Secret Pentagon deception plan revealed.

Secret Pentagon deception plan revealed.

Secret Pentagon deception plan revealed.

A mostly political Weblog.
April 5 2003 5:52 AM

Keller vs. Gordon

Plus: Michael Kelly remembered.

The post-Saddam era ... isn't that when, led by idealistic hawks such as Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. is supposed to achieve a Mideast peace by pressuring both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, including pressuring Israel on ithe settlement issue? This story  -- assuming it's true (it's in The Guardian) -- doesn't seem an auspicious sign. ... Has Ariel Sharon been getting advice from Jo Moore? ... 10:28 A.M.

Andrew Sullivan prints a good pro-Army email making the case against Rumsfeld on the troop dilution issue. It seems to have reduced Sullivan himself to a state of ambivalence  ("I have a feeling this debate is going to go on fo [sic] quite some time") from his earlier, more typical position of instantaneous sneering certitude ("I guess the anti-neo-cons have got to grasp at something"). Maybe he'll give himself one of his awards. ... 2:00 A.M.

'How was it out there?': NBC's Dr. Bob Arnot has always seemed a sensible fellow. But at the moment -- 1:20 A.M., PST -- he's in central Baghdad sticking his microphone in the face of a Marine officer trying to take out an Iraqi armored personnel carrier, as if the commander were an Indy 500 driver on a pit stop. Isn't this behavior kind of annoying to the Marines trying to do their jobs in hostile territory? ... (The last embedded reporter I saw who seemed slightly out of control like this was in fact soon kicked out of his unit by the commanding officer.) ... 1:32 A.M.


Saturday, April 5, 2003

Backup! Ralph Peters, a pro-war conservative ex-officer writing in the New York Post -- who has been pretty level-headed throughout the conflict -- makes the updated "troop dilution" case against Rumsfeld. It's not definitive, but it's much more convincing than Bill Keller's defense. And Peters can't be dismissed as a Johnny-Apple quagmirist. Highlights:

Fortunately, we are not faced with failure. The outcome of this war, if not the timing of that outcome, truly is not in doubt. But events did not proceed according to plan.

The much-heralded initial airstrikes failed and are now conveniently forgotten. The ground campaign assumed the lead from the first days of the war - which definitely was not according to the plan. And the number of ground forces permitted to the theater commander was inadequate by any honest measure. ...

Yet, the bare-bones forces we have in Iraq are far more in number than [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] wanted to send. At one point in the long planning process, Secretary Rumsfeld's civilian advisers - not one of whom had served in the military - insisted the ground campaign would require less than 10,000 combat troops, who would take a Sunday drive to Baghdad after the regime had been toppled by technology. The generals had to fight bitterly to overcome such madcap notions. ...

Embarrassed by its miscalculations, OSD now insists that the deployment of additional heavy divisions from the United States had always been part of the plan. This is technically correct, but only because of the way formal military planning proceeds during any build-up to a crisis. If those troops actually had been intended for this campaign, they would have been sent to the Gulf months ago. ...

The truth is that OSD expected a brief, nearly painless conflict, despite months of warnings from those in uniform. The deployment of units Pentagon spokespersons now insist were "always in the pipeline" was simply a matter of pro forma military planning. The military bureaucracy so despised by the secretary of defense has provided him a fig leaf. But it does not help the troops in the field, who have been deprived of the back-up forces essential for security and a margin of safety. ...

Emphasis added! P.S.: It's probably an overstatement to say the "initial airstrikes failed." As Mark Steyn suggests, the Iraqis are certainly behaving as if their "command and control" systems have been badly damaged. But the regime didn't crack, which I assume was Peters' point.  ... 5:10 P.M.


Bill Keller vs. Michael Gordon: I'm willing to be convinced that the grouchy old retired generals were wrong and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld committed plenty of troops to the Iraq invasion. But Bill Keller's column  doesn't come close to doing the convincing. Keller's one (1) paragraph on the troop-dilution issue is this:

The military column across Iraq is thinner than some would like, that is not a consequence of "doing it on the cheap" but of failed diplomacy. The original game plan called for an extra heavy division, possibly two, to move on Baghdad from the north through Turkey. When the Turks said no, Mr. Rumsfeld had a choice: start quickly and let the other troops catch up, or wait a month for two dozen shiploads of equipment to be rerouted to Kuwait, and then start the war in truly grim weather. He made an entirely defensible military choice, clearly with the endorsement of his main commanders, and (again the mantra, so far) it has worked.

First, is Turkey an excuse? It was always clear Turkey might say no. If the troops really were needed, shouldn't we have had a fallback plan? The 4th Infantry Division, the one that was on ships bound for Turkey, isn't the only other division in the Army. Second, the month's delay cited by Keller assumes the 4th was rerouted from Turkey as soon as was possible, which isn't at all clear. (And even a two-week delay in the war would have put the 4th two weeks closer to catching up.) Third, while it will probably all work out, and soon, all a reader has to do is turn to the front page of Keller's paper to read a much more sobering and detailed analysis from reporter Michael Gordon:

The American military discovered that its forces were stretched thin when they were forced to combat the paramilitary forces in the south even as they advanced to Baghdad. Given the scale of Baghdad, it would appear that the size of the American force is again limited, forcing commanders to adjust their tactics.

