December 23, 2004

Mailbag

Reader BE writes in:

I appreciate your comments with respect to increasing our troop strength and I agree with the need to replace Rummy. I particularly agree with your statement that “the Powell Doctrine is not dead!” My only question is: Where do we get the reinforcements in the short term? I would expect the Army to reactivate two or three light infantry divisions within the next few years, but the need for additional troop strength is immediate. The active duty troops stateside are recently back from their tour there and gearing up for their second or even third. The Marines are putting even more time in Iraq per capita. DOD’s solution is to extend tours and overlap units in Iraq for a few months. We have some Marines over there who are on their third tours. We are obviously not getting any more help from our coalition allies. I guess the only solution is to lean heavily on the National Guard, a force that is under-trained and ill equipped to handle counterinsurgency. I fear that we will be seeing a lot more casualties as a result.

As for the Rummy situation, the auto pen flap really bugged me. The fact that this guy couldn’t find the time to personally sign the condolence letters for the next of kin of our fallen troops is in character with your frustrations. He has consistent aversion to taking responsibility when the shit hits the fan. We need a “buck stops here” kind of guy in the SECDEF role, not a slick operator with a Teflon suit.

I think there are other solutions aside from leaning more heavily on the National Guard. Including some peel-back from S.Korea and Germany. Readers are invited to suggest other ways by which to expeditiously (within 6-12 months) get another 40,000 or so non-Guard forces into Iraq.

Posted by Gregory at December 23, 2004 04:52 AM
Comments

I'm sure your reader BE thinks he has a relevant point with the autopen issue, but really, is signing letter the best use of time for the Secretary of Defense during a war? I think not.

A SecDef has a responsibility to enable the military to win wars. Let him do his job, and don't saddle him with artificial responsibilities that detract from his real purpose.

Of course, if Lindley M. Garrison personally signed all letters of condolence in World War One, or Henry L. Stimson did the same in World War Two, or if even more recently Dick Cheney personally signed these kind of letters in the first Gulf War, then BE has a valid point.

I feel safe in assuming this is not the case.

I also disagree that we need more troops in Iraq, when the opposite is probably true.

In an insurgency situation such as the one we currently face, a larger mass of troops simply means more targets. After the elections in early '05, the United States should slowly begin drawing down troop levels and force Iraqis to begin taking responsibility for their own security. Training is important, but experience is key, and the Iraqi military will never be able to become effective as a counter-insurgency and security force.

American forces should begin withdrawing from urban areas in Iraq, and shift their forces to interdiction mission along the Iranian and Syrian borders.

With Americans out of the urban areas, insurgents will have a very difficult time justifying their assaults on targets more clearly Iraqi, and a faltering insurgency will conclusively topple.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 23, 2004 05:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You may want to look at http://adventuresofchester.blogspot.com/ and his comments on "Good news: Rummy Will Survive! (Bad news: US power is in its twilight . . .)". There is a certain disagreement between your respective positions, and likely some commonality.

The potential sources of additional manpower clearly include Korea and Germany, but also include other minor areas where troops may remain after previous adventures. Training and equipping additional forces is likely an 18 to 24 month sequence. The largest potential pool is the Iraqis themselves, who will have to ultimately stabilize and govern Iraq. They must be included.

Posted by: Terry at December 23, 2004 06:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory:

Not surprising to see you post a comment from a no-mind who shares your world view. Time to be a grown up and post contrarian views. It will give you character.

Posted by: Captain America at December 23, 2004 06:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

More Mercenaries? Protection of civilian personal in Iraq has already been handed over to private security firms. Why not start handing over security for government installations, polling booths, training etc.?

People with military and police experience from the previous and current South African governments have been actively recruited in South Africa (even though it is illegal in South Africa and returning South Africans face prosecution).

With the average police officers yearly salary being less than $10,000 a year, contracts that offer that amount for a month in relatively safe part of Iraq or twice that in the Sunni triangle are hard to resist. Combine that with 3 million dollar life insurance policies to keep the families back home super quite in case things go wrong (as they do) even senior member of the police force have been going over.

Currently standards are relatively high however as only people who have specialized skills or a lot of experience are being sought. However, with the current employment rate being what it is, lower standards will guarantee you a flood of candidates on the cheap.

