Our Victory in Iraq

The wonders of hindsight.

US President George W. Bush meets pilots and crew members of the aircraft carrier USS Abrahan Lincoln as they return to the US after being deployed in the Gulf region 01 May 2003. President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier which is scheduled to dock in San Diego 02 May. Bush in a speech to be delivered from the ship is expected to tout Saddam Hussein’s ouster as “a crucial advance” in the war on terrorism but warned “difficult work” lies ahead in that campaign and in Iraq. AFP PHOTO / HECTOR MATA (Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Looking at the Wiki on retired Army Brigadier General Huba Wass de Czege, I saw that one of the source materials was an April 2003 Slate essay by Fred Kaplan subtitled “What lies behind the military’s victory in Iraq.” Given that few would now argue that we achieved “victory” in that conflict, I was intrigued.

So when and how did the U.S. military get this good? The elements of swift victory in Gulf War II have been well laid-out: the agility and flexibility of our forces, the pinpoint accuracy of the bombs, the commanders’ real-time view of the battlefield, the remarkable coordination among all branches of the armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) and special operations. But these elements, and this degree of success, have not been seen in previous wars, not even in the first Gulf War 12 years ago. Three major changes have taken hold within the military since then—a new war-fighting doctrine, advanced digital technology, and a less parochial culture.

The new doctrine was put in motion in 1983, a decade before Operation Desert Storm, when the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., created an elite, one-year post-grad program called the School for Advanced Military Studies. The school’s founder was a colonel—soon promoted to brigadier general—named Huba Wass de Czege (pronounced VOSS-de-say-ga). He was in the forefront of officers who had served in Vietnam, witnessed the disaster firsthand, and were eager to change the way the Army thought about combat.

In 1982, Wass de Czege had written a major revision of the Army’s war-fighting manual, FM 100-5, the official expression of Army doctrine and the foundation for all decisions about strategy, tactics, and training. The previous edition, written in 1976 by Gen. William DePuy, had recited a strategy of attrition warfare, a static line of defense against the enemy’s strongest point of assault, beating it back with frontal assaults and superior firepower. Wass de Czege’s rewrite outlined a strategy emphasizing agility, speed, maneuver, and deep strikes well behind enemy lines.

The advanced-studies school at Fort Leavenworth was set up explicitly to weave this new strategy into the fabric of the Army establishment.

By the time of Desert Storm, a small group of Wass de Czege’s students had been promoted to high-level posts on the staff of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s Central Command. This group of officers, who self-consciously referred to themselves as the “Jedi Knights,” designed the ground-war strategy of the first Gulf War, and it was straight out of Wass de Czege’s book—the feinted assault up the middle, the simultaneous sweep of armored forces up to the Iraqi army’s western flank, the multiple thrusts that surrounded the Iraqis from all sides, hurling them into disarray before their final envelopment and destruction.

The Marines, meanwhile, were going through a similar transformation. Col. Mike Wiley, vice president of the Marine Corps University at Quantico, revised his branch’s war doctrine on the basis of a 1979 briefing called “Patterns of Conflict” by a retired Air Force colonel named John Boyd. Boyd too had concluded that successful warfare involves surprise, deception, sweeping quickly around flanks, and creating confusion and disorder in the enemy’s ranks. The Marine Corps commandant at the time, Gen. Alfred Gray, considered himself a Boyd disciple and ordered his officers, who led the assault into Kuwait, to avoid frontal assaults and to maneuver around the Iraqis and attack their flanks.

For the Air Force and Navy, Desert Storm saw the inauguration of “smart bombs” that could explode within a few feet of their targets. Fewer than 10 percent of the munitions dropped in Desert Storm were smart bombs; the weapons were new and expensive (between $120,000 and $240,000 apiece); not many had been built; and they still had lots of technical bugs. By 1999, in the war over Kosovo, smart bombs were more reliable and a lot cheaper ($20,000 each); they constituted about 30 percent of bombs dropped. In Afghanistan, the figure rose to 70 percent, which is probably how the math will work out in Gulf War II as well.

