Friday, December 02, 2005

Iraq: planning for war and its aftermath (Part II of two)

[The first part of this two-part series can be found here. Some of the comments on that thread were so excellent and that I almost jettisoned Part II in favor of advising you all to just read the comments and call it a day, since they were probably more informative than my post would be. But here it is anyway--although please read those comments, too.]

I mentioned that it was predicted the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk.". But I also remember hearing an awful lot of predictions made by members of the administration that the war would be rough, and explicitly disavowing the "cakewalk" designation. For example, see this one from December of 2002:

I would just say there's nobody involved in the military planning ... that would say that this sort of endeavor -- if we are asked to do it -- would be a cakewalk," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.

Myers was joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a news conference. Rumsfeld emphasized that any possible war is risky and that battlefield analogies to the 1991 Gulf War wouldn't apply this time around.

"Any war is a dangerous thing, and it puts peoples' lives at risk," Rumsfeld said. "Second, I think that it is very difficult to have good knowledge as to exactly how Iraqi forces will behave."

So, did someone actually say the war would be a "cakewalk?" Absolutely. His name was Ken Adelman--not, as so many seem to remember, Don Rumsfeld.

Who is Adelman? He does have an association with Rumsfeld; he was his assistant way back in the '70s, in the Ford administration. But at the time he wrote the "cakewalk" piece, which appeared in the Washington Post of February 2002, he was neither an official member of Bush's administration nor the Defense Department. Rather, he was one of a group of thirty policy advisors on the Defense Policy Board, an outside advisory panel charged with the task of making recommendations to the Pentagon (Adelman originally had been appointed to the Board by Rumsfeld, however).

I think Adelman's original column was offputting and almost ridiculously cocky; calling any sort of war a "cakewalk" shows a sort of creepy frivolity about the whole endeavor. My guess is that his relationship with Rumsfeld, as well as Rumsfeld's own tendency to swagger (and his own statments that the war might well be short in duration), caused many to attibute Adelman's remarks to Rumsfeld.

Of course, Adelman was wrong in his prediction--right?

Well, take a look at what he actually says in his column. If you read it, you might even come to the same conclusion I did, which is that--hold onto your hats, folks, Adelman wasn't so very far off, after all.

Please hear my explanation before you decide I've taken leave of my senses.

It has seemed to me for quite some time that the Iraq war had two distinct stages. The first was the war itself--the formal war, the conventional war--in other words, war as we traditionally know it, with armies and battles and gaining and losing ground. The other stage was what we can loosely call the "occupation"--that is, everything that came after.

The first war had to do with defeating the Iraqi army and deposing Saddam. The second war had to do with what might be called the reconstruction. And reconstructions--such as that which followed our own Civil War, or the Marshall Plan in Europe, or MacArthur in Japan after WWII--are notoriously long and difficult. They also have always (at least, so far as I can determine) been the end-point of long and vicious wars in which the enemy had fought desperately and was now depleted of men and arms with which to fight further. And the populations in those regions were, for the most part, weary and bitterly defeated.

As I read his "cakewalk" column, Ken Adelman seems only to be referring to the first part of the war, the overthrow of Saddam and the liberation of Iraq from his official reign of terror:

I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk....Gordon and O'Hanlon say we must not "assume that Hussein will quickly fall." I think that's just what is likely to happen. How would it be accomplished? By knocking out all his headquarters, communications, air defenses and fixed military facilities through precision bombing. By establishing military "no-drive zones" wherever Iraqi forces try to move. By arming the Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south and his many opponents everywhere. By using U.S. special forces and some U.S. ground forces with protective gear against chemical and biological weapons.

Well, it turns out he was right as far as his prediction went (and yes, he--like nearly everyone else--was apparently wrong about WMDs). The formal war was quick and relatively easy, as wars go; Saddam was deposed and the country was liberated from his tyrannical rule in less than one month (see this timeline to refresh your memory).

