Commentary Magazine


Topic: Donald Rumsfeld

I . . . Agree with Michael Scheuer

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

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Obama Imitates Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

The Israel Defense Forces did nothing of the sort in Lebanon. Most Lebanese Shias are so hostile to Israel that such a strategy might not work even if David Petraeus himself were in charge of it. Even then it would take years to produce the desired results, just as it has taken several years in Iraq. Israelis have no wish to spend years fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. International pressure would force them out if they did.

A Petraeus-like strategy wasn’t an option for Olmert. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t compare the effectiveness of the Olmert and Petraeus strategies.

The Israel Defense Forces fought a month-long asymmetrical war in Lebanon mostly with air strikes. Israel didn’t aim at civilians, but it goes without saying that Israel likewise didn’t protect civilians from violence as the Americans protect Iraqis from violence. That can’t be done from the air. Israel did nothing at all to inspire the people of South Lebanon to come around to their side. Israelis, from the point of view of South Lebanese, are faceless enemies that devastated their towns from the heavens.

Many Hezbollah fighters were killed in the targeted strikes. Bunkers and weapons caches were destroyed. Safe houses proved to be anything but. Civilians as well as combatants were heavily punished.

At the end of the day, though, none of it mattered. Hezbollah remains standing. Their weapons stocks have been replenished by Iran through Syria. Civilian supporters of Nasrallah’s militia are more ferociously anti-Israel than ever. United Nations troops who deployed to the area will inadvertently function as “human shields” for Hezbollah if war breaks out again.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been vanquished almost everywhere. Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia declared a unilateral ceasefire. Many previously anti-American enemies have flipped to our side. Overall violence has been reduced by almost 90 percent. 75 percent of Baghdad is now secure.

Responsible political leaders and military commanders would be well-advised to analyze both approaches to assymetrical warfare and counterinsurgency, and to hew as closely as possible to the Petraeus model. Olmert’s is broken.

Senator Barack Obama, though, prefers the Olmert model whether he thinks of it that way or not. (Actually, I’m sure he doesn’t think of it as Olmert’s model, though basically that’s what it is.)

“Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq,” says a statement on the senator’s Web site. “He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.” [Emphasis added.]

Targeted strikes do kill some terrorists (and often, tragically, civilians, as well). But they have little or no effect overall in counterinsurgent urban warfare. Perhaps the senator or his advisors should read the new counterinsurgency manual – the one that has proven effective – and compare its strategy to targeted strikes which have proven to fail.

Here is just one critical excerpt:

Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be

1-149. Ultimate success in COIN [Counter-insurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained… . These practices ensure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5”

This strategy was not available to Olmert and the Israel Defense Forces. It will be available to Obama and the United States military should he choose to excercise it.

Obama is competing in a Democratic primary race. Perhaps if he is elected commander in chief and no longer needs to appease the left-wing of his party he will reverse himself and keep Petraeus right where he is. Reality has a way of imposing itself on presidents.

He would be wise to carefully consider what works and what doesn’t, not only for the sakes of the United States and Iraq, but also for purely calculating and self-interested reasons. Obama is a likeable guy. He could, in theory, be a popular president. Olmert, though, was also popular once. He probably never will be again.

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Is President Bush the Real Author of the Iran NIE?

I recently had a chance to sit down over coffee with Donald Rumsfeld, now in private life, to discuss intelligence issues and some other related subjects. In the course of our conversation (as I recalled this morning on the anniversary of December 7, 1941), Rumsfeld brought up the subject of Roberta Wohlstetter’s magisterial book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. He especially pointed me to the book’s introduction by Thomas Schelling, which opens up a short and very brilliant discussion of the nature of surprise, a copy of which Rumsfeld had on hand to give me.  

“Surprise, when it happens to a government,” wrote Schelling,

is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that, like a string of pearls too precious to wear, is too sensitive to give to those who need it. It includes the alarm that fails to work, but also the unalert watchman, but also the one who knows he’ll be chewed out by his superior if he gets higher authority out of bed. It includes the contingencies that occur to no one, but also those that everyone assumes somebody else is taking care of. It includes straightforward procrastination, but also decisions protracted by internal disagreement. It includes, in addition, the inability of individual human beings to rise to the occasion until they are sure it is the occasion — which is usually too late. (Unlike movies, real life provides no musical background to tip us off to the climax.) Finally, as at Pearl Harbor, surprise may include some measure of genuine novelty introduced by the enemy, and possibly some sheer bad luck.

This text, and presumably the attack on Pearl Harbor itself — Rumsfeld was nine years old when it occurred — seems to have had a profound influence on the former Secretary of Defense. When he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearings on the still-innocent date of January 11, 2001, he was asked a simple but highly pertinent question by Senator Pat Roberts: “What’s the one big thing that keeps you up at night?”

“Intelligence,” is what Rumsfeld replied without missing a beat. And the “importance of considerably improving our intelligence capabilities so that we know more about what people think and how they behave.”

