December 08, 2004

Out of My Control

The big debate about the number of troops is one of those things thatís really out of my control. I mean, everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person and I guess thatís fine [ed. note: what happened to the buck stops here?]. But the number of troops we had for the invasion was the number of troops that General Franks and General Abizaid wanted, the number of troops we have had every day since has been the number of troops that the field commander thought appropriate. They have not been increased or decreased over the objection of any of the field commanders and, indeed, I donít believe that thereís been a request by Abizaid or Franks or General Casey that has not been agreed to. So those who go around constantly saying that thereís too few troops or too many troops are saying basically that they believe they know better than the people on the ground who are responsible for deciding the number of troops. My personal instinct is to go with the people in whom Iíve got great confidence, or they wouldnít be asked to do their jobs. And I think that what the debate and discussion ignores is the reality that there is a tension between not having enough troops and having too many troops. By having too many troops, you have to provide force protection for the troops. There are that many more targets that can be shot at. Thereís that many more troops that could be hit by an IED and you very clearly have to have a darn good reason for having them. You have to have support for them, the force protection for them. And so, you need to know precisely why you want them and what it is theyíre going to do because it puts a very heavy footprint and it creates much more an impression of occupation. This is a poor analogy, but in Afghanistan, the Soviets had somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 troops and lost and we have 17,000 and won. So a fixation with sheer numbers, it strikes me as a 20th century phenomenon more than it is the 21st century phenomenon.

Perhaps a fitting epitaph for Don Rumsfeld--once he finally exits stage left (hopefully in under four years). It was "out of my control." Sh*t, stuff happens.

Don't miss this depressing snippet either:

Well, the last analysis, the Iraqi people are going to have to do it. And itís pretty clear for all the people fussing about the Iraqi security forces, itís reasonably clear to me that the extremists have decided that the Iraqi security forces are a danger to them. Else wise, why would they be running around trying to kill so many of them. They have to have decided that theyíre effective. They have to have decided that thatís a threat and therefore, they make it a point to try to kill policewomen and Iraqi soldiers. And the Iraqi security forces have lost considerably more people killed in action than have the coalition forces in recent months.

Hey, it's almost good news that the insurgents are killing scores and scores of new Iraqi security forces we need to train, for several years and in large number, if we are to have any hope of a viable and morally justifiable exit strategy! So stop "fussing." Goodness gracious. After all, it's "reasonably clear" that the insurgents think the Iraqi troops are a danger. Well, hot damn then! All is just swell. Oh, woe that Rumsfeld might express some regrets to the families of the hundreds upon hundreds of Iraqi forces slaughtered like lemmings by the insurgents--in large part because of our failure to provide for secure conditions because of inadequate manpower inserted into theater (a quaint 20th Century concept in mondo Rummy). Instead, ugly hubris and the same faux-macho talk--peppered with this trademark insouciance that makes his fans swoon (how big and tough he is!)

Sad, really. But there is some comfort in all this. History will have the last laugh--not Donald Rumsfeld. And it will not be a pleasant verdict. Abu Ghraib and his dismal stubborness in not providing adequate manpower in Iraq will ensure that. And, yes, that verdict is "out of your control" too Mr. Secretary.

Posted by Gregory at December 8, 2004 05:20 AM | TrackBack (122)

Aww, Greg. I love your work and all, but the man does speak some sense even if it's not sugar-coated. Not everything can be black-and-white. Perhaps you're both right, to some degree...?

Posted by: Stan at December 8, 2004 05:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does he still have fans? What an ass.

Posted by: praktike at December 8, 2004 06:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Rumsfeld? Where to begin? In one sense Rummy is right, going lighter meant that US forces could operate with more speed. Just like strength, speed kills. We literally in OIF operated faster than Saddam and his forces could react. Colonel Boyd's OODA cycle. In order to get that speed forces needed to be smaller given the tyranny of logistics. It was a legitimate military trade-off; and one that prevented the Oil Fields from going up in flames; gigantic massacres; or huge massess of refugees ala 91 all of which were predicted by the media and NGOs.

However, in other comments by Rice and Rummy, it's clear that they expected that the Army, National Guard, Police, etc. would remain as semi-functioning institutions. Clearly, no one at the top level understood Iraq (which is partly understandable, there was very little accurate intelligence or analysis done by anyone, including the CIA).

As the Duelfer report makes clear; there was Saddam Hussein; and then there was ... nothing else when it came to the institutions of Iraq. In hindsight, pretty clear given Saddam's paranoid tendencies and brutal behaviors. Saddam literally did not and would not tolerate institutions that existed separate from himself and thus a potential challenge/threat to his power. Hence the total collapse of society after his regime finally fell.