The trouble, of course (in addition to his flippant tone) was that Adelman's prediction didn't go nearly far enough. He failed to talk about the all-important second part of the equation, the difficult task of transforming a now-liberated Iraq into a functioning and free government and society.

If the first part of the war was indeed a cakewalk, it's clear that the second part most decidedly was not.

So, was the planning for this second part of the war deficient? Should the Defense Department have realized it was going to happen this way, and if so, could they have done anything to stop it? How do we judge?

Well, one way not to judge it is by the standard of perfection. The fact that things went wrong is not enough.

In an attempt to answer this question, I'm going to ask another: why did the first part of the war go so quickly and with such relative ease, and the second so slowly and sloppily? I believe that the ease of the first war was directly responsible for the difficulty of the second one.

The majority of the Iraqi people, as well as Saddam himself, made a choice in the first war--and that was to not fight hard to keep the US forces out of their country. This is highly unusual in a war, as far as I know; ordinarily the whole idea of the thing is to repel the invader. But the fact that the Iraqi people and army didn't put up much of a fight, initially, means that some of them (we don't know how many, but my impression is that it was a sizeable number) reluctantly welcomed the war as the only way to get rid of Saddam.

Another number (and Saddam was definitely among them) didn't fight because they knew they didn't stand a chance in a conventional war. So they were busy planning the next stage--the second war--and they had plenty of time in which to do so. Their only hope was to go underground and set up a postwar insurgency like the one we've faced. And, because the first part of the war was so short and relatively easy, they had plenty of men and material with which to do it, as well as fresh reinforcements from neighboring countries untouched by any war at all. This seems quite unprecendented in the annals of war, and it seems to have been a conscious strategy on their part.

I'm not sure those homegrown Baathist-type insurgents expected to be joined by so many "visitors" from other parts of the Arab world, interested not just in attacking the occupying American troops, but intent on killing many innocent Iraqis just going about their business and trying to live their lives. But I'm not sure the homegrown insurgents much cared; the more mayhem, the merrier.

At any rate, the ease of the war allowed the insurgents to create a nasty problem afterwards, because they were able to melt away into the night and implement an urban warfare based on terrorism and sabotage that had been planned for quite some time.

And it's very hard for me to see how any sort of planning on the part of the US could have prevented that. More troops? Keep the Iraqi army intact? I've read many arguments both pro and con on whether either would have made a difference, and my conclusion is: it's not at all clear that anything would have.

Strangely enough, that's the exact conclusion of this long and complex article by Tucker and Hendrickson, two professors (Johns Hopkins and Colorado College, respectively) who were against the Iraq War in the first place, and continue to be so, so they certainly can't be considered neocon Bush apologists. In summary, their position is that neither keeping the Iraqi Army intact nor having more troops, nor a host of other decisions made in the conduct of the war, would have made things better.

Of course, they consider the whole enterprise fatally flawed. But that's the part of their analysis I find flawed, and the reason is that I expected this war--and every other war--to be messy, difficult, and full of errors. There is something inherent in the act and art of war, the characteristics I discussed in Part I of this essay, that dictates that it is the rare war that isn't fraught with error and tragic miscalculations. The Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and of course Vietnam, all followed an exceptionally difficult course.

Sometimes I think the template for war that many of those opposed to this one were following was the Gulf War. That was, essentially, a war with part one, but no part two. It was easy in the same way that this war would have been easy had we not been intent on regime change, the ufinished business of the Gulf War.

But regime change and nation building was exactly and precisely what this war was about. And where Tucker/Hendrickson and I differ is that I considered this necessary, given the evidence we had before us about Saddam, and they thought it unnecessary.

It's way beyond the scope of this essay to go into detailed arguments as to why I thought this war was necessary, but suffice to say I thought (and still think) that violations of UN resolutions and weapon inspections protocols, humanitarian reasons, and the need to try to change the political face of the region all combined to make it something that needed to be done.