The war in Afghanistan, however, saw three innovations that would alter the way America fights wars. First, high-tech smart bombs were combined with high-tech command, control, communications, and intelligence. A new generation of unmanned Predator drones flew over the battlefield, scanning the terrain with digital cameras and instantly transmitting the imagery back to command headquarters. Commanders would view the imagery, look for targets, and order pilots in the area to attack the targets. The pilots would punch the target’s coordinates into the smart bomb’s GPS receiver. The bomb would home in on the target. Total time elapsed: about 20 minutes. By comparison, in Desert Storm, the process of spotting a new target, assigning a weapon to hit it, then hitting it, took three days.

The second new thing about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan was that it was truly a “combined-arms” operation—a battle plan that involved more than one branch of the armed services, working in tandem. This had never really happened before. Often using the new high-tech drones as the communications link, Army troops on the ground called for strikes from planes flown by Air Force pilots. Some of these planes, such as B-52 and B-1 bombers, had been built 30 or 40 years earlier to drop multi-megaton nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union. The notion of using them to drop 2,000-pound conventional weapons, in support of ground troops, would have appalled an earlier generation of Air Force generals.

[…]

Another new thing, which started in Afghanistan and continued in Iraq, was the systematic inclusion of the so-called “shadow soldiers,” the special operations forces. The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which was best-known for giving new authority to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also made special ops a separate command, with its own budget. (Before then, each branch had its own special-ops division, which tended to get the big boys’ leftovers, in terms of money, equipment and everything else.)

Gen. Schwarzkopf didn’t think much of special ops, so didn’t use them in Desert Storm, except toward the end of the war, to go hunt for Scud missiles in Iraq’s western desert. In Afghanistan, these forces were central. They could be parachuted into the country in small numbers, set up airfields, and develop contacts with rebel leaders. The information about Taliban targets, which the Predator drones transmitted back to headquarters, usually came from a special-ops officer riding on horseback with a laptop.

There’s more but you get the idea.

The intent of the post isn’t to dunk on Fred Kaplan, who’s generally speaking an astute analyst, but to reflect on how perspectives change over time. And, indeed, nothing in the excerpt above (except for the technicality that the creation of USSOCOM was mandated by Cohen-Nunn rather than the more famous Goldwater-Nichols) is wrong.

Wass de Czege, who turned 80 last month, is still producing brilliant analyses of Army doctrine and is widely revered as one of the most brilliant military thinkers of modern times. SAMS produced a bevy of imitators across the services, all of which are quite good, and, while the “Jedi Knight” mystique has worn off, the graduates of these advanced programs are among the best and brightest officers.

Wiley’s name isn’t one I hear much at MCU (indeed, he was passed over for promotion and retired from the Corps almost immediately after the 1991 Gulf War) but Boyd is still part of our curriculum today. And our university library is named after Gray.

Smart bombs, remotely piloted aircraft, and special operators continue to be widely used and tactically effective. Alas, despite their awesomeness as tools, they haven’t been paired with effective strategies or achievable policy goals.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    Agreed. The actual conquering of Iraq, if I may use that term, went very well. It certainly vindicated Boyd, Czege and others. However, we really didnt have a plan for what would happen after that part. The generals who tried to tell everyone that holding Iraq would be big trouble were ignored or removed from their positions.

    As an aside my Dad was Air Force. Had a chance encounter with Boyd. Guy left quite an impression. Inspired him to go back to Purdue and finish his engineering degree and the work solely in the defense industry.

    Steve

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  2. Barry says:

    James: “The intent of the post isn’t to dunk on Fred Kaplan, who’s generally speaking an astute analyst,”

    James, on what has he been astute?

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  3. JohnMcC says:

    Hey! I remember very well when UH-1’s and ‘vertical envelopment’ was just the bee’s knees. What a great idea. Revolutionized infantry!

    Lost that war too.

    Maybe choosing our wars better would be the place to start?

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  4. Kingdaddy says:

    Maybe the initial stages of the invasion of Afghanistan showed some inter-service collaboration, but Operation ANACONDA was not a masterpiece of smoothly meshing bureaucratic gears.

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    Offensive war, throughout history, has been started to defeat your adversaries militarily so you can 1) kill the populace, 2) steal their stuff, 3) occupy and rule their land, or 4) a combination of the first three.

