December 14, 2010

Smack Down! Condolezza Rice Educates Katie Couric on Why We Invaded Iraq

Left-wing journalist Katie Couric gets smacked down by former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice in this interview. Couric, who incredibly is the anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, trots out all the standard lies about our decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I don't watch TV, so don't have much perspective on her, but hopefully Couric was just having a bad day, because she comes across as a complete dope. Here's the opening:

Couric: On Iraq books have been written, as you know, many, many books, documentaries that have been made about how intelligence was incorrectly analyzed, cherry picked, to build an argument for war, and memos from that time do suggest that officials knew there was a small chance of actually finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq... there are some things that seem to suggest that in the build up to the actual war, that there was some doubt about that, wouldn't you say?

Rice: incredulous laugh No, I don't agree with that at all.

Rice goes on to hand Couric her head. Couric comes across as at best just dumb and at worst someone who just parrots what she reads on bad left-wing web sites. Rice comes across as smart, well spoken, and knowledgeable. Or, as John Hinderaker of Powerline put it, Rice "provides a refreshingly adult take on the subject."

via Powerline:

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August 8, 2009

The "One-War Only" Fallacy

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen had this to say yesterday:

The top U.S. uniformed military officer Wednesday offered a bleak assessment of the war in Afghanistan, saying that years of neglect before the Obama administration had starved the U.S.-led effort of funds and diplomatic heft - a condition he called "a culture of poverty."

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that nearly eight years after the war began, the U.S. military is still digging its way "out of a hole" and has not reached "year zero" in the campaign to turn back Taliban advances and gain the trust of the Afghan people....

He said a strategy devised since President Obama took office is intended to reverse these negative trends and hinted that another assessment to be completed late this month or in September might assign more military and civilian personnel to the war and to Afghan development.

Three points here

One, it is true that we did not send enough troops and material to Afghanistan when Bush was president, and I am glad that Obama has reversed this. We should have paid more attention to what was going on there and done whatever it took financially to provide more resources. As part of this I am glad that President Obama rejected a minimalist approach and last March announced that he was sending more resources to our commanders.

Two, let's still be clear that this is an insurgency in one of the poorest nations on the planet and not World War II. I've written the how and why about this a zillion times here on this blog, and go here for details, but if you're hoping for a quick victory in any insurgency you're going to be disappointed. They've long by their very nature, and for various reasons the one in Afghanistan will probably be on the long end of long insurgencies.

Three, let's get over this ridiculous notion that we cannot fight two wars at the same time.

During WWII we fought two high-intensity wars on opposite sides of the world at the same time. We took on Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy (ok we could have beat them with a brigade of Boy Scouts) and the Empire of Japan all at once. It was hard and took everything we had, but we produced hundreds of warships, thousands of transport and merchant ships, and put twelve million men in uniform. And we did it with a far smaller population and coming out of the Great Depression.

Our strategy during the Cold War was to fight two and a half wars at the same time. The idea was that if the balloon went up we'd fight one in Europe against the Soviets, one in the Pacific against the Soviets and China, and a half war somewhere else like Central America or against Cuba. The details of this changed over time, and some argued that it was beyond our reach, but at least we tried to provide resources for it.

Since 2003 we have been told by some that we can't even to fight two low-intensity wars that are very near each other simultaneously. One of the primary arguments against Iraq was that it we couldn't fight it and Afghanistan simultaneously.

Now, as I said earlier, it's legitimate to argue that Bush took his eye off of Afghanistan while concentrating on Iraq. But the conclusion I take from that is that he should have been able to fight both. It is silly to say that we can only concentrate on one at a time.

If we could fight World War II and the Cold War on multiple fronts, we can certainly fight two insurgencies at once.

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May 13, 2007

When What "Everyone Knows" Is Wrong

Today's Washington Post brings us "What We Got Right In Iraq" by L Paul Bremer, the man who led the Coalition Provisional Authority from May 2003 to June 2004. The Post will also host an online chat with Bremer tomorrow at 3pm, where he will answer reader's questions. Details here.

In today's piece Bremer defends two key programs of his tenure as administrator of Iraq; De-Baathification, and the decision to rebuild the Iraqi army from scratch.

I have not spent much time on this blog pursuing the "blame game" with regard to Iraq or the War on Jihadism. I don't go after President Clinton for his failures, partially because I'm not so sure a Republican would have done much differently, and partially because it's generally so unproductive. With regard to Iraq, I just want to win it. Let's leave postmortems to later.