But, paradoxically, I always thought it would be difficult. Very very difficult, very risky, and very possibly unsuccessful. For me, the Afghan War and/or the Vietnam War were the conflicts I feared this endeavor would resemble, even before it began: years and years of terribly bloody house-to-house fighting and guerilla warfare. And when these things failed to materialize in the "first" war, I hoped they wouldn't happen in the second, but I feared they might. Therefore, in fact, what has come to pass in the second war so far is a good deal better than what I feared--and half expected--might happen, rather than worse.

Perhaps that's why I'm puzzled by the cries that this war is a terrible mess. I see it as a war that undertook something almost impossible: the rebuilding of a nation whose modern history was of sectarian strife and tyrannical dictatorship, in an area with no tradition of democracy, by an outside force with little experience of the culture and people of the region. The casualty rates are much less than I expected, not more; the speed with which the beginnings of a democracy and functioning government have been implemented has far exceeded my expectations.

I guess I'm a child of the Vietnam era after all, because to me this looks so much better in comparison that I cannot help but be cautiously optimistic. Some will say I'm not hard enough on the administration, and that my expectations were ridiculously low to begin with. But I would answer them by saying that I consider myself to be a realist.

At this point what's needed is time to combat the insurgents and terrorists, and patience, too, as well as the slowly growing cooperation of the Iraqi people in giving us intelligence and in building their own effective defense forces (as Bush stated recently in this speech).

Did the President and key members of his Administration foresee how exceedingly difficult it would actually be to accomplish this? I don't think so. Should they have? Perhaps.

But what really matters now is: do they have the patience, intelligence, will, and determination to get it right? My answer: they do--if we do.


At 7:31 PM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Unknown said...

I thought we might well lose more than 2,000 men before they got to Baghdad.

And as for all the Monday morning quarterbacking, it has been my experience that no matter how careful you have to expect the uneexpected.

For instance if the administration had taken another course, they might well have been facing a different set of problems. But problems none the less.

As far as I am concerned when Saddam tried to kill a president it was time to do something about the man. What exactly would have happened had he succeeded? He was rash enought to try anyway and that means that he was beyond restraint.

At 8:02 PM, December 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, great post, neoneocon.

I, like you, am cautiously optimistic. What we're seeing here in Iraq now is *roughly the shape of* what I expected --a lightning-quick initial war followed by a lengthy and more painful rebuilding process. I didn't expect perfection, and I didn't expect the troops to be home by Christmas--in fact, I suspected some level of involvement would be necessary for many years afterwards.

One of the reasons I remain cautiously optimistic is because of the milbloggers. At least the ones I read seem optimistic as well; state that they see they are making visible and evident progress, and feel that while it's a dangerous and arduous job, it's one that needs to be done. It also gives me, a civilian, a grunts-on-the-ground level perspective on the war that we don't get from the mainstream media, and helps me to form a realistic idea of what the challenges are, what we are doing to overcome them, and whether or not it's working (as opposed to expecting perfection). It's a valuable perspective, and I think if more people read the milbloggers, they might have a substantially better idea of the progress (and there is progress) that is being made.

At 12:51 AM, December 03, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

Andrew -

We are doing a Marshall Plan.

The difference between 1948 and 2005 is that in 1948 the Eight Air Force was just about finished being turned into washing machines and the Third Army was looking forward to their sophmore year on the G.I. Bill. In 2005, we are clearing houses in one neighborhood and conducting civics courses in the next.

In 1947 we had to restore representative government and an economy to a population whose political legacy had been rooted in western secular culture and that had been crushed by to dust by decades of economic depression, despotic rule, and total war. In 2005 we are attempting to introduce representative democracy into a culture whose at-rest political state since the invention of the wheel has been despotism/tribalism - where the worth or potential of individual people has always been about par with crushed dust.

I do not see a pan-Arab/Muslim arc dotted with Rotary Clubs, Starbucks, and Pilates gyms on any near horizon. If they get most of representative democracy right, the threat of militant Islam will be tremendously reduced.