It's worth pondering if ANY level of troops could have provided security in the immediate aftermath given that without Saddam institutions of government didn't seem to exist. Also worth noting is how the Kurds in the North and Shia in the South seem to be building their own militias as Iraq creeps toward some sort of tribal powersharing arrangement ala Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at December 8, 2004 08:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, Greg, you're a big Bush supporter aren't you?

Bush is POTUS, is he not? Why doesn't he can Rummy? Or is it all somehow out of Bush's control? And if so, what kind of POTUS is he?

A puppet?

Posted by: avedis at December 8, 2004 11:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What exactly should have been done?
(crickets chirping)

Posted by: jrdroll at December 8, 2004 11:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow. A right leaning blogger who's not indulging in partisan-hackery? If I didn't know better I'd swear there were pigs flying outside.

May your kind live long and prosper.

Posted by: Mark at December 8, 2004 01:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The reason that Rumsfield and others believed that the Iraqi military and police would support us after the war was because that is what the CIA analysts said would happen. Another case of believing the professionals.

Posted by: davod at December 8, 2004 01:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wait a minute, Rumsfeld et al thought that if they disbanded the Iraqi military, the Iraqi military would support us? How exactly does something remain as a semi-functioning institution if it is dismantled?

What the CIA, State Department, Army war college and every other expert in the government said in the Future of Iraq Project, and its accompanying reports, was that disbanding the army and widespread de-Baathification would be a bad idea. Putting hundreds of thousands of armed young men with military training out of a job, and removing their connection to the occupation, was strategically unwise.

Chalabi and his allies felt that de-Baathification should occur and that the Iraqi army should be disbanded. They wanted to purge every remnant of Saddam's regime at all costs.

The President disregarded the Future of Iraq Project and opted for Chalabi's wisdom. That decision was well "within" his control, and our forces are paying for it to this day.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 8, 2004 03:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Iraqi army melted away. To say it was "disbanded" is wrong.

It also was a Sunni dominated army complicit in crimes against the Kurds and Shi'as. Whether or not it should have been called back to barracks is another question entirely and the correct answer, whatever it is, is pure speculation.

Posted by: russell at December 8, 2004 04:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I think that a smaller force is easier to justify in the invasion phase of the operation. You make several good points about the speed, mobility and flexibility issues.

That being said, the debate about troop strength is really about the aftermath of the invasion, not the invasion itself. Few, if any, were arguing that we needed more troops to actually topple a fairly decrepit military force in Iraq. What the troops were needed for, proponents of increased numbers contend, is for the security and stability of the country in the post-invasion phase.

This is also how Rumsfeld and Franks avoid stepping on each other's toes. Franks maintains that he did not want or need more troops for the invasion. But he cleverly punts on the post-invasion planning and logistics saying those decisions were not up to him. Others, like Bremer, were not so diplomatic about the matter. Here is Bremer:

In remarks published Tuesday, the official, L. Paul Bremer, said he arrived in Iraq on May 6, 2003 to find "horrid" looting and a very unstable situation...

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," Bremer said during an address to an insurance group in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The group released a summary of his remarks in Washington.

"We never had enough troops on the ground," Bremer said.

In an earlier speech Sept. 17 at DePauw University, Bremer said he frequently raised the issue of too few troops within the Bush administration and "should have been even more insistent" when his advice was rejected. "The single most important change -- the one thing that would have improved the situation -- would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the occupation, Bremer said, according to the Banner-Graphic in Greencastle, Ind.

As for your assertion that there was very little accurate intelligence or analysis about Iraq done by anyone, including the CIA, I would say that is not necessarily true. Again, I refer to the Future of Iraq Project, and the related reports. These reports urged for more troops in the reconstruction period, accurately predicted sectarian violence, a robust insurgency, massive looting, the need to curtail the de-Baathification and army disbanding, etc.

Again, the Bush administration rejected these plans becuase of their pessimism. They were never adequately replaced, as this Knight-Ridder article recounts:

In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.

Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 8, 2004 04:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Portions of the Army melted away, but huge numbers of soldiers, hundreds of thousands, were disbanded.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 8, 2004 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Before the war, President Bush approved a plan that would have put several hundred thousand Iraqi soldiers on the U.S. payroll and kept them available to provide security, repair roads and prepare for unforeseen postwar tasks. But that project was stopped abruptly in late May by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, who ordered the demobilization of Iraq's entire army, including largely apolitical conscripts.

"This was a mistake, to dissolve the army and the police," said Ayad Alawi, head of the security committee of the Iraqi Governing Council. "We absolutely not only lost time. The vacuum allowed our enemies to regroup and to infiltrate the country"...

Looking ahead, members of the State Department's Future of Iraq working group on defense had developed a similar plan, concluding that former soldiers could provide valuable intelligence while performing reconnaissance and security missions.

