Friday, September 5, 2003

Security v. mission accomplishment -- a really hard tradeoff

Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a great article by Greg Jaffe and Chris Cooper about the tradeoffs being made by commanders on the ground in Iraq between site security and other missions. In the aftermath of deadly car bombings, many have called for the deployment of U.S. soldiers as security around key sites -- police stations, large mosques, government centers, power stations, et cetera. As we have a finite number of soldiers on the ground, the dedication of U.S. troops to these sites takes away from the available pool of soldiers who can conduct offensive missions.
Careful to say they are not short of troops now, commanders conceded that they are under ever-greater pressure to siphon off troops for defense, as civilians, foreign governments and U.S. politicians clamor for better security. While a United Nations resolution just offered by the U.S. may lead to an agreement to bring foreign reinforcements to Iraq, the Pentagon is concerned the wait may be long.

Quick relief from the U.N. appears unlikely. Thursday, both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder dismissed the U.S.'s proposed U.N. resolution as inadequate. Mr. Chirac said that while his government is "naturally ready to study" the resolution, he said it was "quite far removed from what we believe is the priority objective, which is the transfer of political responsibility to an Iraqi government as quickly as possible." Mr. Schroeder opposed the idea that the U.S. -- not the U.N. -- should oversee political developments in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez warned Thursday that international forces would be needed to help tackle looming security threats, such as Iranian fighters or possible conflict between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Muslims. "If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt ... that would be an additional security challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for," Gen. Sanchez said. "There are security challenges that are looming in the future that will require additional forces, and those are issues that with the coalition, and with time, can be resolved," he said.
Analysis: I can tell you from experience that this is a really tough balancing act. On the one hand, you have critical sites and high-value assets that must be protected. Some of these are Iraqi sites; others belong to the U.S. But if you leave these unprotected, it's almost a sure thing that the enemy will attack them. And if you lose these things (e.g. U.S. command post), you risk a major tactical or operational setback. So you have to dedicate the assets to protecting these sites.

On the other hand, you can't win a counter-insurgency fight by playing good defense. The way to win a guerilla war is to go on offense -- to gather intelligence, find the enemy, hunt them down, and capture or kill them. If you devote too many troops to this mission, you take away from your ability to prosecute the offensive part of the fight. Commanders and planners are trained to evaluate the operational risk entailed in both courses of action, and it's a safe bet that this balance is being looked at daily to make sure we get it right.

To add another level of complexity, there's a paradox in anti-terrorism planning which goes like this: The more you protect the hard targets, the more you have to worry about the soft targets. Our enemy is not stupid. Al Qaeda has typically chosen its targets after careful reconnaissance designed to determine the vulnerability of their intended target. If we protect something they want to hit, they'll either change methods or change targets. Our jihadist enemies may want to become martyrs, but they don't want to fail in their attacks.

So how do we strike this balance? As always, it's easier said than done. The most important thing is to gather, analyze and produce good intelligence to aid the commander in making these tradeoffs. The second most important thing is to have sufficient resources on the ground so you don't have to guard too few things in order to leave yourself some offensive capability. And the third thing is to constantly reevaluate these decisions in light of new threat information. I think we're doing these things, save some residual concerns about having enough troops in Iraq to do everything we need to do.

Thursday, September 4, 2003

America's 'grief corps'

Think you have a tough job? Think again. Today's Washington Post has a sobering article on the military officers and NCOs who have one of the toughest jobs in America: casualty notification. There's not much I can say here, except that I have enormous respect for these men and women who personally notify every family of every casualty no matter what the cause. This function exists in war and peace, yet since Sept. 11, it has escalated into quite a large task for America's military.
More troops are dying in Iraq and more families are requesting funerals at Fort Myer than Winborne's 10-person staff can handle. The shortage in the Army's bereavement corps is so acute that her department has started actively recruiting new casualty notification officers and casualty assistance officers -- CNOs and CAOs, the men and women who do some of the grimmest work of war, unheralded and far from the battlefields.

The notification officers have a one-time job: They deliver the bad news and the secretary of the Army's condolences. Then, within a day, the casualty assistance officers take over and spend as long as a year working with the deceased's immediate family, sometimes functioning as stand-ins. On the first visit, the CAO delivers the $6,000 "death gratuity" check. The officers walk a fine line with grieving families, taking kids out for Happy Meals and filling out tax returns but never allowing themselves to get too close.

CAOs are expected to continue with their day jobs but make the family's concerns their first priority. They take care of the funeral arrangements, the transportation costs, the casket selection, the printing of memorial cards, the endless paperwork -- as much as the family wants them to do.

"It's the hardest job there is," says [Army Capt. Rita] Winborne, 37.

