Monday, November 28, 2005

How to lose a war

Kevin Drum points out this important datapoint from Time:
In an unusual closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, Virginia's John Warner, joined by Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, sat across the table from 10 military officers chosen for their experience on the battlefield rather than in the political arena. Warner rounded up the battalion commanders to get at what the military calls "ground truth"--the unvarnished story of what's going on in Iraq.

… According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, the Army and Marine officers were blunt. In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told TIME that as recently as August 2005, a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat.
General Shinseki got chopped off at the knees for saying that we needed 300,000-400,000 troops for success in Iraq, but Rummy insisted that we could do it cheap and light. The invasion was fine (though you may recall some periods where the tip of the sword got too far ahead of resupply). The problem has been the occupation, a period that has cost us dearly because we have too few soldiers to do what needs to be done.

There are a few ways we could have avoided this. The first (and best) would have been to stay the hell out of Iraq. Second best, get a real coalition, such that we had 3-400,000 troops on the ground, even if America only kicked in 150,000. Third best would have been going in with 300,000 American troops, a passel of Brits and Aussies, and 160 guys from Mongolia (and don't forget the Polish!). Having gone that route, firing the existing police and military was a dirt stupid idea, but it's what we did, giving away our only way to supply an indigenous supplement to our minimalist invasion.

Based on the lessons of Vietnam, Colin Powell laid out a clear and reasonable doctrine on the use of force.

Success, he argued, relied on affirmative answers to these questions:

  • Is a vital US interest at stake?
  • Will we commit sufficient resources to win?
  • Are the objectives clearly defined?
  • Will we sustain the commitment?
  • Is there reasonable expectation that the public and Congress will support the operation?
  • Have we exhausted our other options?
  • Do we have a clear exit strategy?
We can argue about the first, that's what all the arguments about the intelligence were about back then, and what they're about now. I answered that question in the negative back in 2002, and I think that still today.

The argument above goes to the second point, and again I answer in the negative.

Given that the objectives seem to shift around quite a bit, I can't answer the third point in the affirmative either.

The fourth is subject to substantial debate, as is the fifth. I don't feel that other options were even seriously considered, let alone exhausted.

And then we come to the exit strategy. That's what all the squabbling has been about. The problem is, without clear objectives and ongoing support, it's difficult to retcon an exit strategy into our plans. We need a serious debate about an exit strategy and the troop levels necessary to achieve that strategy.