it may not make it onto the Blog itself.
Three Layers: A not-so-clean analysis of the war in Iraq so far
The war in Iraq is progressing, and probably the only thing we as
regular citizens can be sure of is that despite the less-than-heroic efforts of the mass media, we *do not know* what is happening. History of war tells us that the only constant in war is confusion - the so-called 'Fog of War' - that guarantees that even those fighting it and coordinating it won't know precisely what happened until afterwards.
The problem is that the U.S. Presidential Administration and, perforce,
the U.S. media fomented the expectation that information would be
available to the U.S. forces (and, incidentally, the media and the
citizen) in unprecedented quickness and volume. Ergo, we're left with
the unpleasant scene of a professional military officer fielding inane
questions from poorly-prepared media correspondents about subjects which he knows perfectly well he either can't give or more often just doesn't know the answer to.
Having said all this, I'd like to jump in with both feet and offer three
layers of analysis on the basis of what information we do have. I'll hit this as the Political, Strategic and Tactical levels, and I'll
try to stick with concrete examples. With no further ado, on we go.
While the Administration may have a grand strategy for the conduct and goals of this war, they haven't made it clear to the average citizen. "Regime change in Baghdad" doesn't count. A grand strategy needs to define what the desired end state is, how it is to happen (events leading to it) and what actions need to be taken in order to make events turn out this way. The Bush administration isn't doing too well on this; as far as one can tell, the desired endstate is 'depose Saddam Hussein and install a more (insert friendly/fuzzy adjective here) government in Iraq.' There are loads of conditions on how it must be done, too: 1) minimize U.S. casualties. 2) minimize civilian casualties. 3) minimum amount of time. 4) resource restrictions (which I'll get to in a moment).
The conduct of the war is still a matter of secrecy and chaos; I'll
stick to two trends that can be seen by examining patterns across lots
of information pieces. Those trends are 'speed' and 'efficiency.' The
U.S. forces (and, hence, the 'Coalition' forces) are attempting to
prosecute the war at a high speed of their own choosing, using minimum forces to achieve their goals. The entire 'race to Baghdad' is a graphic example of this. The question is, why are they obsessed with
speed? This is where things get murky.
Things to consider: there are cites that various folks in the military,
from the soldiers up, are expressing 'surprise' that the Iraqis are
resisting at all, much less as fiercely as they are. The administration
has, since the earliest days of its life, been intent on carrying out
this action with a minimum of resources - a limit even smaller than the
limit imposed by the downsizing of the U.S. force structure. The
'40,000 troops' limit imposed by Cheney/Rumsfeld onto Gen. Franks, when initial plans were drawn, is the most compelling evidence of this.
Despite frequent statements that there are '300K' coalition troops in
theater, this in no way translates to 300K 'trigger-pullers.' Even in unit terms, we are way below the days of Gulf War I.
The strategy (not grand strategy, now, but specific strategy) appears to
be one of 'generating an Iraqi collapse' and, if that fails, to utilize
superior technology to destroy their forces. This is not necessarily a
bad strategy. However, the conditions that have changed since the
opening of the war seem to indicate that they are not very tightly
linked. To wit, since the opening, information has dried up; military
personnel have expressed surprise at the unfolding events, and political
figures such as Geoff Hoon (I know, I know) and Donald Rumsfeld have been unable to offer any response other than 'We'll win. This is
certain.' Sure, we will - but at what cost, and in how long?
Let me jump to specific events for a moment, some of which I've already
ranted about. The decapitation strike, the quick start to a ground
offensive, the 'limbo' of the 4th Infantry Division, the loss of Turkey,
the setback at Al Nasiriya, the continued security problems in the rear
all offer some information. The decapitation strike, as far as I can
tell, appears to have thrown off the timetable for the beginning of the
war. We are told that it occurred after a four-hour, unplanned meeting
of the U.S. President and his staff, following which the decision was
made. Let's look at this for a moment. The military was already
working up for an attack. The deadlines had already expired. There was
indication that Saddam might move if they waited. What could possibly
require a 4-hour argument or convincing session to hash out? The most
likely answer is that two or more of the factors were in conflict, and
the two most likely to me are the military's timetable and the
possibility of losing Saddam to relocation. In other words, the
argument was whether to attempt the decapitation strike before the
military's previously-agreed upon timetable showed us to be ready to
attack. The reason for this? In order to avoid the attack being
portrayed as an 'assassination attempt,' we needed to be at war with
Iraq. That meant the strike would trigger the expectations of a world,
an enemy and a domestic populace that had been led to believe that this
would be an 'overwhelming' strike that would happen at a 'time of our
So, in sum, the decap strike seems to have meant the war started before
the 'go point' in the original plan. At the time, the 4th infantry
division was still at sea; we hadn't secured overflight much less basing
rights from Turkey, on which depended the mass of the Northern front,
and the 101st hadn't yet completed unloading its equipment. But we went anyway, because the administration needed the war to start to take the decap strike shot.
