Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Our mistakes in Iraq 

Stratfor's weekly letter to subscribers is devoted to the perilous state of our war on Islamist jihad. Here's the introduction:
The strategy of the United States in its war with radical Islam is in a state of crisis. The global strategic framework is in much better shape than the
tactical situation in the Iraq theater of operations -- but this is of only
limited comfort to Washington because massive tactical failure in Iraq could
lead to strategic collapse. The situation is balanced on the razor's edge.
The United States could recover from its tactical failures, or suffer a
massive defeat if it fails to do so. One thing is certain: The United States
cannot remain balanced on the razor's edge indefinitely.

The piece contains a lot that is positive, and a lot that is troubling. The most interesting thing about it is the catalog of errors, failures, and bad luck that Stratfor sees in the justification for the Iraq war, the execution of the war, and the postwar planning:
A string of intelligence failures, errors in judgment and command failures have conspired to undermine the U.S. position in Iraq and reverse the strategic benefits.

These failures included:

* A failure to detect that preparations were under way
for a guerrilla war in the event that Baghdad fell.

* A failure to quickly recognize that a guerrilla war was under way in Iraq,
and a delay of months before the reality was recognized and a strategy
developed for dealing with it.

* A failure to understand that the United States did not have the resources
to govern Iraq if all Baathist personnel were excluded.

* A failure to understand the nature of the people the United States was
installing in the Iraqi Governing Council -- and in particular, the complex
loyalties of Ahmed Chalabi and his relationship to Iraq's Shia and the
Iranian government. The United States became highly dependent on individuals
about whom it lacked sufficient intelligence.

* A failure to recognize that the Sunni guerrillas were regrouping in
February and March 2004, after their defeat in the Ramadan offensive.

* Completely underestimating the number of forces needed for the occupation
of Iraq, and cavalierly dismissing accurate Army estimates in favor of lower
estimates that rapidly became unsupportable.

* Failing to step up military recruiting in order to increase the total
number of U.S. ground forces available on a worldwide basis. Failing to
understand that the difference between defeating an army and occupying a
country had to be made up with ground forces.

These are the particular failures. The general failures are a compendium of
every imaginable military failing:

* Failing to focus on the objective. Rather than remembering why U.S. forces
were in Iraq and focusing on that, the Bush administration wandered off into
irrelevancies and impossibilities, such as building democracy and eliminating
Baath party members. The administration forgot its mission.

* Underestimating the enemy and overestimating U.S. power. The enemy was
intelligent, dedicated and brave. He was defending his country and his home.
The United States was enormously powerful but not omnipotent. The casual
dismissal of the Iraqi guerrillas led directly to the failure to anticipate
and counter enemy action.

* Failure to rapidly identify errors and rectify them through changes of
plans, strategies and personnel. Error is common in war. The measure of a
military force is how honestly errors are addressed and rectified. When a
command structure begins denying that self- evident problems are facing them,
all is lost. The administration's insistence over the past year that no
fundamental errors were committed in Iraq has been a cancer eating through
all layers of the command structure -- from the squad to the office of the

* Failing to understand the political dimension of the war and permitting
political support for the war in the United States to erode by failing to
express a clear, coherent war plan on the broadest level. Because of this
failure, other major failures -- ranging from the failure to find weapons of
mass destruction to the treatment of Iraqi prisoners -- have filled the space
that strategy should have occupied. The persistent failure of the president
to explain the linkage between Iraq and the broader war has been symptomatic of this systemic failure.

Remember the objective; respect the enemy; be your own worst critic; exercise leadership at all levels -- these are fundamental principles of warfare. They have all been violated during the Iraq campaign.

Stratfor has long endorsed the strategy that it perceived behind the Iraq war: to disabuse the Islamic world of the notion that America would not suffer casualties or make sacrifices to achieve security, and to establish a major military and strategic presence in the heart of the Arab Middle East. It is therefore both instructive and troubling that these very thoughtful analysts believe that we are at a moment of great crisis. The way out of Dodge, then, is to recognize the crisis and deal with it with some imagination and competence:
It is not clear that the Bush administration understands the crisis it is
facing. The prison abuse pictures are symptomatic -- not only of persistent
command failure, but also of the administration's loss of credibility with
the public. Since no one really knows what the administration is doing, it is
not unreasonable to fill in the blanks with the least generous assumptions.
The issue is this: Iraq has not gone as planned by any stretch of the
imagination. If the failures of Iraq are not rectified quickly, the entire
U.S. strategic position could unravel. Speed is of the essence. There is no
longer time left....

The issue facing Bush is not merely the prison pictures. It is the series of
failures in the Iraq campaign that have revealed serious errors of judgment
and temperament among senior Cabinet-level officials. We suspect that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is finished, and with him Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Vice President Dick Cheney said over the weekend that everyone should get off of Rumsfeld's case. What Cheney doesn't seem to grasp is that there is a war on and that at this moment, it isn't going very well. If the secretary of defense doesn't bear the burden of failures and misjudgments, who does? Or does the vice president suggest a no-fault policy when it comes to war? Or does he think that things are going well?

This is not asked polemically. It is our job to identify emerging trends, and
we have, frequently, been accused of everything from being owned by the
Republicans to being Iraq campaign apologists. In fact, we are making a non-
partisan point: The administration is painting itself into a corner that will
cost Bush the presidency if it does not deal with the fact that there is no
one who doesn't know that Iraq has been mismanaged. The administration's only option for survival is to start managing it effectively, if that can be done at this point.

Tough stuff, and very hard to dispute at its core, even if one might argue around the edges. Does the Bush Administration have the brains and stomach to act creatively and competently in Iraq during a tough reelection campaign?


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