Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Clark: What went wrong?

From the New York Review of Books, an article dated September 25th:

Iraq: What Went Wrong
By General Wesley K. Clark

The decisive phase of the American campaign to invade Iraq and seize Baghdad was remarkably successful. Basically, the operation succeeded because of the competence of the fighting units, especially the men and women handling weapons and equipment. Without the edge their abilities gave us, the air forces could not have hit the Iraqi forces effectively on the ground; nor could the ground forces have advanced through the Republican Guards so quickly and with such light casualties. The US commanders' role was to shape that competence and apply it to the situation at hand. This they did brilliantly.

But there were also problems that should not be ignored. First, the military plan took unnecessary risks, because it skimped on the forces made available to the commanders. And while the level of forces proved adequate for defeating the Iraqi military, the central idea in military operations is effectiveness, not efficiency. Military operations should not be run like businesses, which have predictable requirements and aim to minimize the costs of meeting them. Combat, especially land combat, is one of the most unpredictable of human activities. It is inherently risky, with the risks usually resulting from factors that are improbable or cannot be foreseen. Therefore, sound logic dictates the need to minimize foreseeable dangers before beginning any military operations.

Additional forces were available— they were even under orders to prepare for combat in Iraq. One more combat division, an additional force for securing the supply lines, more trucks and supply units to provide the redundancy that the inherent inefficiency of military operations requires—each would have reduced the risks. Some of the planners knew this; whether these forces would be used was the issue at the heart of the continuing tensions during the planning process. But they weren't deployed until it was too late.


The war plan's excessive risk became clear in the postcombat stage, and here the US forces and capabilities were unequal to the task. It was the planners' job to have anticipated the various contingencies and to make adequate provision for them, including the possibility of postwar Iraqi resistance to US occupation. The "rolling start" philosophy of the top commanders, which seemed to emerge as much from continuing deployment problems as from any strategic calculus, made this impossible. The result, at the end of major combat, was a US force that was incapable of providing security, stopping the looting and sabotage, and establishing a credible presence throughout the country—even within Baghdad. The ensuing disorder vitiated some of the boost in US credibility that was won on the battlefield, and it opened the way for deeper and more organized resistance during the following weeks.


Some may contend that such a "rolling start," with units being added over a period of months, is inevitable in a modern war—that building a stronger force, or starting the buildup earlier, would have sabotaged attempts to find a diplomatic solution. But the administration's own announcements belie this concern. The deployments of forces were habitually announced long before the forces actually began to move, and their size was exaggerated, giving an impression of substantially greater numbers than would actually be engaged in fighting.

Others have suggested that the relatively small ground force was accidental, that Secretary Rumsfeld's continued questions about the plan and deployments simply disrupted the process to such an extent that the required forces could not be delivered—and that eventually the commanders were reconciled to this situation, not wanting to face the secretary's wrath by raising objections. Still others have suggested that the ground force was relatively small because of Rumsfeld's insistence on holding down financial costs. That is, additional forces would be held back until they were clearly needed. And some have suggested that, by limiting ground forces, Rumsfeld was proving his point about the relative merits of special forces and air power compared to the traditional army. As one officer remarked, "He just always wanted to go light on the Army ground forces—same as in Afghanistan." Perhaps all these factors contributed to the inadequacy of the deployed forces.

The second major criticism of the war plan—a profound flaw—concerned the endgame: it shortchanged postwar planning. Those who plan military operations for a war must take into account the aftermath. Four steps have to be considered: deployment; buildup; decisive combat; and postconflict operations. The destruction of enemy forces on the battlefield creates a necessary but not sufficient condition for victory. It is not just the defeat of the opposing army but success in the operations that follow that accomplishes the aims and intentions of the overall plan. In this case, the purposes, as enunciated by Secretary Rumsfeld, included ending the regime of Saddam Hussein, driving out and disrupting terrorist networks, finding and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, eliminating further terrorist activities, and establishing conditions for Iraq's rapid transition to a representative government "that is not a threat to its neighbors."

Victory requires backward planning, beginning with a definition of postwar success and then determining both the nature of the operations required and the necessary forces. Here the administration's focus and determination on winning the war in military terms undermined the prospects for success once the country was occupied.

The Bush administration has explained the situation in postwar Iraq as a matter of assumptions that hadn't quite worked out, "that tended to underestimate the problem." It apparently believed that removing Saddam would remove the Baath threat, that large numbers of military and police would rally to the Americans, and that Iraqi bureaucrats would stay on the job.