Every now and then, however, I'll make an exception. Because the performance of the Iraqi Army is vital to our success, it's that part of his article that I want to consider.

Addressing the De-Baathification campaign and decision to rebuild the Iraqi Army from scratch, Bremer addresses his critics

Looking for a neat, simple explanation for our current problems in Iraq, pundits argue that these two steps alienated the formerly ruling Sunnis, created a pool of angry rebels-in-waiting and sparked the insurgency that's raging today. The conventional wisdom is as firm here as it gets. It's also dead wrong.

Readers interested in the De-Baathification program will want to read the article. Here will will only consider what Bremer has to say about the Iraqi Army.

The first question Bremer addresses is the nature of the Iraqi Army under Saddam and what happened to it when we invaded.

The war's critics have also comprehensively misunderstood the "disbanding" of Hussein's army, arguing that we kicked away a vital pillar that kept the country stable and created a pool of unemployed, angry men ripe for rebellion. But this fails to reckon with the true nature of Hussein's killing machine and the situation on the ground.

It's somewhat surprising at this late date to have to remind people of the old army's reign of terror. In the 1980s, it waged a genocidal war against Iraq's minority Kurds, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and more than 5,000 people in a notorious chemical-weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq's majority Shiites rose up against Hussein, whose army machine-gunned hundreds of thousands of men, women and children and threw their corpses into mass graves. It's no wonder that Shiites and Kurds, who together make up more than 80 percent of Iraq's population, hated Hussein's military.

Bremer is dead on in his description of the Iraqi Army. One thing made clear by the Iraqi Perspectives Project was that the entire purpose of the army under Saddam was to keep him and his cronies in power. Only second on Saddam's list was regional threats, third the United States and other coalition powers.

I think that many of us in the West here the term "army", and just assume that to some degree they're all the same. And, after all, Saddam's army had all the trappings of a Western one. But dig beneath the surface and you find something totally different.

Keeping number 1 in power is not always the prime mission of an army in totalitarian countries. In Nazi Germany the SS served this role, with the army in the role of conquerer foreign lands, for example.

Further, it's not as if the old Iraqi Army was a fine fighting force. In fact, it was rife with internal, structural problems

Before the 2003 war, the army had consisted of about 315,000 miserable draftees, almost all Shiite, serving under a largely Sunni officer corps of about 80,000. The Shiite conscripts were regularly brutalized and abused by their Sunni officers. When the draftees saw which way the war was going, they deserted and, like their officers, went back home. But before the soldiers left, they looted the army's bases right down to the foundations.

The Iraqi Army fell apart as our forces reached Bagdad in April of 2003. The plain fact is that it disintigrated before our eyes. Why, then, did he not try and recall it?

Some in the U.S. military and the CIA's Baghdad station suggested that we try to recall Hussein's army. We refused, for overwhelming practical, political and military reasons.

For starters, the draftees were hardly going to return voluntarily to the army they so loathed; we would have had to send U.S. troops into Shiite villages to force them back at gunpoint. And even if we could have assembled a few all-Sunni units, the looting would have meant they'd have no gear or bases.

Moreover, the political consequences of recalling the army would have been catastrophic. Kurdish leaders made it clear to me that recalling Hussein-era forces would make their region secede, which would have triggered a civil war and tempted Turkey and Iran to invade Iraq to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdistan. Many Shiite leaders who were cooperating with the U.S.-led forces would have taken up arms against us if we'd called back the perpetrators of the southern killing fields of 1991.

Finally, neither the U.S.-led coalition nor the Iraqis could have relied on the allegiance of a recalled army. This lesson was driven home a year later, when the Marines unilaterally recalled a single brigade of Hussein's former army, without consulting with the Iraqi government or the CPA. This "Fallujah Brigade" quickly proved disloyal and had to be disbanded. Moreover, the Marines' action so rattled the Shiites and Kurds that it very nearly derailed the political process of returning sovereignty over the country to the Iraqi people -- further proof of the extreme danger of relying on Hussein's old army.

So, after full coordination within the U.S. government, including the military, I issued an order to build a new, all-volunteer army.

I haven't studied the issue in detail so I can't say with 100% certainty that everything Bremer is correct. However, I do think that of the problems we did make "disbanding" the old Iraqi Army and building a new one from the ground up isn't one of them.

