White House and Joint Chiefs Clash Over More Troops

WaPo fronts a piece by Robin Wright and Peter Baker reporting a clash between the White House staff and Joint Chiefs over a “surge” of additional forces to Iraq.

The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said.

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

The chiefs have taken a firm stand, the sources say, because they believe the strategy review will be the most important decision on Iraq to be made since the March 2003 invasion.

Unless there is a fundamental restructuring of the strategy, there is no reason to think adding more “boots on the ground” at this stage would be helpful. What, precisely, would be the military objective?

FILED UNDER: General, ,
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. legion says:

    Gee, just the other day, Rumsfeld and Bush were saying that they only do what their generals in the field recommend – if they’d wanted more troops, they’d have gotten them, etc.

    But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission…
    They misspelled “four years of war”.

  2. LJD says:

    Legion, is it possible for you to discuss any current events without taking such simplistic swipes at the admin?

    Your comment about more troops is laughable, because it seems that is NOT what the Chiefs want at this time, at least not without a reason or purpose.

    This debate is a result of our election, the political posturing for 2008, and the ISG resport. I would say too that it is a good thing. We need to find a solution that will work in the best interest of our country. Our elected officials (including Congress) are ‘on the hook’ to get it figured out. No more empty finger pointing.

    Things on the ground have changed dramatically in four years. The enemy has modified its tactics, and with the support of neighboring countries. There is no simple answer to this problem. But such ‘clashes’ are HOW these matters are worked out.

    If you don’t think the admin has any ideas, I would be glad to listen to the many viable alternatives offered by the most vocal critics of the President. Oh yeah, they don’t have any.

  3. JCS not into the “Surge”?…

    Via WaPo: White House, Joint Chiefs At Odds on Adding Troops:
    the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite w…

  4. Anderson says:

    LJD, reading is fundamental. Legion gave “more troops” as an *example* of the proposition that the White House has said they would do what the generals think best.

    When the White House says that, it’s lying.

    As for “viable alternatives,” guess what? Bush has f—ed up Iraq so badly, there *aren’t* any.

    It’s like a supporter of the Japanese war party in March 1945 turning to his political opponent and saying, “great, so what viable alternatives do you have?” The word is “fubar,” and the sooner people realize that’s where Iraq is, the sooner we can have a serious discussion about it.

  5. legion says:

    Quite so, Anderson. The point is that the ISG is irrelevant. Other options – whether provided by Democrats, Republicans, Generals, anyone – are irrelevant. Bush intends to stay in Iraq, regardless of the cost, until things magically get better. He’s said as much over, and over, and over, and over. And anyone who thinks these listening tours, study groups, etc. are anything other than lip service has their head buried so far in the ground they’re smelling egg rolls.

    As for “viable alternatives,” guess what? Bush has f—ed up Iraq so badly, there *aren’t* any.

    I’m not sure if there are _no_ viable alternatives, but I am certain of one thing: there are no viable _military_ alternatives. You cannot fix what’s wrong with Iraq by using the US military any more than you can paint a house with a hammer. Sending more troops, for any length of time, will not help any more than painting with a bigger hammer. Unfortunately, Bush is too stubborn and, frankly, stupid, to grasp the use of anything other than force to accomplish anything.

  6. LJD says:

    ‘LJD, reading is fundamental.’

    But comprehension is even better. I think you read too much into comments by the Joint Chiefs. (Keep in mind also the SOURCE). Although they do not agree with pouring more troops into Iraq short term, it appears they may support such a notion WITH a revised strategy attached. The key words here are SHORT TERM:

    ‘The idea of a much larger military deployment for a longer mission is virtually off the table, at least so far, mainly for logistics reasons, say officials familiar with the debate. Any deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 would force the Pentagon to redeploy troops who were scheduled to go home.’

    These are the gaps what the Joint Chiefs are talking about filling. They are NOT saying ‘cut and run’.