Alas, improving our intelligence capabilities is one thing President Bush has conspicuously failed to do. Our country fell victim to a first intelligence failure on his watch on September 11, 2001, in an attack on our homeland that in both casualties and costs was more devastating than the Japanese surprise attack of 1941. Our country was then led into a war in part on the basis of an erroneous intelligence estimate about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Since September 11 we have poured immense resources into improving intelligence and embarked on numerous reforms, including both a 100-day and a 500-day plan to “integrate” the intelligence community’s diverse components. But as we see from the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iran — shoddily argued on its face, with the facts it puts forward directly contradicting its own starkly stated finding that the Iranian nuclear-weapons program came to a halt in 2003 — the fundamental problem of our intelligence community remains intractably in place. Some very low-quality people, who have few inhibitions about smuggling their politics into intelligence findings, continue to occupy positions of high responsibility in the bureaucracy.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs? We can blame some of this on Bush’s first CIA director, George Tenet. And we can also point a finger at Tenet’s successor, the far less canny but equally hapless Porter Goss, who was forced out of the job within half a year. And we can question many of the decisions taken by John Negroponte and Mike McConnell, the two directors, successively, of the new post of Director of National Intelligence.

But who appointed all these people? Who kept the Clinton holdover George Tenet in office after September 11 and then, even after the Iraq-WMD “slam-dunk” fiasco, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor? Who appointed Porter Goss to run the CIA and failed to back him up when he tried to clean house? Who acquiesced in the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is emerging as a clumsy and duplicative bureaucratic behemoth, far more focused on drawing and redrawing the organizational charts of the intelligence community than on getting the intelligence itself straight, as the latest NIE demonstrates?

Looking back over the past seven years, I believe it is increasingly apparent that President Bush’s failure to reform the intelligence community — to manage even to gain control of it — is emerging as the largest blot on his presidency. Accused of politicizing the intelligence community, the President has manifestly failed to depoliticize it, with ramifications now spreading across the globe, including the prospect of Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons while the U.S. turns a blind eye. 

“Neglect of responsibility,” wrote Schelling, is one of the factors that lead governments to be taken by surprise. Such neglect already cost us dearly on September 11, 2001. We are now fully into the age of weapons of mass destruction, and it may cost us far more the next time around.

I recently had a chance to sit down over coffee with Donald Rumsfeld, now in private life, to discuss intelligence issues and some other related subjects. In the course of our conversation (as I recalled this morning on the anniversary of December 7, 1941), Rumsfeld brought up the subject of Roberta Wohlstetter’s magisterial book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. He especially pointed me to the book’s introduction by Thomas Schelling, which opens up a short and very brilliant discussion of the nature of surprise, a copy of which Rumsfeld had on hand to give me.  

“Surprise, when it happens to a government,” wrote Schelling,

is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that, like a string of pearls too precious to wear, is too sensitive to give to those who need it. It includes the alarm that fails to work, but also the unalert watchman, but also the one who knows he’ll be chewed out by his superior if he gets higher authority out of bed. It includes the contingencies that occur to no one, but also those that everyone assumes somebody else is taking care of. It includes straightforward procrastination, but also decisions protracted by internal disagreement. It includes, in addition, the inability of individual human beings to rise to the occasion until they are sure it is the occasion — which is usually too late. (Unlike movies, real life provides no musical background to tip us off to the climax.) Finally, as at Pearl Harbor, surprise may include some measure of genuine novelty introduced by the enemy, and possibly some sheer bad luck.

This text, and presumably the attack on Pearl Harbor itself — Rumsfeld was nine years old when it occurred — seems to have had a profound influence on the former Secretary of Defense. When he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearings on the still-innocent date of January 11, 2001, he was asked a simple but highly pertinent question by Senator Pat Roberts: “What’s the one big thing that keeps you up at night?”

“Intelligence,” is what Rumsfeld replied without missing a beat. And the “importance of considerably improving our intelligence capabilities so that we know more about what people think and how they behave.”

Alas, improving our intelligence capabilities is one thing President Bush has conspicuously failed to do. Our country fell victim to a first intelligence failure on his watch on September 11, 2001, in an attack on our homeland that in both casualties and costs was more devastating than the Japanese surprise attack of 1941. Our country was then led into a war in part on the basis of an erroneous intelligence estimate about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Since September 11 we have poured immense resources into improving intelligence and embarked on numerous reforms, including both a 100-day and a 500-day plan to “integrate” the intelligence community’s diverse components. But as we see from the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iran — shoddily argued on its face, with the facts it puts forward directly contradicting its own starkly stated finding that the Iranian nuclear-weapons program came to a halt in 2003 — the fundamental problem of our intelligence community remains intractably in place. Some very low-quality people, who have few inhibitions about smuggling their politics into intelligence findings, continue to occupy positions of high responsibility in the bureaucracy.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs? We can blame some of this on Bush’s first CIA director, George Tenet. And we can also point a finger at Tenet’s successor, the far less canny but equally hapless Porter Goss, who was forced out of the job within half a year. And we can question many of the decisions taken by John Negroponte and Mike McConnell, the two directors, successively, of the new post of Director of National Intelligence.

