Rumsfeld and RMA

Peter Boyer of the New Yorker writes about Rumsfeld and the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs. Reading the article, one cannot help be struck by how many incomprehensible mistakes the planners of the Iraq War made.

World Without Borders

For instance:

The New Yorker: How Donald Rumsfeld reformed the Army and lost Iraq.

“Never, from the first day that we ever started planning this until we got to Baghdad, in all the processes, rehearsals—nobody ever mentioned the word ‘looter,’ ” Blount told me. “I mean, it was just never, ever, ever mentioned. Our focus was on fighting the war.” Blount was loath to order his troops to use deadly force on looters. As he saw it, the raiders were indulging an impulse to street justice. “These are the people that we’re liberating,” he recalled. “The oppressed. You know, that have been without for centuries now, and they’ve got nothing, and they’re trying to get a little bit back from the Baath Party.”
Blount ordered patrols to secure hospitals, power facilities, and other key structures, but in many cases the looters had already come and gone. As it became apparent in Washington that the disorder might spin out of control, the 3rd I.D.’s pullout was delayed. At the division’s home base, in Georgia, some of the troops’ spouses began to voice their dismay, and in Baghdad, some of Blount’s soldiers complained to reporters.

Blount’s superiors in the Pentagon were furious, blaming his unit’s recalcitrance on a lack of leadership. “We had no orders or plans to occupy Baghdad,” Blount says. “There were just a lot of assumptions made. I’ve looked back at this a good bit at different times, wondering, you know, well, could we have done something differently?”

General Jack Keane, then the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff and one of Rumsfeld’s most trusted advisers in the force, flew to Iraq and was chagrined that the 3rd I.D.’s briefings failed to focus on containing the spreading disorder. But Keane later reflected that Blount’s troops could hardly be blamed. “They were ill-prepared—they weren’t educated to do it, and they weren’t trained to do it, and they weren’t expecting to do it,” Keane said, of the unit’s impromptu policing mission. When the 3rd I.D. eventually left Iraq, four months later, Blount was assigned to a desk job at the Pentagon, a role he served in for the remainder of his active career. He did not get a promotion and a third star, as many had once expected.


On November 11, 2003, Abizaid sent a memorandum to Rumsfeld, in which he provided the Secretary with the definition of “counter-insurgency,” taken from the Pentagon’s own dictionary of military terms:
Sir, our doctrine states: “Counterinsurgency—those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency.”. . . Clearly we must integrate elements of national power in any effort to defeat an insurgency.

Abizaid attached to the memo a one-page primer called “Elements of Successful Counterinsurgency” (“worthy of your time to digest,” Abizaid noted to Rumsfeld), which included the advice to “develop a coordinated, integrated plan based on an accurate assessment of the insurgency’s goals, techniques, and strategies.” It is difficult to imagine that, at that late date, the Secretary of Defense needed to be told the meaning of “counter-insurgency,” but the likely purpose of Abizaid’s memo is no less remarkable. Seven months after the fall of Baghdad, the Administration still lacked a strategy for countering an enemy it did not fully understand. Abizaid’s memo underscoring the need for an “integrated” strategy arrived at the same moment that Bremer was summoned to Washington for a series of meetings that effectively reined him in. He returned to Baghdad with instructions to hasten the timetable for establishing Iraqi sovereignty.


The American invading force had prepared for a chemical assault from Saddam’s Army, for a set-piece battle with Saddam’s armored units, and for a long bloody battle for Baghdad. “What we didn’t plan for,” says Jack Keane, “is what happened.

The American military had spent thirty years avoiding the thought of fighting a counter-insurgency, a subject that hadn’t been part of the curriculum at West Point since the Vietnam era. The proud, professional volunteer force constructed since Vietnam was not built for a protracted occupation, an eventuality that, in any case, the nation’s political leadership reflexively rejected out of hand. Bill Clinton fought a war in Kosovo by announcing at the outset that the commitment of ground troops was not an option; the Bush Administration came into power renouncing the idea of nation-building as a foolish misuse of military resources.

But the inability quickly to recognize and formulate a coherent strategy to fight the insurgency that arose in Iraq reflected more than the military’s institutional biases, or Donald Rumsfeld’s intransigence. It also partly reflected a crucial policy decision in Washington, which effectively dashed any chance that the coalition forces would be received as liberators rather than as occupiers.

An article worthy of your time to digest...

and also, as an adjunct, a smaller article about Rumsfeld's former friend, Ken Adelman:

...Rumsfeld had apparently come to see Adelman’s advice as a bit too unvarnished. Before the war, Adelman famously remarked that the invasion would be a ”cakewalk.“ He wasn’t wrong about that. Seizing Baghdad was comparatively easy; holding it quickly became the problem. ”When Rumsfeld said, in reaction to all the looting, ‘Stuff happens,’ and ‘That’s what free people do,’ I was just so disappointed,“ Adelman recalled last week. ”This wasn’t what free people did; it’s what barbarians did.“ Within the confines of the policy board, Adelman became blunt about his disenchantment with the Pentagon’s management of the war. At the board’s meeting this summer, Adelman said, he argued that the American military needed a new strategy.

”I suggested that we were losing the war,“ Adelman said. ”What was astonishing to me was the number of Iraqi professional people who were leaving the country. People were voting with their feet, and I said that it looked like we needed a Plan B. I said, ‘What’s the alternative? Because what we’re doing now is just losing.’ “

Adelman said that Rumsfeld didn’t take to the message well. ”He was in deep denial—deep, deep denial. And then he did a strange thing. He did fifteen or twenty minutes of posing questions to himself, and then answering them. He made the statement that we can only lose the war in America, that we can’t lose it in Iraq. And I tried to interrupt this interrogatory soliloquy to say, ‘Yes, we are actually losing the war in Iraq.’ He got upset and cut me off. He said, ‘Excuse me,’ and went right on with it.“

The meeting ended disagreeably.

And then [Adelman] said, ‘I’m negative about two things: the deflection of responsibility, and the quality of decisions.’ He said he took responsibility all the time. Then I talked about two decisions: the way he handled the looting, and Abu Ghraib. He told me that he didn’t remember saying, ‘Stuff happens.’ He was really in denial that this was his fault.” Adelman said that it struck him then that “maybe he really thinks that things are going well in Iraq.”

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on November 18, 2006 4:34 PM.

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