Screaming Eagles work hard to rebuild Iraq

The New York Times has an interesting article today on the progress made by the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. The article piqued my interest because I've worked with Col. Linnington before, and his name and unit is featured prominently in the piece. But as I read down, I found some interesting things in this piece -- signs that we may be doing good things in Iraq despite the plans coming out of the Pentagon.
Col. Michael Linnington's brigade fought its way across Iraq. But one of his most unusual missions took place in this remote northwestern corner of the country.

His orders were simple — to work out agreement between local sheiks and Iraqi customs officials to restore trade with Syria. What was unusual was that the decision had been initiated not by the State Department or civilian administrators in Baghdad, but by Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and the dominant political figure in Mosul and the surrounding areas in northern Iraq.

Three months later, there is a steady stream of cross-border traffic, and the modest fees that the division set for entering Iraq — $10 per car, $20 per truck — have raised revenue for expanded customs forces and other projects in the region.

A five-day trip through the 101st Division's large area of operation showed that American military, not the civilian-led occupation authority based in Baghdad, are the driving force in the region's political and economic reconstruction.
So what else is new? Field commanders, junior officers and sergeants are taking the initiative to make things work in Iraq, despite the best efforts at the top to frustrate their efforts. That has been true for decades, if not centuries. I doubt you'll find any of these actions by the 101st in a CENTCOM or JCS operational plan. Captains, majors and colonels figured it out on the ground.

Still, it doesn't surprise me that our military is taking the lead role in Iraq. That tracks a larger trend around the world, which Dana Priest effectively laid out in her book The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military. Essentially, the military has muscled out other U.S. governmental agency by force of its resources, size, rapid deployment capability, and ability to operate in a tense environment. At some point, down the road, we may see more USAID and State Department leadership in Iraq. But for now, it's natural to expect that DoD would take the lead role. Luckily, our men and women in these units are flexible and innovative enough to act as soldier/diplomat/policeman/politician/advisor -- whatever the situation may require. Now it's up to us to give them the resources (troops, money, equipment, international support) they need to do the job right.

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

The post-modern presidency of George W. Bush

Josh Marshall has this provocative essay in the September issue of the Washington Monthly on President Bush, and the argument that he epitomizes the idea of what a post-modern president would be. The piece is a little theoretical for a guy with my public school education, but it makes a very interesting point about this presidency that I hadn't considered yet. Here's the part that I thought said it all:
The president and his aides don't speak untruths because they are necessarily people of bad character. They do so because their politics and policies demand it. As astute observers such as National Journal's Jonathan Rauch have recently noted, George W. Bush campaigned as a moderate, but has governed with the most radical agenda of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Indeed, the aim of most of Bush's policies has been to overturn what FDR created three generations ago. On the domestic front, that has meant major tax cuts forcing sharp reductions in resources for future government activism, combined with privatization of as many government functions as possible. Abroad, Bush has pursued an expansive and militarized unilateralism aimed at cutting the U.S. free from entangling alliances and international treaty obligations so as to maximize freedom of maneuver for American power in a Hobbesian world.

Yet this is not an agenda that the bulk of the American electorate ever endorsed. Indeed, poll after poll suggest that Bush's policy agenda is not particularly popular. What the public wants is its problems solved: terrorists thwarted, jobs created, prescription drugs made affordable, the environment protected. Almost all of Bush's deceptions have been deployed when he has tried to pass off his preexisting agenda items as solutions to particular problems with which, for the most part, they have no real connection. That's when the unverifiable assertion comes in handy. Many of the administration's policy arguments have amounted to predictions--tax cuts will promote job growth, Saddam is close to having nukes, Iraq can be occupied with a minimum of U.S. manpower--that most experts believed to be wrong, but which couldn't be definitely disproven until events played out in the future. In the midst of getting those policies passed, the administration's main obstacle has been the experts themselves--the economists who didn't trust the budget projections, the generals who didn't buy the troop estimates, intelligence analysts who questioned the existence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq. That has created a strong incentive to delegitimize the experts--a task that comes particularly easy to the revisionists who drive Bush administration policy. They tend to see experts as guardians of the status quo, who seek to block any and all change, no matter how necessary, and whose views are influenced and corrupted by the agendas and mindsets of their agencies. Like orthodox Marxists who pick apart mainstream economics and anthropology as the creations of 'bourgeois ideology' or Frenchified academic post-modernists who 'deconstruct' knowledge in a similar fashion, revisionist ideologues seek to expose "the facts" as nothing more than the spin of experts blinded by their own unacknowledged biases. The Bush administration's betes noir aren't patriarchy, racism, and homophobia, but establishmentarianism, big-government liberalism, and what they see as pervasive foreign policy namby-pambyism. For them, ignoring the experts and their 'facts' is not only necessary to advance their agenda, but a virtuous effort in the service of a higher cause.
This piece is sure to spark criticism from the neo-con media on the right, such as the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal, just as Mr. Marshall's piece in March 2003 ("Practice to Deceive") did. But while such criticism is inevitable, it's probably also a waste of energy. Mr. Marshall's critique seems spot-on to me. Any salvos launched at Mr. Marshall from the White House will simply prove his point.