More troops are potentially available, but some will not make it to Baghdad just yet. Much of the 101st Airborne is now policing Karbala and Najaf while the 82nd Airborne is still trying to provide security in Samawa.


I suppose it would be cheap to point out that Gordon is a reporter on the ground with our troops in Kuwait while Keller is opining from several thousand miles away in New York. [Yes-ed.]Fourth, even in the South, the diverted U.S. forces may not be sufficient to prevent anarchy. Here's an admittedly unfriendly account from the U.K. Independent:

Even in daylight, the streets of Nasiriyah are unsafe. Looters line every road, pushing carts laden with all manner of stolen items – furniture, household appliances, jerry-cans and pieces of wood. They do so casually, joyously, as if they are aware that with Saddam Hussein's regime ousted and the US Marines unable to police the entire city, there is no one to stop them. They wave as you pass.

Fifth, a good indication that troop levels were too low at the start of the war is that we've been hastily raising them ever since.  General McCaffrey's list was appended to an item below, but here it is again:

You know, they're hustling lots of forces in theater. They have got 100,000 en route. They got the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. They turned a Marine unit around, 4th Infantry Division is closing. They just gave orders to two armored divisions: 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division deployed. They're doing the right thing.


Sixth: Is the initial troop level going to make us lose the war? Of course not. Is it going to cause greater U.S. casualties? I doubt it. Does it mean the war plan was a bad one overall? No, the war plan has been extremely successful so far. But the shortfall might still force delay in the taking of Baghdad. As Robert Wright notes,

Every week that this war drags on is a week in which bad things can happen ...

including suicide bombings, Saddamite countermeasures, and civilian casualties that inflame the Islamic world. But going in early and light has its risks too:

 ... approaching Baghdad with less than overwhelming force will probably mean more civilian casualties. The fewer ground troops we have, the more bombs we use; and the more precarious a soldier's position, the less picky he'll be about whom he shoots. So, the total amount of bad American karma pumped into the Muslim world will still be higher than it would have been if Rumsfeld had listened to his generals and put more troops on the ground to begin with.


Again, most of these potential problems may well be avoided, especially if Baghdad falls quickly, which is looking very possible. What's troubling is that there's no clear, obvious reason why a clearly adequate forces couldn't have been provided from the start, except for Rumsfeld's desire to prove a point about light forces and therefore enable far more aggressive and sweeping American military actions around the world. The important question isn't whether he's incompetently managed the war (he hasn't), or whether he's too mean to generals (Keller's lesson!), but whether he's proved this point.

My guess is no: We had to throw in more forces than he wanted, even if only as insurance. The troops we do have now are taking large risks and are stretched too thin to do all we want them to do, if you include keeping civil order. Next time, I suspect, we'll go in heavier. And that will limit the number of times we are able to go in at all, putting a crimp on the neocon hawks ambitious plans. That's what the troop dilution debate is ultimately about. Even Keller seems to realize this in his penultimate paragraph:

If you're going to be asked to police surly, recalcitrant areas of the world," one defense analyst said, "good, well-trained 20-year-olds are indispensable." This was from an air power advocate, endorsing the value of boots on the ground..

Which suggests that there's one battle Rumsfeld has already lost. ... 2:15 A.M.

Friday, April 4, 2003 

Human Rights Watch has interviewed Iraqi soldiers who've deserted  from the Northern front and are now in the hands of the Kurds. The interviews, presumably free of direct U.S. influence, give a good idea of the extent of intimidation by the Iraqi army's execution squads.

The eyewitness to an execution said that on March 26, ten deserters were brought to an open field where a colonel had gathered other units to witness the execution. "This is what happens to betrayers of our nation," the colonel told the assembled troops, according to the witness. He then began shooting the alleged deserters one by one; other members of the execution squad joined in. The colonel then ordered the bodies to be dragged up onto a hillside so the soldiers would have a better view of the corpses.

To judge from these stories, the Iraqis are executing almost as many deserters as get through, making desertion a riskier proposition than I'd thought. ... One prisoner confirms reports that Iraqi officers "cannot afford to escape because Military Intelligence has a lot of information about them and can easily reach their families." ... 5:33 P.M.

Michael Kelly, RIP: Peggy Noonan's appreciation is on-target, and her closing suggestion is a good one. ... David Brooks captures an aspect of Kelly that I benefitted from as a nobody journalist in Washington  -- in an inversion of the usual Darwinian rule, Kelly was unfailingly kind and encouraging to those underneath him in the D.C. status chain (especially those who worked for him) and combative with those directly above him (e.g., New Republic owner Martin Peretz). Jonathan Chait makes this point even more explicitly. ... Jack Shafer's done a day of actual reporting  on Kelly's career. He has warts-and-all (mainly all) details and a great closing quote from Maureen Dowd.

Kelly's last column described the fierce fight by the Third Infantry to take a key bridge over the Euphrates on the invasion route to Baghdad. The bridge had been boobytrapped and was defended by two battalions of Iraqis, but was captured intact. The U.S. commander, interviewed by Kelly after the battle, says

"We took no prisoners. ... They fought until they died."

So did Kelly. 5:00 P.M.