American Foreign Legion anyone?

Posted by: Richard at December 23, 2004 08:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hell, yes. American Foreign Legion.

And do you know what the biggest problem would be? Keeping Soldiers and Maarines from the Active duty from deserting in droves to join an organization freed of all the civil affairs nicities that are necessary for state forces.

Can we get a legal gal or guy here to sound off on the potential barriers to starting the AFL?

Posted by: Tommy G at December 23, 2004 12:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The only reason to add more soldiers is if we are going to truly stamp out the insurgency with massive, overwhelming force...

That is, do to Iraq what we could have possibly gotten aaway with (or at least not been any more condemned for) during to the war. If we didn't do it then, there's NO WAY we are going to do it now.

The Irraqis, on the other hand, will basically be allowed by world opinion to do as they wish once we aren't seeen as the puppet masters anymore.

Have a neighborhood that harbors terrorists? Not anymore! Artillery followed by bulldozers takes care of that (if that's what they want to do).

Not sure how to tell different groups apart? Well, let's just say that the natives have a HUGE advantage in that department as well.

In short, since we aren't going to use our military to absolutely crush any opposition, more troops, as has already been said, only provide more targets (especially "soft" targets - more support vehicles, areas, and personel).

Getting the Iraqis to police themselves is much cheaper (both in money and lives), much quicker, and better PR.

Posted by: Deoxy at December 23, 2004 03:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Although you hear from time to time about senior military brass being upset with Rummy over the cancellation of a weapons system (e.g., the Crusader), you don't see any general officers resigning their commissions and taking early retirement (they all have enough time in to retire) in protest of the management of the war. Having been in the military for many years, I can't believe that every general officer cares more about his career or next promotion more than about winning the war. Is it possible that this lack of protest indicates broad support for how the war is being fought and/or an understanding that no quick easy fixes are available for the problems that exist. Is it possible that all this criticism of SecDef is off base?

Posted by: Bill at December 23, 2004 04:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

I look forward to reading your justification for removal of Rumsfeld and increasing US troop levels in Iraq. I urge you to spell out your rebuttal to contrarian views, as I hold such and am interested in reading your points and proof.

I view the military situation in Iraq as needing to transition from conventional invasion to foreign internal defense, largely conducted by local national paramilitaries and police leavened with US Special Forces. Foreign Internal Defense maximizes Iraqi government force deployed against Iraqi insurgents while minimizing the US military footprint. This decreases US force protection requirements and minimizes cultural antagonisms due to friction between the Iraqi civilian population and stand-alone US conventional forces. What conventional forces remain, should be posted on the Syrian and Iranian borders augmented externally with conventional Iraqi Army units and internally, with Iraqi augmentation troops along the lines of the Korean Augmentation to The United States Army (KATUSA) program in the Korean War. (The armchair from which I am general-ing is quite comfortable, thank you.)

This transition has not happened or is slow in happening due, among other reasons – and strictly my guess, to an imbalance of command authority between the US Central Command and US Special Operations Command. Additionally, conventional Generals won the invasion and are loath to turn over authority to unconventional “snake eaters”. You don’t get promoted by relinquishing command. You don’t retain your budget by reducing your operations. And, since your US unit is clearly superior to local national units in all the military arts, it doesn’t make sense to turn vital tasks over to an inferior force. In many ways, Afghanistan presaged this problem. Unconventional victory with, maybe, 350 US troops on the ground growing, after the fact, into a deployment with 18,000 US troops and multiple Brigadier and Major General slots.

There are indications that conventional US Army units gearing up to deploy to Iraq are restructuring into smaller, decentralized and more task-organized forces. This has both good and bad implications. Clearly, someone in the chain of command is thinking about the force structure needed for foreign internal defense in Iraq. Unfortunately, they are attempting to implement it using conventional forces whose role it is to provide the US with critical mass (firepower, armor, shock effect) rather than with the unconventional forces whose job this is. Consequently, the US may be degrading its ability to win conventional wars in an attempt to recreate, on an ad hoc basis, and under Central Command authority, the force capabilities that already exist with Special Operations Command.

As to Rumsfeld, pivotal leaders making consequential decisions always engender consequential responses. I await your argument.

