Saturday, January 26, 2008

The crisis in winter

Fred Barnes describes how President Bush decided on the Surge at the Weekly Standard. The short answer is by rejecting the much of the advice of his closest aides.

The Joint Chiefs were disinclined to send more troops to Iraq or adopt a new strategy. So were General George Casey, the American commander in Iraq, and Centcom commander John Abizaid. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice favored a troop pullback. A week earlier, the Iraq Study Group, better known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission, had recommended a graceful exit from Iraq. The presence of former secretary of state James Baker, a longtime Bush family friend, on the commission was viewed in Washington and around the world as significant.



Some of the president's aides feared the chiefs would raise such strenuous objections to a surge that Bush would back off or, worse, they'd mount a frontal assault to kill the idea. Neither fear was realized. The session in the Tank lasted nearly two hours. When it was over, the chiefs were unenthusiastic. Weeks earlier, when Bush aides had asked them to draft a plan for what a surge would look like militarily, the Pentagon had dawdled. Now, with Bush doing the asking, the chiefs agreed to produce a surge plan. Bush had gotten all he needed from them--acquiescence. The surge was on.

If Barnes' account is accurate, the most interesting question to examine is why the conventional wisdom should have been wrong. Why is it that breaking with the consensus, which in this case tended towards retreat, might sometimes leads to a better result? The answer usually revolves around the existence of a plausible alternative to the consensus. In this case, the alternative -- the concept of the Surge -- had the backing of Robert Gates. Without that credible strategic alternative, it was unlikely the consensus would be challenged.

The summer before Bush's visit to the Tank, success in Iraq had seemed unattainable. ... he told [Barnes that] "The cumulative effect of the rise in violence suggested to me we were going to have to do something different."

By early November, the president had a pretty good idea what that something should be. On November 5, the Sunday before Election Day, he met with Robert Gates, deputy national security adviser and eventually CIA director in the administration of Bush's father, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. ...

Gates "informed me in the course of the conversation that, as a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, he favored a surge of additional troops in Iraq," Bush said. This matched the president's own view. "I was thinking about a different strategy based upon U.S. troops moving in there in some shape or form, ill-defined at this point, but nevertheless helping to provide more security through a more robust counterinsurgency campaign," he said.

But the existence of a plausible alternative was not enough. Two tasks remained before him before bucking the consensus. The first was the organizational challenge of persuading the military chiefs the alternative plan was correct -- a sales job -- and the second and most important, was to make sure he was doing the analytically correct thing -- an exercise in intellectual integrity.

The military, in Bush's view, has to be treated with special deference and tact. "One of the most important jobs of a commander in chief, and particularly in a time of war, is to be thoughtful and sensitive about the U.S. military," he said. Bush believes in persuading the military to embrace his policies rather than simply imposing them. ... This was the attitude Bush sought to mollify when he went to the Tank, the regular meeting place for the Joint Chiefs. ..."

Though Bush had all but decided on a surge before the formal "interagency review" began looking at new options on Iraq, the process wasn't a charade. It forced the president to consider alternatives. And it also involved agencies besides the White House--the Defense and State departments, the CIA, the Joint Chiefs. "At a very minimum," the president said, it made them "feel they had a say in the development of a strategy." In this case, a small say.

Barnes' account of how the Surge was decided upon provides a portrait of how policy is made. It is the story of competing visions; the valuation of information; strategic debate and risk taking. In some ways the story of evolution of the Surge is a saga in crisis management equal to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is finally a study in risk tasking under imperfect information. Neither Bush in 2007 nor Kennedy in 1962 knew they were doing the right thing. There was reasoned wisdom in every alternative; real danger along every path. Which road to take was not logically obvious to the men leading the nation at the time. Some element of risk was involved, some acceptance of the unknowable accepted in a choice that only a President could make. And Bush made the choice. Had his decision been wrong defeat in Iraq would have been Bush's defeat, but it is only fair that if the choice ends in victory some share of the credit should also be his.

18 Comments:

Blogger Annoymouse said...

