Accountability in Iraq
MG John Batiste (USA, Ret.), who started the current media swarm over retired generals criticizing Don Rumsfeld (although he was by no means the first), has an op-ed in today’s WaPo entitled, “A Case for Accountability.”
I had the opportunity to observe high-level policy formulation in the Pentagon and experience firsthand its impact on the ground. I have concluded that we need new leadership in the Defense Department because of a pattern of poor strategic decisions and a leadership style that is contemptuous, dismissive, arrogant and abusive. This dismissive attitude has frayed long-standing alliances with our allies inside and outside NATO, alliances that are fundamental to our security and to building strong coalitions. It is time to hold our leaders accountable. A leader is responsible for everything an organization does or fails to do. It is time to address the axis of arrogance and the reinforcing of strategic failures in decision-making.
I would note that relations within NATO were hardly harmonious before Rumsfeld’s arrival on the scene. There have been clashes going back at least to the Suez Crisis in the 1950s, the French withdrawal in the 1960s, the kerfuffles over Pershing IIs and the nuclear freeze movement in the 1980s, and the debates over the relevancy of the organization from the 1990s onward.
We went to war with the wrong war plan. Senior civilian leadership chose to radically alter the results of 12 years of deliberate and continuous war planning, which was improved and approved, year after year, by previous secretaries of defense, all supported by their associated chairmen and Joint Chiefs of Staffs. Previous planning identified the need for up to three times the troop strength we committed to remove the regime in Iraq and set the conditions for peace there. Building the peace is a tough business; for a host of reasons, it requires boots on the ground.
The plan was signed off on by the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the then-CENCOM Combantant Commander. Nobody else much mattered. Certainly, not the views of those out of office or the planning conducted around a different political scenario.
Our current leadership decided to discount professional military advice and ignore more than a decade of competent military planning.
No, it made a decision. Military advice varied. Further, “military advice” always calls for overkill. The Powell-Weinberger doctrines still permeate the consciousness of the military despite being grounded in a long-ago era.
It failed to consider military lessons learned, while displaying ignorance of the tribal, ethnic and religious complexities that have always defined Iraq.
This is quite likely true. But, frankly, the number of senior military leaders who had any clue about these things pre-2003 could be counted on a single hand. As a matter of course, generals are not regional experts and regional experts do not make general. Norman Schwarzkopf was a happy exception to that rule.
We took down a regime but failed to provide the resources to build the peace. The shortage of troops never allowed commanders on the ground to deal properly with the insurgency and the unexpected. What could have been a deliberate victory is now a long, protracted challenge.
The problem is not the number of troops but the type. We simply lacked adequate Special Forces, military police, psychological operations, and civil affairs personnel to do the job. The fault for that lies squarely with generations of military officers who ignored reality on the ground and the lessons learned through several 1990s peacekeeping fiascos, preferring to do things the way they had always been done.
The national embarrassment of Abu Ghraib can be traced right back to strategic policy decisions. We provided young and often untrained and poorly led soldiers with ambiguous rules for prisoner treatment and interrogation. We challenged commanders with insufficient troop levels, which put them in the position of managing shortages rather than leading, planning and anticipating mission requirements. The tragedy of Abu Ghraib should have been no surprise to any of us.
The lax policies set forth by the Pentagon and the Attorney General’s office no doubt contributed. But Abu Ghraib was primarily a military failure, not a civilian one. From an incompetent Reserve general to poorly supervised Reserve MPs, this national embarrassment lays squarely at the boots of poor soldiers, not poor civilian leaders. It is a military problem long predating Don Rumsfeld that we pretend that part-time Reserve and National Guard soldiers are interchangable with active duty professionals. The military leadership deserves credit for having made substantial headway on this problem in recent years. It nonetheless remains a fact of life.
We disbanded the Iraqi military. This created unbelievable chaos, which we were in no position to control, and gave the insurgency a huge source of manpower, weapons and military experience. Previous thinking associated with war planning depended on the Iraqi military to help build the peace. Retaining functioning institutions is critical in the rebuilding process. We failed to do this.
Everyone agrees that this was a huge mistake. We tried to correct it within a month, but it was too late. Still, as Christopher Hitchens points out, there were sound political reasons for de-Baathification.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims to be the man who started the Army’s transformation. This is not true. Army transformation started years before this administration came into office. The secretary’s definition of transformation was to reduce the Army to between five and seven divisions to fund programs in missile defense, space defense and high-tech weapons. The war on terrorism disrupted his work, and the Army remains under-resourced at a time when it is shouldering most of the war effort. Boots on the ground and high-tech weapons are important, and one cannot come at the expense of the other.
This is unfair to Rumsfeld on two counts. First, he doesn’t claim to have invented transformation, just to have ramped it up and redirected it. And it was never just about high-tech weaponry but also about jointness and eliminating wasteful programs. Like the Army’s Crusader. And Rumsfeld has not cut the size of the Army.
Civilian control of the military is fundamental, but we deserve competent leaders who do not lead by intimidation, who understand that respect is a two-way street, and who do not dismiss sound military advice. At the same time, we need senior military leaders who are grounded in the fundamental principles of war and who are not afraid to do the right thing. Our democracy depends on it. There are some who advocate that we gag this debate, but let me assure you that it is not in our national interest to do so. We must win this war, and we cannot allow senior leaders to continue to make decisions when their track record is so dismal.
I basically agree with this argument, aside from the begged questions of dismissed advice and lack of respect. While Rumsfeld certainly ruffled some feathers, for every retired general who says he was unreasonable we can find two who say he is listens patiently to advice. Former JCS Richard Myers speaks incredibly highly of the man, for example.
For all these reasons, we need to hold leaders accountable. There is no question that we will succeed in Iraq. To move forward, we need a leader with the character and skills necessary to lead. To date, this war has been a strategic failure. On the ground, operationally and tactically, we are winning the war on the backs of our great soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and their families. Americans deserve accountability in our leaders. We need a fresh start.
This is platitudinous nonsense. If “there is no question that we will succeed in Iraq,” then the entire rest of the article is obviated. This sounds like the whining that came from Vietnam-era officers who claim that they would have won if only their hands hadn’t been tied behind their backs by the civilian leadership. The military can not simultaneously take credit for all the good and escape all the blame for the bad.
Most of the decisions are made at the operational level and day-to-day success is measured there. Ultimately, the strategic measure of the war will be purely political: The success of the Iraqi government. That’s not entirely in Don Rumsfeld’s hands.