But who appointed all these people? Who kept the Clinton holdover George Tenet in office after September 11 and then, even after the Iraq-WMD “slam-dunk” fiasco, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor? Who appointed Porter Goss to run the CIA and failed to back him up when he tried to clean house? Who acquiesced in the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is emerging as a clumsy and duplicative bureaucratic behemoth, far more focused on drawing and redrawing the organizational charts of the intelligence community than on getting the intelligence itself straight, as the latest NIE demonstrates?

Looking back over the past seven years, I believe it is increasingly apparent that President Bush’s failure to reform the intelligence community — to manage even to gain control of it — is emerging as the largest blot on his presidency. Accused of politicizing the intelligence community, the President has manifestly failed to depoliticize it, with ramifications now spreading across the globe, including the prospect of Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons while the U.S. turns a blind eye. 

“Neglect of responsibility,” wrote Schelling, is one of the factors that lead governments to be taken by surprise. Such neglect already cost us dearly on September 11, 2001. We are now fully into the age of weapons of mass destruction, and it may cost us far more the next time around.

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Hillary Clinton Prays To Be Thin

Like death and taxes, there are certain things in life we’ve come to anticipate. Another item to add to the list: vapid front-page articles by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (a wunderkind who was once Howell Raines’s pick to lead the Times‘s Arts & Leisure section). Today’s edition: What the candidates eat!

Along with images of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rudy Giuliani gorging on trans fats, we can savor other nuggets about the candidates’ eating and health habits. For example, did you know Hillary Clinton “said she prayed to God to help her lose weight”? Or that Mitt Romney eats the same thing every day, an ascetic diet that includes homemade granola and a whole lot of chicken? Or that Mike Huckabee “sticks largely to salads”?

Among the many ways filmmaker Michael Moore undermines his credibility is when he uses an image of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, running his hand through his hair to prove a point—as though Mr. Rumsfeld’s hair were emblematic of the evil-doings of the Bush administration. I wonder what epiphany Ms. Kantor expects us to have by exposing Mr. Romney’s weight or Mr. Giuliani’s predilection for pizza in Iowa. Or is this morsel, like the others Ms. Kantor has fed us in the past, just so many empty calories?

Like death and taxes, there are certain things in life we’ve come to anticipate. Another item to add to the list: vapid front-page articles by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (a wunderkind who was once Howell Raines’s pick to lead the Times‘s Arts & Leisure section). Today’s edition: What the candidates eat!

Along with images of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rudy Giuliani gorging on trans fats, we can savor other nuggets about the candidates’ eating and health habits. For example, did you know Hillary Clinton “said she prayed to God to help her lose weight”? Or that Mitt Romney eats the same thing every day, an ascetic diet that includes homemade granola and a whole lot of chicken? Or that Mike Huckabee “sticks largely to salads”?

Among the many ways filmmaker Michael Moore undermines his credibility is when he uses an image of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, running his hand through his hair to prove a point—as though Mr. Rumsfeld’s hair were emblematic of the evil-doings of the Bush administration. I wonder what epiphany Ms. Kantor expects us to have by exposing Mr. Romney’s weight or Mr. Giuliani’s predilection for pizza in Iowa. Or is this morsel, like the others Ms. Kantor has fed us in the past, just so many empty calories?

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Our Bases in Europe

To his credit, Bob Gates continues to unravel some of the misguided decisions made by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. His latest decision, as noted in this article, is to stop the drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe.

Rumsfeld was determined to close down or downsize major U.S. bases on the continent that had been in existence for decades, principally in Italy and Germany. He had already reduced the U.S. troop presence to 43,000 from 62,000 two years ago, and he planned further cuts down to 24,000 by the end of next year. Gates has now stopped the exodus, and pledges to maintain U.S. troops at their current level in Europe. This comes on top of his welcome decisions to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps and to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq—both decisions that Rumsfeld should have made years ago.

The impetus for Rumsfeld’s base realignment plan was seemingly logical—the cold war was over and U.S. troops were no longer needed to defend Germany from the Red Army. But in practice what Rumsfeld envisioned didn’t make so much sense—moving most of the troops back to the U.S., and then having small numbers of them rotate for brief periods through new “lily pad” bases established in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and elsewhere, which lacked longterm housing for our forces.

The idea of creating new bases on the new frontiers of freedom makes sense. But moving the bulk of the U.S. troops to permanent bases in “CONUS” (the continental United States) made less sense. The transition would have been a costly one, with new quarters having to be built for the troops and the government having to pick up vast moving costs.

Other costs would have been geopolitical rather than financial: the shift called into question the U.S. commitment to Europe. It also put U.S. forces farther away from future trouble spots in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. (Germany, for all its disagreements with U.S. policy decisions, has never hindered the efficient movement by rail, sea, and air of U.S. troops from its soil to battlefields in the Middle East.)

