OxBlog

Monday, June 19, 2006

# Posted 10:46 AM by Patrick Porter  

RUMSFELD AND THE GENERALS: Major General John Batiste, who commanded the Army's First Infantry Division in Iraq and Kosovo and has now retired, blames Rumsfeld for mismanagement, intolerance of dissent and even Haditha. (hat-tip, Andrew Sullivan).

He also attacks the naivety of a body of ideas and assumptions sometimes dubbed the 'Revolution in Military Affairs', or at least Rumsfeld's version of it, in which warfare would be transformed by information technology and precision firepower, reducing the need for prolonged deployments with masses of troops:
The secretary of defense does not understand the human dimension of warfare. The mission in Iraq is all about breaking the cycle of violence, building relationships and the hard work to change attitudes and give the Iraqi people alternatives to the insurgency.

This requires boots on the ground in sufficient quantity to establish security, intimidate the insurgent, protect lines of communication and the oil infrastructure, train the Iraqi security forces, and control the borders. You cannot do this with precision bombs from 30,000 feet. This is tough, dangerous, and very personal work. Numbers count.
I'd be interested to hear what our readers think - does this reflect a problem not only with the attitude of the Secretary of Defence, but with a doctrine which overplays the changes that would be wrought by the revolution in military affairs?
(23) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
This is a generally accurate statement. Secretary Rumsfeld and other RMA, Effect Based Operations and "Net-Centric Warfare advocates highly overestimate the value, effectiveness and necessity of technology in warfare. However, it is no coincidence that the main proponents of the RMA and technological solutions are found in the Navy and Air Force. This reflects a fundamental difference in branch philosophies as well as funding priorities (the AF and Navy receiving a much more significant portion of their budget for procurement than the Army or USMC). Finally, it is the result of a longstanding misperception of the types of military operations in which we primarily engage. These systems are designed for the far right of spectrum of operations (major theater of war). However, when plotted as a density curve, the vast majority of operations that the U.S. military has engaged since its inception have occurred on the less intense, left of the spectrum (COIN, Peacekeeping, Civil Affairs, etc.)
 
It is interesting that the same people who say the invasion was a terrible thing because it caused so much death and destruction now say that we should have invaded with two or three times as many soldiers and tanks and hunted down every last Ba'athist and insurgent with overwhelming force on the ground. How many civilian casualties do they think that would have caused? And more US troops mean more targets. But, oh, that's right, then they could have complained even louder.
 
I don't claim to know anything about Rumsfeld and the American angle, but there's some interesting material on the British perspective in Alan Clark's
diaries. When Clark was minister of state at the MoD in 1989, he drew up a Defence Review intended to recast British forces for the post-Cold War era. Like Rumsfeld, he was convinced that the days of large-scale ground forces were over, and that defence strategy must be built around highly mobile and technologically advanced response units.

Clark's defence review correctly identified a new kind of threat, and sought to reorient the military in opposition to terrorist groups and non-state actors, probably in the Middle East and other areas of strategic importance to the West. What he did not foresee was that a different kind of threat might not produce a different kind of warfare: that ground invasion and occupation might remain central to modern warfare.

So in Britain, at least, military procurement was changed on a false premise: that the nature of warfare would change too. Whether Clark and those who thought like him were correct, and that ground invasion followed by occupation are not, in fact, a helpful response to the new threat, is something on which I'm not really qualified to comment.
 
hey robert,

more troops would indeed have presented more targets. was it Ho Chi Minh during Vietnam who said that he wanted America to send more troops for this reason?

On the other hand, I don't know that Major General John Batiste was one of those who said the idea of the invasion was a terrible thing. I think he was confining his criticism to the execution of the policy (though I could be wrong about this, I haven't read all of his writing).

I think the issues aren't just confined to the number of troops, its also about what you do with them, whether there is a coherent overall strategy for the post-invasion period, and 'building relationships' and protecting infrastructure, and cultivating the allegiance of the population politically.

While its likely that Rumsfeld's policies and attitudes have serious flaws, I'm cautious about presuming that Rumsfeld's approach is the only thing at fault for the entirety of the problem. The historian in me is skeptical when generals lay all of the blame on the civilian government for perceived failures in wartime.

Generals have an interest in Rumsfeld taking all the blame - that blame may be still justified, but I'll reserve judgement until I read more stuff for a future book I'm planning (watch this space!).
 