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The New Iraqi Army
Iraq War Fallacies: "We Should Have Kept the Iraqi Army"

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March 20, 2007

On Target

I'm not typically one to refight old battles. What's done is done. We invaded Iraq and we are there. Whether it was right or not is pretty much irrelevant. I'm interested in what we do next.

But today I'll make an exception.

I thought that yesterday's piece by Christopher Hitchens in Slate titled "So, Mr. Hitchens, Weren't You Wrong About Iraq?" was dead spot on. As such, I'm simply going to reprint part of it here. When Hitch is on, he's on.

Four years after the first coalition soldiers crossed the Iraqi border, one can attract pitying looks (at best) if one does not take the view that the whole engagement could have been and should have been avoided. Those who were opposed to the operation from the beginning now claim vindication, and many of those who supported it say that if they had known then what they know now, they would have spoken or voted differently.

What exactly does it mean to take the latter position? At what point, in other words, ought the putative supporter to have stepped off the train? The question isn't as easy to answer as some people would have you believe. Suppose we run through the actual timeline:

Was the president right or wrong to go to the United Nations in September 2002 and to say that body could no longer tolerate Saddam Hussein's open flouting of its every significant resolution, from weaponry to human rights to terrorism?

A majority of the member states thought he was right and had to admit that the credibility of the United Nations was at stake. It was scandalous that such a regime could for more than a decade have violated the spirit and the letter of the resolutions that had allowed a cease-fire after the liberation of Kuwait. The Security Council, including Syria, voted by nine votes to zero that Iraq must come into full compliance or face serious consequences.

Was it then correct to send military forces to the Gulf, in case Saddam continued his long policy of defiance, concealment, and expulsion or obstruction of U.N. inspectors?

If you understand the history of the inspection process at all, you must concede that Saddam would never have agreed to readmit the inspectors if coalition forces had not made their appearance on his borders and in the waters of the Gulf. It was never a choice between inspection and intervention: It was only the believable threat of an intervention that enabled even limited inspections to resume.
...

Could Iraq have been believably "inspected" while the Baath Party remained in power?

No. The word inspector is misleading here. The small number of U.N. personnel were not supposed to comb the countryside. They were supposed to monitor the handover of the items on Iraq's list, to check them, and then to supervise their destruction. (If Iraq disposed of the items in any other way—by burying or destroying or neutralizing them, as now seems possible—that would have been an additional grave breach of the resolutions.) To call for serious and unimpeachable inspections was to call, in effect, for a change of regime in Iraq. Thus, we can now say that Iraq is in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty. Moreover, the subsequent hasty compliance of Col. Muammar Qaddafi's Libya and the examination of his WMD stockpile (which proved to be much larger and more sophisticated than had been thought) allowed us to trace the origin of much materiel to Pakistan and thus belatedly to shut down the A.Q. Khan secret black market.

Some people today have it in their heads that the role of the inspectors was to run around the country playing hide-and-seek with the Iraqis. Not the case. As Hitch says, their role was to verify the destruction of the material that Saddam declared following the Gulf War, not "comb the countryside" looking for weapons.

In 1987 the United States and USSR signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty ("INF Treaty"). The US agreed to destroy our Pershing II and some of our GLCMs(Ground Launched Cruise Missile). The Soviets promised to destroy several types of their medium-range missiles, most notably the SS-20.

Inspectors of each country were sent to verify the destruction of the aformentioned systems. They watched while workers cut up the missiles with large saws and burned the fuel in special incinerators. What they did not do is run around the countryside in 4x4s on wild goose chases. Such a scenario would have been unimaginable. Why, then, do so many people seem to think that we should have done just that with Saddam for an indefinate period?

Hitch has a lot more to say, so go and read the whole thing.

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June 19, 2006

Is the Bush Administraion Guilty of "Mission Creep"?

The Bush Administration is constantly accused of expanding the mission in Iraq. First it was getting rid of WMD, they say, now it is turning Iraq into a democracy. Why didn't we pull out immediately once we discovered that Iraq did not have the stockpiles almost everyone in the world thought they had?

The following response to this charge was on NRO's The Corner blog the other day, and I've been meaning to copy here but haven't had time. John Podhoretz posted an email from Mark Conversino, an associate professor at the Air War College. Podhoretz makes the standard disclaimer that Conversino is "expressing a view that is, of course, his own and not that of the government or the military).