    The problem with Iraq, Afghanistan, Viet Nam is that we can do the first part (defeat the adversaries military) but we have no desire to do what has followed after since time began. Instead, we want to reform the adversaries governance, stabilize it, and get the hell out. This has worked in highly regimented, highly rule based societies such as Germany and Japan, but not been successful anywhere else.

    We need to either figure out a way to do it, or concede that we can’t. If the latter, when we resort to war we should defeat the adversaries military as quickly as possible, execute the top civilian leaders and then get out and leave the chaos behind to see what develops. If the result is still hostile to the US, repeat the exercise. If not, engage with them as we would any other country.

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: If the result is still hostile to the US, repeat the exercise.

    You misspelled “when,” as in “When the result is still hostile…” And doing it again and expecting a different result… Well, You know what that means.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    At risk of quoting myself again, the US military is a sledgehammer. Used as a sledgehammer it is incomparable. As a scalpel? Not so much. As an occupying force? Sigh. And as trainers of foreign militaries? We just really need to stop pretending we know how to do that, we manifestly do not.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan: @OzarkHillbilly:

    Actually, I think @MM has it just right – do the killing we need to do, walk away, be prepared to come back and kill some more people if/when necessary. The Israelis call it mowing the lawn.

    Americans have a notion of war built on the Civil War and WW2, wars with beginnings, middles and ends. Sometimes it works that way, sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe some day the world won’t need war anymore, but that’s not the world we live in now. We we will make war again. Let’s try not to make the same mistakes next time.

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  9. Barry says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Actually, I think @MM has it just right – do the killing we need to do, walk away, be prepared to come back and kill some more people if/when necessary. The Israelis call it mowing the lawn. ”

    We are not Israel, and are trying to run an empire (and will not stop doing so).

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The Israelis call it mowing the lawn.

    And what has it gotten them?

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  11. Andy says:

    Given that few would now argue that we achieved “victory” in that conflict, I was intrigued.

    and

    Smart bombs, remotely piloted aircraft, and special operators continue to be widely used and tactically effective. Alas, despite their awesomeness as tools, they haven’t been paired with effective strategies or achievable policy goals.

    Getting back to basics, the use of military force has to have a political purpose. War is, after all, the use of organized violence to achieve political ends. To the extent that our invasion of Iraq was intended to achieve the goal of defenestrating Saddam and any threat from Iraq, it was a resounding success.

    Where we get into trouble with these conflicts is mission creep. Iraq went from being about removing a threat (that turned out not to be real or at least much diminished) to creating a democratic liberal country in the heart of the Arab middle east. Well, you can’t achieve that political goal through the use of “organized violence.” Building a new government and a democracy is not war.

    We had the same issue in Afghanistan. The actual war goals were quickly achieved, but then the political goals shifted.

    The US, unlike the Brits for example, never developed the kinds of “colonial” governance and administration institutions that allowed them to manage the territories they invaded and de facto controlled. We had the “Coalition Provisional Authority”, which made just about every mistake conceivable and sparked an insurgency and civil war in Iraq. Which the military then had to deal with at the cost of substantial loss of life and eventually lead to the Iraq surge and the Sunni awakening – which is a case where the military achieved the task that was given to them. What followed was more mistakes and an inability of our political leaders to deal with Iraq as it is.

    And in Afghanistan, we followed the same pattern.

    As I’ve noted in other comments, we kept asking (ordering) the military to perform functions that fall well outside the purpose of “using organized violence to achieve political ends.” The new political ends that were created (summarized as “nation-building”) were simply not achievable with military force. Yet we kept pretending otherwise and the other functions of government, like State, never sufficiently stepped up to the plate. Instead of creating quasi-colonial administrative structures as the Brits did, we just told the military to take care of it. We, in essence, practiced a weird brand of half-assed colonialism which gave us the worst of both worlds.

    So I think it’s a mistake to say these failures of war. These were political failures where our political leadership failed to consider the necessary means to achieve their desired political ends. Instead, it was hubris and rosy assumptions and then expecting the US and allied militaries to do all the heavy lifting. After the initial ass-kicking, we were no longer fighting a war, we were attempting to change societies and create new governing institutions with democratic legitimacy. That’s what we failed at.

    The lesson we should learn from this is the limitations of what military force can achieve. We are still the preeminent power when it comes to conducting warfare. We need to understand that our military prowess does not extend to the grandiose notions of those who desire to remake other societies.