Ahmed Hashim, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, offered a practical solution to Bush administration war planners. Arguing that the question did not demand an all-or-nothing approach, he favored purging the army of its most disreputable leaders and distilling the remaining forces into usable units. He also said soldiers should be paid, to minimize the chances that they would fight the occupation forces....

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces. He believed strongly in the need to disband the army and felt that vanquished soldiers should not expect to be paid a continuing salary. He said he developed the policy in discussions with Bremer, Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 8, 2004 04:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And many of those that "melted away" were paid to do so by the US gov't. Therefore, there is a reasonable degree of likelihood that they could have also been paid to reconstitute at an appointed time.

Posted by: avedis at December 8, 2004 04:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric's right as usual, and what's more, the US met in Baghdad with a group of Iraqi generals shortly after April 9th who said they could pull the military back together. Instead, Bremer disbanded it and gave Chalabi essentially carte blanche to begin his purge.

Posted by: praktike at December 8, 2004 05:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Another point: the US had been making PSYOPS promises for over a decade that it would keep and support the Iraqi military. They broke that promise.

Posted by: praktike at December 8, 2004 05:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

All the banter seems to avoid the obvious question: was there a single instance of ground commanders requesting but not getting specific levels of troop strength? If not, then Rumsfeld is right; you are elevating arm-chair opinions above on the ground assessments.

Posted by: djk at December 8, 2004 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

when asked by a grunt on the ground why they had to scower garbage dumgps to look for iron or whatever to arm their vehicles. rummy said you got to work with the army that you got.
wow, i immediately wanted to entlist in this army.
this is news within the last 48 hours.

if i was a grunt i would feel like cannon fodder.
of course rummy is right about everything and bush has complete confidence in him.

do you like out leaders recent cosutme that he wore at camp pendleton, i think he looks rather dapper in a mushroom cadet uniform.

so you grunts give, give, give. 110%.

Posted by: rummy says at December 8, 2004 09:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bremer made a big mistake in the way in which he disbanded that army, but not in the fact that he did.

Arm chair SECDEFing is easy, but what Rumsfeld is balancing is very hard to pull off. He is been right and also effective far more than he has been wrong - and Gregory, on this issue I think you just don't begin to have a good assessment of either Rumsfeld's approach or his results.

As a small example, look again at the quote re: iraqi casualties. All along Rumsfeld has said that the key to success in Iraq is for Iraqi's to step up to the job of defending themselves and their freedoms, with our help as they build (not rebuild) responsive institutions. Over 85% of Iraqis today have no memory of life before Saddam. But many are figuring out that they both can and must create a new Iraqi way of governing themselves -- witness Sistani's insistance a) on Jan elections and also b) that there will not be a Shia militia fighting the Sunni insurgents, but rather an Iraqi National Guard and army.

If you don't realize that that is in part the result of Rumsfeld's insistence that we will not put 1/4 million troops there, you've missed a major part of the strategy.

Posted by: too true at December 8, 2004 09:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BTW, a lot of *Iraqis* understand what Rumsfeld is doing, even if armchair stragists blogging away from a distance don't .....

Posted by: too true at December 8, 2004 09:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How many Iraqis?

Posted by: praktike at December 8, 2004 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Too true, are you something other than an armchair bloggist? What are your impressive credentials?

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 8, 2004 11:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As you do not have trackback, just wanted you to know that I linked to this:

Posted by: Kathianne at December 8, 2004 11:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just when I think its safe to check out B.D. once again, more Rumsfeld bashing.

Rumsfeld and his team have been nothing short of brilliant in how they have handled the challenge facing them. Their successful efforts to accomplish transformation on the fly -- as a necessary stop-gap -- has been fantastic.

This constant bitching about not enough troops is precisely what Rumsfeld is CLEARLY disproving. It is strange to me how you have yet to figure out that these clowns in Iraq had a pretty good game plan on how to screw America and it centered on the Iraqi military.

An essential part of their game plan CLEARLY was for the Iraqi military to be maintained. And infiltrated. And used as an instrument of chaos, prompting or threatening to prompt civil war, etc. Whether by luck or by pluck, America has denied them that tool.

Nevertheless, they've done a fairly good job of infiltration with the police and National Guard, they would have been much more succesful with using the military for negative purposes.

Rumsfeld is trying to win this fight in Iraq, and is succeeding; you would have lost it for us months ago.

Posted by: RattlerGator at December 9, 2004 12:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

my own credentials? Let's just say a close relationship to US military ....

Posted by: too true at December 9, 2004 12:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

too true, so do the guys on boogie street.

Posted by: avedis at December 9, 2004 03:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Rattlergator, I can imagine that Rumsfeld etc have been brilliant in handling the overwhelming crises they're facing. Likely without such wonderful brilliance we would have lost long ago.

