Reflections on Tom Ricks' Fiasco

The US probably spends more on it's military that the rest of the world combined. For the price, we should expect a very good miltary indeed.

I had long been of the opinion that the fiasco in Iraq was produced almost entirely by "a few bad apples": Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith. Ricks has persuaded me that the rot went a lot deeper - not that this absolves the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis of evil of any of the blame.

There is no doubt that our training and tactics produced an elite professional army superbly qualified to fight a certain kind of war - essentially the war we won in Kuwait under Bush I. Our troops and commanders had thoroughly absorbed the lessons of Brigade scale combat operation against an enemy armored force, and despite Rumsfeld's boneheaded micromanagement of the second Iraq war, those skills were very much in evidence when the Army smashed it's way into Bagdad.

Once there, however, glaring weaknesses were quick to appear. "Information superiority" has been a mantra for the military in recent years. Generals and Pentagon planners convinced themselves that marvelous new tools like the unmanned aerial systems and networked communications gave them a huge information advantage - an advantage that would largely replace older concepts like mass, firepower, and maneuver. Unfortunately, they forgot the most crucial point - information is only useful when you possess the knowledge to use it wisely. They also forgot a lot of other things, including age-old principles of strategy and command.

The commanders sent to Iraq understood how to maneuver an armored brigade or division to smash through an enemy force, but they seemingly knew nothing of strategy, and, above all, they failed to appreciate what kind of war it was they were about to become engaged in - that particular failure can be laid at the BRW doorstep, but nobody should get two or three stars without understanding these matters.

Most calamitously of all, hardly anyone in the US command structure had any clue as to how to fight an insurgency. There were a few notable exceptions: General Petraeus with the 101st airborne, some small units, and the special forces, but their good work was largely undone by the incompetence of their colleagues and superiors.

Four key failures characterize the post-conquest US effort: failure to establish a unified command structure, failure to understand the nature of Iraq, its culture and language, failure to understand the nature of the enemy, and failure to understand how to combat an insurgency. As a result, US forces adopted harsh and counterproductive tactics that actively promoted an insurgency. Meanwhile, Bremer, in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority, not only didn't talk to Sanchez, the military commander, but seemed to inhabit a Pollyannaesque lala land with no contact with reality. Sanchez, on the other hand, buried himself in minutia, but failed to articulate a common strategy for his troops.

Contrary to my previous impression, Wolfowitz, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Rice realized early that Bremer and Sanchez wereren't getting the job done, but with an election coming up, they didn't want to rock the boat and so fell back upon their one undeniable skill: lying.

Congress and the Army need to take a hard look at how the military has failed at key challenges since World War II. They also need to take a hard look at how General officers are trained and selected. It's more or less inevitable that every war will produce some incompetents like Westmoreland, Franks, Myers, and Sanchez, but absolutely unconscionable that they aren't quickly replaced.


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