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  12. Andy says:

    @Andy:

    To add on, contrast that with what Obama did in Libya. We wrecked Libya and walked away. Obama didn’t give in to mission creep. He didn’t worry about the after-effects and didn’t give into calls that the US was morally responsible for mediating post-war, post-Qaddafi Libya.

    I think attacking Libya was a huge mistake, but at least we didn’t compound that error by trying to achieve the unachievable as we attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan. We would not have succeeded in rebuilding Libyan society either.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    And what has it gotten them?

    Is Israel still a state? Is it richer and more powerful than ever, so that even their erstwhile enemies are cozying up to them? I’d say it got them what they wanted.

    @Andy:
    Absolutely, we task the military to do things the military was not designed to do. My question is how honest the generals were with Bush Jr., or Obama. Do the Chiefs stand up and say, ‘Look, Mr. POTUS, we follow orders and we’ll follow yours, but you’re asking us to do things for which we have no core competence?’

    I know that one general did publicly warn Congress that we had insufficient force to manage Iraq (sorry, I don’t recall his name). I wonder whether that helped or hurt his military career? Was he a hero to other general officers for speaking the truth?

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  14. steve says:

    That was General Shinseki. He advocated for a lot more troops and different kinds of troops, especially more MPs, for the occupation period. By report he lost his influence after that and he did retire early though that may have already been in the works. Ultimately I think he was both right and wrong. Things may haver been loss chaotic in the immediate period after the military part of the Iraq War. However we would still not have had a plan for getting out and I think we still would have morphed into nation building which Andy has explained nicely was a mistake. It might even have been worse with all of the MPs so we would have been less likely to give up.

    Steve

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    other functions of government, like State, never sufficiently stepped up to the plate.

    While I agree with your larger point, and even concede the above statement is technically true, the reason they never sufficiently stepped up was because no one has any idea how to do that. It’s all very easy for our military leaders to say, “Well, you asked us to break the country, and we really broke it well. The fighting continues but they are only guerillas and armies in exile that are doing the fighting, so we are done and it’s all on you.”

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy: It may be my cynicism, but I think we achieved our goals in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. We retaliated for 9/11 and W got reelected. Cheney and his PNAC buddies found a politically acceptable way to lift the Iraq oil embargo. And as I recall Libya, the Europeans had already decide to intervene and in order to maintain our leadership of NATO, we had to lead NATO. And we have all the good command and control aircraft.

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  17. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Absolutely, we task the military to do things the military was not designed to do. My question is how honest the generals were with Bush Jr., or Obama. Do the Chiefs stand up and say, ‘Look, Mr. POTUS, we follow orders and we’ll follow yours, but you’re asking us to do things for which we have no core competence?’

    The culture has long been for senior military advisors to give their opinion in private and then salute smartly and carry out the orders of the civilian government regardless of their personal or professional views. And that’s also a requirement for actual civilian control of the military. In short, the military has input into policy but doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have a veto.

    The question then becomes about what an individual military leader that disagrees with the given orders ought to do. It’s easy to say that they should fall on their own sword and, in doing so, challenge the idea of the military as a subordinate policy tool. That’s not so easy in practice, particularly given the partisan nature of our politics. For example, the people who championed Shinseki falling on his sword were the same ones who later complained when other generals disagreed with Obama’s policy. Dumb partisan tribalism extends to this area as well, which senior officers are fully aware of. Given that the military strongly desires to remain a non-partisan institution, it’s difficult for senior officers to act in a way that will inevitably be seen by many as partisan.

    Additionally, the officer promotion system is structured to reward careerism and risk aversion. This tends to select more “yes men” than would otherwise be the case.

    If you really want general officers to take a more public and activist role in policy, then you need to consider the effects:
    – It will politicize the military since military opposition to what the Executive wants to do will inevitably be viewed through a partisan lens.
    – I think there is also a slippery slope there that could eventually lead to the US military being very much like most military forces in the world – a domestic political for with de facto veto authority over civilian decision-making.

    In short, that kind of insubordination should be rare. So ultimately I don’t think we can or should expect the military to prevent our elected leaders from making strategic mistakes.