Finally, there is a cultural cost involved: generations of American soldiers and their families generally have enjoyed living for a few years in Europe, and this has fostered closer trans-Atlantic cultural links. It is hard to see why it is good either for Europeans or Americans to have more troops consolidated on giant, dusty bases in the middle of Texas or other uncongenial spots back home.

To his credit, Bob Gates continues to unravel some of the misguided decisions made by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. His latest decision, as noted in this article, is to stop the drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe.

Rumsfeld was determined to close down or downsize major U.S. bases on the continent that had been in existence for decades, principally in Italy and Germany. He had already reduced the U.S. troop presence to 43,000 from 62,000 two years ago, and he planned further cuts down to 24,000 by the end of next year. Gates has now stopped the exodus, and pledges to maintain U.S. troops at their current level in Europe. This comes on top of his welcome decisions to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps and to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq—both decisions that Rumsfeld should have made years ago.

The impetus for Rumsfeld’s base realignment plan was seemingly logical—the cold war was over and U.S. troops were no longer needed to defend Germany from the Red Army. But in practice what Rumsfeld envisioned didn’t make so much sense—moving most of the troops back to the U.S., and then having small numbers of them rotate for brief periods through new “lily pad” bases established in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and elsewhere, which lacked longterm housing for our forces.

The idea of creating new bases on the new frontiers of freedom makes sense. But moving the bulk of the U.S. troops to permanent bases in “CONUS” (the continental United States) made less sense. The transition would have been a costly one, with new quarters having to be built for the troops and the government having to pick up vast moving costs.

Other costs would have been geopolitical rather than financial: the shift called into question the U.S. commitment to Europe. It also put U.S. forces farther away from future trouble spots in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. (Germany, for all its disagreements with U.S. policy decisions, has never hindered the efficient movement by rail, sea, and air of U.S. troops from its soil to battlefields in the Middle East.)

Finally, there is a cultural cost involved: generations of American soldiers and their families generally have enjoyed living for a few years in Europe, and this has fostered closer trans-Atlantic cultural links. It is hard to see why it is good either for Europeans or Americans to have more troops consolidated on giant, dusty bases in the middle of Texas or other uncongenial spots back home.

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With an Improving Iraq, Who Gains Politically?

Two powerful newspaper columns today — one by Ralph Peters and the other by Rich Lowry — make the point that in these days, when almost all the news from Iraq is positive and hopeful, the war has practically vanished from the front pages.

Peters, who was writing in tones of deep pessimism about the Iraq effort as early as summer 2003 and with passionate anger at the policies of the Rumsfeld Pentagon until the day Donald Rumsfeld departed at the end of 2006 — writes: “The situation has changed so unmistakably and so swiftly that we should be reading proud headlines daily. Where are they? Is it really so painful for all those war-porno journos to accept that our military — and the Iraqis — may have turned the situation around? Shouldn’t we read and see and hear a bit of praise for today’s soldiers and the progress they’re making?”

This is Lowry: “In Israel, there’s a law that bans reporting on sensitive national-security operations; you could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. has a similar ban on any encouraging news from the hottest battlefront in the war on terror. The United States might be the only country in world history that reverse-propagandizes itself, magnifying its setbacks and ignoring its successes so that nothing can disturb what Sen. Joe Lieberman calls the ‘narrative of defeat.'”

Still, no matter how invested many people are in the “narrative of defeat,” that narrative cannot be sustained if the seeds of progress planted in Iraq over the past four months flourish and begin to bear exactly the kind of fruit everyone has been waiting for.

Which raises another interesting question: What will be the political effect of a growing national sense that there will be a positive outcome to our tormented efforts in Iraq, especially since the timing suggests the change (if it is real and lasting) will become clear to Americans some time during the coming election year?

On the one hand, it is unalloyedly good news for Republicans. If things in Iraq look bad in the fall of 2008, it will be almost impossible for a Republican to win. A change for the better is a necessary precondition for a possible Republican victory.

On the other hand, maybe the politician who benefits the most would be: Hillary Clinton. Her have-it-all-ways position on the war in Iraq — she voted for it, she now thinks it was a mistake, Bush mishandled it, she won’t pick a date certain to end it, she’s against it but she can’t say we won’t still have troops there by the end of a putative Clinton presidency — may be reasonably close to the general American mood about Iraq on Election Day 2008.

In this scenario, the thorniest foreign-policy issue in the 2008 election will not be Iraq, but Iran.

Two powerful newspaper columns today — one by Ralph Peters and the other by Rich Lowry — make the point that in these days, when almost all the news from Iraq is positive and hopeful, the war has practically vanished from the front pages.

Peters, who was writing in tones of deep pessimism about the Iraq effort as early as summer 2003 and with passionate anger at the policies of the Rumsfeld Pentagon until the day Donald Rumsfeld departed at the end of 2006 — writes: “The situation has changed so unmistakably and so swiftly that we should be reading proud headlines daily. Where are they? Is it really so painful for all those war-porno journos to accept that our military — and the Iraqis — may have turned the situation around? Shouldn’t we read and see and hear a bit of praise for today’s soldiers and the progress they’re making?”