I’m no military expert but I recall military experts had estimated that the proper staffing for Operation Iraqi Freedom would be in the vicinity of 500k troops. I recall hearing this around the time that the 4th infantry division was being held up in Turkey. The feeling of imminent doom pervaded me at the time. It was only later that I heard Rumsfeld pontificating that a small, fast lethal Army would perform better than a larger contingent. Though it seemed reasonable that divisions of spec ops could get the job done, constant engagements over the same ground (Falluja) suggested otherwise. As the Saddam Fedayeen, ex-Bathists, Sunni extremists, and al Qaeda turned the country into utter chaos, the Viceroy Paul Bremer and the State Department were too deep into their solution, a US administered ad hoc state, to deal with the problems of clear and hold operations or securing a peace if you will. Many of us, and certainly myself, felt that we had transitioned from kinetic operations way too soon. That the Iraqis never suffered from the notion that they had been defeated. A defeat that extreme violence or armed saturation would have accomplished, though the outcome was never assured, thank God cooler heads eventually prevailed.

Perhaps the most effective diplomacy is the one you use to influence your own countrymen. Success has many fathers.

1/26/2008 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger Pat Patterson said...

Something akin to the "stab in the back" from World War I. I do remember one of the talking heads on Fox, a retired Air Force officer, make the same point. That the Iraqis might not have ever realized their moral defeat as the damage was generally specific to military targets. He hinted that one or two cities could have been leveled as examples to the rest of the country. I am paraphrasing as I doubt anyone who actually felt that way and talked about that tactic on TV would have been invited back ever.

1/26/2008 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

It is for this reason that the task of getting elected to the presidency is so arduous. Only a person with an uncommon knack for being right can make the cut.

I suspect that Bush's father and James Baker were also trying to talk him out of it. Who was for it, really? John McCain. Anyone else?

1/26/2008 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger deepinjuncountry said...

Give Bush credit for having real stones.

Annoymouse: There's no such thing as spec ops divisions. There isn't one division total of spec ops from all the services combined.

1/26/2008 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Deepinjuncountry said:

"Give Bush credit for having real stones."

Amen to that!

1/26/2008 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

A couple of thoughts, Wouldn't a special ops plan for an invasion of Iraq entail lots of Iraqi involvement? No matter how the country is taken, clear and especially hold operations can only be sustained by native fighter, not foreigners.

Given the options of US vs AlQ. It was always just a matter of time before the factions got tired of getting their butts whupped by our guys and got tired of AlQ shenanigans. That is the defeat, there was the extreme violence that resulted in the Anbar Awakening.

A Large conventional exercise was performed in the late 1990's. It determined numbers as high as 490,000 troops would be required long term, to replicate in Iraq what we had done in Japan and West Germany. That was simply not an option. The exercise utilized the thinking from the cold war time and highly mechanized army operating as though they were in Europe. such thinking was not applicable to Iraq and certainly not realistic in the present day Middle East. Still people use the conclusions from that exercise as a proof of some sort that the administration ignored competent advise. I believe they were fully justified in ignoring that advise, as it was not competent and did not reflect the direction of actions which US forces had been requested to achieve as early as 1985.

For me, there was never a question of where the 450,000 troops would need to come from, they would have to be Iraqi. The question was always in my mind how to get the popular Iraqi support for such operations while severely restricting or outlawing the Baath party. I have read and listened to many "informed" opinions about how it could have or should have been done. There is no good answer, and perhaps there never was an option.

But I think that at no time, could the operations of the current Iraqi Army have been matched by Saddam's forces. I think that no where could the Kurdish divisions have led the way in training and in special Ops actions in the former Saddamite force.

The force multipliers, a wonderfully all inclusive phrase, had to be the Iraqi people themselves. No amount of technical gadgetry, can match winning the hearts and minds of people. Dealing with the likes of ALQ and Al Sadr gave the Iraqi population, a strong distaste for life in Islamistland. Compared with that nothing else mattered. Nothing determined the ultimate outcome more than the people deciding they would allow us to show them how to whup Al Q and Al Saddar like we were daily whupping them. But there was a process involved in getting there.

It is the process that what was described by Michael Yon in Mosul in 2004/2005, it is the process that was determined by the Iraqi's in Al Anbar earlier even than the summer of 2006.