Move onward. We are treated to scenes of U.S. units moving quickly (and in military terms, 25 MPH constant is REALLY fast) across the desert. They are moving so quickly, we are told, that they are bypassing
less-important objectives and aiming for Baghdad. In other words, they
are leaving less-than-secure rear areas as they attempt a blitzkrieg
into Iraq. The problem is that blitzkrieg depends on the collapse of
the enemy, otherwise the initial thrust cannot be supported
logistically; if the logistics aren't secure, then blitzkrieg tends to
morph into a more conventional attack (attacking forces vs. command,
supply and control assets) with the 'front' hopefully far enough in that
the defender hasn't had a chance to fortify that line.
This fits well with what we're seeing. The U.S. forces may have made
significant advances, but recall that everything we had been told
indicated that the 'real fight' would come vs. the Republican Guard, and
those forces had been pulled back to defend Baghdad. ergo, we didn't
*expect* the initial thrust to engage them. However, keeping up that
pace seems to have exposed our lines of communication and left
substantial enemy free to maneuver behind our front-line forces. The
exposed LAV unit, the logistics units coming under attack, and the
stubborn guerrilla defense of Umm Qasr and Basra are all examples.
While Umm Qasr and Basra might be argued to have been 'bypassable', the former two are harder to explain - unless speed was of the essence.
Moving on, the Apache battle. We are now told that ATACMS and air
support engaged the RG tanks as well - but not until after the Apaches
got there. Why? The Apaches are designed to kill tanks, true enough -
but on a maneuver battlefield *or* by surprise from longer range. They
don't have the survivability to engage over long periods of time deep
inside a determined AAA defense. The Longbow upgrade was designed specifically to increase the 'fire and forget' nature of the Apache, as well as increase its lethal range - yet we're told that Apaches were returning having been unable to get in to make their Hellfire Longbow shots on the tanks themselves, indicating that the defenses of those tanks were fairly heavy, and more important, well spaced - the command helo was taking fire some 10 miles out from the objective. Two Apaches were lost. Why wasn't more scouting done to determine the AAA threat? Why wasn't fast-mover airpower used to soften up the target, or at least expose the air defenses, before sending in the attack helos? Again, there is a sense of a rush - we are told that when the first attack took place, only 90 helos were within range of the target, but a day later, some 130+ are.
So, we're in a hurry. Why? One possibility: We're in a hurry because
we think this speed and shock will make the enemy collapse with the
least casualties and collateral damage required. The 'shock and awe'
campaign seems to indicate this is at least partly the reason. Perhaps
we can't let the war, and hence those casualties and damage, drag on for
fear of compromising our objectives. However, if this was the case, we
should see a robust backup plan that involved changing to a more steady, conventional assault with more firepower should the 'blitz' falter;
also, we should see the maximum resources allocated to this task, since
the more combat power, the more likely we are to succeed.
This poses problems. We've already seen that the U.S. military had to
fight to get the troop deployments they did; in addition, they had to
start without some of the resources they likely assumed they'd have
(101st, 4ID). So, wouldn't it make sense that they'd move to a more
conservative plan? You'd think so. The reasons they wouldn't? One,
Washington won't let them, or two, they don't think they *have* the
resources to carry out this war in a slower, more conventional fashion -
at least, not without being told they're failing, taking too many
casualties, killing too many civilians, etc. This is what worries me -
the feeling that the pace of the war and the methods by which it's being
fought are being driven not by military requirements and operational
methods, but by political restrictions - and this is a recipe for
disaster. Political (i.e. Administration strategic) objectives and
considerations should by all means drive the goals of the war, and the
timetables of the war - but shouldn't ALSO drive the means and methods
of the military planners on the ground! If they do, then what we're
saying is that the president and his advisors really don't need the JCS
to provide an operations plan; they just need the military to do what
they're told and 'be here by this day, using this.'
This is the sort of trouble that we got into in Vietnam. Ambiguous
goals ('stabilize the regime', 'defeat the guerrillas') political
micro-restrictions (one year rotations, ROE limitations on individual
air campaigns, etc.) I'm not saying that this will turn into Vietnam;
far from it. I believe that we have the forces, the power, and the
people to defeat Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I'm just saying that the defeat
might not end up looking at all like what the Administration, the press,
the citizenry and the rest of the world thought it would look like. It
might require heavy airstrikes on uncleared areas; it might require
large numbers of US casualties, it might require much more time than
initially thought (or, at least, inferred by observer nations and
peoples), it might require additional combat forces, which in turn
require time, money, political costs, etc. Any or all of these are
Given the lack of foresight which the Bush administration has applied to
the diplomatic preparations for war, and the reverses they seem to keep
suffering and then declaring irrelevant (the UN, Turkey, Saudi Arabia
public basing rights,etc) this doesn't make me easy in the mind. Mostly
because I fear that our services, and the men and women that make them up, will end up paying a disproportionate price, in terms of blood,
blame, and/or bucks.
I also worry that the consequences of the war escaping its 'planned
shape' will have potentially catastrophic results on the shape of the
Middle East as a whole - winning the war only to lose the peace
...we now return you to your regularly scheduled daylog.