What has occurred in the Iraq war has occurred in countless wars—the enemy gets a vote and events do not transpire according to some neat plan. Stubborn resistance and the need for greater exertions are not the same as mission creep. Our mission in Iraq has never changed; the nature of the enemy and therefore of the war on the ground has—that is not mission creep. President Lincoln requested 75,000 90-day volunteers to subdue the rebellion of Southern states in one or two Napoleonic battles. What we got was a grinding four year struggle to restore the Union and end slavery that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. That was not mission creep, even with the added goal of full emancipation since both restoration of the Union and freeing the slaves required the same outcome—a Northern victory. One could also say that, to paraphrase Mr. Derbyshire, no one on December 8, 1941, expected to bring the Axis powers to unconditional surrender (an "end state" announced more than a year after Pearl Harbor) only to embark on that other "long war," the Cold War, following VE and VJ day. Was it therefore purely "mission creep" to remain in Europe and Asia as occupiers simply because we didn't envision that in the days following Pearl Harbor? Did we expend all that blood and treasure merely to see Soviet dominance established over half of Europe? Did the American people sign on to the Berlin Airlift or to halting the North Koreans in 1945? Was the formation of NATO and other Cold War-era alliances (entangling alliances, one might say) a form of mission creep that Americans need not support? I could go on, but you get my point. Moreover, if we alter the "mission" in order to defend our principles, freedoms and way of life because the nature of the enemy has changed, does that reduce the legitimacy of that mission? The evolution of the Cold War fits the definition of mission creep far better than the war in Iraq does but that didn't mean the Cold War was not worth fighting.

There's a larger point here, though, one beyond the notion of mission creep. When things got rough and the sacrifices exceeded our pre-war expectations, we could have cut deals and declared "victory" in 1863, 1943 or 1963. Even though, again to paraphrase Mr. Derbyshire, during these earlier conflicts our leaders got us into situations we never wished to be in and were never asked whether we would wish to be in, we recognized our moral obligation, "as citizens of a democratic polity," was to fight and win, not cut and run.

Ditto that.

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March 19, 2006

The New Iraqi Army

"But why is it taking so long to build up the Iraqi army?"

"If only we'd have kept the old one together!"

These are two criticisms we often hear.

I dealt with the second one a few months ago, and you can go read it here if you like. I only mention it because the issues are tied together.

Getting back to the first, there were two very interesting letters posted last week on NRO's The Corner that can shed some light on the issue.

Both are anonymous, but I don't think that really matters, as they both ring true.

In the first one, the author says that not keeping (or recalling) Saddam's army was "a grave error" but that

...this also does not mean that a reconstituted Iraqi Army would have been performing at the level we are seeing now in the fall of '03 or even in the summer of '04. The most capable units, the Republican Guards and the more notorious Special Republican Guards, were either decimated in the fighting or filled with the types of thugs and regime supporters we were not about to keep around in significant numbers. The vast majority of Iraqi units were poorly trained, ineptly led and indifferently equipped. Their officers were largely ineffective and a professional NCO corps virtually non-existent. Even if the majority of the troops remained with their units, it would still take a great deal of time to train a new officer and NCO corps, provide them with new or refurbished equipment and train them in sufficient numbers.

Go and read the whole thing. The author is quite critical of the military and Bremer, and I suppose by implication the Administration.

In the second the author is also critical of Bremer, saying that the original plan was to keep elements of the Iraqi army. The decision not to do that was "... made at the last minute and that decision contradicted the original plan...."

That said, he points out that had we kept the old army, "Bremer is correct in saying the Shia and Kurds were not going to tolerate a reconstituted Sunni dominated Army."

Moving to the difficulties of creating a new army

The next time someone glibly says “We can take some kid off a tractor in Iowa and another one off the block in Baltimore and turn them into infantrymen in 16 weeks. Why is it taking 2 years to train the Iraqi’s?” Please slap them for me. First of all the 16 weeks number is just for basic training/bootcamp. Most service members then go to some specialist training. For some specialties this might last an additional year. Even infantrymen, artillerymen and tankers usually get another 10 weeks or so depending on service, branch, specialty etc. And that is just the privates.


In some posts last year, the invaluable Bill Roggio discussed "readyness" and how it is so often musunderstood by the media and war critics who like to claim that the new Iraqi army suffers low readyness. It's a complicated issue, and too much for me to summarize here now. Go to Roggio's post, read it, and follow his links.

