January 11, 2005

Who's learning the lessons of Iraq?

In the current issue of the New Yorker, Dan Baum looks at how junior officers in the US military in Iraq are using the internet to make up for their lack of training for occupation duties. The details of this bottom-up response to the Dubya administration's total lack of preparation for the Iraq war are fascinating (although depressing). However, some of the most important content is at the end, where Baum looks at how the military is beginning to take a hard look at how it came to be that they were saddled with an Iraqi mission impossible:

Thirty years after the fall of Saigon, the military finds itself thrust into another war with limited public support, insufficient resources, and a murky definition of success. It remains to be seen whether its appetite for learning the lessons of Iraq will extend to analyzing how it got into such a war in the first place. When General Shinseki failed to persuade Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to allocate more troops to the initial effort, he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where, under cover of answering a senator's question, he went public with his estimate that the war would require "several hundred thousand" troops. His move failed. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz called Shinseki's estimate "wildly off the mark," and the Army invaded Iraq with about a hundred thousand soldiers.

Marybeth Ulrich, a professor specializing in civil-military relations at the Army War College, said it's too soon for the Army to be analyzing whether Shinseki could have played his hand better, or whether generals might lobby more forcefully in the future. "The Army's pretty busy right now," she said. But the lieutenant colonels and colonels who attend the War College will eventually find themselves analyzing those early days of 2003, to learn, as she put it, "what steps were taken to get the Armyís point of view across." Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution makes the military subordinate to the civilian leadership, and there's an undefined line between the two that the Army never crosses, Ulrich said. "Was the Army ten steps behind the line? Or did the Army go all the way to the line? I donít know."

Thomas White, who was fired from his job as Secretary of the Army in May of 2003 for clashing with Rumsfeld on a number of issues, including how many troops would be needed, told me that the lesson the Army needs to take away from the run-up to Iraq is precisely the one no officer wants to learn. "If I had it to do again, what Shinseki and I should have done is quit, and done so publicly,Ē he said. White called it a measure of Rumsfeldís contempt for the Army that he didnít name a permanent Secretary of the Army to replace him until this past November. "To spend more than a year at war without a Secretary of the Army is unthinkable," White said.

A week before the Presidential election, the Association of the United States Army held its annual convention in Washington. Membership in the association is open both to Army personnel and the corporations that sell things to the Army, and the gathering transformed the lower level of the Washington Convention Center into an arms bazaar.... Officers mingled in the hallways in dress-green droves, those who had been in combat distinguished by unit patches on the right arm rather than the left. The talk of the convention was a book published in 1997 that the officer corps has recently rediscovered. Many carried the volume under their arms, and no fewer than six urged me to read it: Dereliction of Duty, written by an Army major named H. R. McMaster. Using once classified Vietnam-era documents, McMaster finds fault not just with Robert McNamara, then the Secretary of Defense, who dismissed warnings from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Vietnam War would be hard to win, but with the four Chiefs themselves, who were complicit, because they failed to publicly voice their misgivings. "Each one of those four went to their graves thinking they didnít do enough to protest," White told me. "They should have put their stars on the table and said, 'We wonít be part of this.'"

Via CJR Daily.

Posted by Magpie at January 11, 2005 12:36 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |

And yet when the Idiot in Chief or Rumseld shows up to give a speech, the members of our armed forces always give the Standing O.

What's up with that?

Posted by: James E. Powell at January 11, 2005 05:26 PM