Friday, March 12, 2004
Report from an Old Soldier
This is the last of this series. Parts 1, 2, and 3 can be read here, here, and here.
Del is due to retire soon. I shared with him what I had learned about services for veterans. Del and I jumped out of a lot of airplanes together back in our reckless youth. Our bodies paid a price for it. So I told him to make sure he had a personal copy of his medical records. Someone should screen them when he out-processes. What he gets from the VA in terms of treatment and compensation will depend on what's in those records.
I mentioned that I hadn't paid a whole lot of attention to veterans' issues when I was in the service, but once I was out they took on a whole new importance for me. Del said, "Yeah, Bush said he was going to take care of veterans, take care of the military. But he hasn't done a thing for veterans, or the military or their families."
That turned our discussion to politics. Del had been following the presidential primaries, having access to both cable TV and the Internet while in Iraq. "Bush is hopeless," he said. But being a life-long Republican, Del had his doubts that Kerry would be any better. A year in Iraq had instilled a degree of cynicism in Del that neither a month of leave nor a few cases of beer could wash away.
He had little optimism about the future of Iraq as a free democracy. "It's just like Yugoslavia after Tito," he said. "Maybe worse. You can't impose democratic institutions on countries that have only known authoritarian regimes."
To make his point, he told me the story of a little store near his compound that had been closed since the American occupation began. Del, through an interpreter, asked the shopkeeper why his store was closed. The shopkeeper replied that he did not have permission to open the store.
Del said to his interpreter, "Tell him it's okay. He can open his shop now."
"He says he cannot open without permission," the interpreter replied. It went back and forth like that a couple of times with Del trying to make the point that things were different now, and that the shopkeeper didn't need permission to open his store, and the shopkeeper continuing to insist that he needed permission.
Finally, Del gave up trying to explain and said, "Tell him that I am a U.S. Army officer and that I give him official permission to open his store."
The shopkeeper, upon hearing this translated said, "Thank you very much," and went to open his store.
Del believes that civil war in Iraq is inevitable, that in fact, it has already begun. And he knows that the middle of third world civil war is no place for U.S. soldiers to be.
For American politicians, it's a no-win situation. If we stay engaged in Iraq, we are a target for too many people -- people who view the U.S. Army as standing between them and whatever agenda they might have.
And if we pull out, many Americans, especially the families and friends of those who were killed or severely wounded, will be bound to ask, "What was it all for?"
Certainly the whole weapons of mass destruction rationale has been laid to rest. Likewise, the ties to Al- Qaeda. Brutal dictators are a dime a dozen. We don't depose all of them, and half of them we support, just like we supported Saddam two decades ago.
In the end, all that's left is the neocon wet dream of planting the flag of Democracy in the heart of the Muslim world, hoping it would create some kind of domino effect with one country after another succumbing to the siren song of freedom and Haliburton.
And now, that looks like it will slip away too, like so much Middle East sand through our fingers. Survivors don't like to think that their loved ones died for nothing at all.
On the domestic front, Iraq will be reminiscent of Vietnam. Those who served there will be irrevocably changed by the experience. And they, like the American people who sent them to fight, will be divided into two camps: those who say we never should have gone there, and those who say that if we had only committed the necessary resources, stayed a little longer, done a little bit more, we could have won.
Some will blame the liberals who were against the war all along. Others will blame the Bush administration for letting politics drive the mission and its deadlines, making success impossible, and constantly sacrificing the truth at the alter of the next election.
Del hopes to stay home for a while and get to know the grandson who was born while he was in Iraq. He's already had several job offers, both in and out of government. Two things he knows for sure: He won't take a job that involves going back to Iraq, and he won't ever vote for George W. Bush again.
Elaine Donnelly Never Served Her Country
But she wants to decide who can
A recent report in the Arizona Republic quotes Elaine Donnelly as saying the U.S. government should release the details of what happened to Army Specialist Lori Piestewa before she died in Iraq. Donnelly hopes that information will help her further the agenda of her organization, the Center for Military Readiness, of getting American service women out of combat zones.