Posted by: DaveK at December 23, 2004 05:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

I am interested in your further elaboration on this topic. However, you seem to be saying you are looking for another 40,000 troops. Now I am not one of those who believes that less is better (though I am willing to admit they may be right) but if that is all we are going to put in theater then I don't see the point. In fact, if that is the discussion, then I find it hard to believe that Rummy is the problem. If he or the brass thought that would make a big difference we would make the sacrifice. I suggest the argument is between two approaches. One is "counter-insurgency" dedicated to search and destroy attacks on insurgents and building up the Iraqi forces to hold territory; and "occupation" where we put garrisons and patrols everywhere, seal borders and hold territory ourselves. Both approaches have risks and rewards. We, and I believe out of necessity whatever the merits of the approach, have pursued the first option. We cannot do the second with only another 40,000 troops and it is very debatable whether the 40,000 would make the situation better or might make things worse.

Needless to say we can find the 40,000 extra troops through increasing usage of guard and reserve units, peel back from Germany and North Korea, etc. Though for those few in this conversation who are not aware, 40,000 troops actually requires at least double that to be freed up in order to rotate them effectively. And maybe the 40,000 would be enough to change things. If that is true however it is due to the commanders on the ground believing differently, not Rummy's intransigence. What Rumsfeld is described as opposing (and I am not sure he truly opposes it, I think he may see it as impractical. Much of his transformation philosophy is based on what he believes politically can be achieved in the face of casualties and spending) is the Shinseki “several hundred thousand boots on the ground” approach. A minimum for such an approach would be 250,000 and I suspect would really entail a minimum of 400,000 to truly occupy all the major urban areas, run interdiction and search and destroy missions in the hinterlands and adequately patrol the borders. Ideally if I were in charge of such an approach I would want 600,000. It would be an occupation rife with civilian complaints (many justified, that is war) even worse international condemnation, we would be responsible for far more abuses and deaths, but hopefully the insurgents would be responsible for far fewer. We would likely be even less loved, but more effective.

Of course it could turn out even worse than what we have now with the Shia revolting as well. I don't know. What I do know is that McCain, Hagel and the rest have made no move to give our commanders and Rumsfeld that choice whether they would choose it or not. Therefore I agree, with full awareness we could both be wrong, that we could use more troops. I just think the blame should be aimed more at our elected leaders than an able, if flawed and grating, Secretary of Defense.

Posted by: Lance at December 23, 2004 05:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dave,

I am not sure I agree with your post, but I think the views have merit. I feel this way especially in light of the armored Humvee controversy which as a more generalized critical meme of how ill prepared we were going in may cause us to prepare for this war and not the next where tortoise slow humvees for example might be a drawback. With that concern in mind your comments on force structure and order of battle are important. I like the general idea of the restructuring, but your comments show the pitfalls. Rumsfeld (unlike many pundits, officers and politicians) at least seems to get the tension involved in these issues. Unfortunately his manner may make his accurate statements about the tradeoffs and ambiguities of transformation an excuse to hang him. Though I will admit many of his mistakes have provided some rather thick rope already.

Posted by: Lance at December 23, 2004 05:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance-- I like your analysis. But it would never happen because to achieve it Bush would have to give up his tax cuts, and it is obvious that is more important to him than the war.

Posted by: spencer at December 23, 2004 07:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Excellent point, Bill. The silence *is* deafening.

Posted by: Art Wellesley at December 23, 2004 10:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Under the current system of troop rotation in and out of Iraq, essentially all available troops are either in Iraq, doing necessary training prior to going to Iraq, or doing necessary rebuilding after returning from Iraq. Those not on this schedule amount to a bare handful of batallions, and amount to maybe 5000 soldiers.

One could change this system by sending troops to Iraq for the duration, essentially combat tours as long or longer than those faced by US troops in any prior war.

One could change this system by creating new combat formations, more or less from scratch, staffed with lots and lots of new recruits.

In any event, there are many strong arguements made by folks like the US Army War College, that the shortfall in the number of troops needed in Iraq is not a mere 40,000 (which we don't have), but 150,000 to 350,000 (which we also don't have).