We were always capable of doing the clear part, even with lesser numbers of troops. The Hold portion was the sticky issue and that, IMO, could never have been addressed by the Baathist led army of Saddam, and would never have been possible without AlQ being their blood lusty, savage and vile selves.

1/27/2008 04:11:00 AM  
Blogger Annoymouse said...

DIC,
"There's no such thing as spec ops divisions."

No sh!t

1/27/2008 04:52:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

The conventional wisdom – DC-wise – is almost always wrong about the big things.

President Reagan was advised against the Strategic Defense Initiative by all the right people. He did it anyway.

President Reagan refused to give up SDI at his meeting at Rejavik with Gorbachev. The right people assured us all that his action meant that war was imminent. Instead, both peace and victory was assured.

President Reagan was advised by all the Right People against using the “Tear down this wall.” phrase when he went to Germany. Too provocative, they said. The wall came down.

All the Right People advised President Reagan to build a space station instead of a moonbase. He took their advice and we are now wondering what the hell good is a space station that is not designed to support a moonbase.

President H.W. Bush was advised by the Right People that our 1991 attack on Iraq would be a bloodbath, and we would suffer 50,000 dead. After our nearly bloodless victory we was advised by all the Right People that we should not push on to Baghdad.

The conventional wisdom – DC-wise – is almost always wrong about the big things. The fact that it usually is right about the little things is used as a justification for being right about the big things.

Correctly figuring out how many MREs the troops need – which is what the big 5-sided building is good at – is not leadership.

1/27/2008 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger lgude said...

wadeusaf said: "But there was a process involved in getting there." Exactly. What has worked now would not have necessarily worked the in the same way earlier if at all. Personally I think 500,000 troops early would have really been a rerun of Vietnam and in great danger of creating a strong nationalistic reaction against us. As happened in Vietnam and in America when too many Redcoats helped unite the colonies against the British. I don't think it is at all clear yet how it could have been done better, but no doubt mistakes were made. But a war has at least two sides and the other side mounted am effective insurgency and then AIQ made the biggest mistake of the war so far by alienating their Sunni allies and starting a civil war that displaced or killed half the Sunni population. Those decisions were made by the enemy, not Bush or the US military. Bush often gives the impression of not reacting well, but I think he has this time by choosing to push for the surge. He chose to try for victory at a time when the conventional wisdom said that it was impossible. He reminds me a lot of Harry Truman who wanted to fight on in Korea. 50 years on we see the consequences of Eisenhower's negotiated solution. MacArthur was right when he said that there is no substitute for victory.

1/27/2008 06:55:00 AM  
Blogger Andrewdb said...

I believe the 500K number of troops is what GEN Shensaki mentioned to Congress (and which is generally thought to have resulted in the early appointment of his successor, leaving him as a lame duck for many months) - this was based on the number of troops per number of civilian population that was found to be necessary in the Balkin operations in the 1990s.

1/27/2008 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

The Iraqi's never thought of themselves as being defeated because we presented ourselves as "liberators". We went into Baghdad with the same idea that we went into Paris -- that the people there would greet us with rose petals and cheering.

Indeed, the very first thing the Iraqi's did was to start complaining about their sewage and electricty and asking when the Americans would fix it for them since they couldn't be bothered to do it for themselves.

Of course, some years later, it was obvious that there were a LOT of Iraqi's who weren't behaving like grateful Parisians, but it would be real hard to change that horse in mid-stream and flatten a couple of their cities to make the point. Would we ever have flattened a city in France if the Parisians and deGaulle had started shooting at us?

Although flattening Fallujah a couple of times was a good first attempt at getting the Iraqi's attention.

1/27/2008 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Somehow it seems to me we've achieved a huge victory that is bigger than the Iraq war. We've seen Sunni Arabs reject AQ and Jihadism in favor of the American occupiers. That is a PR coup that may well be the tipping point in the GWOT. I can't think of anything that will do more to discourage new recruits from joining AQ and souring the Arab world in general on Jihadism. Had we followed the more rubble less trouble strategy we may have more quickly won the battle to pacify Iraq, but it would only further diminish our standing relative to AQ in the eyes of the Arab world. Whether by design or dumb luck it seems we hit the perfect chain of events to weaken Jihadism's appeal and to seriously damage its potential future growth.

