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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Monday | March 31, 2003

"A Lack of Character"

Ten HUT! . . . OK, at ease. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. This is Blog Commentator Second Class Billmon reporting in with another dispatch from Officer X — our anonymous but honest military commander who has been updating us from time to time on his view of the war.

And right now his view could best be described as . . . disgusted. He has a few choice words not only for Donald Rumsfeld and his cabel of neocon aides, but for the generals who are tripping all over themselves now in their rush to blame everything on their civilian masters.

So here it is. (As usual, the bits in italics are mine.)

The big issue this week deals with the underlining problem with the military, and perhaps with the strategic political scene — a lack of character. Today, it is more important to pursue a personal agenda—promoting one’s career—at any cost to those around you and to the organization, rather than admit the need for adjustment based on changing conditions. This selfish act violates an understanding of Grand Strategy and Strategy which requires patience and an enlightened understanding of the complexities of war.  But, my purpose is not to address political issues. I only attest to understand the military issues.

OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) and the upper echelons of the Army are now in denial as to the plan, and the surprise that the Iraqis would fight as hard as they have.  Of course, the use of the words “terrorists,” “thugs” and other words to dehumanize these techniques are to sell an ignorant public that these techniques are wrong. But as always, a blunt soldier, in the 3 ID (infantry division) said it best on Thursday when asked what he thought about the Iraqis tactics in response to U.S. methods, “Well we have all the firepower, technology and airpower," he said. "I cannot blame them for fighting this way, they have to find a way to respond.” It is obvious from this statement that the soldiers and marines who are dealing with the fighting understand the nature of 4th generation warfare more than those paid the big bucks to make decisions.

I now surmise that the plan initially used was based on a personal agenda. Rumsfeld surrounds himself with people who believe in technology first, ideas second, and people last. This of course means more investment in weapons systems, which in turn benefit the contractors and those in the inner circle that seek jobs with these companies.

Let’s first start with the denials of the war plan being off track.

Anyone that understands military theory knows that when you attempt to achieve surprise and a rapid advance, you want to maintain a high tempo—keeping the enemy off balance—with an echelonment of forces.  The U.S. planners, particularly those educated in the French based “Methodical Battle” at SAMS (School of Advanced Military Studies) do not understand the tenants of controlling tempo, and the dangers of allowing the enemy to catch his breadth. Yet, this occurred with the spacing between the initial bombing phase (surgical strike on Saddam’s bunker) and the initial maneuver or road march phase. 

An armor reserve of at least a couple of brigades could have been prepared to “pass through” the 3rd ID when they “paused.”  I continue to attest this could have been the British 7th Brigade Combat Group (instead of using them to seal off an urban area—Basra—that CENTCOM contends they never wanted to enter in the first place) and maybe the 3rd ACR (armored calvary regiment). The current conditions allude to the fact that planners thought that the 3rd ID would simply road march into Baghdad as the vaunted “Shock and Awe” and pre-war hype induced the Iraqis into surrendering as soon as the war began.

The wargaming also omitted a study of culture—of Iraq and its tribal system, and the ability of Saddam to influence his people through threats of violence, so that they grew accustomed to living that way.  We saw Iraq through the lens of how we wanted to view the situation.  We could not imagine living the way Iraqis do, in our country where 65% of our population is overweight or obese, where every family has 2.5 cars despite congestion, and most everyone is in debt to someone. This aspect of culture as a facet of wargaming was apparently missing from the CENTCOM approach.  Again, this wargaming technique—dealing with the best case scenario—allowed the decision makers to solidify what they wanted to believe versus what would be reality.

We saw this on a small scale when the 3-7 Cavalry (Squadron) screened the move of the 3rd ID for 250 miles from Kuwait to Nasraj. Once the 3-7 made contact and was ambushed, it was “relieved in place” by one of the maneuver brigades of the 3rd ID. But instead of continuing to push forward, which is the obvious course of action, they were “paused.” Why?