It's all working perfectly: If you'd been a Pentagon planner trying to figure out how to keep the Iraqis off balance -- even though they've known this invasion was coming for months -- you could have done worse than come up with the following cunning scheme: 1) First, invade Iraq. 2) Then deputize various retired generals to moan and caterwaul in the Western media that the invasion plan involves insufficient force. 3) Have these charges picked up by active duty U.S. officers in Iraq, who talk to reporters about the need to "restart" the war.4) Soon there will be a huge debate and highly credible talk in the press of a "pause" in operations for regrouping. Saddam's forces believe this talk -- but of course it's disinformation. There is no real pause and the American divisions instead punch right through to Baghdad. 5) Here, again,the deceptive "pause" talk starts up again. Will the U.S. wait two weeks  for the 4th Infantry Division to offload? The Iraqis are tempted to believe it. But then ...  [This isn't paranoia. It's posinoia. You think people are secretly scheming to help you.--ed It's all the rage on the right!] Update: Blogger Measured Voices has figured this all out in much more detail. ... 3:00 A.M.

This Saddam-is-dead site has apparently been up for ten days. I have no idea if it's credible or not -- and it contains the key alarm-sounding word, "Russian." (In contrast, for example, I know the mysterious Scrum. You can take The Scrum to the bank!) ... But the Saddam site's worth looking at, given his failure for the last ten to do the obvious thing he would do if he were alive and well (namely appear on camera and convincingly prove it). ... Kausfiles gets results! As if to undercut the above item, a Saddam-like figure has now appeared  and made at least one seeming reference to recent events. ...  1:57 A.M.

James Woolsey embraces the grand neocon plan and calls it "World War IV." He hopes it will last less than the four decades of the Cold War (which he calls "World War III"). He also suggests that the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be "nervous." CNN then reports

Woolsey has been named in news reports as a possible candidate for a key position in the reconstruction of a postwar Iraq.

He obviously has the diplomacy part down! ... The deeper contradiction in all this right-wing neo-Wilsonian address-the-root causes idealism remains: Woolsey says we are intervening "on the side of those whom you -- the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family -- most fear: We're on the side of your own people." But the first thing their own people will probably want to do when they attain power is kick us out. Perhaps this circle can be squared, but it doesn't look easy. ... P.S.: When I was reporting in Washington, I must have attended a couple hundred group lunches and meetings with officials and public figures. It's rare you come across one who is distinctly unimpressive in a such a private schmooze. James Woolsey is such a man! ... P.S.: Did somebody say Iran is next? ... 1:21 A.M.

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Tina Brown writes another excellent column. She notes in passing that voters have been more patient with the war than the media, as they were patient with the Florida recount. ...  Of course, Al Gore was the one fatally spooked by the erroneous notion that the public wouldn't tolerate a drawn-out Florida post-election battle. Hence, he didn't ask for a state-wide recount. Hence .... P.S.: Brown says Bush "has the damped-down anger of the dry drunk." (Bzzzz.) I don't know about such things -- but there is some permanent ticked-off quality to him, isn't there? It was there before 9/11. It's always been there. I'd thought (following Nick Lemann's New Yorker profile) that it was anger at snobby hippie antiwar types he saw at Yale. ... Update: Turns out Tina's not telling the complete story of her chat-show's aborted debut. But the mysterious sleeper-blog The Scrum has the scoop. The show sounds like almost as big a mess as Talk! ... 4:23 P.M.

He's loving it! Here's Chris Matthews questioning retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey after the latter was criticized in a press conference by Joint Chiefs Chairman Geh. Richard Myers:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your military experience, because you are now in the news, whether you like it or not General. ...

Gee, do you think he likes it? I don't know. All that publicity. Being forced to describe on national televison how you are a "Vietnam veteran wounded three times," how you have two children who now serving in the Army, how you've "never have been particularly worried about a fight." Getting called "an amazing guy" by the host. That kind of thing can be hard to take,when you could be biding your time in complete obscurity as a washed-up failed drug czar! ... Tough call, I'd say! ... 3:17 A.M.

Recommended: 1) Today's Ricks/Weisman WaPo military analysis. Perversely, the coalition drive to Baghdad has been so sucessful that the "troop dilution" issue hasn't completely been laid to rest.

Essentially, Franks has to decide whether to wait for the tank-heavy 4th Infantry Division, which defense officials say won't be ready to join the attack until the middle of the month.

This isn't a dilemma he'd have had if he'd waited for the 4th Infantry Division before starting the invasion! But it's presumably a better dilemma than the one Franks would face if the invasion hadn't gone as well as it has ... 2) Robert Wright, explaining why having to wait to attack Baghdad may matter. In effect, Wright answers Andrew Sullivan's  question

What difference does it make if we take Baghdad in four weeks rather than two?

Wright argues:

as the war drags on, any stifled sympathy for the American invasion will tend to evaporate. As more civilians die and more Iraqis see their "resistance" hailed across the Arab world as a watershed in the struggle against Western imperialism, the traditionally despised Saddam could gain appreciable support among his people. So, the Pentagon's failure to send enough troops to take Baghdad fairly quickly could complicate the postwar occupation, to say nothing of the war itself.

