Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Shame and Disgrace

Andrew Sullivan has criticized the decision to award Tommy Franks, George Tenet and Paul Bremer the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The ceremony was described by ABC News:

President George W Bush has bestowed the highest US civilian honour on three former top officials, sidestepping their ties to controversies over the Iraq war and its aftermath. In a televised ceremony at the White House, Mr Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA director George Tenet, retired General Tommy Franks and the civilian overseer for Iraq, Paul Bremer. "This honour goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events and whose efforts have made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty," the President said in prepared remarks.

Sullivan felt that the awards were not only undeserved by given despite their failure and incompetence.

The presidential medal of freedom goes to George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, Tommy "We Have Enough Troops" Franks, and Paul "Disband the Iraqi Army" Bremer. It's one thing never to punish error, but to reward it so magnificently!

The accuracy of Sullivan's characterizations of George Tenet and Paul Bremer are best left to the reader to judge. But it seems unjust to characterize Tommy Franks, the commander of Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom  in such disparaging terms. A more accurate appraisal of Franks' campaign was articulated at a recent seminar at the American Enterprise Institute held to discuss an Army War College postmortem of operations in Iraq. The ensuing discussion recognized OIF's achievements without minimizing the shortcomings which now evident in hindsight -- achievements and shortcomings that are General Franks' to a certain extent. The basic indictment is that while the President's strategy called for a campaign of "regime change" military plans were drawn up for "regime removal". The question is whether Franks could have done differently.

The decisions made to limit the size and the capabilities of the invasion force had unintended, but at least predictable, consequences. Almost from the start the desire to fight a just-in-time war meant that even small surprises--the resistance of the Saddam Fedayeen or even the terrible sandstorm of late March--sapped the strength of a force that was just large enough to, essentially, conquer Baghdad. And in particular, disrupting the normal deployment procedures deprived the force of the logistics wherewithal necessary to continue operations beyond Baghdad. By the time that force got to Baghdad, its reserves had been committed, it was fully absorbed in trying to pacify the capital itself. And the question of whether the force had the necessary means, the strength, to push out beyond Baghdad, and particularly into the so-called Sunni Triangle, I think, is a very debatable proposition. In my judgment, to use a military term of art, the attack essentially culminated in and around Baghdad. ...

Just the centrality of winning the war in the Sunni Triangle appears, certainly from this vantage point, to have been what a campaign planner would describe the center of gravity. This was a goal that was not conceived in the war plan and, I have argued, was beyond the abilities of the invasion force as it found itself in early April. You can only speculate about what effect the 4th Infantry Division might have had if the Turks had permitted an attack through northern Iraq. There's no guarantee that there wouldn't have been an insurgency of some sort--Moqtada al-Sadr and his Iranian sponsors would still be a problem, jihadists everywhere would still be outraged and just as willing to kill Americans as they have proven otherwise. But you have to say that the Sunni heartland did not feel the full shock and awe of the invasion, and the problem there persists.

The study recognizes that the mismatch between American goals -- "to rebuild an entire region" -- and its means, an armed force whose manpower and doctrine were legacies from the Cold War, not only constrained Franks at the start of the campaign but persists to a large extent today. Military bloggers have noted that pre-OIF photographs show few troops in body armor because it was not then widely issued. Nearly all the logistics vehicles, the Humvees and trucks, were unarmored at the start of the campaign. Arabic translators were comparatively scarce, rear echelon troops were not expected to see combat in the halcyon days of February, 2003. That was the army Franks had. Nearly all of that has changed. But while many of those equipment defects have been redressed, the basic problem of force size -- the number of brigades the US military can field -- has not. Critics often forget that the call for 'more boots on the ground' really amounts to a number that can be sustained until the job is done. In this respect, the ground forces have now exchanged places with the Navy, which for most of the 1990s rotated Task Forces in and out of the Persian Gulf enforcing pointless embargoes, sometimes for nearly a year at a stretch, wearing out ships and sailors. People who complained of having only two carriers forward were apprised it took at least six, allowing for transit and the refurbishment, to keep that presence in place.

it's not so much about the immediate level of forces in Iraq or anything like that, but ... whether the right number is 100,000 or 150,000, our ability to sustain that over a long haul. And also to do the other strategic tasks both in the region and elsewhere in the world that we ask our military to do, I think, is, again, just fundamentally out of whack.

General Franks was the CINC of Central Command and while Iraq was the major theater of operations, he had the responsibility to prosecute the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, then where Iraq is now, and maintain a reserve against contingencies. But to set against these shortcomings lay one fact: the US military had toppled the Saddam regime and was on its way to winning against the Baa'thist insurgency.  That achievement was in large part due to General Franks.