    Based on the rest of your comments, I perceive your positions to be total withdrawal from Iraq- regardless of the impact to Iraqis or the GWOT in general?

  7. legion says:

    Although they do not agree with pouring more troops into Iraq short term, it appears they may support such a notion WITH a revised strategy attached.

    And this, in itself, is pretty dammning. It’s December 2006. The White House wants to put anywhere from 30k to 50k more troops into Iraq. And the JCS is not confident there is _any plan_ for _what_ those troops would do or how they would contribute to the mission there.

    Shouldn’t that scare the piss out of every one of us?

    Based on the rest of your comments, I perceive your positions to be total withdrawal from Iraq- regardless of the impact to Iraqis or the GWOT in general?

    Reading is _still_ fundamental, LJD. I’m saying the current “plan” (for lack of a less-insulting term) of using combat troops to: fight an insurgency, rebuild a national infrastructure, stabilize a society in utter chaos, prevent/stop an open civil war, maintain social order (despite the fact that our civilian leadership _still_ doesn’t know whether or not to keep Iraq whole or allow its partitioning), train a new-from-square-one military and police system (while simultaneously rooting out corruption, terrorism, and infighting from same) is _never_ going to work. It will only _decrease_ all the measures important to the US, including the number of troops coming back home alive.

    But as I said previously: COMBAT TROOPS ARE NOT THE ONLY TOOL WE HAVE.

    What _can_ we do? We can work with the surrounding countries to get them on the side os stabilizing Iraq rather than making it an easy black eye for the US. We can lean on contractors to actually perform the work they’re being paid for – actually rebuilding the infrastructure rather than whitewashing the blatant profiteering. At some point, the Iraqi security forces will have to be let to sink or swim on their own, but there needs to be some sort of concrete, standards & competency-based handover plan. If that means we have to transport the units somewhere safe (even out of Iraq) to be trained, then so be it.

    How’s about them apples?

  8. Wayne says:

    First of all, the JCS are not Generals in the field. They have no operational control or are not deeply involve in operational planning. They are military advisor to the president in the sense that they explain military concern an philosophy to the president but are not involved directly with operations.

    Anymore I don’t put a whole lot of trust in these so call unknown sources. What political agenda do they have? Did they put the statement in context? Did the lie? Is it an actual source or another made up one?

    More or less troops are in constant debate within the military. Have there been a consensus with the Generals in the field that we need more troop? I don’t know. Things change but the last time we heard from them they said no. JCS is another group.

    Anderson
    You are the one lying by trying to say Bush said, “What the generals think best”. He said if the Commanding General in the field wants more troops he will get them. It easy to claim someone is lying when you lie about what they said.

  9. Joint Chiefs of Staff vs. Bush…

    Please read Shaun’s post from today:……

  10. anselm says:

    But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives

    My understanding of the article is that the JCS want to know the mission first, numbers second. And the white House is throwing smoke grenades with the second question because after four years they are still drawing a blank on the first.

    Wayne, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the political objectives of the JCS or the reporters who follow them. We have no defined objective in Iraq and in a competent administration, anyone who tried to change the subject from this question would be removed from authority at this rather advanced stage in our entrapment within Iraq.

  11. LJD says:

    Well Legion, it seems you are the one not reading. No one has EVER said that U.S. troops should do all of those things indefinitely, and I defy you to show me where the President has. You are so bent on coloring the Admin, you are blinded by your own presumptions.

    At some point, the Iraqi security forces will have to be let to sink or swim on their own, but there needs to be some sort of concrete, standards & competency-based handover plan.

    Well, isn’t that what the PLAN has been ALL ALONG?

    On getting help across borders, I’m not sure the ones manufacturing the bombs and training the murderers are the ones to help.

  12. anselm says:

    LJD: My last quote was from the article. How is it possible to misread what it said about the JCS’ position? One man has the authority to set our goals. That man is in an advanced state of executive paralysis. Removing him is a matter of national survival.