Posted by: etc. at December 23, 2004 11:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1) As your previous posters note there are no additional troops to send to IRAQ no matter how many are drawn down from Europe or Asia. I'm anxiously waiting to hear where you think they'll come from. You can't even hire new troops from scratch until Congress authorizes a higher end strength than the one Rumsfeld is currently exceeding by the maximum authorized amount of 30,000.

2) The size and composition of the force is matched to the mission. If American forces are to fully occupy and control IRAQ then the War College numbers of 150,000 to 300,000 is probably about what's needed to put a soldier on every street corner. If American forces are in IRAQ to hunt terrorists and train IRAQI forces then the CENTCOM has sized the force about right.

3) International troops have always been the right answer, but as long as America appears to be politically divided and considering withdrawal they'll never lift a finger to help. So why aren't the State Dept and their followers helping?? How are they helping the US and US troops by not helping DoD??

4) Until somebody publicly surrenders no conflict ever ends so why has there been no surrender?? Why didn't we require Aziz, or the card deck, or Saddam himself to surrender?? There's the biggest mistake of all. Is that Rummy's fault? Sanchez, Bremer, Franks, Abizaid, Powell, Bush, who??

Posted by: crazy at December 24, 2004 01:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do we need another 40,000 troops?

There is a reason we have a national guard and reserve force. I was a Marine Reservist for 8 years with one tour of duty in Iraq. The only way to get the experience the national guard really needs is to send them into combat. Their primary mission is to augment the active duty component when necessary. Why is the Marine Corps ready when the Army is not? Why has the Marine Corps been used much more in proportion to the Army? The Army had better restructure itself real fast--they need to use the assets they have in the reserves and national guard more than they already do. If the national guard is not ready, then why not? They need to get with the program. Their job is to save lives at home, but also to be able to fight overseas as well. The military is not a college tuition payment program. It is a serious and rewarding job. Everyone assumes that the reserves do not have the training necessary to accomplish the mission. Much of the training received never prepares you for combat. As a Marine, the training I recieved one weekend a month and two weeks a year was enough to equal or even better many active duty units. In almost all aspects we were just as good or better. The difference is that reservists lead double lives and must be 100% up to speed at both. We are usually older, more experienced, better educated, and approach problems from different perspectives than our active duty couterparts.
If the military needs more troops immediately then they should rely more on the national guard and reserves--that's why we're here. There is more fight in us than one might think.

Posted by: Michael at December 24, 2004 04:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: FYI.

I assume that a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and current SecState knows a thing or two about military matters and the current state of affairs in Iraq, and would not suggest something that couldn't be done.

Posted by: praktike at December 24, 2004 05:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have no suggestions on how to extricate ourselves from our current mess. But given that our current mess is the result of our not planning for the future, I would suggest that in addition to contriving a solution to the current mess, we start now to plan our response to the future messes we're likely to be in, one or two years from now.

I trust that someone in the administration is thinking hard about this, but I confess I've seen no indication of it.

Posted by: Nancy at December 24, 2004 07:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As others have noted, a lot of problems come from force posturing rather than sheer size of the occupation force.

Currently, the terrorists have the initiative because they have various safe havens (mosques, civilian areas) as well as deciding to engage or not. Probably many terrorists could be killed, and problems reduced, if we had an agressive force that killed a lot of them, actively seeking out combat with terrorists or suspected terrorists.

We don't cause it would look bad on TV, basically.

We could have five million troops in Iraq, but unless we are willing to use force to kill people, nothing would change.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at December 24, 2004 10:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On Bill's comment the vast majority of senior commanders have not complained about having too few troops. As he remarked, if you assume they care and are professionals, they would stand up for what was right if they were concerned. The obvious inference (unless you're trying to manufacture a story where there is none) is that they're OK with the way things are going. But of course, their silence is dismissed out of hand.

Then we have one or two who have leaked to the press, something very much frowned on in the military. Most would consider this a dishonorable course of action: the correct one being to run your protest up the chain of command, resigning if necessary to underscore your strong feelings on the matter.

So who does the press believe? Not the majority.

The few who whined to the press.

A few assumption checks might be in order here.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 24, 2004 11:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think troop levels are about right and there is little scope or point in raising them, because:

1. The US is limited in the amount of force it can use. It cannot just level cities as it did in WWII. More troops represent more targets for terrorists.