This is Lowry: “In Israel, there’s a law that bans reporting on sensitive national-security operations; you could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. has a similar ban on any encouraging news from the hottest battlefront in the war on terror. The United States might be the only country in world history that reverse-propagandizes itself, magnifying its setbacks and ignoring its successes so that nothing can disturb what Sen. Joe Lieberman calls the ‘narrative of defeat.'”

Still, no matter how invested many people are in the “narrative of defeat,” that narrative cannot be sustained if the seeds of progress planted in Iraq over the past four months flourish and begin to bear exactly the kind of fruit everyone has been waiting for.

Which raises another interesting question: What will be the political effect of a growing national sense that there will be a positive outcome to our tormented efforts in Iraq, especially since the timing suggests the change (if it is real and lasting) will become clear to Americans some time during the coming election year?

On the one hand, it is unalloyedly good news for Republicans. If things in Iraq look bad in the fall of 2008, it will be almost impossible for a Republican to win. A change for the better is a necessary precondition for a possible Republican victory.

On the other hand, maybe the politician who benefits the most would be: Hillary Clinton. Her have-it-all-ways position on the war in Iraq — she voted for it, she now thinks it was a mistake, Bush mishandled it, she won’t pick a date certain to end it, she’s against it but she can’t say we won’t still have troops there by the end of a putative Clinton presidency — may be reasonably close to the general American mood about Iraq on Election Day 2008.

In this scenario, the thorniest foreign-policy issue in the 2008 election will not be Iraq, but Iran.

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Hotline to Nobody

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now in Seoul, after completing two days of meetings in Beijing during the first stop of a three-nation tour (he also will be visiting Japan before heading home). In China, Gates traded compliments with Chinese leaders, issued correct statements on the need for dialogue, and toured the Forbidden City, the imperial palace at the north end of Tiananmen Square. It was Gates’s first trip to the country since succeeding Donald Rumsfeld as Pentagon chief, and senior U.S. officials marked the event by reporting modest progress on a range of secondary issues. The Chinese, for example, promised to provide more cooperation on accounting for American prisoners taken during the Korean War.

Both sides also announced the planned establishment of a military hotline between Washington and Beijing “at an early date.” The initiative was announced during Hu Jintao’s summit in Washington last April and has been the subject of periodic re-announcements ever since, such as one this June when Gates was in Singapore. Despite the apparent signs of progress, the Chinese have been dragging their feet over technical issues. The United States has sought to establish such a hotline for more than five years. Yet the critical issue now is not how such a link will be established. It is whether the Chinese wish to engage the United States in substantive discussions at all—or whether they wish merely to sip tea and waste our time.

There is reason to believe that when we call, no one will answer the phone. (There was, remember, nobody taking Washington’s calls during the Hainan reconnaissance plane incident in April 2001.) The issue is as much about the ability of the Chinese government to make decisions in the middle of crisis as it is about the state of relations between the two countries.

But there’s a more fundamental reason why the phone may not be of much use during the next confrontation. At the same time that Gates was talking with Chinese officials this week, Premier Wen Jiabao was in Moscow talking with President Vladimir Putin about their countries’ “friendship for generations.” While the American defense secretary was arguing about the technicalities of telecommunications lines, Moscow and Beijing were putting together the alliance that will challenge the international community for a lifetime. It seems they have been communicating just fine without a hotline.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now in Seoul, after completing two days of meetings in Beijing during the first stop of a three-nation tour (he also will be visiting Japan before heading home). In China, Gates traded compliments with Chinese leaders, issued correct statements on the need for dialogue, and toured the Forbidden City, the imperial palace at the north end of Tiananmen Square. It was Gates’s first trip to the country since succeeding Donald Rumsfeld as Pentagon chief, and senior U.S. officials marked the event by reporting modest progress on a range of secondary issues. The Chinese, for example, promised to provide more cooperation on accounting for American prisoners taken during the Korean War.

Both sides also announced the planned establishment of a military hotline between Washington and Beijing “at an early date.” The initiative was announced during Hu Jintao’s summit in Washington last April and has been the subject of periodic re-announcements ever since, such as one this June when Gates was in Singapore. Despite the apparent signs of progress, the Chinese have been dragging their feet over technical issues. The United States has sought to establish such a hotline for more than five years. Yet the critical issue now is not how such a link will be established. It is whether the Chinese wish to engage the United States in substantive discussions at all—or whether they wish merely to sip tea and waste our time.

There is reason to believe that when we call, no one will answer the phone. (There was, remember, nobody taking Washington’s calls during the Hainan reconnaissance plane incident in April 2001.) The issue is as much about the ability of the Chinese government to make decisions in the middle of crisis as it is about the state of relations between the two countries.