"As painful as it is to the families, I think we need to see the true face of women in combat, and that means all of it," Donnelly said in an interview Tuesday.Lori's Piestewa's mother doesn't agree.
"If I as a parent haven't gotten them, why should others?" Piestewa asked.
She said she has never talked to Donnelly or anyone from her non-profit group of about 5,000 civilian, active duty and retired military members.
But she said her daughter's death should not be used by those seeking to scale back the role of women in combat.
"If my child decides that's what she wants to do, fight for her country, then she should be allowed to do it," Piestewa said.Donnelly has never served in the military. If she had, perhaps she'd realize that she lives in a fantasy world where battlefields are linear and well-defined. They haven't been for nearly 50 years (and weren't in many conflicts going back much further -- consider the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War). There are no "safe" places for women to serve, not when your convoy gets lost, or a SCUD comes crashing through your warehouse, or when your office is in the World Trade Center.
More importantly, women have demonstrated they can do the jobs they have been allowed to do, whether it is flying aircraft or commanding military police units. And in some cases, as we are seeing now in Iraq, there are certain jobs that, due to local cultural or religious mores, only a woman can do.
If Donnelly and her friends have a problem with that, it's their problem. They should quit trying to make it the military's problem.
Vote Early, Vote Often
Take the Survey
Be sure and take the American Family Association's Presidential Preference Poll. Get it here.
Tell them who you are going to vote for. Maybe they'll get a clue. (I doubt it, but I like to give everyone a chance)
Beyond the K
Thanks for your support
While I was away on business, (sometime Thursday, I think) Rain Storm received its 1,000th hit. Even more remarkable, we've had over 1,600 page views, which means several of you actually stayed and read some stuff.
So thanks to all of you. We will strive to continue to turn out a quality product. And as always, we welcome your comments.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Rain Storm Scoops a Headline
Well, sort of. On February 28 we published The Politics of Fear: Placing the threat of terrorism in historical perspective.
Nothing like being out in front of a trend. On March 8 the Daily News Online published the longer version -- The Politics of Fear: Or, the Pretexts and Stratagems of a Permanent War on Terror. Part 1.
It's nice to be in good company.
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Check These Out
A couple of things to look at
while I'm away
Looks like I may be away from a terminal for about 48 hours beginning tomorrow morning (that pesky day job!).
So for my loyal readers, both of you, as well as those of you who got here by mistake while searching for the weather channel, here are a couple of suggestions:
First go here and take the American Family Association's Presidential Preference Poll. AFA calls itself America's largest pro-family organization.
So take advantage of this opportunity to tell them who your family will vote for, then share the opportunity with your friends. You'll be glad you did. Thanks to alert reader A.K. for the hot tip.
Then you might want to check out this piece on Orcinus about the possible hostile takeover of the Sierra Club's national board by a group of high-profile anti-immigration types. Very interesting and definately worth watching.
Oh, and one other thing. I'm not going to link to the If George W. Bush was a Girl web site... But Mark Kleiman did.
"You don't want them to become a target"
This is the third installment of this series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Del's team would roll on convoy security duty, driving HUMVEEs through the streets of Baghdad, always on the lookout for Haji. Haji is to Iraq what Charlie was to Vietnam, the name given to the ubiquitous bad guy, often difficult to distinguish from your everyday, peace-loving Iraqi. From Del's perspective, there were lots of bad guys in Iraq, certainly not all on the same side. But they would all be delighted to earn their stripes by shooting up one of Del's convoys.
Despite the fact that the term Haji is a title of respect in the Muslim world, bestowed upon those devout Muslims who have made the required Haj or pilgrimage to Mecca, it somehow has become the name the American troops have given to the enemy in Iraq.