2. The US needs more culturally aware and effective forces. That, in my opinion, includes intensive language training. More inexperienced troops that don't understand Iraqis and start wildly shooting innocent Iraqis the moment a car bomb explodes nearby are only going to alienate people. Look at what Najma (star of Mosul) has been writing about lately.

3. The US doesn't have a million troops to send. It could send them only, if military spending was raised substantially. And there are other priorities that have to be weighed up here.

This is not like WWII, where the US itself was threatened by direct invasion, and where 60 million people died.

There the US spent the equivalent of trillions of Dollars and had 8 million men in the military (with a smaller population to draw them from).

We are fighting the war on terror to lessen the danger of one or maybe a few, most likely small, nuclear bombs hitting Western cities. That's orders of magnitude less potential danger than WWII or the Cold War represented.

We are also fighting the war to hep Iraqis. But there are limits to how much money should be spent on this. There are other countries that need help, and many countries are best helped by having a healthy American economy to trade with.

So, in sum total, the benefit of extra troops is rather dubious, the gigantic costs, however are rather certain.

The best strategy I see is to hand over to an elected Shiite/Kurd dominated government and to limit military support to air strikes, or a few military bases in secure areas, if they are wanted there, after 2005.

That mightn't be enough (nor would anything else that doesn't involve levelling of towns be, probably, and in my opinion) to entirely pacify the country in the near to medium term, but it ought to be enough to prevent the Saddamists and Sunni islamists from wresting power out of moderate Shiite/Kurd hands.

Posted by: Heiko Gerhauser at December 24, 2004 11:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I understand he didn't lick the stamps either. You guys make me tired.

Posted by: Ramrod at December 24, 2004 10:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

heh.

Posted by: Art Wellesley at December 27, 2004 08:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Spencer,

Bush wouldn't have to give up his tax cuts. It just might be wise. The use of debt for short term needs (10-15 years) with the benefits accruing to future generations are precisely the type of things for which debt is something to consider, even very large debts. WWII is an example of that, though that debt was reduced to a large degree by inflation (which was devastating to the holders of that debt.) However, I do think that the tax cuts enter Bush's calculation and so your point is well taken. In democracies especially political considerations guide military policy in ways both positive and negative. Bush has shown an interesting mix of courage (though I realize the many who would question his wisdom) and political expediency on this front. For all of our sake I hope he ends up being in the ballpark of the right mix of the two.

Praktike,

I always value your comments. However from the article linked to I am not sure you or I really know what Powell thinks. However, assuming (I always like having people such as Powell and Greg agree with me) Powell believes as I and Greg do that it would be best to have many more troops. In no way does that imply that it can be done. I feel that it would be right and don't believe it can be done in any reasonable time frame, or maybe at all. Can't Powell have the same opinion? Given what the article says, and assuming it means what I believe, he may only be saying what he feels the problem is, not whether it can be addressed by us alone. Also (and I am not saying Powell is doing any such thing, since I am not sure what he thinks) as I pointed out earlier, many on any issue will engage in grandstanding. McCain et al certainly are. Powell is no more immune than the rest of us. Whatever he says I want to here how, and for that solution to be logistically and politically practical.

Posted by: Lance at December 27, 2004 09:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Where do you get 40K troops in 6 months? I know this has no chance of happening, but there is a solution available. Most people do not know that the all volunteer army is a pretty selective employer - twenty years ago a kid with a chip on his shoulder would get 10 days peeling potatoes, today we pay Halliburton $450/hr to hire a Fillipina to do that for us. The kid that would have been "reformed" (maybe with KP, maybe with a brisk pop in the kisser) is now put out on his behind; about 40% of all troops do not finish their contract enlistment. My point? There are well over 40K kids who have finished basic training, maybe served a year or so, and then acted up when they were 18-22. Today they are 24-28, with a wife, maybe a kid, and are kicking themselves remembering the pay and benefits (and personal sense of worth) they threw away. A not too onerous vetting process could easily recycle some of these people.

Posted by: wayne at December 28, 2004 12:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wayne - that's so brilliant that I'm going to copy+paste it to outlook and push it up the chain.

Thanks - updates later

Posted by: Art Wellesley at December 28, 2004 06:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Vioxx Causes Heart Attacks

Posted by: Vioxx at January 9, 2005 05:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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