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  18. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    While I agree with your larger point, and even concede the above statement is technically true, the reason they never sufficiently stepped up was because no one has any idea how to do that. It’s all very easy for our military leaders to say, “Well, you asked us to break the country, and we really broke it well. The fighting continues but they are only guerillas and armies in exile that are doing the fighting, so we are done and it’s all on you.”

    The military role in what is technically termed Phase IV operations is to provide a base level of security to allow other parts of the US government to do the nation-building and a return to peace and civilian government control. We held off the Taliban for two decades. We defeated an insurgency in Iraq, left, but then another insurgency formed and we went back in. The other necessary tasks that were supposed to take place – non-military tasks- were either not done, done incompetently, or handed off to the military which didn’t do them very competently either and, as already noted, were not part of the mission set.

    So if it’s really the case that no one had any idea how to do the nation-building part, then that is an even greater indictment of our government.

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I recognize what you are saying. It is what the military has sold for 20 years. But the reality is that there is still an active war going on but the the idea that the military is suddenly done and now it is up to the civilians makes no sense. The military was unable to defeat the enemy and stop the war. It’s just the military trying to shift blame.

    I’m not saying that the military could have been successful on their own, or even that they could have been successful in partnership with the civilians. As I stated above, we have no model of success in these situations. But I am cynically disgusted by how quickly the military has shifted all responsibility off their own shoulders.

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  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    I’m not talking about – and would not wish for – more public generals. What I’m wondering is whether the Chiefs tell POTUS the blunt truth before saluting.

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  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: That’s the beautiful part about having a lawn; every so often it needs mowing. I’ll trust you to flesh out the analogy.

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: “To the extent that our invasion of Iraq was intended to achieve the goal of defenestrating Saddam and any threat from Iraq, it was a resounding success.”

    And then??? I’m thinking about the vacuum that occurs after the defenestrating of Saddam (or the Taliban) happens. The vacuum left behind is why part of the aim is to ” 1) kill the populace, 2) steal their stuff, 3) occupy and rule their land.”

    Of course, we CAN say “well, I achieved MY goal” and then leave, but as the foremost global superpower and supposed exemplar of exceptionalism as to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, how will the world look at that? “With great power comes great responsibility, Peter.”

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  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Good point. A state of never ending war is probably what they had in mind all along. Well, the military anyway.

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  24. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I recognize what you are saying. It is what the military has sold for 20 years. But the reality is that there is still an active war going on but the the idea that the military is suddenly done and now it is up to the civilians makes no sense. The military was unable to defeat the enemy and stop the war. It’s just the military trying to shift blame.

    I’m not saying that the military could have been successful on their own, or even that they could have been successful in partnership with the civilians. As I stated above, we have no model of success in these situations. But I am cynically disgusted by how quickly the military has shifted all responsibility off their own shoulders.

    Nation-building is a whole-of-government effort, it’s not an exclusive military effort.

    Who is responsible for the fecklessness of the Iraqi and Afghan governments? Who is responsible for the failure to build a democracy in either of these countries? Who is responsible for the lack of stable governance, the endemic corruption, etc.? Who is responsible for the hundreds of billions poured into the black hole patronage systems in these countries? It ain’t the military, at least not primarily.

    In Iraq, the military was ordered not to plan for significant Phase IV operations because State was going to handle that – except they didn’t and the country descended into chaos after Saddam was deposed. Then you had the CPA under Bremer make mistake after mistake which caused a Sunni insurgency. The military fought that bloody insurgency and ended it with the surge and the Sunni Awakening. We then withdrew military forces and another insurgency (ISIS) came up. We went back in and crushed that one.

    Meanwhile, what was the rest of the government doing? The problems that exist in Iraq now are not because the military failed to do what it was tasked to do.

    In Afghanistan, we crushed the Taliban and the country was relatively peaceful and stable until 2005-2006 when a reconstituted Taliban started coming out of their safe haven in Pakistan. We had a three-year window to make something of Afghanistan. And yeah, we never fully defeated the Taliban largely because of that safe haven. That was obvious to anyone paying attention at the time, that insurgencies that have a safe haven are almost never beaten (a lesson we exploited to great effect against the Soviets in the 1980’s). The military role was to try to keep Afghanistan relatively safe to allow the US, allies, and the international community time to build a stable Afghan government and Afghan security forces. We all know how that turned out.

