Thursday, September 04, 2003

Through a Glass Darkly

Phil Carter has asked whether the ground forces assigned to topple the Saddam Hussein were adequate for the job of reconstructing Iraq and defeating the terrorists in that country. In July, 2003, he quoted Tom Ricks of the Washington Post who reported that others were thinking the same thing:

a growing number of military specialists, and some lawmakers, are voicing concern about trends in Iraq. There is even some quiet worry at the Pentagon, where some officers contend privately that the size of the U.S. deployment in Iraq -- now about 150,000 troops -- is inadequate for force protection, much less for peacekeeping. The Army staff is reexamining force requirements and looking again at the numbers generated in the months before the war, said a senior officer who asked not to be named.

Mr. Carter agreed, saying: "If I were a planner again... I'd recommend ...  Boost the U.S. troop presence, because you're going to need a lot more boots on the ground in order to properly secure the American footprint in Iraq." That issue had been raised about the conventional phase of fighting itself. The Washington Post's Vernon Loeb reported on March 30, 2003 that:

Current and former U.S. military officers are blaming Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his aides for the inadequate troop strength on the ground in Iraq, saying the civilian leaders "micromanaged" the deployment plan out of mistrust of the generals and an attempt to prove their own theory that a light, maneuverable force could handily defeat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But although Saddam's conventional forces were defeated with the forces at hand, doubts regarding the force adequacy for pacification and reconstruction remained. A new book by former Secretary of the Army Tom White puts it bluntly (hat tip: Phil Carter) "We did not conduct the war this way and we should not continue rebuilding the country in a haphazard manner ... It is quite clear in the immediate aftermath of hostilities that the plan for winning the peace is totally inadequate." Although the criticism includes such aspects as clarity of purpose, planning and competence, the issue of troop strength remains central to the debate. Democratic Presidential hopeful John McCain openly called for more U.S. troops as well as dramatically more spending to make postwar Iraq peaceful enough for democracy to unfold according to the Washington Post.

'More troops', but from where? The Christian Science Monitor reported on May 7, 2003 that "the US has committed at least 12 of its 32 combat brigades to occupying Iraq". With one third of total American strength already in-theater (although the proportion has since fallen) and with commitments in the Balkans and Korea, the arithmetic of reinforcement becomes problematic. The deployment of units such as the 3rd ID had already been extended to keep up the tempo of attacks against terrorist elements in Iraq and could not be lengthened indefinitely. More force simply could not be provided unless the US Armed Forces redesigned itself. In particular, functions assigned to reserve units would have to be reintegrated into the active military, as Phil Carter pointed out.

Much of the press has naively suggested that an America in extremis is now seeking reinforcement from the United Nations. The more astute know that this is a practical impossibility. Any UN Blue Helmets would consist almost entirely of Third World troops who must be paid, trained and and even clothed at largely American expense anyway before they can be deployed. And on the basis of their past glacial deployments, it will take months before the vanguard of UN troops even set foot in Iraq. The probability is that any UN resolution will be aimed at diplomatically covering the coalition forces, such as the Poles, Italians, Dutch, Lithuanians, Czechs, Kiwis, Norwegians, Slovakians and Spaniards who are already there rather than in the expectation that Nigerian Blue Helmets will belatedly save the world.

The really interesting questions related to strength are the fundamental ones. The most basic is what is the task? Only when the goal is known can the adequacy of the means be judged. Surely the metric against which troop strength is measured must be in relation to its contribution to the War on Terror. The reconstruction of Iraq, important as that is, acquires value only insofar as it advances American war aims. Even if it were true that America lacked the men to reconstruct Iraq, what of it, unless the reconstruction itself were the strategic goal? And it might well be, since the War on Terror is a huge military and political struggle against the bankrupt Islamism of the Middle East. But Iraqi reconstruction is unlikely to be the sole road to victory. That would be too passive and condemn the Army to an indefinite period of watchfulness against waves of jihadis seeking to gratify their nihilistic urges. As a prescription for defeat, a strategy of passively defending Iraqi reconstruction could hardly be bettered.

The second basic question is what the relief anticipates in five or six months when CENTCOM will have transferred mundane security duties to the Iraqis and foreign contingents, an economy of force measure designed to free up combat forces. But for what? Here we meet a blank wall of intriguing featurelessness. After the September 11, the attack on Afghanistan was obvious, though its method was not. The toppling of Iraq was still more obvious, preceded by maneuvering in the Security Council, summits in the Azores and such. But here we come to the end of the plain road and it is easy to think that we are the end of ways. But the reconstitution of the US military; its ongoing transformation and the emphasis on replacing American troops with Iraqis and allies suggests that our journey has not yet ended. The troops are being freed up. But for what? A strategic hiatus to reassure the public until the Presidential elections are over? Or there is a deeper game?

O, that a man might know
The end of this day's business ere it come!
But it sufficeth that the day will end,
And then the end is known.
-- Act 5. Scene I, Julius Caesar