It's true that the military picture has seemingly improved since Wright's piece was posted; his how-can-we-trust-the-hawks-who-muffed-the-war-to-remake-the-Middle-East argument has less force than it did even 24 hours ago. But the hawks were surprised by initial resistance in the South (even if it was mainly resistance obtained at gunpoint), and Rumsfeld still did send too few troops, it seems -- even if the war overall is going well so far. So there's still room for doubting the hawks' grander rosy scenarios. ... Update: Sullivan responds, cunningly bypassing his highly vulnerable "what difference does it make" claim while pressing home a general gloat-heavy offensive. I hope he's soon in a position to return to full-on gloating, but since Wright's comments focused on taking Baghdad, and Baghdad has yet to be taken, I would hold off for a few days. Or wait for the 4ID. ... P.S.: Extra troops -- like the 4th Infantry Division -- are a bit like an insurance policy. We may not need them in the end. But just because your house doesn't burn down doesn't mean you were right not to buy insurance. I defer to Gen. Hoar, rather than Gen. Sullivan, on this matter.... More: See also Michael Gordon's outline of why so many generals think there really were too few troops, even if the risks do not materialize. ... 2:12 A.M.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Looming Bore Gap: Kinsley's dada piece about dropping bores on Iraq  is pretty funny. When I heard he was going to write it, I tried to think of famous current bores, and had a surprisingly hard time. (Haynes Johnson, Madonna, then who?...) The bitter truth is there are fewer bores than there used to be, because our fast paced media culture brutally punishes boringness. You can be a lunatic, a fraud, or a fool, but not boring. The late Flora Lewis couldn't get hired today, and James Reston would be on the bubble. This has left our stockpile of bores badly depleted when we might need it the most. .... 4:45 P.M.

Rumsfeld was happy to snipe at Clinton's war policy in Kosovo when U.S. troops were in the field back then. Joe Conason seems to have the goods on him in Salon. ... True, there are more troops in harm's way now. Still. ... This might explain why General Clark, who ran the Kosovo operation, feels free to snipe at Rumsfeld today. ...P.S.: More proof that if there's one thing harder to stop than the U.S. Marines headed for Baghdad, it's an ambitious out-of-power national security player heading for a CNN camera. ... [You don't usually give Conason much weight--ed. The goods are the goods. And it's surely a lot less strange than seeing Seymour Hersh and Barry McCaffrey, whose Gulf War I conduct Hersh trashed, on the same side.] ... P.P.S.: More troops are on the way. The ones in the field seem to be doing well. Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers may be about to look extremely good. Their decision to take shots at Clark and McCaffrey wasn't only wrong -- 1) the latter helped the U.S. military effort by encouraging a rapidly-beefed-up deployment; 2) they were reflecting the gripes of the troops, not implanting them -- it was also fighting the last war (last week's war).  Not very RMA! ... More: Are our troops more potentially demoralized if a) they think they don't have enough backup and they see Clark on TV raising this issue or b) they think they don't have enough backup and they think nobody in Washington hears them? I'd say b) ... Is this another Sid Blumenthal-aided item? He didn't send the Conason link to me, But I'm pretty sure he sent it to the person who sent it to me! So? ... More: Here's McCaffrey on Hardball running down the list of units that have now been thrown into the battle -- perhaps according to plan, perhaps in response to criticism from McCaffrey, Clark and others:

You know, they're hustling lots of forces in theater. They have got 100,000 en route. They got the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. They turned a Marine unit around, 4th Infantry Division is closing. They just gave orders to two armored divisions: 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division deployed. They're doing the right thing.

2:50 P.M.

Gregg Easterbrook seems to have written the Interesting Piece to Be Done Now, which would be a defense of Donald Rumsfeld, showing how his original battle plan wasn't too light on troops and made perfect sense, how Generals Clark and McCaffrey are ambitious, opportunistic Army shills, etc.  But Easterbrook doesn't write that piece, which is a good sign it's not there to be written. Specifically, he doesn't question the conventional wisdom that Rumsfeld "did not authorize enough troop strength" (aside from branding it as "conventional wisdom"). Easterbrook mainly just explains why the Army hates Rumsfeld and his "revolution in military affairs" school. By the end, Easterbrook's taking the Army's side!

Further, the "revolution" crowd believes heavy land battles are already a thing of the past. Forget that we are presently fighting a war in Iraq primarily on land; that America's most important recent military engagement, the Gulf war, was mainly a land battle; that the most important military engagement prior to that, Vietnam, was a mainly a land battle. How the U.S. secretary of defense can look out at the world and think that heavy U.S. ground force won't be important in the future is a mystery.

P.S.: Easterbrook is the only journalist I know to have almost single-handedly killed off a major weapons system.  (It was something called DIVAD. I forget what it did. Update: It was a mobile anti-aircraft artillery system.) Yet in this piece he actually seems to favor the big weapon Rumsfeld wants to kill, the Crusader -- a mobile cannon. ... P.P.S.: He also has some useful thoughts about Saddam's health issues. ... 1:55 A.M.

