December 06, 2004

No Confidence

WALLACE: I want to pick up on this because you're saying that we've been reactive, that we allowed this sanctuary to be in Fallujah in the first place for far too long.

You, at one point, said about Donald Rumsfeld that you felt that he had been, quote, "irresponsible" in not putting troops into Iraq more troops, sooner. You've also been critical of his roll in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

What are your feelings about the decision to allow him to stay on at the Pentagon?

MCCAIN: I respect the president's decision. The president was re-elected. And I respect his right to do so.

WALLACE: And your feelings about Don Rumsfeld?

MCCAIN: Well, I have to say that I want to work with Secretary Rumsfeld because he will be the secretary of defense for an undetermined length of time. And I want to work with him. And I want to do the best that I can for the country.

WALLACE: That's not a vote of confidence.

MCCAIN: No, it's not.

WALLACE: You'd like to see somebody else now, don't you?

MCCAIN: I respect the president. The president of the United States was re-elected by a majority of the American people, and I respect his right. And I will work with the president, obviously, and with the secretary of defense.

McCain, on Fox News Sunday.

And no, 150,000 troops isn't enough.

WALLACE: The Pentagon announced this week that it's going to increase the American military presence by 12,000 to 150,000 in time for the elections in January.

Given the fact that these troops, the American troops, are going to have to protect thousands of polling places, continue the fight against the insurgents and help rebuild cities like Fallujah, is 150,000 enough?

MCCAIN: It probably isn't. But the problem that we have here is that the Pentagon has been reacting to initiatives of the enemy rather than taking initiatives from which the enemy has to react to.

Many of us, as long as a year and a half ago, said, "You have to have more people there. You have to have more linguists. You have to have more special forces. You have to have" and the Pentagon has reluctantly, obviously, gradually made some increases.

And the problem, when you react, you have to extend people on duty there, which is terrible for morale. There's a terrific strain on Guard and reservists. If you plan ahead, then you don't have to do some of these things. The military is too small.

The good news is we went into Fallujah and we dug then out of there. And I'm proud of the work. These men and women are magnificent. Their leadership is magnificent. The bad news is we allowed Fallujah to become a sanctuary to start with.

So, yes, we need more troops. Yes, we have to win. Yes, the elections have to be held at the end of January.

Yes, we are busier reacting to the insurgents then proactively stamping them out via overwhelming force. Because we don't have enough resources on the ground to do so. Kerry would have, in all likelihood, drawn-down our force posture in Iraq. Bush, at least, has increased it. But extending tours is devastating to morale. And relying so heavily on relatively inexperienced Guard and Reserve units is far from ideal. Taking Fallujah but allowing insurgents to flee to parts south of Baghdad (because we didn't have enough troops to blanket both areas simultaneously) is evocative of what McCain is getting at when he says we are in something of a "reactive" posture. We took the fight to the enemy in Fallujah, yes. But not having enough troops to keep the bad guys who escaped from getting to new sanctuaries has mitigated the success of the Fallujah offensive. It was an important victory, to be sure. But not an overwhelming one. Put differently, it's not that we are losing so much as we aren't decisively winning. If such a situation is allowed to fester for too long, of course, there will be a tipping point. We aren't there yet. But it's clear that, going into a period of heightened violence with elections looming, it wouldn't hurt (to say the least) if we could have more non-Guard, non-Reserve troops on the ground. Grown-ups like Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, and John McCain get this. We must hope the President does too. But I'm concerned. The lack of accountability at the Pentagon is a somewhat worrisome sign. But the Kerry alternative was even bleaker. So here we are. Who will have the courage to say what is so obvious and act on it? Our military is too small for the tasks it currently confronts. We are simply too stretched.

The new pressures on the Army recently led a bipartisan group of 128 members of the house to call on President Bush to increase the Army's overall size, called end strength, and to reduce the time reservists must spend on active duty. Republican Heather Wilson of New Mexico is a leader of the effort.

REP. HEATHER WILSON, R-N.M.: I think all of us are concerned that we're going to see back-to-back combat deployments for American military personnel. And you can't sustain that for very long without acknowledging forthrightly that we need to increase the end strength of our active duty people in order to meet the needs of the continuing war on terrorism.

More here. Rumsfeld believes increasing our "end strength" is perhaps prohibitively expensive (given other defense funding needs) and might not be necessary as the overstretch is temporary. But how temporary is it? In my view, we need to remain in Iraq for at least another half-decade. Will the world sit back and wait for that chapter to be neatly closed before new crises emerge necessitating dispatch of highly trained troops, in good number, to other theaters besides? Probably not, unfortunately.