One thing that made Del's job particularly difficult was that, under the American occupation, Iraqis are permitted to possess and carry firearms. Del described it as sort of a home and personal security thing. It's as though, in our efforts to establish Democracy in Iraq, we urged them to accept the liberties outlined in our own First Amendment, and then we threw the Second Amendment in, too, perhaps for balance or maybe just to keep Del's job interesting.
As a result, one of Del's convoys would be rolling through the city, and there would be guys walking around with assault rifles in their hands. When that happened, all guns in the convoy would train on the guy with the rifle. Del said that the Iraqis learned very quickly to either lay the weapon down, or hold it in a non-threatening manner. That way, everybody got to go home to their family after the convoy passed.
However, Del explained, a line had to be drawn. An AK-47 could be considered a personal defense weapon. A rocket propelled grenade launcher (RPG), on the other had, didn't qualify. If one of those appreared on the street, it was to assumed to be in the possession of Haji. The guns would open fire and Haji would go down. Del pointed out that it was also not a good idea to be standing next to someone who was holding an RPG. Del didn't like the idea of innocent civilians getting killed, but he understood that when an RPG appeared on the street, the kids on the SAWs could get a little excited.
That was Del's hard side, that part that says you protect your team and try to bring everybody home. If bad stuff happens to people who are not on your team, that's just sort of the way it goes in war.
In fairness, Del has another side, too. His missions occasionally took him to a location outside the city. There was a squatters' camp near by, filled with families who had lost their homes in the course of the war. Del's team got in the habit of bringing some water to a the families there and giving candy bars to the children. If it was their last stop before going back "inside the wire," they would also give away all of their remaining MREs.
At one point Del emailed his wife back in the states, and ask her to send any children's clothing she could dig up. His wife did some networking with friends, associates, and her church. She started sending clothes, and her contacts began sending clothes, too. One woman of sufficient means went to Macy's and bought several new sets of outfits and sent them to Del. In the course of a few weeks, the kids in that squatter's camp had some of the best clothing in all of Iraq.
It was about that time that Del's boss took him aside and told him he had probably better shut down the donated clothing operation. "It makes them look like they're getting a little to friendly with us," his boss told him. "You don't want them to become a target."
Del's only regret when it was time to leave was that he would no longer be looking after the kids on his team. He had trained them as well as he could, but still, he found it awfully hard to leave knowing that they had to stay behind.
Women are going to
Rock the Vote
During the Nixon years (yes I was there, and yes, I sort of remember them) the term credibility gap came into common usage to describe the void between what the administration was saying and, well, reality.
In the 1990s, pollsters started picking up on the fact that women (soccer moms, in particular) were much more inclined to vote for progressive Democrats than men were. This difference was called the Gender Gap.
Over at the Whiskey Bar, Billmon has been sifting through the latest poll numbers. No detailed analysis yet, but he points out that:
The Gender Gap is turning into the Gender Canyon. And George W. Bush is on the wrong side of it -- by about 15 to 20 percentage points.One of Billmon's commenters, a delightful cowgirl who uses the nom de blog Mrs. Robinson elaborates:
Memo to Karl: If you think American women were driven to the brink of ecstasy by the sight your boy prancing around in that flight suit, flaunting his tightly-strapped "package," you must think we're even stupider than that idiot you're trying to re-elect.
We moms know how little boys like to play dress-up. Fighter pilot, cowboy, commander-in-chief, space explorer, president....all in a day's work for my son. But he's ten. Your little boy is in his fifties, and his testosterone-poisoned play-acting is making a big mess. People are getting hurt. The other kids are taking their toys and going home. The NASCAR dads may think it's all real cute, but we know that when the game's over, it's gonna be us moms on the business end of the mop...as usual.
We know a spoiled brat when we see one. And we know what to do with him: take away his toys, send him to his room, and make it clear he won't be allowed to play with his friends again until he learns some manners.
Your boy George is headed for history's biggest time-out. Those quiet voices you here are the moms of America, gently issuing the warning count. If we get to three, you are officially in Big Trouble.All I can add is that women like Mrs. Robinson may very well save this country. You go girl!