Eight-minute blogger: An emailer recently called a recent posting of mine "a half-cocked, paranoid theory that popped into your mind in the middle of the night." He said it like that was a bad thing! ... Isn't half the point of blogging to publish half-cocked paranoid theories that pop into your mind in the middle of the night? ... Here's one that popped about 8 minutes ago, when I was looking at the CNN battle map with the sound off. There were a bunch of dramatic arrows, depicting U.S. military advances up the Euphrates Valley toward Baghdad. Undoubtedly the map wasn't drawn very precisely, so as not to give away any military secrets. But the big far left arrow -- the one that represents the Third Infantry Division -- wasn't really pointing toward Baghdad. It was way off the left, and it pointed toward ... Tikrit. My half-cocked paranoid thought was: "Yes!" ... Wouldn't that be a brilliant plan? Everyone thinks we're heading toward a bloody siege of Baghdad. The pundits are agonizing over a siege of Baghdad. Saddam's preparing for a siege of Baghdad. But instead we veer off and take Tikrit, seat of Saddam's power, the home town of so many of his key aides, first. What better way to break the spirit of the Saddamites in the capital than to have them see TV pictures of their own homes, friends, families and relatives under coalition control? It might even cause the sort of collapse that would obviate the need for a bloddy Baghdad battle. ... Of course I know next to nothing about the situation on the ground, what's between us and Tikrit, how well-defended Tikrit is, etc. (Presumably the locals wouldn't greet our troops with flowers and sweets.) But remember the tao of blog: You have to discipline yourself to go off half-cocked! ... 12:35 A.M.

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Why Jeannette Walls is worth reading even in wartime:  From her latest newsletter, which references this "horrifying image."

Ben. You are orange.

Do you turn yellow when the terrorist threat subsides?

3:36 P.M.

These Marines don't seem to be bogged down. (They're nearly within artillery range of Baghdad.) 1:58 P.M. 

There's a lot of talk about how anti-war protest songs can't get heard today, in contrast to the '60s, because of the insidious influence of radio giants like Clear Channel.

A nostalgic view of politically charged music and the history of radio might recall the way that in the 1960's and 70's, the diversity of broadcast ownership could allow protest songs like Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's cry of outrage about the Kent State shootings, "Ohio," to find their way onto Top 40 stations. (NYT, 3/31)

If I remember right, "For What It's Worth" was about a riot to prevent the closing of Pandora's Box, a seedy club on the Sunset Strip. And it's not such a protest-y song. But never mind! More important, the '60s were not all that free, at least on Top 40 commercial radio. The most effective anti-war song I heard at the time was a 1973 production called "Honorable Peace"  by Billy Joe Thomas (most famous for hits like "Raindrops Are Falling on My Head" and "Hooked on a Feeling"). It was effective because it was strategically precise, taking on, not the general idea of war, but the particular public argument of the Nixon administration -- and the private argument as well, dependent as it was on the idea of saving American face and honor in Vietnam rather than actually winning the war. I only heard this song on the radio once. Then I never heard of it --or Billy Joe Thomas, for that matter -- again. And it seemed as if in no time the record companies were promoting another singer who sounded just like Billy Joe Thomas but didn't sing about the war! ...  In this interview  from last year, which I just looked up on Google, Thomas himself doesn't seem to know what happened to his anti-war song -- he says, "You couldn't find this song anywhere because we were told that Paramount lost the master." Clear Channel clearly has nothing on them! ... 3:34 A.M.

The neocons have a bad habit of trying to thuggishly suppress annoying journalism with withering bursts of ad hominem fire. Thus, Lawrence Kaplan reacted against the emergence of the "Likudnik" issue by trying to brand anyone who raised it as an anti-Semite. And when the Washington Post published stories raising the issue of Rumsfeld's "troop-dilution," Bill Kristol charged they were "close to disgraceful."  This second suppression attempt has failed because a) it's clear the anti-Rummy griping is coming from our  soldiers in the field in Iraq  (see also this) not just from easily-dismissed journalists and retired fuddy-duddy generals; and b) it's also clear the stories are having a positive effect -- they've helped spur the faster deployment of the Second Armored Cavalry from England, for example. (Yes, this faster deployment would probably have happened anyway, as the Pentagon adjusted to events. But it helps that Rumsfeld now knows his reputation and career are immediately on the line if there is any disastrous troop shortfall.) ... In this sense, the sped-up news cycle is working in our favor. A kf reader recently emailed

i'm surprised you haven't hit yet on your feiler faster thing yet.  this seems like the ultimate example.  we've gone from 1963 to 1970 in about four days.  halberstam's book is probably already in galleys

There's truth to this. But I think the outcome will be different than in the '63 to '70 case, in part precisely because the news of Rumsfeld's mistake has moved so quickly -- and therefore been corrected so quickly. Thanks to "disgraceful" journalists like Tom Ricks and Vernon Loeb. ...

P.S.: It sure seems as if we don't have enough divisions on the ground in this riveting and disturbing Rick Atkinson article  about the fight for Najaf:

Occupying an urban area the size of Najaf will likely require considerable forces, both to guarantee security and to help distribute humanitarian aid.

But the Army has only two divisions in Iraq, the 101st Airborne and 3rd Infantry, supplemented by a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division, which currently is committed to supply line security. The lightly armed 2nd Cavalry Regiment is expected to arrive soon, and the 4th Infantry Division also has begun pushing into Kuwait. The 101st earlier today ordered an airstrike to destroy a canal bridge east of the Euphrates to forestall an attack in the flank by Iraqi reinforcements from Baghdad. [Emphasis added.]