In fact, the lack of preparations was partly a consequence of the leadership and decision-making within the Bush administration and partly the result of deeper forces and tendencies at work within the US government and the US military. From the beginning, the "decisive operations" (how to defeat Iraqi forces) had priority over the postwar plan (how to achieve the real objectives of establishing a secure and peaceful Iraq). The Pentagon's military organizations concentrated on using their basic expertise—the application of military power—rather than the broader requirements inherent in the situation. This was compounded by a continuing bureaucratic struggle between State and Defense, the first cautious and circumspect, the other determined to forge ahead seemingly regardless of the issues. This was a struggle that wasn't decided until January 2003 by the decision by the White House to give full postwar responsibilities to the Department of Defense.


This brings us to the third major criticism of the government's plan: in attempting to retain full control, the administration raised the costs and risks of the mission by preventing our use of the very allies and resources that should have been available to the US. The Bush administration, thus far, has been unwilling to make use of the international legitimacy and support it could have from international institutions like the United Nations and NATO. Rather than gain leverage by means of international legitimacy, the United States, even through the long summer of 2003, refused to cede political authority to the UN or grant meaningful authority to any other international institution. Yet such legitimacy was critical if governments in Europe were to provide forces and resources to assist postwar efforts in Iraq. With greater international legitimacy, especially in Europe, more leverage could have been brought to bear on governments elsewhere. In the court of international opinion, the UN's authority carries substantial weight. All of this was potentially available to the United States—if only our government had seen that it was necessary and pursued it.

Operation Iraqi Freedom showed the need for greater multilateral planning and participation, especially during the postconflict phase. Here are some of the perennial questions that weren't adequately considered. Who is going to provide the police and ensure public security? On the basis of what authority? Will there be a judicial system, with lawyers, judges, and jails? Whose laws will govern? How will the nexus of organized crime, corruption, and quasi-governmental authority on the part of religious and other leaders be handled? Asking the right questions, and creating appropriate solutions, are not tasks for one power alone, not even a power as great as the United States. More than fifty years of post–World War II experience have pointed toward the advantages of working, wherever possible, within the framework of alliances and multinational institutions. In jettisoning these lessons for the convenience of a largely bilateral operation, the United States left itself at risk legally, financially, and militarily. And no matter what the military language would say about "decisive operations," the events on the ground in Iraq, after the big military operation succeeded in defeating Saddam's forces, would in the long run be truly decisive.


In Iraq by early June 2003, the signs of determined resistance on the ground were unmistakable. The United States was facing ambushes and sniping, especially north and west of Baghdad. These were areas through which the small US forces on the ground had never fought—they simply arrived on the scene in the midst of the postwar collapse of Saddam's government. Inside Baghdad, despite a gradual re-turn to civil order, there remained isolated sniping, shooting, and sabotage. A shadowy Baathist movement calling itself "The Return" seemed to have emerged. The United States halted some redeployments of forces and undertook major military actions to reinforce the threatened areas and attack. As the overall ground commander stated, "This war isn't over yet." By September 21, more than eighty Americans had been killed and more than five hundred wounded in the conflict since May 1.

The campaign in Iraq had indeed succeeded in overthrowing Saddam's regime, but as of late September 2003, no weapons of mass destruction had been found. It was still likely that, before it collapsed, Saddam's regime had at least some programs in place to redevelop or enhance such weapons, especially biological weapons; per-haps there were even some weapons stocks, and we just haven't found them. But it was clear that, as our forces took over the country, new terrorist networks were being created, or imported, in resistance to the American effort. Any democratic transformation of Iraq was therefore going to have to contend with a new terrorist threat, in addition to a multiplicity of cultural, political, regional, and economic challenges.

No one could believe at this point that bringing about such a democratic transformation would be easy, quick, or cheap. It is true that if a primary but unspoken purpose of the military campaign was to demonstrate the skills and courage of the American armed forces, then it was surely a success. Thirty years of dedicated effort have built a US military without peer in its ability to defeat enemy forces on the battlefield. But power creates its own adversaries, and those who are determined to contest American strength will seek methods that minimize the military advantages we have accumulated. Much greater work remains to be done if the United States is to achieve success in promoting our values, our security, and our prosperity. All else being equal, the region and the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam gone. But the US actions against old adversaries like Saddam have costs and consequences that may still leave us far short of our goal of winning the new war on terror. Indeed, the effects of the war may actually impair our efforts to achieve that larger goal.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/30/2003 02:27:00 AM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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