But there’s a more fundamental reason why the phone may not be of much use during the next confrontation. At the same time that Gates was talking with Chinese officials this week, Premier Wen Jiabao was in Moscow talking with President Vladimir Putin about their countries’ “friendship for generations.” While the American defense secretary was arguing about the technicalities of telecommunications lines, Moscow and Beijing were putting together the alliance that will challenge the international community for a lifetime. It seems they have been communicating just fine without a hotline.

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The Clintonites’ Silver Bullet

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both Clinton-era staffers on the National Security Council, have a short, sharp, sensible op-ed in the New York Times today. They make a good point—that the CIA should be more involved in the special-operations business—but they also self-servingly distort history along the way.

Benjamin and Simon point to the chronic difficulties the U.S. military has created for itself in mounting commando raids against terrorist targets. The occasion for their piece is the revelations now coming out about an aborted 2005 operation against a terrorist haven in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader.

The Pentagon, they note, through its bureaucratic processes, “added large numbers of troops to conduct additional intelligence, force protection, communications and extraction work. At that point, as one senior intelligence official told [the Times], ‘The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan,’ and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug.”

This episode, Benjamin and Simon tell us, is reminiscent of trouble faced by the Clinton administration. “The Clinton White House repeatedly requested options involving ground forces that could hunt and destroy terrorists in Afghanistan.” But repeatedly, they write, “senior military officials declared such a mission ‘would be Desert One,’ referring to the disastrous 1980 effort to free American hostages in Iran. When the Pentagon finally delivered a plan, the deployment envisioned would have been sufficient to take and hold Kabul but not to surprise and pin down a handful of terrorists.”

This is true. But it is also false. It provides only half the picture. For, even as the Clinton administration was contemplating military action against al-Qaeda safe havens, it was also planning much narrower commando operations, conceived and planned by the CIA, to seize Osama bin Laden—precisely the kind of raid Benjamin and Simon are recommending now.

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Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both Clinton-era staffers on the National Security Council, have a short, sharp, sensible op-ed in the New York Times today. They make a good point—that the CIA should be more involved in the special-operations business—but they also self-servingly distort history along the way.

Benjamin and Simon point to the chronic difficulties the U.S. military has created for itself in mounting commando raids against terrorist targets. The occasion for their piece is the revelations now coming out about an aborted 2005 operation against a terrorist haven in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader.

The Pentagon, they note, through its bureaucratic processes, “added large numbers of troops to conduct additional intelligence, force protection, communications and extraction work. At that point, as one senior intelligence official told [the Times], ‘The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan,’ and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug.”

This episode, Benjamin and Simon tell us, is reminiscent of trouble faced by the Clinton administration. “The Clinton White House repeatedly requested options involving ground forces that could hunt and destroy terrorists in Afghanistan.” But repeatedly, they write, “senior military officials declared such a mission ‘would be Desert One,’ referring to the disastrous 1980 effort to free American hostages in Iran. When the Pentagon finally delivered a plan, the deployment envisioned would have been sufficient to take and hold Kabul but not to surprise and pin down a handful of terrorists.”

This is true. But it is also false. It provides only half the picture. For, even as the Clinton administration was contemplating military action against al-Qaeda safe havens, it was also planning much narrower commando operations, conceived and planned by the CIA, to seize Osama bin Laden—precisely the kind of raid Benjamin and Simon are recommending now.

But what happened? It was not the military which screwed up the operation by beefing up the forces until it turned into a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. It was the Clinton administration itself which called off the CIA action, out of fear that bin Laden would be killed—in violation of an executive order banning assassinations.

The 9/11 Commission Report contains a wealth of detail on this episode, including a remarkable kabuki dance of finger-pointing, with CIA Director George Tenet accepting most of the blame while implicitly suggesting that Sandy Berger, the National Security Council (NSC) chairman, should have been more vigorous in pressing ahead:

Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the operation. [Richard] Clarke [NSC Counterterrorism] told us that the CSG [an interagency Counterterrorism Security Group] saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as “half-assed” and predicted that the principals would not approve it. “Jeff ” [the CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief] thought the decision had been made at the cabinet level. [James] Pavitt [assistant head of the CIA Directorate of Operations] thought that it was [Sandy] Berger’s doing, though perhaps on Tenet’s advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to “turn off” the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger’s recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.

Yes, it would be a good idea to make greater use of the CIA in the realm of special operations. But those advancing this recommendation would have done well to note that when they and the administration they served tried to fire this silver bullet themselves, they had a lot of trouble loading it and in the end could not bring themselves to squeeze the trigger.

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“The Road Home”

I confess that I don’t usually read the editorials in the New York Times. They tend to be full of high-minded imprecations to observe liberal principles. They seldom contain anything new or interesting. Sunday’s editorial, “The Road Home,” was different. It was, depending on your view, either more admirable or more appalling than what the Times and other critics of the Iraq war usually say.