MORE: Related to the above, don't miss this John Burns dispatch. After Fallujah, we are, to a fashion, re-taking the initiative with respect to counter-insurgency efforts. But do we have the requisite muscle to really get the job done?

American forces moved into this area as Baghdad fell, but a shortage of troops, and command decisions that limited offensives, led early this year to a situation in which much of the region became a rebel stronghold. Journeys through it became a deadly lottery, with daily bombings, ambushes and kidnappings.

Just as the assault on Falluja last month signaled a turn to a more aggressive posture by the United States command, so too has the evolution of American tactics here. Under the 2/24 marines, the policy since September has been to go after the insurgents. New forward bases have been opened in Yusufiya and Latifiya. The marines have conducted regular foot patrols through the towns, making contact with the population. Raids on insurgent hide-outs and weapons caches have become routine.

The marines have fought pitched battles, including one on Nov. 12 at Mullah Fayyad, west of Yusufiya, that began with an insurgent ambush and developed into a fight that lasted more than four hours. Lt. Col. Mark A. Smith, the 2/24's commander, said the rebels were trying to open lines of retreat from Falluja.

"This is where the leadership of the insurgency have always lived, and now that they can't be in Falluja, they've got to come home," he said. "But our rule is, 'You ain't comin' home.' "

Colonel Smith, 40, an Indiana state trooper in civilian life, is the embodiment of the new, more aggressive approach - muscular, salty-tongued and impatient. "We're going out where the bad guys live, and we're going to slay them in their zip code," he said.

"People around here are beginning to believe that the Americans are going to stay and go after the bad guys, and they're not going to leave until the job's been done," he added. "As that sinks in, opinion is swinging to our side."

But wouldn't the local residents believe we were going to "stay and go after the bad guys" even more if we had a more robust force presence through this entire region? If the main airport road to Baghdad was secured? If we had soldiers staying back during the Fallujah offensive waiting for the bad guys to flee back home (rather than have to rotate British forces into the area)?


Posted by Gregory at December 6, 2004 02:07 AM
Comments

The intentional barbed ambivalence found in McCain's coy lack of 'enthusiasm' for Rumsveld is only possible in the context of a complicit media. Without it he could never have been asked the right silly questions enabling him to maintain the veneer of party loyalty while at the same time getting off his snarky shots at one of the best SecDefs ever to occupy the office.

Posted by: Ronald Proby at December 6, 2004 02:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In the short term there is nothing to be done, because we have the military force structure we have, and because you are simultaneously arguing that we should have more troops in Iraq and that the number we have already overstretches the present capability.

In the longer term, opinions can differ about the size of the military we need. Bush and Rumsfeld can have one opinion. You can have another, John McCain can have another, Heather Wilson can have another. Which opinion should carry the day? But wait... didn't Bush just win some sort of an election?... Shouldn't that count for something?

Posted by: ZF at December 6, 2004 04:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think McCain got played. Wonder how those other promises (global warming, campaign finance reform, spending) are working out?

Posted by: praktike at December 6, 2004 04:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ronald: At least now McCain is telling us what he really thinks, if in guarded terms. The "complicit media" you speak of was responsible for allowing him to feign unequivocal support during the election campaign too.

When I see McCain talk about the war in Iraq it almost invariably leaves me wishing that the 2000 Republican primary had gone his way.

Oh, and I'd love to know what "other defense funding needs" Rumsfeld thinks are more important than winning the war against terror.

Posted by: Bitter at December 6, 2004 07:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'd like to see more US troops in Iraq for the elections.

Once the elections are over, then maybe the US military can scale down it's troops presence there.

btw, I think delaying this election is a BAAAAD IDEA.

Posted by: john marzan at December 6, 2004 12:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh, and I'd love to know what "other defense funding needs" Rumsfeld thinks are more important than winning the war against terror.

What Rumsfeld and the Pentagon brass are doing is cynically (or brilliantly) using the Iraq War to fund their pet programs ... so he doesn't put vital needs like body armor and ammunition and so forth into the regular budget, and instead asks for those things in a supplemental. Who's going to say no? So that's one thing that McCain is pissed about, among others (Boeing, troop levels, etc.)

Posted by: praktike at December 6, 2004 02:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So where, exactly are all these extra troops going to come from if we are overstretched already? Troops don't grow on trees, still less linguists or special forces. Recruitment and training take time and personnel which are in short supply. One of the things I recall reading about Vietnam was that there were not enough training cadres to train/prepare the troops facing rotation incountry. To meet training needs they took experienced NCOs out of combat, which reduced the effectiveness of the troops on the ground. Seems to me that we can look forward to the same thing here, along with the de rigeur moaning and hand wringing. As for morale, some 60 years ago the US fought a war in which men signed up "for the duration", which though unquestionably hard, was doable; we know it was doable because they did it. The big diffrence this time around is that then the media fully supproted the war effort, whatever it for however long it took.