    What more did you expect the military to do? That we should invade the Pakistani FATA areas to root out the Taliban and go patrolling in Quetta to find Omar and the other members of what was then called the Quetta Shura? Everyone understood that was never going to happen. The fact that the Afghan government never amounted to anything, that it could not command the loyalty and respect of the military forces we trained for them, is not a military failure.

    That said, the military certainly deserves blame for its own failures, of which there are many. But at a strategic level, this was a failure of policy, a failure to properly align ways, ends, and means, and a failure to recognize the limitations of American power and influence generally, and American military power specifically.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m not talking about – and would not wish for – more public generals. What I’m wondering is whether the Chiefs tell POTUS the blunt truth before saluting.

    I would hope so. But I think many of them got captured into the NATSEC DC blob thinking.

    I know of a couple of cases. For instance, the military flatly told Bush that they could not do a conventional invasion of Afghanistan. That’s why the CIA was the lead agency that planned and ran the invasion of Afghanistan until, IIRC, sometime in late 2001 or early 2002.

    And based on some inside knowledge as well as ample public reporting, the military was generally very skeptical of any war with Iran.

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  25. Andy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Of course, we CAN say “well, I achieved MY goal” and then leave, but as the foremost global superpower and supposed exemplar of exceptionalism as to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, how will the world look at that? “With great power comes great responsibility, Peter.”

    That’s why I’ve become a non-interventionist. Because if the option is to depose a despot and then fail to build a friendly stable alternative (Iraq, Afghanistan), or depose a despot and walk away (Libya), my choice would be to do neither of those things because the results are really bad.

    The exception I would make is Afghanistan because that was not a war of choice (unlike Libya and Iraq) – there is simply no way that we would not have invaded in some way. But we should have more closely followed the Libya model and been out by 2004 or 2005 at the latest. And I’ll cop to my own hubris that I subscribed to the Powell Pottery Barn rule for far longer than I should have (around 2007 I think). But I learned my lesson, and I hope America has as well.

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  26. Modulo Myself says:

    With hindsight obviously, but there’s just a tone of creeping failure here. This is not how actual winners talk. The big reason for the quick victory was money. The US was a giant. Iraq was a gnat. 375 billion defense budget versus 3 billion or something. I remember all of the spin about the quick victory and that’s all it was. Spin. Bin Laden had escaped capture, no WMDs, no connection at all between Iraq and Al Qaeda, so there was this insane need for justification.

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  27. JohnMcC says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: If your career depended on budgets and assignments that supported a war, how anxious would you be for peace?

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  28. Lounsbury says:

    @MarkedMan:

    This has worked in highly regimented, highly rule based societies such as Germany and Japan, but not been successful anywhere else.

    Et voila why Americans keep failing…. The difference is not that Germany nor Japan nor Korea are “highly regimented rules based societies” (by implication Afghanistan, Iraq are vulgar barbarian savages without rules in their societies, of course in your head put less bluntly and with a dollop of self-deception on your meaning). Quite wrong.

    Rather the post WWII order cases were all rather fairly industrialised nations with a clear nation-state identities and a well-developed tradition of a centralised bureaucratic state. Notice not one word preceding is about societies.

    Afghan or Iraqi society (or societies) has rules and are quite rules based. However they are a set of rules that are social orders not based on a strong-centralised state, – there is the difference. Americans (and generally persons from nations with long centralised state traditions, so the NATO allies generally as well) confuse weak central government and state based respect of paper laws for anarchic and lack of rules in such societies.

    And they thus fail to engage either properly with native social rules or with non-centralised state society lines of legitimacy, power and organisation.

    And of course centralised bureaucratic states in the end need a certain level of economic development to support them (or rather naturally the overweight bureaucracy can’t be supported on a cost basis and of course becomes predatory).

    The long-running American inability to quite accept other models and blindness to the degree to which your current governance model is predicated on a certain level of socio-economic pre-conditions rather tends to generate serial failure in countries which lack both a real national identity in the fashion of the Germans, the Japanese, the Koreans (or even the Vietnamese) and lack a strong centralised state tradition and have a weak economic base to build the full overhead superstructure of governance on.