Also this article highlights President Bush's great courage and thoughtfulness. We are very fortunate to have had him as a president these past seven years and one can only imagine where we would be had there been a President Gore or Kerry.

1/27/2008 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

Paul: We've seen Sunni Arabs reject AQ and Jihadism in favor of the American occupiers.

I urge you to study up on the Koran a bit more. Muslims aren't going to "reject" jihadism ever. It is a cornerstone of Islam. Any apparent "rejection" is merely one or the other form of hudna and jihad will be resumed at their convenience.

I can't think of anything that will do more to discourage new recruits from joining AQ and souring the Arab world in general on Jihadism.

While AQI may have soured some Muslims regarding jihad, they are a tiny fraction of those who still regard it as their honor-bound obligation to Islam.

Had we followed the more rubble less trouble strategy we may have more quickly won the battle to pacify Iraq, but it would only further diminish our standing relative to AQ in the eyes of the Arab world.

Again, this is pretty delusional thinking. Arabs only respect the strong horse. Most other Muslims are sneering at our restraint and regard it as nothing short of cowardice.

Long before the Global War on Terror winds down, there are going to be entire Muslim cities leveled or vaporized. Islam's unrelenting insistence upon violent confrontation guarantees this outcome, regardless of what the West would like or hope for.

1/27/2008 06:43:00 PM  
Blogger belloscm said...

"I believe the 500K number of troops is what GEN Shensaki mentioned to Congress (and which is generally thought to have resulted in the early appointment of his successor, leaving him as a lame duck for many months)..."

Wrong! Shinseki was fired for, among, other things, trying to backdoor SECDEF on the CRUSADER Artillery System. His replacement was announced in April 2002, 10 months prior to his "speaking truth to power" moment before Congress in Feb 2003.

While admittedly ostracized and treated poorly by SECDEF for his "several hundred thousand troops" testimony, he had a retirement date scheduled prior to his appearance before the SASC.

1/27/2008 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Well Zenster it's great that you have the world's only reliable crystal ball and can predict the future with certainty. It's entirely possible that a world war is in our future, however the best chance to avert it is for Iraq to become a functioning (relatively) free and prosperous society that rejects terrorism and serves as a template for other Arab nations and perhaps helps to reform Islam. Otherwise we're looking at Wretchard's Third Conjecture, and since you're convinced nuclear war is inevitable I assume you are putting your money where your mouth is and have your bunker in Montana ready.

1/27/2008 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

By nahncee-- "The Iraqi's never thought of themselves as being defeated because we presented ourselves as "liberators"."

That perspective is crucial I think in understanding what and who we were fighting. We liberated Iraq from Saddam's government, the Baath Party and the terrorism with which both chose as ruling instruments, not only of their own people but to effect the region as well. Saddam was a terrorist, the Baath Party used terror to rule. Overthrowing Saddam ended his reign. Outlawing the Baath Party in the way it occurred, ended whatever functional Iraqi government was functioning, but it did not spell out a clear defeat of the Baathist party or fundamentalist ideals and it did not define what that defeat would entail. I imagine there is a wealth of information that has died with the insurgents, and hopefully some that has survived, which will describe more accurately what was going through the minds of the "liberated", as well as what was going through the minds of the "defeated" in 2003 as well as in 2006.

Zenster-- I highly doubt the citizens of Iraq consider our restraint as cowardice. The sneering is done only by a slight minority of those who identify themselves as Muslum. Most Muslum folks would not agree that such an identification is correct.

There is much about Islam that must be clarified, but holding all of that religion to the extremist rants is akin to saying all christians share the same beliefs that Fred Phelps or even Unitarians hold. They are from the same book, aren't they?

1/27/2008 11:27:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

Paul: it's great that you have the world's only reliable crystal ball and can predict the future with certainty

No crystal ball is necessary. Over ONE THOUSAND YEARS of history provides ample and convincing evidence of what I suggest.

It's entirely possible that a world war is in our future

From all indications, Islam will not have it any other way. There is little the West can do—beyond even more significant military intervention—that has any promise of forestalling such a catastrophe. Islam retains the fomenting of such a conflict as nothing less than a central goal. Not altogether a very promising turn of events.

the best chance to avert it is for Iraq to become a functioning (relatively) free and prosperous society that rejects terrorism and serves as a template for other Arab nations and perhaps helps to reform Islam.