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I confess that I don’t usually read the editorials in the New York Times. They tend to be full of high-minded imprecations to observe liberal principles. They seldom contain anything new or interesting. Sunday’s editorial, “The Road Home,” was different. It was, depending on your view, either more admirable or more appalling than what the Times and other critics of the Iraq war usually say.

The usual line is that we should get out of Iraq ASAP, but don’t worry, everything will be OK; without American interference, the Iraqis will get their act together and live happily ever after. I exaggerate slightly, but not much. The Times editorialists dispose of this fantasy:

It is possible, we suppose, that announcing a firm withdrawal date might finally focus Iraq’s political leaders and neighboring governments on reality. Ideally, it could spur Iraqi politicians to take the steps toward national reconciliation that they have endlessly discussed but refused to act on.

But it is foolish to count on that, as some Democratic proponents of withdrawal have done.

The Times doesn’t try to put lipstick on this pig. It is brutally candid in acknowledging the likely result of an American bug-out:

Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.

Kudos to the Times for its honesty. But what makes this editorial appalling is that, even after acknowledging the worst, the Times still calls for a pell-mell scramble to leave, suggesting that almost all U.S. forces could be out of Iraq in as little as six months. All that would be left would be aircraft and Special Forces positioned around Iraq proper, perhaps in the Kurdish region or in Kuwait or Qatar “to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq.”

It is hard to know why the editorial board thinks this option would work, given the Times’s own scoop, published the very same day that the editorial appeared, detailing how, in 2005, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug on a planned raid to capture senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas. If even Rumsfeld, who was hardly known for observing diplomatic niceties, feared to make such a bold move, what are the odds that in the future, decision makers will approve a steady flow of raids into a hostile Iraq? Not very great. And as I have previously pointed out on Contentions, even if such raids were approved, a few Special Forces operatives could not prevent al Qaeda from consolidating its grip on major portions of the country, as it did recently in Baqubah.

So why does the Times favor a withdrawal in spite of the serious consequences? The editorial argues:

The political leaders Washington has backed are incapable of putting national interests ahead of sectarian score settling. The security forces Washington has trained behave more like partisan militias. Additional military forces poured into the Baghdad region have failed to change anything.

This is the counsel of despair, and it is at odds with the situation on the ground. What we are actually seeing is that the political situation is improving at the grassroots level, with tribal leaders increasingly allying themselves with the coalition and the government of Iraq. Iraqi troops are also fighting much better, and though sectarian infiltration remains a problem (especially in the National Police), an increasing number of Iraqi army units are displaying conspicuous bravery and competence. And it’s simply wrong to say that military forces in Baghdad haven’t changed anything. Sectarian murders in the capital are 50 percent below the pre-surge level. The surge has the potential to change the situation on the ground even more positively if General David Petraeus is given a chance to implement his plans—a chance that the Times would like to deny him. And damn the consequences.

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Command Performance

The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

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The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

Suspicious souls within the Army are starting to wonder if there is a conspiracy against the men and women in green, perhaps a holdover from the tenure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was intensely suspicious of the Army for not being in synch with his high-tech (and highly misguided) plans to “transform” the armed forces. Or perhaps, some self-flagellating Army officers speculate, this is a sign that their service isn’t doing a good job of producing competent senior leaders.

Both explanations are plausible. But it’s also possible that there may be less here than meets the eye.

Consider that the Army at the moment holds the two most important combat commands in the entire U.S. armed forces. General David Petraeus is the senior commander in Iraq, while General Dan McNeill is the senior commander in Afghanistan. Neither position is as publicly prestigious as that of combatant commander. But those jobs are of much greater actual significance at the moment than running, say, Southern Command (with responsibility for Latin America). They are probably even more significant than running Central Command—which may be why Defense Secretary Robert Gates felt free to appoint an admiral to that position, knowing that our land wars would still be run by army four-stars.

These trends also tend to go in cycles. Not long ago the Army was grousing not about Navy admirals but about Marine Corps generals, said to be “overrepresented” in senior Army ranks. Marines, for their part, were upset that two Army generals—Tommy Franks and John Abizaid—had taken successive charge of Centcom. Many wondered why a leatherneck (such as the eminently qualified Lieutenant General Jim Mattis) wasn’t picked.

My sense—and it’s only a sense, since I have no inside information—is that the top jobs are filled nowadays based more on personal qualifications than on service politics. It’s who you know and what your reputation is that count, rather than which uniform you wear. And since the top jobs are so political, it’s often the most astute political infighter, rather than the most brilliant and inspired leader, who gets the appointment.

But the recent appointments do seem to reflect a decline in intra-service parochialism—precisely what the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act was supposed to accomplish. So the latest appointments should not occasion too much grinding of teeth, even in the Army. After all, before long the other services may well be complaining about too many green-suiters at the top.

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A Crisis in Generalship

In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

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In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

Yingling writes:

Despite engaging in numerous stability operations throughout the 1990’s, the armed forces did little to bolster their capabilities for civic reconstruction and security-force development. Procurement priorities during the 1990’s followed the cold-war model, with significant funding devoted to new fighter aircraft and artillery systems. The most commonly used tactical scenarios in both schools and training centers replicated high-intensity interstate conflict. At the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. is fighting brutal, adaptive insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while our armed forces have spent the preceding decade having done little to prepare for such conflicts.

Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America’s generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq’s population. . . . Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. . . . After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America’s generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. . . . After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. . . . The intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship.

Yingling goes on to suggest that the solution lies in more congressional oversight of the promotion and retention of generals. Senior officers who fail at their assignments could even be retired at a reduced rank.

Whether involving the barons of Capitol Hill more closely will resolve this crisis is, of course, debatable. But there is no disputing Yingling’s cri de coeur: “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

That has to change. And the most effective means of change is not more congressional micromanagement. It is a President who takes his responsibilities as commander-in-chief as seriously as Lincoln or FDR did. Although President Bush reportedly read Eliot Cohen’s book on the subject—Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime—he has not so far been nearly as vigorous as our most successful wartime leaders in holding military leaders accountable for their successes and failures. And, as Yingling notes, we’re paying the price in Iraq for that lack of oversight. Left to their own devices, generals often get it wrong.

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Gates in Munich

I haven’t formed much of an opinion, one way or the other, of our new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. But I came away favorably impressed with his performance Sunday at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security, which I attended as part of the American delegation.

When Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of the Pentagon, his appearances at this yearly confab of trans-Atlantic movers and shakers inevitably sparked fireworks—most famously in 2003 when he made the case for war with Iraq and Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister*, broke into English to reply, “Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Rumsfeld grated on European sensibilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but too often his rhetorical style could distract from the serious issues of the day. The best-known example was his 2003 comment dismissing the views of France and Germany as those of “Old Europe”—as opposed to the “New Europe” further to the east, which was more pro-American. Fairly or not, that sent the representatives of “Old Europe” through the roof.

Gates marked a break with his predecessor in his speech on Sunday, when he dismissed a long litany of “characterizations” that “belong in the past:” “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’” The crowd ate it up.

Gates’s deft touch was also on display when he refused to rise to the bait offered by the star speaker of the conference, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president—I am tempted to be more accurate and call him the Russian dictator—gave a jarringly bellicose address in which he railed against the United States for supposedly “illegal” and “unilateral” actions that were plunging the world into the “abyss of perpetual conflict.” Instead of matching Putin’s angry rhetoric with some of his own, Gates simply said, “As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.”

Thus Gates avoided making news—a trick Rumsfeld never mastered—and kept the focus where it belonged, on Putin’s remarks, which alarmed many of the Europeans in the room. The Secretary of Defense also showed an unexpected flair for humor, joking, for example, about how he had given up his old habit of “blunt speaking” because as president of Texas A&M he had been sent to “reeducation camp” in order to learn how to deal with the faculty.

It was a good start. Of course, in the long run, Gates will be judged not by how well he deals with conference delegates but by how well he deals with America’s enemies. And, unfortunately, winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will prove a lot harder than winning over the crowd in Munich’s Bayerischer Hof hotel.

* The post originally described Fischer as defense minister.

I haven’t formed much of an opinion, one way or the other, of our new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. But I came away favorably impressed with his performance Sunday at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security, which I attended as part of the American delegation.

When Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of the Pentagon, his appearances at this yearly confab of trans-Atlantic movers and shakers inevitably sparked fireworks—most famously in 2003 when he made the case for war with Iraq and Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister*, broke into English to reply, “Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Rumsfeld grated on European sensibilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but too often his rhetorical style could distract from the serious issues of the day. The best-known example was his 2003 comment dismissing the views of France and Germany as those of “Old Europe”—as opposed to the “New Europe” further to the east, which was more pro-American. Fairly or not, that sent the representatives of “Old Europe” through the roof.

Gates marked a break with his predecessor in his speech on Sunday, when he dismissed a long litany of “characterizations” that “belong in the past:” “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’” The crowd ate it up.

Gates’s deft touch was also on display when he refused to rise to the bait offered by the star speaker of the conference, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president—I am tempted to be more accurate and call him the Russian dictator—gave a jarringly bellicose address in which he railed against the United States for supposedly “illegal” and “unilateral” actions that were plunging the world into the “abyss of perpetual conflict.” Instead of matching Putin’s angry rhetoric with some of his own, Gates simply said, “As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.”

Thus Gates avoided making news—a trick Rumsfeld never mastered—and kept the focus where it belonged, on Putin’s remarks, which alarmed many of the Europeans in the room. The Secretary of Defense also showed an unexpected flair for humor, joking, for example, about how he had given up his old habit of “blunt speaking” because as president of Texas A&M he had been sent to “reeducation camp” in order to learn how to deal with the faculty.

It was a good start. Of course, in the long run, Gates will be judged not by how well he deals with conference delegates but by how well he deals with America’s enemies. And, unfortunately, winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will prove a lot harder than winning over the crowd in Munich’s Bayerischer Hof hotel.

* The post originally described Fischer as defense minister.

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