Sunday, March 07, 2004
a Victory of Arrogance
a Failure of Imagination
"It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine."
--Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 27, 2003.Over at Intel Dump, Phil Carter notes an article from InsideDefense (subscription required):
Prewar planning for the combat offensive to drive then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power was "an A-plus effort," but crafting the coalition's reconstruction strategy "did not go well," retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg said. U.S. officials "made a lot of bad assumptions" that continue to plague coalition efforts "to this day."
Kellogg, who last week returned from Iraq after working for Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer, headed the Joint Staff's command, control, communications and computer systems directorate (J-6) when administration and Pentagon officials were charting how the coalition would battle Iraqi troops and begin rebuilding the nation. He spoke today during an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference in Arlington, VA.Carter, a former army officer (both active and reserve) takes a look at the Pentagon's (especially the civilian leadership) excuses for not having enough troops and material on the ground in Iraq when they were needed, and finds them inadequate.
Failing to see the future can be forgiven; failure to plan for contingencies -- especially bad ones -- cannot be forgiven. If those resources were there, commanders could have made a bad plan work by improvising, adapting and innovating on the ground. But without those resources, the commanders were hamstrung in their ability to fix a deteriorating security situation -- they made do with what they had. That was the failure, and that's why having a bad plan made such a big difference in the early days of April and May 2003.Carter doesn't go into detail about the causes of that failure. He provides a link to the outstanding article by James Fallows in The Atlantic that chronicles the decision process. To his credit, Carter lets readers draw their own conclusions.
My personal interest in this begins about 10 years ago. Saddam had moved some divisions down near the border with Kuwait, sort of pulling America's chain to see if, with Clinton as President, we would be willing to mobilize all over again for another Gulf War. The U.S. did initiate a response. In addition, the Secretary of Defense directed CENTCOM to begin a revision of the U.S. war plans for the region.
When we went to war with Iraq in 1991, the plan under which the U.S. operated was geared toward the defense of the Saudi peninsula. The National Command Authority (the President and the Secretary of Defense) wanted the plan revised to include taking the ground war into Iraq and eliminating "the leadership of the Baath Party."
I was on the team that worked on the initial revision of the plan. In essence, we planned the invasion of Iraq. There were a lot of force-on-force calculations that went into it. The logisticians were there, working the math on how to support the force, knowing that a corps on the move sucks about two million gallons of fuel per day. Engineers pondered whether all the bridges between Kuwait and Baghdad would support the M1 Tank, which is considerably heavier that the Russian-built T-72 used by the Iraqis. Infantry and Armor guys worked out the maneuver parts. In the end, we envisioned a two corps operation that included Army, Marine, and Coalition forces pushing to Baghdad, and if necessary, Tikrit.
Over the next few years, the Army did what it does with a new plan, it filled in the concept with actual units, then ran a series of war game simulations, looking for problems that could arise in everything from moving beans and bullets to the troops in the field to the set up of the command, control, communication, and computer networks. When complete, the process produced two documents. One was the revised war plan, written in significant detail so that every necessary combat unit, every communications node, and every logistics support base had been spelled out in sufficient detail. The other document was the Time-Phased Force Deployment Data or TPFDD (pronounced "tipfid"). The is the actual list of units that are to be mobilized for a given operation and the timing of that mobilization. It is structured to support the operation plan by getting the units in place in the appropriate sequence.
It's appropriate to note that the Army has a bias: If you're going to do a mission, you do it right. That means anticipating what can go wrong, and planning for enough troops, weapons systems, equipment and supplies to win, even if you find yourself in a worst-case scenario. As a result, the TPFDD called for a force of around 400,000 military personnel. It was a heavy figure, for sure. But it had enough force built into it to ensure success, even if things started going wrong on the battlefield.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had an entirely different bias. He believed that a fast and lean force was superior to a large deliberate one. He thought it worked for him in Afghanistan, and he saw no reason why America needed such a huge force to defeat the Iraqi army. So he began to trim the force that had been painstakingly developed through years of planning. He eventually reduced it by half. And when something did go wrong, as was the case when the government of Turkey decided not to let the U.S. uses Turkish territory to launch a second front from the north, there were some tense days for the senior American ground commanders, who were conducting an operation from a playbook that called a 400,000 troops, but were doing it with less than half that amount.