As far as I can see the reservists are very well trained, and not substantially below par as you suggest. The issue might more accurately be described in terms of those soldiers whose MOEs did not prepare them for combat.

Posted by: Tamquam L. Rugiens at December 6, 2004 10:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Before the invasion the US army chief told Congress that they would need 250,000 troops to occupy Iraq (tho' far less to defeat it's army). Clearly he knew what he was talking about & wasn't listened to.

One way out would be to accept the right of seccession of the Kurds & Shia & get out of these areas while we are still somewhat popular there & concentrate on occupying only Sunnivale.

Posted by: Neil Craig at December 6, 2004 11:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bitter, before engagng in these kinds of chats one should accept the burden of letting your broader view shine (at least in muted tones ) through th invidual words. In your case your view on the legitimacy of th Iraq war -- and hence your view of Rumsfeld -- is unclear .

Posted by: Ronald Proby at December 6, 2004 11:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Everytime I read an interview with Senator McCain, I'm left even less impressed. The guy is popular with the mainstream media because, like them, he has no sense of judgment.

Iraq isn't Vietnam, but believing that the problems there could be solved if we just increased our troop strength a bit more (and more, and more...) is precisely where LBJ went wrong. When LBJ did that, he took the war away from the only people who could win it, the Vietnamese people themselves.

Similarly, only the Iraqis can win the war with terrorism. Name a number--150,000, 250,000 or 500,000 American troops--and it still won't be enough. More troops mean more anti-American hysteria and more terrorism in an endless cycle. We can and should help, but this is a war the Iraqi people have to win for themselves.

And if 10 years from now, their schools are teaching how they won their independence and barely mentioning the role we played, that will be well and good. A nation that believes it can win its freedom is one that can also keep its freedom.

Posted by: Mike Perry at December 7, 2004 04:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"So here we are. Who will have the courage to say what is so obvious and act on it? Our military is too small for the tasks it currently confronts. We are simply too stretched."

Yep. Just more of the "peace dividend."

Limited resources mean limited choices. Want more soldiers in Iraq? Choices: 1). Wave Magic Wand, receive instant gratification. 2). Move troops from other locations such as Germany, US and Korea. 3). Recruit and train more troops. 4). Recruit and train indiginous Iraqis. 5). Attract more Coalition members with actual soldiers. 6). Extend duty tours.

Would anyone care to argue that options 2 through 6 have not been seriously addressed?

In the perfectly sterile and antiseptic world of PERFECT, the US response to 9/11 has been less than perfect. Send them to the dungeons!

But in the world as it exists the US suffered a catastrophic success. The enemy simply changed clothes and walked away. No surrender, simply abandonment. They now fight as indiginous resistors, but delight in beheading or otherwise murdering civilians.

Enough of the Grouse, Carp and Snipe!

Yes, more enforcers are needed. No, they are not available from the US due to the "peace dividend" and local sensibilities. It is an Iraq problem, and the confirmation is seen in the attacks on the police stations.

"Tis a truly sorry and disturbing situation, but one that history will likely judge as reasonably well executed.

Posted by: Sasquatch at December 7, 2004 07:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems to me that we can get whatever value is available from each other's messages without knowing the broader view or even who wrote them. It would probably work out fine to have all the messages anonymous, except that it would be harder to dismiss trolls unread.

Entirely apart from the legitimacy of the war, I get the strong impression that Bush mostly doesn't want to think about it. It was supposed to be a quick easy war that would be popular and would have big benefits. Instead it's turned out like one of those lawsuits that drags on and on, and there's nothing to do but go on paying the lawyers and make the occasional upbeat message to the stockholders.

Note how the overall strategy has changed repeatedly. First we were going to be met by cheering crowds who'd install democracy and give us permanent bases.

Then Garner started setting up local elections in the cities, which to my mind was a fine start toward democracy and security. Get popularly-elected mayors making the local decisions and paying local police and you're well on your way.

But Bremer put a stop to that. The theory was that the insurgents were a small number of dead-enders and everything would be fine when they were gone and when Saddam was gone -- since people were still scared of him and afraid to cooperate with us in case he caught them at it. And Bremer was going to re-make iraq to have full unregulated free enterprise and just the kind of democracy Bremer wanted. When that didn't work then it was all going to go fine after the handover to Allawi. After that didn't work, then we were going to reconstruct our way to victory. But we couldn't do reconstruction until we had the security working, so we redirected reconstruction funding to security and we started training an iraqi army and police. When that hit snags we decided to attack the cities the insurgents controlled, figuring everything will be better after the elections.