The failure to road march unmolested into Baghdad meant that the Army was still practicing the “American Way of War” with its plan of march-to-fight versus fight-to-move (a facet of Maneuver Warfare).  This philosophy explains the 3rd ID’s march north in the desert. The precept was to race to meet the Republican Guard in a decisive battle south of Baghdad. It did not involve the notion of subduing the enemy by avoiding battles, or fighting to gain a decisive position. Thus, again, the Army’s focus was and is attritional.

We see this with the “operational pause,” the bringing up of massive air and artillery, along with Apaches, to attrite the Republican Guard, while the air force is allowed its show with the bombing of Baghdad. What the CENTCOM planners did not plan for was the stiff resistance along the supply line which tied down their secondary effort and kept the massive amount of supplies that are required for attrition warfare from getting to the front.  When this friction became too much, then risk aversion reared its ugly head. The fracture of trust is also apparent. While the generals are posturing to blame Rumsfeld, their own culture is as much to blame with their focus on attrition warfare. The first reason was risk aversion.

To shake off the perception of the plan being wrong, senior political, military leaders and “talking heads” are now using the worn out saying that “no plan survives the first contact.” As a plan is written, this is true in that minor adjustments will have to be made. But the overused statement is wrong.

A good plan is a flexible plan. What demonstrates that this plan was neither is the fact that when the President authorized an early strike to take out Saddam, the ground forces could not adjust their timeline to connect the opening strike with a ground maneuver. This created a dangerous pause that allowed the enemy to recover, or at least build evolutionary resolve for surviving—daily—war with a superpower.  A good plan, and a military that practices maneuver warfare, can go when the opportunity exists based on an ability to exploit an enemy weakness, not based inward on the ability of one’s own side to adjust.

A good plan also possesses a large reserve force with which to exploit opportunities as they arise. The reserve force can rotate with forces that have reached a culiminating point, in order to preserve the momentum.  This was not the case in regards to this “good plan.”  One may argue — as the Air Force would — that air power can provide this reserve, but air power has severe limitations, especially when it is used by itself, as a separate force.

When one is using attrition warfare, dependent on massive firepower and centrally controlled from the “Chateau” in Qatar, then one views a broad front assault as a case of everything is equal.  Additionally, when there is a lack of a reserve — replaced instead with a broad front assault — the commander must be expecting weak resistance throughout the depth of his zone of operations.  Spreading forces out, attacking along multiple axis, or employing multiple thrusts would collapse an already weak enemy by overloading his OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop.  But, I don’t want to give the plan that kind of credit. This is attrition warfare, and attrition warfare views the occupation of space, territory as the criteria of success. It is mattter of putting one’s ball in the end zone by marching down a field measured by yard by yard.

The second reason would be logistical. When everything is in working order, and conditions are perfect, as they were in Gulf War I, then the U.S. military is almost unstoppable at the tactical level of war.  But wars are not always conveniently fought in your own back yard.  With this tactical might comes the downfall of its huge dependence on logistics.  Remember the fuel shortage on the third and fourth day of the ground phase of Gulf War I?  That was on a tail end of a LOC line of communication half the distance than today’s 250-300 mile supply line.

Next. A lack of understanding of war in order to please the boss.

“We were not prepared for the type of enemy we wargamed against,” to quote the words of V Corps commander general William Wallace. This incredible statement, which according to ABC News drew angry verbal (and perhaps more) rebukes from both Tommy Franks and Rumsfeld, is extremely telling to the level of or lack of military professionalism.

“The truth hurts.”

Wallace’s statements—along with how Rumsfeld is retreating from responsibility for the war plan—tells me that the upper echelons wargamed what they wanted to see, versus what military professionals would have done, which is to plan for the worse case scenario and then figure that anything less than that would be great to have. Or as Officer Y says, “Train as if you were fighting the Waffen SS, and you can never go wrong.”

It appears that evidence pointing to all of the ongoing signs was available, but was ignored.

"The truth hurts." Don't know what I can add to that, except a deep and abiding hope that the idiots who created this nightmare someday get to feel some of that pain.


Posted March 31, 2003 06:10 PM | Comments (128)


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