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March 14, 2006

Myths of Iraq by Ralph Peters

Ralph Peters is recently back from Iraq and wrote about what he found at Real Clear Politics

During a recent visit to Baghdad, I saw an enormous failure. On the part of our media. The reality in the streets, day after day, bore little resemblance to the sensational claims of civil war and disaster in the headlines.

No one with first-hand experience of Iraq would claim the country's in rosy condition, but the situation on the ground is considerably more promising than the American public has been led to believe. Lurid exaggerations and instant myths obscure real, if difficult, progress.

Why do I keep reading this time and time again? Most of the non-msm types who go over there come back with the same thing; it ain't being reported right. Only Fox News seems to get it right also,

Here are some of the myths that Peters dispels

Claims of civil war. In the wake of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a flurry of sectarian attacks inspired wild media claims of a collapse into civil war. It didn't happen. Driving and walking the streets of Baghdad, I found children playing and, in most neighborhoods, business as usual. Iraq can be deadly, but, more often, it's just dreary.

Iraqi disunity. Factional differences are real, but overblown in the reporting. Few Iraqis support calls for religious violence. After the Samarra bombing, only rogue militias and criminals responded to the demagogues' calls for vengeance. Iraqis refused to play along, staging an unrecognized triumph of passive resistance.

Expanding terrorism. On the contrary, foreign terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have lost ground. They've alienated Iraqis of every stripe. Iraqis regard the foreigners as murderers, wreckers and blasphemers, and they want them gone. The Samarra attack may, indeed, have been a tipping point--against the terrorists.

Hatred of the U.S. military. If anything surprised me in the streets of Baghdad, it was the surge in the popularity of U.S. troops among both Shias and Sunnis. In one slum, amid friendly adult waves, children and teenagers cheered a U.S. Army patrol as we passed. Instead of being viewed as occupiers, we're increasingly seen as impartial and well-intentioned.

The appeal of the religious militias. They're viewed as mafias. Iraqis want them disarmed and disbanded. Just ask the average citizen.

The failure of the Iraqi army. Instead, the past month saw a major milestone in the maturation of Iraq's military. During the mini-crisis that followed the Samarra bombing, the Iraqi army put over 100,000 soldiers into the country's streets. They defused budding confrontations and calmed the situation without killing a single civilian. And Iraqis were proud to have their own army protecting them. The Iraqi army's morale soared as a result of its success.

Reconstruction efforts have failed. Just not true. The American goal was never to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure in its entirety. Iraqis have to do that. Meanwhile, slum-dwellers utterly neglected by Saddam Hussein's regime are getting running water and sewage systems for the first time. The Baathist regime left the country in a desolate state while Saddam built palaces. The squalor has to be seen to be believed. But the hopeless now have hope.

The electricity system is worse than before the war. Untrue again. The condition of the electric grid under the old regime was appalling. Yet, despite insurgent attacks, the newly revamped system produced 5,300 megawatts last summer--a full thousand megawatts more than the peak under Saddam Hussein. Shortages continue because demand soared--newly free Iraqis went on a buying spree, filling their homes with air conditioners, appliances and the new national symbol, the satellite dish. Nonetheless, satellite photos taken during the hours of darkness show Baghdad as bright as Damascus.

Take it from someone who's been there.

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US Casualties Down in Iraq

A few days ago StrategyPage reported that US casualties are way down in Iraq

There were 6,790 U.S. troops killed and wounded last year, compared to 8,837 in 2004. That's a drop of 23 percent. But so far this year, the casualty rate for Americans is down 62 percent from 2005. Given that the main goal of the Sunni Arab terrorists is the expulsion of foreign troops, why the sharp reduction in attacks and casualties among the American forces? One of the least reported reasons is that U.S. troops have been winning the tactics and technology race with the terrorists. Although the media make much of terrorist innovations, less is said about the more frequent, and more effective, improvements in tactics and technology American troops are using. The cumulative effect has been steadily lower American casualties, and larger losses for the terrorists. Another reason for the decline is a sharp reduction in the number of Iraqis and foreigners committing terrorist attacks, and fewer Sunni Arabs fighting their government.

A month-by-month chart of US casualties in the war can be found on StrategyPage here.