It's a huge challenge. Sort of like building a railroad (by hand) across a continent. Or sending men to the moon and back with analog technology . Or creating a technology where anyone can talk to anyone else in the world, just by flipping a switch on a box in their study.

We live in wondrous times.

At 9:23 AM, December 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have made the point in the past that, even for the ignoramuses, WW II is the model, even if only subconsciously, of how a war is supposed to look when it's won.

Consider: After the Revolutionary War, or the War of 1812, we did not occupy Britain, disband its military, hang the king and several dozen of his ministers and senior generals.
Ditto the Spanish-American War. WW I was so sloppy that some historians have argued the Germans actually won it. After all, they were everywhere on Allied territory, including what they'd gotten from the Russians when the Russians gave up, when they asked the Allies if the Allies would like to stop fighting. The Allies agreed. Quickly. It was only later, after negotiations and blockades, that the German position became more like that of "loser".
The Allies of earlier wars put the Bourbons back on the French throne and occupied France only long enough to see that Louis XVIII was firmly settled.
I except civil wars from this list, but without them, you have to go back to the Punic Wars to find a war so decisively won, at least in the West. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit.
However, whether the WW II template is unconscious or not, this war will not fit it, and so will not be considered to be "won", most particularly by those who have an interest in not admitting it.
YOu can imagine the petty difficulties in an Iraqi democracy. Elections only a fraction as irregular as Chicago's will be considered proof positive of failure and .....
So not only do we have to win the war, we have to maintain the effort to insist it was won against tireless liars.

At 11:43 AM, December 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is amazing to see such self-proclaimed progressives on the side of preserving totalitarian regimes."

This is the one point that has had me stumped from day one. I just can't for the life of me understand it. I can see being disturbed by or even opposing the war as a solution to the Saddam problem. But what makes my head spin is how many people don't honestly seem to believe there was a Saddam problem. They seem to think the status quo in Iraq was fine. People flew their kites and everyone was happy. Because Saddam didn't invade New York City with the Republican Guards everything was good.

It would make sense if they were hard-core, old-style isolationists who really didn't care about people over their borders but how in the world can they call themselves "progressives", I don't know. They're worried about the FBI going to a library to find out what book someone checked out but they don't give a rat's patootie that people were being rounded up, tortured, killed, raped, maimed, and denied every basic human freedom, from freedom of speech to freedom of association.

I just don't get it.

At 12:46 PM, December 03, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I would just say there's nobody involved in the military planning ... that would say that this sort of endeavor -- if we are asked to do it -- would be a cakewalk," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.

Much of their comments were general, and therefore not worth much to the national conscience. You cannot prepare people by abstractedly telling them of future experiences, that people have no fundamental understanding of. Such is war, defeats, and psychological events.

So the critism is not that the administration did not warn the American people, the criticism should be that the administration did not warn the American people effectively, nor did they really improve upon that as much as they improved the conventional military side of things. Bolstering the morale of the troops is one thing, but it should not have been done at the expense of ignoring the other center of gravity, the United States of America.

President Bush set the tone for his administration, one that listened to the military, but did not really impose the right objectives for the military. Bush's objective was to protect the troops, and he did it by collapsing Saddam's military infrastructure so that they wouldn't use WMDs on our troops. But the military is supposed to accomplish political objectives, not to "save casualties". Bush pays for the price for that myopia now.

His tone for his administration, created problems by ignoring polls until a point where it almost doesn't matter what he says because he has given the enemy too much time to spin a psych-ops warfare project.

Please hear my explanation before you decide I've taken leave of my senses.

Since I do believe I know of the quote in question from the comments to Part I, I myself don't believe you are very far off the mark. And if he is the same man that said this war would be easier if we hadn't bended over backwards to get token allies, he would have been right. Bending over backwards contributed no significant logistical or strategic or tactical advantage. While attempting to get people like France, Germany, Russia, and Turkey on board noticeably gave the enemy a lot of advantages.