So, ah, how come we had to invade iraq in the first place against such horrible odds?

Why couldn't we wait until we were ready?

It wasn't the WMDs. Iraq didn'tt have any WMDs and Rusmfeld and Bush knew it.

If we'd just put off the invasion for 2 years we could have trained as many soldiers as we needed. We could have all the armored Humvs we needed. We could have had a clear reconstruction strategy worked out, and while iit wouldn't work as written it would give us a solid plan to modify, and the resources we set aside for it would come in handy for the modified plan.

What was the awful hurry, that we had to rush in unprepared and then depend on all this brilliant improvisation?

Posted by: J Thomas at December 9, 2004 04:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

too false,

sounds like quite a few GIs don't understand Rummy's brilliant strategy (that clearly is NOT working) either. Citizens may be armchair strategists, but GIs know more about it than you do, without question, as they experience the confusion and pain of war every day. Unless you are posting from Iraq, I'll defer to them, thank you very much.

Rumsfeld is taking our military in the wrong direction and has been since the war began. He has callous disregard for the Geneva conventions and behaves as if our troops are expendable, not to mention Iraqi troops. Saying otherwise amounts to spraying perfume on a turd.

Let me guess. You're a Halliburton employee?

Posted by: Tony Montana at December 9, 2004 04:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

i know you've lost all faith in rumsfeld long ago, but remember your own advice on perspective, greg...

when he says the decision on troop levels is beyond his control, he means that the decisions he makes on this issue ultimately rest on the judgment of others... that is to say, the commanders in the field, who are deciding the troop levels necessary...

i am of the impression that the commanders in the field knew very well that rumsfeld didn't want requests for any force increases as they would not be easy to come by, and would not be very popular with the public at large... thus, they simply tried to make do with what they had, not always successfully...

this way, rumsfeld, bush & co had a ready answer for why, as violence continued to escalate, troop levels were not being increased... 'the generals haven't asked for them, and i'd rather trust the generals than others speculating from abroad'

it's a convenient response, but not a very convincing one...

on the other hand, what rumsfeld says on higher troop levels meaning higher coalition casualties is right. on this, there is a school of thought (which you have posted on) that argues that the more troops there are in theatre, and the more visible the presence is, the more it fuels the insurgency. so there are legitimate reasons why this is not an automatic decision on the part of the DoD.

of course, there is also the fact that more troops really aren't very easy to come by. the US is having some trouble coming up with enough troops to properly rotate the ones in theatre already, extending tours of duty and the like. so where do you propose the secretary gets these new troops? international contributions are not forthcoming, this has been made clear (if anything, members of the coalition seem more eager to draw down their contingents than increase them).

you don't seem to really consider this in your analysis greg. rumsfeld doesn't say this, of course. but there are again valid reasons for him not to make these kinds of comments public, for reasons im sure you can appreciate. not only would he get skinned alive by democrats, but this kind of 'frank' talk would only hinder our efforts in iraq. (it would do about as much good as kerry's talk of possibly starting to draw down american troops levels within six months of his inauguration - if 'things went well' at least).

publicly admitting that we need more troops in the field but don't have them would be a huge ego boost to the insurgency. rumsfeld knows this and, from what i can tell of reading your blog, you know this as well.

so whatever rumsfeld's faults - and you're right that there are many - don't let your dislike of the man cloud your judgment of the facts.

as you once warned mr kristof of the times - perspective, don't lose your perspective.

Posted by: roman at December 11, 2004 02:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Roman said, "publicly admitting that we need more troops in the field but don't have them would be a huge ego boost to the insurgency."

Here's why that's a losing way to think about it.

If we have to bluff out the insurgents to win, there's a strong chance the insurgents won't get bluffed out. They can tell whether we're under-strength by fighting us. They don't need to read about it in the newspapers.

So, if we *can* increase troop strenght, but we *don't* because we're busy trying to bluff out the insurgents, what does that do? Doesn't that look like a sure-fire way to lose?

Posted by: J Thomas at December 11, 2004 04:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems obvious to me that he's implying the force structure was only large enough to support that many troops.

Posted by: Cutler at December 13, 2004 06:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Cutler, if we *need more troops* but we *don't admit it* because *the enemy would be encouraged if we admitted the truth*, it means we're screwed.

And it's a stupid claim regardless. If you were fighting a great big army that was vastly superior in funding and firepower, which would you find more encouraging?

"We're raising whole new armies in case the enemy isn't beaten by the time they come online."

"We are certain that the forces we have in place will do the job and no reinforcements will be provided."

The idea that we can't tell the truth to ourselves because the enemy would like it is *stupid*. Fixing the problems comes first. If we fix our problems then it won't matter what the enemy thinks about it, he won't have any good choices.

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