Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Regrets, I've had a few...

Belgravia Dispatch links and excerpts from this Washington Post article, an interview with Eliot Cohen, a neoconservative and key supporter of the Iraq War. In it, we at last see some major criticism of the Bush Administration from a hawk. He actually refers to the administration's decision making as incompetent, a refreshing change from the usual right wing echo chamber. My reaction to his comments are in blue.

Cohen, in contemplating whether or not he would have supported the Iraq action had known what he knows now, says:

So it is not an academic matter when I say that what I took to be the basic rationale for the war still strikes me as sound. Iraq was a policy problem that we could evade in words but not escape in reality. But what I did not know then that I do know now is just how incompetent we would be at carrying out that task.
He continues later in the piece,

But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.

I did not know, but I might have guessed.

Many of these construction contracts went to our friend Halliburton and related subsidiaries; but had we focused more on using Iraqi construction firms and workers, would that have really changed anything? I wonder. Dr. Cohen continues, saying later in the piece that

This is an unusually invertebrate insurgency, without a central organization or ideology, a coherent set of objectives or a common positive purpose. The FLN in Algeria or the Viet Cong were far more cohesive and directed. The decentralized ad hoc nature of the insurgency makes it harder to figure out, but also less likely to succeed; there is a reason why it is well-organized and disciplined guerrillas who eventually occupy presidential palaces.
The question, of course, is whether the insurgents actually have any goal beyond removing the US prescence in Iraq. As Dr. Cohen points out, this insurgency is far less organized and focused than that we faced in Vietnam, lacking a clear leader or unity, let alone common goals. This is negative in that we will be unable to destroy the insurgency by destroying the leadership, but a positive in that they are unlikely to work together for long; recent reports indicate that native Iraqi insurgents are growing increasingly frustrated with the foreign fighters involved in 'al Qaeda in Iraq.'

Later, Cohen comments on continued mismanagement of the servicemen and women fighting this war:

It is a flicker of rage that two years into an insurgency, we still expose our troops in Humvees to the blasts of roadside bombs -- knowing that even the armored version of that humble successor to the Jeep is simply not designed for warfare along guerrilla-infested highways, while, at the same time, knowing that plenty of countries manufacture armored cars that are. It is disbelief at a manpower system that, following its prewar routines, ships soldiers off to war for a year or 15 months, giving them two weeks of leave at the end, when our British comrades, more experienced in these matters and wiser in pacing themselves, ship troops out for half that time, and give them an extra month on top of their regular leave after an operational deployment.

It flames up when hearing about the veteran who in theory has a year between Iraq rotations, but in fact, because he transferred between units after returning from one tour, will go back to Iraq half a year later, and who, because of "stop-loss orders" involuntarily extending active duty tours, will find himself in combat nine months after his enlistment runs out. And all this because after 9/11, when so many Americans asked for nothing but an opportunity to serve, we did not expand our Army and Marine Corps when we could, even though we knew we would need more troops.
We are wearing out our military, running it dry. The use of stop-loss and an idiotic rotation system is weaking both manpower and equipment, and I fear that it will come back and bite us in the long run. Finally, Dr. Cohen finishes with this comment:

The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do. What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth -- an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight.
While it is refreshing to hear a major war supporter criticize the blunders and fiascos that this Administration is responsible for (particularly when he criticizes the 'Clintonian' parsing of words when member of the Administration are referring to the manpower losses and the protracted insurgency, not quoted in this post by a good read in the article), I question whether he would have had this reaction had his son not been going off to serve as an Army captain in theater. Perhaps that is too harsh; he does deserve credit for speaking up. The question, of course, is just who is listening?

(Crossposted by Bostondreamer at FloridaBlues)
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