Well, it turns out he was right as far as his prediction went (and yes, he--like nearly everyone else--was apparently wrong about WMDs).

The entire military strategy was based upon the assumption that Saddam would use WMDs. The military offered this plan, and Bush accepted it. Bush could have opted to go for another plan, but like I said, he didn't get the advice he needed to know that we could suffer WMD attacks and still win, what we can't allow is an insurgency in uncontrolled regions to overthrow our occupation through psych-ops.

That was the worse case scenario, not the WMDs as the Joint Chief Air Force General might have been concerned about. He's Air Force, Strategic Command, he focuses on nukes and air defense, not psychological operations.

He failed to talk about the all-important second part of the equation, the difficult task of transforming a now-liberated Iraq into a functioning and free government and society.

It really wasn't in the public discourse. This is the reason why democracies need loyal oppositions, to provide alternatives and additional considerations and viewpoints. The Democrats, who had Roosevelt and Truman in WWII, should have been the ones with the experience and knowledge to prepare the American people and the administration. Obviously they didn't do that given their preferences to see Iraq and America go down in flames in the hopes that it will take Bush to hell with the rest of us.

And it's very hard for me to see how any sort of planning on the part of the US could have prevented that. More troops? Keep the Iraqi army intact?

Not more troops, get a slower war, use nuclear weapons on concentrated Republican Guard forces outside of civilian areas, or just air burst an EMP weapon over the major cities with minimal radiation damage.

Improve the psychological impact, make it into a true Shock and Awe, and things would have been better, even had Bush given the insurgency the time they needed to plan without American interference.

Most of the insurgency's strength was gained because the Iraqis thought the Americans were

1. Weak

2. Going to run away like we did before.

Show them a number of powerful gestures, and some of the strength of the insurgency would have been bleed away at the start, making it the rest of the war, easier if not victorious.

Most of the psych-ops was to get Saddam's people to surrender, but they were already planning to do that. And that, was the wrong plan.

In the end, the military difference would have been insignificant. But the public informational war both here and in the ME? The difference there would have been immense.

Therefore, in fact, what has come to pass in the second war so far is a good deal better than what I feared--and half expected--might happen, rather than worse.

How the military is or was doing in Iraq, is actually totally almost independent of how the public percieves it in America. Which is why providing the CORRECT expectations for the American public is so important. And you cannot provide the correct expectations, to prepare the public for a psychological shock, unless you yourself have those expectations in place.

The planners for this war, created a plan that did not expect nor prepare for the psychological component of the post-war duration. And Bush didn't know we had ever needed one, given his reliance on military advice. Obviously that advice left something to be desired.

Some will say I'm not hard enough on the administration, and that my expectations were ridiculously low to begin with.

Much of the Left's expectations were also ridiculously low. The difference is that when things were better than they predicted, the Left just ignored that and didn't change their beliefs or their expectations. They kept on expecting bad things to happen, and so it becomes a self-fulling prophecy ala Vietnam redux.

You correct your beliefs based upon what you see and know, others don't. Perhaps they blame you for not keeping your low expectations after they were proven wrong. Perhaps they even envy you for your flexibility in regards to analyzing reality and shaping your worldview, a flexibility that is ananemical to the Left.

Doesn't anybody remember the Philippines after the Spanish American War? Or the rubble and dead economies of Germany and Japan. How about the Marshal Plan? Anybody?

Combat experience exists only so far as the people with them stay in the service.

Wars tend to be a relearning experience.

This is quadruple for guerrila warfare.

I just don't get it.

The progressives primarily want to progress towards a society in which they are God-Kings, and everyone else is their economic and political slaves. Their support of dictators and their erosion of central Republican government is proof positive. You will see the opposite in terms of "Federal restraint" when they are in power. Waco city, is what will happen everywhere.

At 10:21 PM, December 03, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

Many pro-war IRAQIS did welcome troops as Liberators. But neither our public nor the Iraqi public was ready for Saddam's plan: fight and run away and fight another day. Wearing civilian clothes.