Yesterday, StrategyPage posted an article in which they explained in more detail why our casualties were dropping (hat tip Austin Bay)

The violence has shifted away from American troops, who are suffering 60 percent fewer casualties this month than in the past year. and more towards Iraqi security forces and civilians. Part of this is because there are simply more Iraqi police and soldiers patrolling the streets and policing the neighborhoods. Where there are about two American advisors for every hundred Iraqi security troops, these Americans are there to advise, not fight. And the Iraqis are doing the fighting, and taking the casualties. American troops are still making raids and patrols, but there has also been a sharp decline in terrorist attacks. Some six months of sweeps and battles in western Iraq has shut down many of the Sunni terrorist sanctuaries. Indeed, many al Qaeda terrorists have fled western Iraq for towns and villages on the Iranian border. Iranians don't like to advertise the fact, but they do provide support to al Qaeda, despite al Qaeda's attacks on Shias (for being heretics.) Iran would also like to see a civil war (ethnic cleansing of Sunni Arabs) in Iraq. If that were to happen, Shia Arabs would be 75 percent of the Iraqi population, and likely to side with Iran on many issues.

As always, go and read the whole thing.

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February 3, 2006

Iraq War Fallacies VII

Karl Zinsmeister, editor of the American Enterprise Online, has a must-read piece about Iraq called Facts vs. Fiction: A Report from the Front (hat tip Instapundit)

Your editor has just returned from another month in Iraq—my fourth extended tour in the last two and a half years. During November and December I joined numerous American combat operations, including the largest air assault since the beginning of the war, walked miles of streets and roads, entered scores of homes, listened to hundreds of Iraqis, observed voting at a dozen different polling sites, and endured my third roadside ambush. With this latest firsthand experience, here are answers to some common queries about how the war is faring.

The article is done in the form of a Q & A. Following are some of the questions, some of his answers, and my observations, but be sure and read the whole thing.

Has the Iraq war been too costly?

Zinsmeister's short answer is "no". He points out that compared to other wars it's been pretty inexpensive, both in dollars and lives. This is little consolation to families who have lost loved ones, certainly. In the face of a daily leftist assault about how "costly" the war is, however, it needs repeating. I covered this also in a previous post in which I preprinted a chart from NRO showing the cost of all American wars.

But aren’t our losses mounting?

In the last ten months of 2003, Iraq hostilities claimed 324 U.S. service members. In 2004, 710 were lost. In 2005, total fatalities were 712. Troops wounded in action are down from 7,920 in 2004 to 5,961 in 2005.

Deaths of foreign civilians in Iraq have also tumbled: In 2004, 196 were killed. In 2005 the toll was 104

.

John Kerry recently claimed U.S. soldiers are “terrorizing” Iraqis. The #2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin, compared American fighters to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings.” Ted Kennedy suggested G.I.s torture like Saddam Hussein. What have you observed?

None of the above. I mostly see soldiers fighting with startling care and commitment. Take, for instance, Staff Sergeant Jamie McIntyre of Queens, New York, who recently had this to say:

“I look at faces and see fellow human beings, and I say, ‘O.K. This is the sacrifice I have to make to bring them freedom.’ That’s why I joined the military. Not for the college money, for doing what’s right. Fighting under our flag. That’s what our flag stands for. I believe in that stuff. Yeah, we might lose American soldiers, but they are going to lose a society, lose a people. You’ve got to look at the bigger picture. I’ve lost friends, and it hurts. It definitely hurts. But that’s even more reason why I say stay. It’s something that has to be done. If we don’t do it, who will?”

The war critics seem determined to ignore this sort of reporting. A few weeks ago author and reporter Robert Kaplan said that he's "only met two kinds of soldiers in the combat arms community: Those who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and those who are pulling every bureaucratic string to get deployed there."

Yes there are veterans who oppose the war, and some have formed their own organizations, as a quick search on google shows. I've even met one outside of Walter Reed (he was with the Pinkos. He hasn't showed up recently). But anyone who takes a serious look at the situation can only conclude that the vast majority of those who have and are fighting in Iraq believe that we are doing better than the way most of the media portray it.

Progress does seem dreadfully slow.

It is. Defanging the Middle East is a vast undertaking. But again, wars have never been easy or antiseptic. Even after the hostilities of World War II were over, the U.S. occupied Japan for seven years of stabilization and reconstruction, and West Germany for four years (the first year, the Germans nearly starved).

The idea that our occupation of Germany was an instant success seems to be a popular notion. To be sure, we didn't face an insurgency. However, as this cover of a popular news magazine of the time shows, many felt we had "botched" the occupation.