Any probability of the three prospects you mention declines exponentially with how important their respective roles are in averting a future World War. Let's examine them:

Iraq becoming a functioning (relatively) free and prosperous society

To date, all indications are that this is not going to happen on any significant scale. Noor al Maliki's gangster mentality, in combination with the typical endemic corruption of Islamic governments have all but crippled Iraq's functionality.

As to being even relatively "free and prosperous", this is just as unlikely. For some idiotic reason Iraq was allowed to reinstall shari'a law. That alone explicitly foreordains a near-total lack of freedom, especially for women. Similarly, shari'a—with its strict prohibition of riba (interest)—promises to cripple commercial and industrial development just as it has throughout the MME (Muslim Middle East).

Iraq rejecting terrorism

This appears to be very unlikely. The Koran not only sanctions terrorism but leading clerics—such as Moqtada Sadr—continue to promote its use and are not roundly condemned for it by anything remotely approximating a majority of the population. Furthermore, Koranic doctrine explicitly prescribes the employment of terrorism and—in light of how the door to ijtihad has been shut for nearly a MILLENNIA—there is almost zero chance of that changing anytime soon.

Iraq helping to reform Islam

Considering that Iraq is predominately Shiite and seeing as how the vast majority of this world's Muslim population—being Sunni—regards the Shiites as heretics, even the best example set by Iraq's population is unlikely to gain much traction in the surrounding Islamic world.

None of the above requires any prescience or even particularly arcane knowledge to understand. Islam continually damns itself to constant hostility, internecine struggles and the very worst sort of human rights abuses.

How on earth any freedom, prosperity, rejection of terrorism or reformation of Islam is supposedly forthcoming from such a typical cesspit of Neanderthal and savage barbarity defies all reason.

Over one thousand years of recorded history indicates that Islam will continue to impose itself upon our world by violent force and each passing day only serves to confirm this observation. Granting Islam anything but the most abjectly cynical outcomes is both unwarranted and puerile at best.

WadeUSAF: I highly doubt the citizens of Iraq consider our restraint as cowardice. The sneering is done only by a slight minority of those who identify themselves as Muslum. Most Muslum folks would not agree that such an identification is correct.

I most certainly hope that you are right but the level of cooperation and overall progress with civil engineering in Iraq don't entirely validate such an optimistic outlook.

There is much about Islam that must be clarified, but holding all of that religion to the extremist rants is akin to saying all christians share the same beliefs that Fred Phelps or even Unitarians hold. They are from the same book, aren't they?

I think that there is very little about Islam that needs to be clarified. The Koran is quite clear regarding its antagonistic intolerance for any competing ideologies and desire to subjugate this entire world's population by force of arms. Howevermuch lunatics like Fred Phelps try to place such a twist on the Bible, that sort of interpretaion cannot be justified.

The Koran is exceptionally violent and does not require any sort of Phelpsian extremist translation in order to serve as a terrorist tool. In its pure and unfiltered form it already fulfills that role. The fact that some portion of this world's Muslim population does not fully act upon all of the Koran's exhortations to violence only makes them slackers and apostates.

THERE IS NO MODERATE ISLAM

Even though I am not a Christian it is easy to state with sincere confidence that there is a moderate Christianity. That is the difference and it condemns Islam to history's scrap heap.

1/28/2008 12:16:00 AM  
Blogger Shane said...

My understanding concerning the administration's approach to Iraq was that we couldn't be seen as liberators if we had 500K troops throughout that country. The president expected that Iraqis would celebrate their liberation from a tyrant and quickly take control of their own country. That didn't happen, and whether that is because of the decisions we made (Bremer?) or the consequence of decades under a brutal dictator, Iraq was unable even to defend themselves from invading terrorists intent on owning the oil fields.

But we learn from our mistakes - that is why we are the most lethal military in the world. Much credit must go to the president for insisting upon a different route to victory rather than a different route out of there, and Generael Patraeus deserves deep respect for bringing years of thought and experience to the strategy now employed agaisnt Al Qaeda in Iraq.

1/28/2008 12:22:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


Powered by Blogger