12 Captains Urge Iraq Withdrawal
They assert that “Iraq is in shambles” and “far from being a modern, self-sustaining country.” The infrastructure is woeful and the government is corrupt.
Against this backdrop, the U.S. military has been trying in vain to hold the country together. Even with “the surge,” we simply do not have enough soldiers and marines to meet the professed goals of clearing areas from insurgent control, holding them securely and building sustainable institutions. Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint presentations, in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on the map and often strengthen the insurgents’ cause by harassing locals to a point of swayed allegiances. Millions of Iraqis correctly recognize these actions for what they are and vote with their feet — moving within Iraq or leaving the country entirely. Still, our colonels and generals keep holding on to flawed concepts.
I’m reminded here of a young Winston Churchill’s 1899 book The River War, written shortly after his service as a lieutenant in Sudan. His scathing attack on the tactics of everyone from Lord Kitchener down earned the book the derisive nickname “A Subaltern’s Advice to Generals.”
Junior officers are quite reasonably dismissed as having insufficient experience or perspective to comment on the judgment of those who have earned their seniority after thirty or more years of service and training. Further, the nature of command such is that many decisions that appear sound to those with proven expertise and extensive training will nonetheless lead to bad outcomes. That’s especially true in a war with guerrillas.
Still, those in command often make decisions that strike their subordinates as wildly wrong at the time and in fact prove disastrous. There are plenty of smart junior officers who, like it or not, sit in constant judgment of their seniors. Many times, they have valuable insights that are dismissed. These twelve say that’s precisely what happened here:
This is Operation Iraqi Freedom and the reality we experienced. This is what we tried to communicate up the chain of command. This is either what did not get passed on to our civilian leadership or what our civilian leaders chose to ignore. While our generals pursue a strategy dependent on peace breaking out, the Iraqis prepare for their war — and our servicemen and women, and their families, continue to suffer.
Having served as a junior officer in a war zone, I can attest that my perspective on the battle was incredibly limited. All I knew of the “big picture” was what I received in ops briefings and days-old copies of the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
In this case, though, I’m rather sure that the bottom-up view and the top-down view is the same. There’s not much argument, really, that the problems these twelve describe exist. Iraq’s a mess and it’s likely to still be a mess a year from now. The question, though, goes beyond the narrow view and to the strategic consequences for the broader region; that much, certainly, is beyond the purview of company grade officers.
The close is something of a surprise:
There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.
A draft is neither politically feasible nor something that would have any operational advantage in the near term. Jules Critenden agrees, observing that, “It would be far quicker, cheaper and less politically traumatic to simple expand the military, and offer financial incentives to boost enlistment.”
Matt Yglesias sardonically dubs them “more phony soldiers.” He contends, “These are schemes that amount to asking soldiers to risk their lives not to achieve any strategic objectives of national importance, but for the vainglory of politicians whose egos are salved by anything that lets them avoid admitting error or the need for dramatic change.”
Ed Morrissey notes that “not one of them has served in Iraq since General David Petraeus took over command of the mission. Not one of them served with the higher force levels that have been deployed to Iraq. None of them served during the Anbar Awakening. Most of them last served in 2005, two years ago.” While not dismissing their experience, he argues, reasonably, that it’s OBE.
Bob Owens concurs, dismissing the piece as “a history lesson.”
In their defense, though, I presume they’re rather voracious consumers of news about the war. Then again, so are a lot of other people.
Kevin Hayden anticipates this critique but notes, “There’s an extreme shortage of officers with a firsthand perspective saying: stay in.” Certainly, I’ve spoken with quite a few Iraq veterans who want to see this one out; I haven’t seen any comprehensive surveys, however.