It isn't that there's no plan. It's more like anybody who comes up with a plan gets to try it out for a few months, until somebody comes up with a new plan that sounds better.

OK, suppose we win or lose, how important is it? Well, if Saddam was telling the truth about his oil reserves, there's a lot of oil in iraq that might get pumped quicker or slower depending on how the war goes. But if Saddam was lying about that, then no.

Maybe iraq could be a staging area to invade iran? No, by the time iraq is stable enough for that and we're ready to roll, iran will have too many nukes.

Maybe if we get a big success and all the iraqis settle down to run a friendy liberal democracy, the rest of the muslim world will also settle down and we'll sit down together and sing kumbayah? Not likely, but it would be nice.

OK, suppose we bug out. Will the muslims etc think we're wimps and ignore our threats? And the rest of the third world? Maybe. Would we be worse off? Maybe not. We naturally feel better when everybody's afraid of us, but we might get more real cooperation when they aren't.

The difference in outcomes is probably not very important. I see one big thing that could matter, and that's the iraqi oil reserves which may not exist. It would be a good thing if the US government published a statement showing to what extent we've been able to confirm Saddam's claims about his reserves.

Beyond the reserves, the difference between us leaving now and leaving in 4 years is mostly about a trillion dollars and some X thousands of US casualties, plus a bunch of destruction in iraq and some 100X thousand iraqi casualties. It just isn't all that important.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 7, 2004 09:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mike Perry, what you say makes sense. However, if we're going to occupy iraq at all we need a certain minimum number of soldiers. We have garrisons in our special permanent bases and also in a collection of cities, and those garrisons have to be supplied. The supply convoys must each be some minimum size to keep them from being destroyed on the road. So right there, you've got about a hundred thousand troops required -- unless we write off whole sections of the map we have to have those garrisons and we have to supply them, and that takes about 100,000 men even without doing any offensive operations.

It takes 2/3 of our troops to supply themselves and the other third, and if we cut the troop levels by 1/3 then it would take all of the remainder to supply themselves. Unless we withdrew from more areas.

We only have about 30,000 men available to kick ass in a country of 25 million. If we added another 30,000 the supply convoys would only get a little larger but we could increase our kick-ass force by 20,000 or more.

I agree that our occupation troops are stirring up enemies faster than they can kill them, but if we're going to be there at all we need more troops on the ground to kill people. Your idea that the iraqis should solve the problem themselves is good only if we accept that it's a problem for iraqis that needs to be solved. Once we let them solve their own problems we lose the chance to make them solve *our* problems. We want permanent bases, particularly permanent airbases, that we can use to threaten the whole middle east. We want cheap oil. We want to prove we can defeat anybody we choose. We want big profits for american companies, particularly selected american military contractors. We want the world (and especially american voters) to publicly recognise that we won. There's no particular reason to think the iraqis would solve our problems, they'd only solve their own problems.

People compare it to vietnam, they haven't been comparing it to korea which was another war with some similarities that we won. As near as I can tell, what happened was that after pretty much the whole country had been trashed by the front lines moving up and down four times, and more than 10% of the population had been killed, essentially 100% of the survivors were willing to live under a US-supported dictatorship rather than rebel. The deaths weren't primarily our fault, they were just inevitable under the circumstances. Maybe if we'd had stronger resolve in vietnam and if more vietnamese had been killed, they'd have settled down too. And maybe that's what it takes in iraq. By the time we kill 15-20% of the sunnis the rest are likely to cave in. And I'm sure the other iraqis figure, "better them than us". If somebody has to kill half a million sunnis they'd rather we do it than leave that problem for them.

So it's possible that we can solve our problems in iraq with more troops, and we probably can't solve our chosen problems with fewer troops, although that might or might not lead to a better solution for iraqis.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 7, 2004 10:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm with Mike Perry on Mcain. And I still haven't heard a convincing answer as to where we will get all these extra troops.

And OT: Sen McCain sure does love the camera, doesn't he? Everytime he opens his mouth I keep hearing him yammering on about steroids and baseball and all I can think is: why don't ya'll in the Senate get regularly tested for drug use? I might like to know if our senators are senatoring all juiced up on God knows what before they go voting for this or that pork-laden bill. I just can't stand all this national nannying and lecturing he seems to think is his role.

Posted by: MD at December 7, 2004 07:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mike Perry:
Iraq isn't Vietnam, but believing that the problems there could be solved if we just increased our troop strength a bit more (and more, and more...) is precisely where LBJ went wrong. When LBJ did that, he took the war away from the only people who could win it, the Vietnamese people themselves.