WP reports on the soldiers wounded in Iraq
Until now, the wounded toll went largely unreported by the major media and the Pentagon

Until now, there has been lots of reporting on those killed in Iraq, but little reporting on soldiers wounded in Iraq. Much of this owes to advances in body armor and battlefield medicine (also covered) which have transformed many wounds that would've been fatal in previous wars into injuries. However, Vernon Loeb reports in today's Washington Post that the numbers of wounded have actually been quite high -- and that thousands of Americans have returned home from Iraq as a result of wounds suffered in action.
The number of those wounded in action, which totals 1,124 since the war began in March, has grown so large, and attacks have become so commonplace, that U.S. Central Command usually issues news releases listing injuries only when the attacks kill one or more troops. The result is that many injuries go unreported.

The rising number and quickening pace of soldiers being wounded on the battlefield have been overshadowed by the number of troops killed since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations May 1. But alongside those Americans killed in action, an even greater toll of battlefield wounded continues unabated, with an increasing number being injured through small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, remote-controlled mines and what the Pentagon refers to as "improvised explosive devices."

Indeed, the number of troops wounded in action in Iraq is now more than twice that of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The total increased more than 35 percent in August -- with an average of almost 10 troops a day injured last month.
* * *
Pentagon officials point to advances in military medicine as one of the reasons behind the large number of wounded soldiers; many lives are being saved on the battlefield that in past conflicts would have been lost. But the rising number of casualties also reflects the resistance that U.S. forces continue to meet nearly five months after Hussein was ousted from power.

Although Central Command keeps a running total of the wounded, it releases the number only when asked -- making the combat injuries of U.S. troops in Iraq one of the untold stories of the war.

With no fanfare and almost no public notice, giant C-17 transport jets arrive virtually every night at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, on medical evacuation missions. Since the war began, more than 6,000 service members have been flown back to the United States. The number includes the 1,124 wounded in action, 301 who received non-hostile injuries in vehicle accidents and other mishaps, and thousands who became physically or mentally ill.
I'm no fan of body-count journalism, and I don't think we should make policies exclusively on the basis of projected casualties. (See this note from last week) But I do think it's important to take this into consideration. I also think it's important to be sensitive to the new generation of veterans who will soon rejoin American society. Some will be wounded on the outside; many will be scarred on the inside. The searing experience of battle will change them all in some way, great or small. America has a terrible record (save notable exceptions like the GI Bill) of greeting its returning veterans from war, and our thousands of homeless veterans attest to that fact. We must do better with this generation, and do what is necessary to help these men and women when they come home.

Former Army secretary blasts administration on Iraq

Robert Burns, the Pentagon beat reporter for the Associated Press, reports that former-Secretary of the Army (and retired 1-star general) Tom White has a few choice words in his new book for the White House over its handling of Iraq. White was forced by Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld (and possibly the White House) to resign after a series of high-profile clashes between the Army and SecDef over various issues. His uniformed counterpart, Gen. Eric Shinseki, was also forced out by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Now, Tom White writes that the Bush Administration made serious errors in its pre-war planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Clearly the view that the war to `liberate' Iraq would instantly produce a pro-United States citizenry ready for economic and political rebirth ignored the harsh realities on the ground," White wrote in a preface to "Reconstructing Eden," which is to be published Thursday.

In a letter to news organizations announcing the book's release, White was even tougher on the administration. "Unbelievably, American lives are being lost daily," he wrote. White said the administration lacks a cohesive, integrated plan to stabilize and rebuild the country.

"We did not conduct the war this way and we should not continue rebuilding the country in a haphazard manner," he wrote. "The result will be a financial disaster, more lives lost, chaos in Iraq and squandered American goodwill."

White, who as a civilian service secretary was not in the military chain of command, served as Army secretary from May 2001 to May 2003. He clashed with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on a number of issues, including the service's plan for the Crusader artillery system, which Rumsfeld viewed as too heavy and cumbersome for the lighter, more agile Army he envisioned.

A Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Cassella, said that as a matter of policy the department does not comment on books. He acknowledged that U.S. occupation authorities in Baghdad face severe problems with security in Iraq but believe they are on track toward success.

In the book, White noted the postwar spasms of violence in Iraq.

"It is quite clear in the immediate aftermath of hostilities that the plan for winning the peace is totally inadequate," he wrote.