Sure, the "vast majority" of US military operations have been low-intensity, just not the significant ones. A capabilities shift to the low-intensity end, absent a huge dollar increase, means a decrease in high-intensity readiness. Such readiness is essential; the rest is optional. (Me? Jacksonian?)

Moreover, Iraq's going to bar major "boots on the ground" operations for a while. Why enhance readiness for the politically impossible? Better hope there's more to the RMA than the current bureaucratic froth. TLAMs, air ops and special ops are the immediate future.
 
"It is interesting that the same people who say the invasion was a terrible thing because it caused so much death and destruction now say that we should have invaded with two or three times as many soldiers and tanks and hunted down every last Ba'athist and insurgent with overwhelming force on the ground. How many civilian casualties do they think that would have caused? And more US troops mean more targets. But, oh, that's right, then they could have complained even louder."

To paraphrase Machiavelli, better to spill the blood at first and then play nice than to waffle between the two down the road :-).

I do think more troops would've made a huge difference.
 
Prior to the war, Rumsfeld had a final meeting with all of the generals of each defence branch and asked each of them, one after the other, if they believed they had been given all that was needed for them to accomplish their tasks. In every case, each general answered in the affirmative.

I was puzzled by that, when I read about it, back then. However, now it makes perfect sense. Rumsfeld has enough experience in Pentagon politics to understand what kind of attacks would be leveled against him, should things not work exactly as hoped for.
 
More troops. Remember the 4th ID. If it had been able to come through Turkey it could have made all the difference.

I would suggest the number of US casualties would have been much greater.
 
The supposition that US troops would've suffered more casualties is interesting. I'd be interested in someone spelling out why beyond the "more targets" argument -- or if someone would flesh out the "more targets" argument beyond quoting Ho Chin Minh?
 
Hey Daniel,

for what its worth, I suspect you are right that more troops would have made a big difference in stabilising and securing Iraq after the occupation began.

I just don't think that the issue of troop numbers is exhaustive.

I quoted Ho Chi Minh to illustrate that the insurgents might have seen a larger US force as presenting more opportunities to kill American combatants, even though more troops on balance would have made a big (positive) difference.
 
I suggested we would have more casualties if 4ID came in from Turkey. The reason is simple. 4ID would have to sweep through the Sunni heartland. The Baathists would defend this area more strongly than other parts of Iraq.
 
Hasn't anyone noticed that the generals who've criticized Rumsfeld have nearly all been Clinton appointees?
 
The division that couldn't come in from Turkey and prevent many Shiites from disappearing into the underground was one problem.
But Rumsfield also expected UN Peacekeepers to fill in for policing of post war Iraq.
Where were the 20 000 Indian peacekeepers? Where were the NATO troops?
The lack of help was blamed on Bush for being brash and non diplomatic, but as Kagan points out in WAPost today, much of this is anti Americanism that goes back 70 plus years that is now using Iraq as a way to blame Bush for their own problems.
Even the BBC was tough on this guy for being critical of personalities without taking facts into consideration.
 
Can anyone tell me exactly where these extra 250,000 troops would have been transferred from, in view of reported multiple tours for those who haved served in Iraq? It seems to me, if an additional 250,000 troops were really available, no one would have to serve multiple tours in Iraq at the 150,000 level. If 250 + 150 or 400,000 troops were really available for Iraq duty during the last three years, 1.2 million troop-years divided by 150,000 means that it would take 8 years before anyone would have to serve a second tour, at the current level of 150,000 troops
Be specific, eg
25,000 from Korea, 20,000 from Japan, etc providing names of divisions, until you get to 250,000.
 
The argument being made is that Secretary Rumsfeld, a proponent of RMA, is substituting technology for manpower, and that this is leaving the U.S. unprepared for the conflicts it will most likely face, namely counter-insurgency (COIN) and the low-intensity (LIC) variety, which are manpower-intensive.

True, COIN and LIC are manpower-intensive, but whose manpower? The best way for the U.S. to approach these scenarios in the future is to use indigenous, rather than U.S., manpower. In Iraq, this would have meant supporting Kurdish and Shia militia against the Baathists, Al Qaeda, and their Sunni base of support.

