Joe Conason's Journal

Rumsfeld and the other suits didn't listen to the military men before launching this war. And critics are now wondering if that may prove a tragic mistake.

Published March 25, 2003 5:32PM (EST)

Suits vs. uniforms
For we who hope this war will end quickly and victoriously despite our opposition to it, there are troubling signs that the suits in charge don't know what they're doing -- because they failed to listen to the uniforms. If the coalition forces are too small and too dispersed to achieve a swift victory, and if their plans relied too heavily on airpower and on a welcoming Iraqi population, the fault will lie with the authors of this war and not with the officers asked to execute it.

From the beginning, politics has been in command. Hints of the internal feuding between the highly ideological civilian leadership and the professional military have emerged from time to time during the past year, most recently in a public dispute between Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Gen. Eric Shinseki over postwar force requirements. The problem faced by Wolfowitz, his faction in the government and his publicists, led by Bill Kristol, is that the price of satisfying their long-standing urge for "regime change" in Iraq has never been commensurate with the likely benefits of that policy. So they have consistently tried to minimize the costs while exaggerating the gains.

Wolfowitz and his boss Donald Rumsfeld could still be vindicated, of course, along with Tony Blair, who says the scenario is unfolding "exactly as we thought it would." In war, no prediction is safe (which is why planning for the worst is the best and only doctrine).

The defenders of the Iraqi regime, in particular the Republican Guard units surrounding Baghdad, may be pounded into submission. And the oppressed Iraqis themselves may yet prove that their hatred of the dictatorship is more powerful than their outraged nationalism. For the moment, however, the situation seems less optimistic than Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz expected. And they can't say nobody warned them.

You may not hear about this on TV, unless you happen to glimpse former Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who appeared on the BBC and elsewhere speaking out about Rumsfeld's error -- and the three or four thousand American casualties that may result. At the time of his retirement (when he took over the impossible drug war), he was the Army's most highly decorated and youngest four-star general. He commanded a mechanized infantry division during the last Gulf War. As the Washington Post's superb Vernon Loeb and Thomas E. Ricks report today (in a story buried on Page A17), the general is speaking for many veteran officers when he says "there should have been a minimum of two heavy divisions and an armored cavalry regiment on the ground" before the invasion began.

(McCaffrey's concern echoed comments made by Gen. Wesley Clark during an interview with Salon. When asked why the Pentagon would start a war without all the troops in place, Clark responded: "I can't explain it. I can't defend it; I've never seen the plan.")

"How large a force is necessary to invade Iraq has been a point of contention for months between some ground commanders, particularly those in the Army, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld," according to Ricks and Loeb. "He insisted that air power, information dominance and speed enable the U.S. military to achieve much greater effect with a smaller, more agile force." The incompetent diplomacy that removed Turkey from the coalition has made matters worse by delaying the arrival of the Fourth Armored Division's equipment, which had to be rerouted through Kuwait.

A tougher version of the same story appeared in yesterday's Knight-Ridder papers under the byline of Joseph L. Galloway, who wrote:

"The outcome of the war isn't in doubt: Iraq's forces are no match for America and its allies. But, so far, defeating them is proving to be harder, and it could prove to be longer and costlier in American and Iraqi lives than the architects of the American war plan expected."

Galloway quotes "knowledgeable sources" in the Pentagon and the CIA about the misguided approach of their superiors, whose confidence about the response of the Iraqi people and military is now in grave doubt:

"Intelligence officials say Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon civilians ignored much of the advice of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency in favor of reports from the Iraqi opposition and from Israeli sources that predicted an immediate uprising against Saddam once the Americans attacked.

"The officials said Rumsfeld also made his disdain for the Army's heavy divisions very clear when he argued about the war plan with Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander. Franks wanted more and more heavily armed forces, said one senior administration official."

This isn't what we're hearing from the retired colonels and generals now serving in the talking head corps, but such criticism is much easier to articulate as an anonymous source. Galloway quotes a retired senior general blasting Rumsfeld's war management: "The Secretary of Defense cut off the flow of Army units, saying this thing would be over in two days. He shut down movement of the 1st Cavalry Division and the 1st Armored Division. Now we don't even have a nominal ground force."

Analysis in today's Financial Times cautions that the problems faced by the coalition troops in protecting their extended supply lines from Kuwait may predict greater difficulties as they besiege Baghdad -- and for the same reasons noted above.

"For an army fighting its way into a city, historical precedent suggests that a minimum ratio of nine attackers to each defender -- if that defender is determined -- represents a realistic planning figure. In which case, Franks' current force is no more configured for the long, bloody slog of battling it out, street by street, in Baghdad than it is for the largely static job of protecting extended lines of communication."
[9:38 a.m. PST, March 25, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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