That's too close to a fair fight for me. Don't we want Iraqi attacks to be suicidal? ... 2:37 A.M.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Kf gets paranoid: Once you speculate that there is a Bush administration strategy to wage (or threaten to wage) not just the Iraq war but a series of wars, some things become clearer:

1) Why no 'sacrifice'? Mark Shields-style liberals complain that we're fighting a war and Bush hasn't asked anything of us. In particular, he hasn't given up his tax cuts. I've never been wildly sympathetic to this line of criticism -- if there's nothing we can do to help the war effort, why ask us to "sacrifice" by doing something pointless? But it's true that if you wanted war-fighting to become the semi-permanent state of affairs for the next few years, you wouldn't want to associate it with difficult burdens (such as higher taxes) for large numbers of people.

2) You wouldn't even want to have the war become a big emotional effort. Too exhausting! Rather, since it might happen again and again, you'd want it to be a relatively normal event, less of a big deal, more like background noise. This might explain why the Iraq war was preceded with a couple of dignified presidential speeches rather than a big runup of fervor-whipping rallies and pronouncements. You can only do the latter so often. Maybe it even explains why the Oscars weren't cancelled -- the White House wanted the show to go on. (Otherwise we might have to cancel them next year too.) [You're getting into heavy paranoia here. Did Karl Rove call the Academy?--ed. He doesn't have their number? Anyway, you'd think they would have checked with the White House.]

3) Conversely, conservatives who make a big deal of the war and the need to keep our soldiers in the front of our minds -- I'm thinking of the controversial Clear Channel efforts -- are perversely hurting the neocon's multi-war strategy by calling for a pro-war show of concern that will be difficult to sustain for years. Similarly, if the anti-war left really wanted to throw a monkey-wrench into Rumsfeld's plans, it would make a big deal of the need to drop everything and support the troops. No Oscars. No splashy premieres. (Hmm.) No runway shows. (Who can think of fashion at a time like this when our men and women are in the field, etc.) No baseball season! Instead, many tear-inducing tributes. Call for such an outpouring of patriotic support that nobody will want to do it again! ...

P.S.: Isn't the "make life normal" strategy the same one Lyndon Johnson pursued during Vietnam, when he tried to lessen the impact of the draft by granting lots of college deferments? Yes. And life during Vietnam was shockingly normal during those years. The difference is that here -- if the only war we're going to fight is in Iraq -- there is no need for such a strategy. Nobody thinks the Iraq war is going to last years. A huge national effort for the duration of the conflict seems eminently sustainable. It's only un-sustainable for the duration of multiple conflicts. ...

P.P.S.: If the above is right, it yields a prediction: The White House will soon begin staging a series of events designed to help return American life to normalcy. Maybe the president will go to a ballgame, or go shopping. ...

P.P.P.S.: Here's an early less-leftish-than-it-looks piece on the possible administration multi-war strategy. 11:03 P.M.

Peggy Noonan notes the unmentioned upside of a non-quick Iraq war: It will show the world that the U.S. can take casualties, including perhaps slogging it out in block-by-block fighting -- effectively countering the Somalia-bred myths that seemed to gain credence among al Qaeda types. But note that this silver lining is partially (not totally) and perversely undermined by Rumsfeld's determination to rely on high-tech methods of warfare -- precision bombing, GPS-guided missiles fired from miles away, "shock and awe," etc.  To the extent that they don't require the toughness of "boots on the ground," they don't convey the desirable message of toughness. (This is one reason that, pre-Afghanistan, Bush was so contemptuous of Clinton's cruise missile strikes from afar.)  But it doesn't look as if this contradiction is going to be a problem in the current war. High-tech gear alone won't win it, Kosovo-style. Toughness will be required.. ...  11:14 P.M.

Feet-voting II: Everybody out? When we get to Baghdad, writes Harlan K. Ullman, the "choice is to lay waste or lay siege. Neither choice is a good one." But Keith Richburg's reporting from Basra suggests that a wacky alternative offered by a kf reader a couple of weeks ago might not be so wacky: establish safe havens (with food and shelter) around Baghdad, perhaps in certain Baghdad neighborhoods, to which citizens can escape. Eventually, the Saddam-held parts of the city might be depopulated enough to retake without so much worry about civilian casualties. This would take millions of MRE's and hundreds of thousands of tents. Yet Richburg reports that this is what the Brits are trying to do in Basra -- though the following key fourth graf, which appeared on the Web, seems to have now been cut from his story:

"Basically, we're trying to get as many of the civilians out as we can," said a British soldier at the checkpoint. Added another, a member of the Irish Guards regiment, "It's better everybody gets out. The sooner they get out, the sooner we can get in."

Richburg indicates that the British are failing at this -- the flow across their checkpoint goes both ways, with most of those leaving Basra going out on day trips! But apparently the coalition is at least thinking about an "everybody out" strategy. ... P.S.: What if Saddam's forces try to shoot at people leaving, as they done in the past in Basra? a) They don't seem to be doing it in Basra now. [Correction: They did it yesterday, according to the NYT] ; b) It's hard to stop people from sneaking out of a big city unless you build a Berlin Wall; c) Speaking of the Berlin Wall, if Saddam's forces do try to stop people from leaving, wouldn't that look bad, P.R. wise? Every person who left would then seem to be casting a vote against Saddam. ... Before the war, Amir Taheri predicted that Saddam would actually try to create such refugees, the better to swamp the invading forces with humanitarian baggage. He hasn't done that, perhaps recognizing that every refugee is one less human shield. ... 10:10 P.M.