Critics will object, saying that it would be immoral for the U.S. to deliberately stir up civil wars to solve its security problems. But those problems will keep popping up (look at Somalia, again) and the U.S. must find a sustainable method of dealing with them. Sending out conventional U.S. mechanized infantry and armored battalions to hunt down insurgents around the world is not a sustainable solution. By contrast, relatively tiny teams of highly trained and specialized U.S. soldiers were able to accomplish much more with indigenous manpower in El Salvador and the early years in Afghanistan. The current worsening situation in Afghanistan may be a function of the ever-rising level of Western manpower there.

RMA is not only about technology. It is also about the selection and training of elite soldiers that can do this kind of work. It is also the sustainable strategy that the U.S. will need in the future. And a technique that Mr. Rumsfeld supports.

Westhawk
 
"True, COIN and LIC are manpower-intensive, but whose manpower? The best way for the U.S. to approach these scenarios in the future is to use indigenous, rather than U.S., manpower. In Iraq, this would have meant supporting Kurdish and Shia militia against the Baathists, Al Qaeda, and their Sunni base of support."

File this under "if the US is going to be an empire, it better damn well act like one"?
 
Batiste's rant is a classic: set up Haditha as the straw man, declare credentials as a professional military man and therefore indisputable, and sidestep the principles of civilian control and the nature of war (and the military) as a tool of policy. And neglect, as Peter Feaver points out, that civilian leaders have a right to be wrong, not least because they are elected--and if they get it wrong, and don't learn, they get tossed out. By and large, the generals who advised the civilians, and as someone pointed out ealier, agreed with the plan, get to stay on in their careers.

There's a case to be made that perhaps Rumsfeld, more than Batiste, understands the socio-technical, rather than simply the human, dimension of warfare--how soldiers potentially can leverage technology to make them more capable. These changes also change the way soldiers operate--often more independantly, voicing their opinions and generating bottom-up changes to tactics--and I suspect such changes don't sit easily with the older generation or existing organisational frameworks. As nd said, up till now most of RMA has focussed on air and naval forces--wiring up large bits of equipment and platforms (A few years ago, Luttwak had a go at RMA on exactly this point). But over the last decade technology has become smaller, more powerful, allowing individuals to become wired, not simply as human cogs operating large bits of machinery. It's not just 'boots on the ground' in lockstep, but now more independant, flexible and capable agents, able to respond more quickly, 'swarm' objectives and learn from each other more efficiently, often unmediated by senior officers or doctrine. While I believe RMA and NCW have been oversold--there's been an emphasis on the massive, expensive and often monolithic--I also believe the changes being wrought now are being underappreciated, not least in terms of the implications for overall organisation, systems and strategy.
 
It seems to me, regardless of any merits to his position that I'm not in a postition to evaluate, that Major General John Batiste (and the other Generals that have suddenly become media darlings) had ample opportunity to make his case when it counted (or maybe he was never in the loop for direct feedback, which means more senior officers than himself made a different case from a more informed platform) and was unable to make a cogent case for his point of view.

Now, 3 years after the fact, he's finding a much more willing, less discerning, audience for his viewpoint via the media.

Frankly, I think it more prudent to wonder why he was unable to sell his story to those who counted and why he didn't speak up publically at the time if he held such strong viewpoints back then?
 
I dismiss this out of hand based off the first sentence alone. Not the underlying arguments about either specifically more troops v. less troops w/regards to Iraq or the bigger one about manpower vs. technology long-term. But when someone (especially a former General who should know better) singles out a root cause for, in his words "alleged atrocities", I become very suspicious that there is some other agenda. It remains to be seen where Haditha falls on the continuum between cold-blooded murder of civilians and insurgent propaganda (initial reports favoring the former, more recent disclosures favoring the latter) but until it's figured out what did happen, it's logically impossible to assign root causes.

On the larger issues, I'm sure there are plenty of mistakes made (the impression I've gotten from SF people is that the units of retired Iraqi military they set up ad hoc across northern Iraq were working well and shouldn't have been disbanded, and I'm inclined to agree with them, but I've only heard their side.) However, the whole "more troops" angle is generally bullshit. Not just because most people advocating it don't really want to fight the war, but consider it a more politically correct way to criticize than what they really want which is withdrawal. And not because, as pointed out, the 4th ID (our most modern division) was not allowed to fight for the first couple weeks and come down through the north. But because at the base of it 150,000 more troops means nothing without the will to use them. I'm not convinced that a stronger US presence would have turned out better, but a much easier way to achieve this would be to relax the rules of engagement or to revise the catch and release policies that have so many insurgents being arrested multiple times. Like New Orleans and the "90-day homicide" that gang members would talk about, anyone captured knows they will almost certainly be out within a month to fight again.