    @Andy: Americans tend to forget the French in fact launched Libyan intervention not the Americans (as a French attempt to recover from their fiasco in Tunisia where they had just lost enormous political capital). As the Libyan case was one rather domestically generated (domestic to Libya) the US air cover to the rebellion has always seemed to me rather understandable.

    @Andy:

    Then you had the CPA under Bremer make mistake after mistake which caused a Sunni insurgency.

    As I had a ring-side seat, when I was in my fund back then, it is my opinion the CPAs fundamental original sin was an entire line of thinking built around the understandable but wildly misplaced American cultural obsession with re-running the Glorious Post WWII experience – the foolish post-WWII Japan and German “examples” right up to treating the Baath as if it were actually the Nazis in intellectual model and societal place.

    The military role was to try to keep Afghanistan relatively safe to allow the US, allies, and the international community time to build a stable Afghan government and Afghan security forces. We all know how that turned out.

    As USA and NATO rather decided to build an Afghan government and security forces in Image of Ourselves, in substance – beside lip service – ignoring Afghan traditions, culture, history. A grand act of blind hubris.

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  29. Barry says:

    @Andy: “Yet we kept pretending otherwise and the other functions of government, like State, never sufficiently stepped up to the plate. ”

    As I understand it, Rumsfeld (and Cheney) made sure that State was not allowed to. When Powell started planning, he was frozen out.

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: Well, I’ll disagree with you on Afghanistan not being a war of choice because ultimately the same situations redound as in Syria, Libya, and Iraq. Fine, you’re a big enough dog so that you can successfully chase and run down a car. You still have the “what’s next” question after you catch it.

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  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnMcC: I’d look for a different career.

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  32. ImProPer says:

    “The wonders of hindsight.”

    If we would of used foresight, we never would of had any of the “victories” in Iraq.

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  33. ImProPer says:

    @Andy:

    Little late in my post, but just followed the thread. Thanks for your insight and wisdom! Our military has not lost a battle in decades, and likely never will as long as this planet is habitable. The lens of viewing a war as if it were a sport is maddening. War is to kill and demoralize an enemy by whatever means necessary. Any losses America suffers on the world stage is always the action of civilians. I find the greatest irony in this, is the toll that it takes on our military members in the aftermath, but those that actually incurred the loss shamelessly spin it to make political hay, then charge into the next misadventure.

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  34. de stijl says:

    Iraq should not even have been targeted. A red herring. Afghanistan at least was a base of operations.

    The whole of the Iraq War was a foolish waste. It’s almost as if Iran conned and manipulated us into it. Hint: they did.

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  35. dazedandconfused says:

    @ImProPer:
    The view of war as a sport extends to the binary win/lose thinking. That’s not the way it works a lot of the time. In the big picture one can’t separate military and political. The net result is actually still an open question.

    To wit: If the new Taliban has learned hosting jihadi Arabs is a really bad idea, it was a net win. Notwithstanding that may have been accomplished 19 years ago when they were chased into Pakistan.

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  36. ImProPer says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    “To wit: If the new Taliban has learned hosting jihadi Arabs is a really bad idea, it was a net win. Notwithstanding that may have been accomplished 19 years ago when they were chased into Pakistan.”

    This seems likely, but the 19 years of whatever went by, and here we are now.
    As far as hosting jihadi Arabs in the future, I’m sure the Taliban will definitely think twice. Also cities provide much less shelter than the mountains, in the event of future strife. Being back out of the shadows will definitely bring forth pressure for them to get more with the times.

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  37. de stijl says:

    @ImProPer:

    If you think about it cities provide kick-ass cover. Set up next door to a vitally needed hospital.

    Drop a bomb on that target and the international community will freak out.

    Set up in a densely packed urban environment and you’ve nullified offensive bomb strikes by drones or piloted aircraft. The US does not do obvious collateral damage strikes.

    Cities are basically bomb-proof. The political fallout makes it unacceptable for Western nations to bomb a dense urban site – too much collateral damage for 21st century sensibility.

    Except for Israelis then it’s a toss-up based on the government in charge. Likudniks tend to care occasionally. Often not. Gazans are aware of this split in thinking.

    If you set up somewhere remote with no air cover or defense you are a sitting duck.

    They don’t do that anymore. Lesson learned.

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