Non-cakewalker: Here's what Clintonhawk Kenneth Pollack wrote in his book advocating an invasion of Iraq:

Probably the most likely scenario would be about one third of Iraq's armed forces fighting hard, limited use of tactical WMD, and some extensive combat in a few cities. In this most likely case, the campaign would probably last four to eight weeks and result in roughly 500 to 1,000 American combat deaths. [Emphasis added.]

By this standard, is the war going worse than expected? No. ...P.S.: That doesn't mean we couldn't use more troops! ... [Entering Shafer's Stage 4 already?--ed  Not quite.]  2:31 A.M. 

Baker v. Cheney: WaPo's Kessler and Pincus discern a

behind-the-scenes effort by former senior Republican government officials and party leaders to convince President Bush that the advice he has received from Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz -- a powerful triumvirate frequently at odds with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- has been wrong and even dangerous to long-term U.S. national interests. [Emphasis added]

Reactions: 1) This story would be a whole lot more significant if it involved any current senior government officials and party leaders. It doesn't appear to. The Post's headline, "Advisers Split as War Unfolds," falsely suggests that splits among current Bush advisers are being reported. (Warren Strobel's competing story does quote "senior administration officials"  making the less substantive, ass-covering but still anti-hawk point that Bush wasn't "forcefully" presented with "dissenting views.") 2) Kessler and Pincus don't exactly hide who these "former" officials are:

Some within the group of former GOP officials were advocates last summer of going to the United Nations to win broader international support for confronting Iraq rather than moving unilaterally. The president decided to try to obtain U.N. backing -- a course Powell strongly favored -- after his father's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and secretary of state, James A. Baker III, went public supporting that approach. [Subtle clues highlighted.]

3) Many of Pincus and Kessler's key points are made by an unnamed "Bush adviser." Is this person an official adviser or an unofficial adviser?  If the source is only an unofficial adviser, isn't it a bit deceptive of Pincus and Kessler not to tell this to us, letting us think it might be an member of the current Bush team? Of course, the "adviser" could be Colin Powell....4) This mystery "adviser" seems to agree with the theory, presented in the preceding item, of Rumsfeld's motivation in keeping U.S. troop levels in Iraq low [emphasis added]:

Rumsfeld wants to put the 'Powell Doctrine' into obsolescence," the Bush adviser said, referring to the military strategy outlined by Powell when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In its broadest sense, the doctrine -- which guided Pentagon thinking during the Gulf War 12 years ago -- calls for decisive force, clear goals and popular support to ensure success.

Rumsfeld wants to retire the Powell Doctrine "first because he truly believes that the new military with the new technology needs to fight different kinds of wars," the adviser said. "Secondly, he sees new kinds of foreign policy challenges, and he ultimately wants to run foreign policy, not just the Defense Department. Those foreign policy challenges require the U.S. to be able to deploy force quickly and with dramatic positive effect in multiple places at multiple times because you're battling these non-state actors."

Except that Rumsfeld seems to be threatening state actors as well as non-state actors. 5) Powell cites his Gallup poll ratings in interviews. ("The American people think I was doing a good job by, oh, 83 percent.") How pathetic is that? ...12:07 A.M.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

What Was Rumsfeld Thinking? On Thursday, a James Kitfield article( highlighted by bloggers Noah Shachtmanand Phil Carter) raised an issue that's now broken into the mainstream press-- the charge that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld actually cut in half  the number of troops the Pentagon's daring war plan called for. Even now, according to a link from Josh Marshall(who's been on fire lately, now that he's not for the war anymore!) Rumsfeld is pressuring General Tommy Franksto move on Baghdad before the 4th Infantry can redeploy from Turkey and provide additional firepower.

As I've been reading these reports, I've been scratching my head and asking myself, 'Why would Rumsfeld do this?' Presumably he doesn't like to take chances with American lives. And the reason can't be that he didn't want to "deploy people and wreck their lives and move them" --the justification given by Rumsfeld's defenders in today's WaPo. That's surely a second-order consideration when success or failure in combat is at stake. Sure, Rumsfeld wants to prove that his theories about lighter, more maneuverable high-tech forces are right and the Army's plodding theories about "boots on the ground" are wrong. But why does he want to prove these theories so badly? It can't just be intellectual vanity, or the desire to win an internal Pentagon budget battle. Again, those aren't worth risking lives for.

Then, reading Marshall's Washington Monthly piece on the military side of the grand neocon strategy, it hit me. Of course! If "regime change" in Iraq were the only goal, there'd be no reason not to provide plenty of soldiers to do the job, with an ample margin of safety. But regime change in Iraq isn't the only goal. Rather, neocons in the Bush administration see the Iraq campaign as the opening move in a series of potential power plays that might involve at least credibly threatening military action against Syria, North Korea, Iran, and maybe even Saudi Arabia. The first two threats have already, in fact, been issued (and I'm not saying there aren't good reasons to want to be able to intimidate some of these countries -- e.g. North Korea -- even while fighting an Iraq-sized war).