Those disappointed with the invasion itself for not producing the anticipated quagmire have found a little more food for speculation in the fighting of the past year and certainly the fighting of the past month, and especially in Fallujah. But I have to confess that, in my analysis and, I would say, by pretty much any historical standard, this has been a pretty successful counter-insurgency campaign. And I measure that in two fundamental ways: First, it does appear that insurgents in Iraq, the rejectionists, have had very little luck in shaking American political resolve to stay the course. ... Secondly, the insurgents have also failed to provoke a civil war in Iraq, which, to listen and to remember the expert commentary prior to the war, sounded like the easiest thing in the world to do. And journalists are constantly discovering that civil war is about to happen, but, at least in my eyes, it hasn't happened yet. ... Now, the insurgency has had one notable strategic success. I can't say quite what it's bought them, but you have to grant them that they've fractured the international coalition that backs the United States in Iraq.

Probably the most eye-opening suggestion that the United States has moved to the permanent offense, not only inside Iraq but within the region was made by Marc Ruel Gerecht, who argues that the Iranian mullahs are now facing a mortal geostrategic threat from a post-Saddam Iraq which they now cannot hope to prevent but at best to misdirect.

Today in Washington there are many within the foreign-policy establishment expressing their fear--and hope--that America's entanglement in Iraq may well compromise the Bush administration's ability to confront the Islamic Republic's quest for nuclear weapons. ... But does this reasoning make sense? Are Iraq and Iran so intertwined that America is essentially handcuffed in its dealings with Tehran's mullahs? In all probability, not at all. Indeed, the current interplay between the peoples of Iraq and its eastern neighbor actually ought to encourage the Bush administration to be more hawkish toward the clerical regime's growing interference in Iraq and pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The strongest trump playing in favor of America and against Iran is Iraqi nationalism. ... Iraq's Shiites are the progenitors of modern Iraqi nationalism. They, much more than their Sunni Arab compatriots, who were the driving force behind pan-Arabism in Mesopotamia, have shaped an Iraqi Arab identity which is distinct from the Sunni Arabs to the west and Shiite Iranians to the east. ... Which brings us to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Clerical Iran's primary objective is to ensure that Iraq remains destabilized, incapable of coalescing around a democratically elected government. Such a government supported by Iraq's Shiite establishment is a dagger aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship.

If Gerecht's analysis is correct, OIF stands within an ace of not only achieving its operational goals, but is on the verge of winning its initial strategic goals.

The clerical regime is currently handcuffed to Iraq's democratic process and timetable. All of the principal groups through which Iran hopes to exercise influence in Iraq--the Iranian-created Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Dawa (or "Islamic Call") party, and the Sadriyyin, followers of Muqtada al Sadr, the young clerical firebrand who has been engaged in a spiritual tug-of-war with the country's traditional clergy--are committed now to the election process. Iran has probably been pouring money into Iraq, to all three of these Shiite groups, which don't share much affection for each other, and in the case of the Dawa and the Sadriyyin, have had distinctly mixed, often hostile, emotions about things Iranian. Both the Dawa and the Sadriyyin have regularly belittled Grand Ayatollah Sistani for his "Persianness" and snarled at clerical Iran's habit of talking down to the Iraqi Shia. Tehran's motivation in giving aid to these parties is to encourage some dependency and, more important, keep the three most provocative Shiite groups in the forefront of Iraqi politics.

It is Iran and Syria, not the United States, which may now find itself embedded in an Iraqi quagmire. Leaving aside Mr. Gerecht's impressive credentials, how much of this analysis is accurate and how much wishful thinking? That question returns us to the central fact that both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have been victorious campaigns. Their defeat of the Taliban, Saddam and the Ba'athist insurgency bodes fair for the prospect of success against the Mullahs. Victories are not proof, as some have suggested, that defeat is imminent.  It can be rightly pointed out that OIF could have benefitted from more armor, troops, better plannning and fewer casualties. It has been argued that Osama should never have escaped Frank's net. And all of those criticisms can be true. Yet none of those criticisms can erase the essentially successful nature of the campaigns. We are not talking about the pitiful remnant of Lord Elphinstone's Army of the Indus arriving haggard at Jalalabad; nor about Lord Chelmsform finding Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead lonely survivors at Rorke's Drift; nor about listening to General Christian de la Croix de Castries's pathetic final message from Dien Bien Phu. We are talking about Tommy Franks, the victor of Afghanistan; the nemesis of Saddam; and the man who may have set the possible stage for strategic victory in the entire theater. We may no longer like the British, style victorious general officers Viscount Nelson of the Nile or Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. But in justice, General Franks deserves better than the title of opprobrium Tommy "We Have Enough Troops" Franks.