The media loves to play up the image of war-weary soldiers who don't know why they are there and just want to go home but among military members I've actually talked to (mostly Marines and Army SF units, so maybe not the most representative) the common feeling is that the command structure is waaaaaaaayyyyy too casualty-averse and they'd rather be out there fighting someone than staying on bases while insurgents take potshot mortar rounds. No one was more disappointed than the Marines on the ground when the first Fallujah action was called off and no one was happier when they finally did get the order to sweep the city.

So debate doubling troop size if you want, but know that it's fairly meaningless compared to either allowing the people on the ground more leeway (which is a political non-starter because it would mean more casualties, at least in the short-term) or lowering the threshold at which we can hold insurgents (currently the standard as I've heard it is 2 non-partisan witnesses must testify about seeing an insurgent shooting a gun/planting an IED/etc.) Imagine how much crime would go up in the US if we required police officers to have two witnesses willing to testify against someone. Not even Mike Nifong could get people indicted under that standard.

Apologies for the rambling nature of my post.
 
The revolution in military affairs? Hehe - very funny. Hilarious in fact!

These people really know how to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic!
 
The military did exactly what they were supposed to do at the beginning, overthrow Saddam. But it seems that the Bush administration went into the whole operation without a real workable plan for after the conflict, leaving the military in place to "secure the situation" or in other words establish a semi-authoritarian environment so that democracy could grow. The mess now is because the conflict was so impersonal- Iraqi citizens rarely saw soldiers *fighting* for them- and thus have become convinced that the US only became involved to serve its own agenda (oil prices).
 
This is not solely a military problem.
As with the looting issue, it's partly a put-on, and partly a matter of an impossibility. First, if the worst you can think of in war is looting, we have a pretty good war. Or, to put it another way, not many serious mistakes. Looting? In the midst of death and destruction, etc? Come. On.
To look at looting from another point of view: How many men does it take to detain a looter when each man has one hand tied up holding a weapon, and they won't shoot the guy if he gets loose and the guy's buddies are pulling at them?
If you get that many soldiers guarding, say, ten thousand places, how do you prevent the looting of the ten thousand and first?
Similarly, we have in Iraq a cultural issue expressed in violence.
When the mob wants something, they have a few drivers beaten up, slash some tires, put sugar in the trucks' tanks, send the boss a picture of his daughter at the bus stop. This is not solved by guarding all the facilities, but by going after the mob. Which we have not managed to quite do.

In the Middle East, we encounter a culture where there are lots of guys who just love to do this stuff. Lots and lots of them. They aren't going to change into New Englanders ca 1790 just because of a few elections.

We are hoping to set up conditions for the forces of modernity to get organized. Unfortunately, the forces of barbarism don't need much organization. It's going to be a hell of a race.

The question is what you do with more troops. More raids? You need more intel. More patrolling? Patrolling is sterile unless it generates contact. Means more intel.

What was the number of "troops" (law enforcment types) on hand when the Symbionese Liberation Army was keeping California hopping several decades ago? How many did the SLA have? Twelve? Something like that. If troop numbers make a difference, the SLA shouldn't have lasted more than a couple of hours.

This is going to be a long haul and will only be solved when the assholes are dead, or modernity discredits their vicious maunderings in retirement.

We're talking about remaking a culture, here. Not simply regime change.
 
I think what some people are missing here is that the first goal in Iraq should be to provide security and stability to the large mass of non-insurgent civilians in Iraq. Search and destroy type missions that hunt insurgents should, in fact, be secondary because it is more important to win over the large majority of 'hearts and minds' than to kill any particular insurgent. This is classic counterinsurgency 101.

Special forces, while they may sound sexy, are therefore not the main answer. I agree that SF capabilities need to improve, but the large need in Iraq is for better stability ops. This is particularly the case when secterian militias have infiltrated the Iraqi police force. Since "Iraqization" has been going slowly, larger numbers of troops are the only way to make non-insurgent Iraqi civilians feel more secure.
 
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