If we can take Iraq only with a huge, heavy force --or if the Powell Doctrine that we should use overwhelming force even if we don't need it still applies -- well, we can't very credibly claim that we can take on (or take over) all these other countries at the same time, or even in rapid succession, can we? But if we can topple a heavily-defended government in Iraq with a light, quick non-Powellesque force -- using but a small portion of our strength -- then taking on multiple targets suddenly becomes a real possibility, and a real threat to regimes in Tehran, Damascus, and Pyongyang.

That's why the slowdown in Iraq (and the coming furor over "troop dilution") is a bigger blow to the neocons than the actual military situation on the ground, which doesn't seem that bad, might indicate. We aren't very likely to 'lose' the Iraq war. But if it becomes a big, convulsive, multi-month slog -- stopping the nation's economy in the process -- we're not likely to have much stomach for the next war.

This is now so obvious to me that I can't believe it's not obvious to others -- and it is, to the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland. (Plus he's got a blind quote from a "Washington official"!)

Why would a hawk like Rumsfeld prefer less to more? My Washington source offers an astonishing explanation: "So they can do it again." The logic is simple. Rumsfeld and co know that amassing an army of quarter of a million is a once-a-decade affair: 1991 and 2003. But if they can prove that victory is possible with a lighter, more nimble force, assembled rapidly - then why not repeat the trick? "This is just the beginning," an administration official told the New York Times this week. "I would not rule out the same sequence of events for Iran and North Korea as for Iraq."

I still don't completely understand, however. Let's assume Rumsfeld wants to prove his theories for the neoconnish long-term, strategic reasons identified by Marshall and Freedland. ("Spread democracy, and carry a small, lethal, GPS-guided stick.") Why would Rumsfeld need to risk losing a war to prove them? Why couldn't the coalition have waited until the 4th Infantry division was standing by in Kuwait, so we could at least quickly throw them into the battle if they were needed -- if, say, some of Rumsfeld's assumptions about the ease of moving through the Shiite regions of Southern Iraq weren't borne out? Then, if the extra, "heavy" troops weren't needed, Rumsfeld's theories would be vindicated (and, as Brad DeLong suggests, pictures of hundreds of "extra tank crews cooking BBQ in the Kuwaiti desert" would effectively dramatize our excess warmaking capacity). If the troops were needed, the U.S. would regain momentum quickly, without the distracting wait and debate that's now taking place.

(The only answer I can think of is the if the 4th Infantry or a similar force had been ready in Kuwait, there would have been no way to prevent General Franks from working them into his initial battle plan and screwing up the grand experiment. No way, that is, except an order from the Secretary of Defense. If Rumsfeld could completely cut half the troops from the plan why couldn't he require that some of the idled troops be held in reserve?)

There's also a second question: If this is the neocon game Rumsfeld was playing, did Bush know about it? Or did he just trust Rumsfeld's assurances that there were enough troops to do the job? ... This Warren Strobel story ("Bush Reportedly Shielded from Dire Forecast") seems to shed some light, but not enough. There are always unheard "dire forecasts" that come out of the woodwork when any decision appears to have been wrong.  It seems to me the issue isn't so much whether Bush knew that Saddam's irregulars might give our troops trouble -- Bush doesn't have to know everything in every report, and he himself hasn't been one of the overoptimistic "cakewalkers." The issue is more whether Bush knew the biases that might be distorting the advice he was getting. The possible wishful self-delusion of people who talk a lot to Iraqi exiles (as discussed in the Strobel story) would be one distortion. The desire of neocons for the ability to threaten multiple simultaneous wars with small, fast-moving forces would be another distorting bias. Bush might a) share this military vision in full; b) be skeptical of it but still want to disarm Saddam and spread democracy, or c) be unaware of its full sweep and influence. ... I agree that (c) is hard to believe. ... Update: Josh Marshall sees more in the Strobel story than I do. ...

Note to Sidney Blumenthal: Don't send those emails only to Marshall. Send them to kausfiles! (I liked Bill Clinton. Really I did. Honest!) ...  

P.S.: Marshall posts an interesting blind email giving various mixed-result Baghdad scenarios, one of which ends with, yes, robust inspections! But if the Baghdad problem is really as bad as Marshall's posting suggests, it's not at all clear that more troops would solve it.. There's an analogy here to the charge that Bush diplomatic "incomptence" led to France's disapproval of the war -- as if any amount of diplomacy would have gotten Chirac to sign off on this war. You can't really be fairly accused of blowing the execution of a policy that's doomed to begin with. Similarly, you can argue Rumsfeld's to blame for starting a war that's unwinnable (which is what Marshall's emailer does) or for not sending the troops that would win it (as the McCaffrey/Clark chorus does) -- but not both. ....1:10 A.M.

It's true that, in the past, when the United States has been accused of killing innocent civilians with an errant missile, the charge has usually been proven accurate. But I'm still skeptical about the Iraqi claims that two U.S. missiles have now struck crowded marketplaces and killed dozens. Why do these errant missiles always fall in crowded marketplaces and kill dozens? Why don't they ever fall in back alleys and kill one or two people? ... P.S.: See also this Murdoch report. ... 12:11 P.M.





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