  13. […] Other bloggers weighing in: MemeOrandum; The Moderate Voice; Daily Kos; QandO; Firedoglake; Think Progress; PoliBlog; The Democratic Daily; Outside The Beltway; Hullabaloo; Political Animal; The Heretik Technorati Tags:  Bush, Current Events, Harry Reid, Headline News, Headlines, ICG, International Crisis Group, Iran, Iraq, Iraq Study Group, ISG, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Military, News, News and Politics, Politics […]

  14. LJD says:

    The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said military officers have not directly opposed a surge option. “I’ve never heard them be depicted that way to the president,” the official said. “Because they ask questions about what the mission would be doesn’t mean they don’t support it. Those are the kinds of questions the president wants his military planners to be asking.”

    You guys are too much. Of course you will see what you want when cherry picking the report and repeating it out of context.

    Here we have our officials looking for viable alternatives. You offer cut and run, and impeachment.

    You don’t want a solution, all you want is for heads to roll. Which puts you in no different position than you were in immediately following the inauguration.

  15. legion says:

    LJD,
    You say: No one has EVER said that U.S. troops should do all of those things indefinitely

    Well, when the entire right side of the debate, yourself included, frames the issue as having only two options:
    – Send more troops in, or
    – Pull all the troops out, cut-and-run style; or, as you yourself phrase it: “total withdrawal from Iraq- regardless of the impact to Iraqis or the GWOT in general”

    …and if the intent is to keep our troops in Iraq until “victory”, and the use of troops in Iraq runs counter to any progress towards “victory”, that would imply that they’re going to be there for a long damn time, wouldn’t you say?

    At some point, the Iraqi security forces will have to be let to sink or swim on their own, but there needs to be some sort of concrete, standards & competency-based handover plan.

    Well, isn’t that what the PLAN has been ALL ALONG?

    In a word, no. The INTENT may have been to do that, but until someone, anyone, in the administration puts forward a coherent statement about what those standards and competencies are, it’s highly dishonest to call it a “plan” – hence my earlier sarcasm. In other words, to say “we’ll do it until things get better”, without making the slightest effort to define what “better” actually means, is a shit plan. It also lends further credence to the lefty position that our troops will be there until Bush goes away, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen, i.e., indefinitely.

    And finally,
    On getting help across borders, I’m not sure the ones manufacturing the bombs and training the murderers are the ones to help.

    That thing countries do when they’re not shooting, bombing, or invading each other? It’s called diplomacy. You and GWB might want to look it up.

  16. anselm says:

    LJD, it is December 2006, and the Joint Chiefs, along with every other person in this country, is asking GWB if he might not consider maybe devising a plan and some specific objectives in Iraq.

    As a stockholder in this errant, financially hemorraging corporation, I want the CEO to show some competence and some urgency, or I will support finding someone who will.

    You don’t need to cherry-pick to find the strategic failures compounding as we sit here jabbering. They’re falling from the damn sky and there’s no cover.

  17. Wayne says:

    Anselm

    “My understanding of the article is that the JCS want to know the mission first, numbers second”
    “and the Joint Chiefs, along with every other person in this country, is asking GWB if he might not consider maybe devising a plan and some specific objectives in Iraq.”

    President Bush has stated he wants to undercut terrorist support and establish a Middle East democracy.
    It is part of the JCS job to come up with strategic military objectives to do that. Then it is the Combatant Commanders responsibility to come up with the specific plans (strategic and tactical) and the specific numbers to accomplish those objectives.

    If you want to hear that it is a crisis and dire situation there then listen to the MSM. If you want the truth, talk to the majority of soldiers over there not just the one great whiner in a thousand the press seam to find.

  18. Iraq: World resisted Peace-Keeping Efforts…

    Post Saddam removal and de-Baathification of Iraq, met with challenge against effort as it prevented full Int’l peace-keeping support. This wrought with it, the escalation of violence….