The fact that the U.S. army prevailed in combat against the Iraqi army didn't surprise anyone. But the smaller size of the U.S. force began to have consequences immediately following the defeat of the Iraqi army. While America brought enough troops to win the war, they were not enough to secure the peace. Issues of looting, securing suspected nuclear sites and arms caches, and the ability to provide security throughout a nation the size of California came to the forefront.
And it became immediately clear that the rosy scenario that Ahmad Chalabi and his friends in the Iraqi National Congress had painted for Dick Cheney and the Pentagon's civilian leadership, that of the Iraqi people joyously welcoming the American's as liberators, wasn't anywhere close to accurate. As a result, the effort to secure and rebuild Iraq was going to be a lot more difficult than Donald Rumsfeld and his chief assistants had imagined.
In their arrogance, they chose to disregard well thought out Army studies about the difficulty of winning the war, securing the peace, and the size of the force necessary to do it.
If not the seminal moment, certainly the most public one in spelling out the difference between the Army's leadership and the civilian leadership in the Pentagon is described by Fallows:
As the war drew near, the dispute about how to conduct it became public. On February 25 the Senate Armed Services Committee summoned all four Chiefs of Staff to answer questions about the war -- and its aftermath. The crucial exchange began with a question from the ranking Democrat, Carl Levin. He asked Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, how many soldiers would be required not to defeat Iraq but to occupy it. Well aware that he was at odds with his civilian superiors at the Pentagon, Shinseki at first deflected the question. "In specific numbers," he said, "I would have to rely on combatant commanders' exact requirements. But I think ..." and he trailed off.
"How about a range?" Levin asked. Shinseki replied -- and recapitulated the argument he had made to Rumsfeld.
I would say that what's been mobilized to this point, something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are probably, you know, a figure that would be required.
We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so, it takes significant ground force presence to maintain safe and secure environment to ensure that the people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.
Two days later Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the House Budget Committee. He began working through his prepared statement about the Pentagon's budget request and then asked permission to "digress for a moment" and respond to recent commentary, "some of it quite outlandish, about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq." Everyone knew he meant Shinseki's remarks.
"I am reluctant to try to predict anything about what the cost of a possible conflict in Iraq would be," Wolfowitz said, "or what the possible cost of reconstructing and stabilizing that country afterwards might be." This was more than reluctance -- it was the Administration's consistent policy before the war. "But some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark."
This was as direct a rebuke of a military leader by his civilian superior as the United States had seen in fifty years. Wolfowitz offered a variety of incidental reasons why his views were so different from those he alluded to: "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq's reconstruction," and "We can't be sure that the Iraqi people will welcome us as liberators ... [but] I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down." His fundamental point was this: "It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine."Getting back to my personal end of the story, when our team had finished our work on the initial concept of the revised operation plan, we briefed it to Lieutenant General Steve Arnold. Arnold was the ARCENT (Army Central Command) commanding general. He was a soldier's soldier. He'd been with the 82d Airborne in Grenada and with the 10th Mountain in Somalia. And if we were to actually go into Iraq that year in response to Saddam's recent troop movements, he would have responsibility for the mission of the ground forces in the operation.
General Arnold listened closely to our presentation. Our closing remarks were, "General, when combat operations are complete, you will be the de facto military governor of Iraq and responsible for the largest civil affairs and nation building mission since we rebuilt Germany at the end of World War II."
"Gentleman," General Arnold replied, "that is not a mission that I want."
I suspect that he knew a bit more about what would be involved than those learned civilians in the Pentagon.