White wrote that the administration's Iraq policy "threatens to turn what was a major military victory into a potential humanitarian, political and economic disaster." The administration's "anemic attempts at nation building" will be viewed with disdain by other countries, he said.
Analysis: This may be Monday-morning quarterbacking, but it's extremely well-informed Monday-morning quarterbacking by a man who's thrown a few footballs in his time. Secretary White, had he stayed in uniform, probably would've made it all the way up to 4-star rank. As Secretary of the Army, he was widely considered one of the most popular service secretaries in recent memory -- at least within the ranks. And he was a part of the pre-war planning process in the Pentagon until his departure in May 2003, so he knows what he's talking about -- much more than this author. If Tom White thinks we screwed up the post-war planning, and failed to devote adequate resources to the problem, he's basing that opinion on a lot more evidence than any other writers I've read lately.

That said, this story has the potential to create serious civil-military problems for the Bush Administration and America -- especially if retired-Gen. Shinseki decides to speak up as well. Acrimony between uniformed leaders and civilian political leaders is nothing new, either for America or any other nation. (See the history provided by Eliot Cohen in his book Supreme Command) But this flare-up presents a Constitutional crisis of sorts, where the President's very credibility on nuts & bolts military decision is being called into question some of his highest ranking military officials. This criticism is bolstered by the experiential gap between President Bush and Secretary White. Art. II of the Constitution designates the President as Commander-in-Chief of our military, but it does not confer automatic credibility on him in the area of national security policy. President Clinton found this out the hard way with his initial efforts to integrate gays in the military, and it cost him good civil-military relations for the length of his presidency. Now we have a situation which may be worse. President Bush isn't being criticized here for his social policies for the military -- he's being criticized for his decisions sending the military into harm's way by the very military leaders who helped supervise and implement those orders for the Army. In terms of Constitutional crises, this does not rise to the level of Cooper v. Aaron or the Nixon tapes, but it's not a good thing either.

No way out? Fortunately, the President can escape this Catch-22 situation. (And no, he doesn't need to enlist in the Army to close the experience gap with Tom White.) What he does need to do is open his national-security decisionmaking process to smart folks like Tom White and Eric Shinseki. This should be easy for a president who prides himself on being a MBA-type -- someone who succeeds by surrounding himself with exceedingly smart people.

If I had to pin the fault on one aspect of the post-war planning, it was the "group think" that pervaded the White House, National Security Council and Pentagon during the process. Clearly, the plan was based on certain assumptions about the post-war situation, and those assumptions turned out to be wrong. We were not greeted as liberators, and we have become the target of hatred for both Shiite and Sunni Muslims. No "Plan B" was created or effectively resourced, and when our planning assumptions proved faulty, it was too late to spin up a Plan B. In a perfect world, we would've deployed enough of a force package to Kuwait to stage for Plan B if necessary -- but we did not. We assumed a tremendous amount of risk by building a plan on a fixed set of assumptions and fighting that plan despite indications that we would face an insurgency after the war. The best way to mitigate this kind of planning risk is to broaden the planning process and build multiple courses of actions (COAs) which account for each probable set of assumptions.

Luckily, there is no shortage of planners on the Joint Staff to conduct such contingency planning. Nor is there any shortage of civilian experts with security clearances to do this kind of planning for RAND or another think tank. All that's required is a willingness among the denizens of the E-Ring and West Wing to consider ideas from the outside, and to act on them.

Update: James Webb -- former Navy Secretary, decorated Vietnam Vet, and author -- also has some words for the Bush Administration on Iraq.
"I am very troubled by the fact that we went into Iraq and very troubled about how we're going to get out of Iraq,'' Webb said Thursday to about 200 naval officers, veterans and civilians at the Radisson Hotel Norfolk. The lecture was sponsored by the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the Naval War College Foundation.

The United States should quickly get the United Nations involved in administering and patrolling the country, he said.

"We need to get out of there before the mistake we made gets worse,'' said Webb, a Marine Corps veteran.
* * *
Bob Briner, a retired Navy captain from Virginia Beach, said he appreciated Webb's observations.

"What I like about Webb is that he's been there, he knows what he's talking about,'' he said.
Yes he does.

Update: The Washington Post reported on Friday that retired Gen. Anthony Zinni has joined the chorus of really smart and experienced military leaders who think we may be in trouble in Iraq. Clearly, I lack the experience and knowledge of men like James Webb and Anthony Zinni -- the latter of whom is regarded as the intellectual father of the modern "CINC". (Washington Post writer Dana Priest described Zinni as an American proconsul because of the way he presided over American interests in the Middle East when he was CINC of CENTCOM.) Of course, neither man is particularly beholden to the White House. Webb is more of a Reagan Republican, and Zinni is Colin Powell's man.

But is Josh Marshall right -- is this a sign that Rumsfeld is on his way out?