Sunday, December 17, 2006

The generals bow to the government: they're tired of the truth

Via Pat Lang's, the American Enterprise Institute's plan for yet another atttempt to secure Baghdad. You won't be very surprised to learn that neither Lang, nor I, think very much of it. Peter Kagan's strategy - a PowerPoint presentation, natch - is risible. The first and most basic fault is the frantic insistence on victory, victory, victory - there is no consideration of how it could fail or what to do if it does. This is Lysenko-esque. I know they say that if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail, but that isn't an argument that if you prepare for the consequences of failure, you are more likely to fail. At every point where he is challenged, he simply asserts away criticism. Will it break the Army? It will not. No why given. Analysis of possible enemy reactions goes beyond trivial; he merely suggests there might be a surge in violence and attacks on civilian and coalition targets. No consideration at all of the long MSR down to Kuwait.

When he does try to think about it, it's noticeable that, somehow, everything is vitiated of meaning. Apparently, the enemy might respond by launching attacks in already secured areas. Well, they obviously aren't secured then, are they? That would signal the failure of the whole strategy. He suggests that better intelligence might deal with this threat - well, yes, and a pony. No word on how.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, General Chiarelli hands over to Raymond Odierno, who brought the 4th Infantry Division into Iraq after the invasion and was responsible for all those silly operation names like RIFLES FURY and PLANET X, not to mention the silly operations and worse they designated. The learning process appears choked with Lysenkoist crap - the change of command comes just after Chiarelli launched an effort to recommission some of the state-owned industries Paul Bremer's merry men shut down, in order to cut the unemployment rate. So, it's taken him his entire tour to get a clue, and now a freshly clueless general is rotated in to replace him. They did that in Vietnam, too. I've said before that if you want to understand Iraq, you nneed to read Neil Sheehan's A Bright, Shining Lie - I get my copy out every so often to check what's going to happen next.

But the worst assumption of Kagan's paper is that "we must not be defeated in Iraq". Kagan defines defeat as withdrawal from Iraq, which is a very silly assumption he doesn't trouble to make explicit. If everything had gone as he and pals predicted, we'd have been out in months, after all. I'd agree that we must not be defeated in Iraq in the sense of losing a major battle, being routed, but this isn't what concerns him.

What would the consequences of Kagan-defeat in Iraq be? The civil war would go on, and get worse. How this differs from the current position is not clear. Iranian influence down south would rise, as would Saudi and Syrian influence up north. Multiple tension would continue to exist about Kurdistan. This is no different to the current situation. Whether the worst-case scenarios for all of these came to pass would depend on how retreat from Iraq was managed, militarily and politically. If it was botched, we get most or all of the bad consequences plus a military disaster. If it was carried out in an orderly fashion, with regional agreement to contain the crisis (for example, the Kurds agreeing to continue their Shia alliance and abstention from formal secession, the Saudis and Iranians observing mutual nonprovocation) and the US forces in the region moving out to ships and existing bases (Qatar and Kuwait, but please, not Saudi Arabia), it would be no worse than the position at the moment, and possibly bettter.

Why "must" we not face this? Any discussion of operational level changes around Baghdad or tactical level changes in the streets must start with a discussion of what the total strategy is that these serve. Bad strategy cannot be saved by good tactics or operational art.

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