Similarly, only the Iraqis can win the war with terrorism. Name a number--150,000, 250,000 or 500,000 American troops--and it still won't be enough. More troops mean more anti-American hysteria and more terrorism in an endless cycle. We can and should help, but this is a war the Iraqi people have to win for themselves.

Someone who makes the argument above should also explain why we don't have TOO MANY troops in Iraq right now.

Guy

Posted by: Guy at December 7, 2004 07:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whoops, last message should read:
Mike Perry:
Iraq isn't Vietnam, but believing that the problems there could be solved if we just increased our troop strength a bit more (and more, and more...) is precisely where LBJ went wrong. When LBJ did that, he took the war away from the only people who could win it, the Vietnamese people themselves.

Similarly, only the Iraqis can win the war with terrorism. Name a number--150,000, 250,000 or 500,000 American troops--and it still won't be enough. More troops mean more anti-American hysteria and more terrorism in an endless cycle. We can and should help, but this is a war the Iraqi people have to win for themselves.

Someone who makes the argument above should also explain why we don't have TOO MANY troops in Iraq right now.

Guy

Posted by: Guy at December 7, 2004 07:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guy, I'm not seriously advocating more troops in iraq, but I presented above an argument how it could work, based on the korea model.

In korea the population sorted itself out somewhat, communist sympathisers went north and communist opponents went south. So there perhaps weren't that many malcontents on each side. Still, we wound up with a brutal US-supported dictatorship amidst pretty intense poverty. Just the sort of thing to create an insurgency, and not that many US troops to put them down, either.

I attribute this to the civilian casualties of the war. out of a population of 20 million people, they'd already lost 3-4 million civilian casualties. Pretty much every familyl had lost people, and they were grieving. They didn't have the heart to die opposing a brutal dictator. It could be argued that in the early years conditions in the south were no better than the north, but that didn't matter -- they'd already lost too many people and they were ready to work hard and raise children and try to avoid thinking about governments.

If that's right, we might be able to reduce the sunnis in iraq to that state by killing only a million of them or less. And if the shia act up, we could pacify them by killing maybe 3 million or so.

We could do that with airstrikes, without needing a lot of boots on the ground. But it's better to have observers on the ground to direct the airstrikes.

Ideally you'd want to kill the brave ones and leave a lot of cowards alive. "Think of it as evolution in action." But it might be enough to just keep killing them until the survivors are pacified. And that does appear to be the current military strategy.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 7, 2004 10:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas wrote:
If that's right, we might be able to reduce the sunnis in iraq to that state by killing only a million of them or less. And if the shia act up, we could pacify them by killing maybe 3 million or so.

We could do that with airstrikes, without needing a lot of boots on the ground. But it's better to have observers on the ground to direct the airstrikes.

If this is an attempt at humor, it's not funny. And if it's serious...

Posted by: Guy at December 8, 2004 06:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas wrote:
If that's right, we might be able to reduce the sunnis in iraq to that state by killing only a million of them or less. And if the shia act up, we could pacify them by killing maybe 3 million or so.

We could do that with airstrikes, without needing a lot of boots on the ground. But it's better to have observers on the ground to direct the airstrikes.

If this is an attempt at humor, it's not funny. And if it's serious...

Posted by: Guy at December 8, 2004 06:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guy, I have the idea this might be our actual strategy.

Our intention at this point is to kill sunnis until they give up. We don't decide how many we have to kill before they give up, they decide that.

In algeria 10% of the population died and the algerians kept right on fighting; the french left.

In korea 15-20% of the population died and then when the foreign fighters called a truce one set of koreans were ready to keep their mouths shut under a communist dictator. The other set was ready to keep their mouths shut under an anticommunist dictator.

So my estimate is that likely 10% moirtality isn't enough but 15-20% probably is enough. Bush has pledged to stay the course, this is probably what it will involve.

It isn't a joke. Or if it is, it's a pretty grim one. There's a reason we aren't doing body counts and we don't want anybody else to do them either. The reason is that to win we have to kill them until they accept that they've lost, and it might take more killing than the american public can easily stomach.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 8, 2004 07:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas wrote:
It isn't a joke. Or if it is, it's a pretty grim one. There's a reason we aren't doing body counts and we don't want anybody else to do them either. The reason is that to win we have to kill them until they accept that they've lost, and it might take more killing than the american public can easily stomach.

If this is really what we need to do to "win" in Iraq, then it puts the "humanitarian intervention" justification for the invasion in a whole new light.

Posted by: Guy at December 8, 2004 07:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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