Actually it's brilliant -- with a real chance for success, where standing and fighting was a certain loss.

Finally, any friends who claim Iraq is a mess should be challenged, what would a non-mess look like? How many dead? How many elections? and then, where is the example?

Bush/ Bremer failures: failure to use ration-cards to help elect local mayors/ city councils, and give these elected folks more budget/ power.
Failure to set up an Oil-Trust for Iraqis, based on ration-cards and voter registrations; with a requirement to vote to get the cash afterwards.

At 10:45 AM, December 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful post.

At least some management theorists are looking at the relationship between successful executive performance and their awareness of their environment.;jsessionid=5BVUPKKJSDASCAKRGWCB5VQBKE0YIIPS?id=R0305E

In other words, perfect foresight may not even be necessary or useful.

At 10:48 AM, December 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me try that link again here

At 1:03 PM, December 04, 2005, Blogger John Burgess said...

Just an aside, but Starbucks is, actually, everwhere in the region with the exceptions of Iran and Syria.

At 1:34 PM, December 04, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

You couldn't have crushed the insurgency in the beginning because they weren't there in force yet. All you could have done was to mitigate the insurgency's teeth and logistical support.

You would have still had Al-Qaeda beheading people and blowing people up, but a lot sooner if you had diminished their support structure by eliminating the Baathists.

The ultimate strategy of Iraq would not have changed had you killed all the Baathists or not. Either way, Al-Qaeda would come to Iraq, and fight us there, and the more desperate they become, the more brutal and stupid they act.

Not only would breaking the logistical support of the terroists made the terroists weaker, but it would have made them act more stupid a lot sooner, saving many lives, as people came to realize sooner what terrorism really is.

The character of Zarqawi assures us of that. So long as he was alive, he would be killing Shia and Kurds and Sunni until he was dead.

In fact, it is the fact that we have KILLED all his other leaders but not him, that has truly given him freedom to act as he saw fit.

I suspect it might have been easier to kill his more smarter leaders without Baathist support, but that is an alternative history, unclear and murky.

At 9:07 PM, December 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe it was Machiavelli in the Prince who said that the easier it is to conquer a territory, the harder it is to hold.

At 10:32 PM, December 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For some reason, two items occur to me when I hear that "this war is a mess."

During the Pacific war, a carrier was hit badly. A cruiser pulled along side to pass over hoses and take off wounded. A magazine on the carrier exploded and killed three hundred sailors on the cruiser.

And Slapton Sands.

Could have been the Navy shooting down transports carrying paratroopers to the Sicily invasion. My father's regimental HQ destroyed by US aircraft. The two days before the breakout at St. Lo where, each day, US bombers hit US troops. The second day, the commanders figured that if it did this much damage to us, the Germans had to be hurting, too, so they ordered the attack to go in anyway. Worked, but they had an advantage. They were commanding American soldiers.
Savo Island?
Just for fun, search up "Task Force Smith" in Korea.
I have a client who was a B24 mechanic at a US base where the guys got their first training on the Liberator. One week, they lost eighteen aircraft. One hundred eighty guys.
Black Thursday was pretty bad. Sixty B17s down, at ten men apiece, and dead and wounded on the aircraft who returned.
My father's division lost about 1400 guys and was so well known as getting the job done with few casualties as to be the subject of an intro to night fighting when I got to Benning several wars later.
Only fourteen hundred guys dead in about seven or eight months, and that was good. Ought to see the figures for the Fourth ID, Second ID, Big Red One, others.

But if all you have to work with is 2200 dead men, you do the best you can with it and hope the listeners are stone ignorant of military history, which, of course, graduates of US education are.
Almost like it was on purpose or something.

At 9:47 PM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

That is not even including Wake Island. Where the Marine officers surrendered their people and they were winning.

Hollywood propaganda portrayed it as a "fight to the death". Which it would have been if the officers didn't think they were losing and surrendered. But then again, they didn't known about Bataan, they got to march in it though.


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