Another problem comes in the nature of fighting any insurgency; a lack of big dramatic victories. In most wars one can track progress with a map and pins. With an insurgency it's more difficult. It also does not lend itself well to TV or radio news, which accounts for the perception by many that we are not making any progress at all.

Morass or not, this war seems to be especially unpopular on the homefront.

Actually, a substantial minority has opposed almost every war prosecuted by our nation. This was true right from the American Revolution—which a large proportion of Tory elites (including most New York City residents) insisted was an ill-considered and quixotic mistake.

The problem in thinking that "other than Vietnam, everyone supported the wars we have fought" is a fixation in World War II as the prototypical conflict. In fact, the Second World War was atypical in a number of ways, among them in that once we got involved, most Americans supported our efforts.

As any history book will tell you, only 1/3 of Americans supported independence from Great Britain. 1/3 were Loyalists, and the rest didn't care.

Although the Civil War was popular on both sides at first, opinion soured, especially in the North, once it was realized that it would be a long and difficult conflict. The North was unable to meet it's recruiting goals, forcing Lincoln to institute a draft in 1863. The draft proved so unpopular that it resulted in riots in New York City that same year that killed scores.

World War I was popular at the time, but by the 1920s opinion had turned to the point where most Americans thought our entry to have been a mistake, and that we should not get involved in European conflicts again. The result is that when WWII started in Europe, up to 80% of the American population wanted nothing to do with it. Even after Pearl Harbor, many asked why our national strategy was "Germany First".

In the end it's all pretty straightforward: Yes we are winning, yes progress is slow but steady, and yes we might still loose Iraq if things turn against us. But we are on the right track, and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

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January 27, 2006

Iraq War Fallacies: "The War Costs Too Much"

Last Friday evening, while at a pro-troops rally outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a man who was employed as a pathologist at the hospital approached a few of us and asked who we were and our position on the war.

We told him that we supported our president's decision to go to war and thought that we ought to stick it out until victory was assured.

He told us that he was a fiscal conservative, and opposed the war because "it cost more than they said it would." He said that he would have supported our action if the cost had come in at or under the original estimate.

I've never had much sympathy for this argument, and for two primary reasons.

One, it smacks of greed, and two, the war in Iraq is amazingly cheap when compared to other wars our country has fought.

Just the Facts, Please

Interestingly, the financial argument is made by both the left and the isolationist right. The left wants to spend the money here at home, and the right want to put it in the pockets of people.

We saw the left use the financial argument during the 2004 presidential election. John Kerry criticized the president on this, claiming that we needed the money at home for health care:

$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans...We're spending $200 billion in Iraq while the costs of health care have gone through the roof and we're told we don't have the resources to make health care affordable and available for all Americans. They're charging 17 percent more for Medicare while making America pay $200 billion for a go-it-alone policy in Iraq. That's the wrong choice; that's the wrong direction; and that's the wrong leadership for America.

The only difference between Kerry and the pathologist at Walter Reed is what they wanted to do with the money we would save by not being in Iraq. Otherwise, the arguments are pretty similar.

But as the chart below shows, the war in Iraq is not expensive at all, at least when compared with other wars our country has fought:

chart_bowyer1-23-06 cost of war.gif

Chart by Jerry Bower at NRO

As you can see, OIF(Operation Iraqi Freedom) is more in line with the Mexican War or the Spanish-American war than anythig else. It isn't even close to Vietnam, the liberals favorite, nor is it even getting close.

The "Status Quo" wasn't Cheap

Forgotten in all this is that we weren't exactly ignoring Iraq in the period between the Gulf War and OIF. We were maintaining two "no fly" zones, one in the north and the other in the south. Every day, US and (mainly) British fighters patrolled these zones, their objective to prevent Saddam from massacring more Kurds and Shi'is.

In addition, the United States and our allies patrolled the seas around Iraq, enforcing the sanctions. We stopped and borded ships, checking for contaband.

The cost of all this was perhaps 1 billion dollar per year, paid for by American and British taxpayers. Most importantly, there was no end in sight to any of it. Saddam is 68 years old, and could easily live another 10 or more years. His sons, Udan and Qusay, one of whom would have taken power when Saddam died, were 39 and 37 respectively when they were killed in 2003, and could have lived another 40 years.

The 1 billion dollars per year only covered the situation in "normal" times. Occasionally, as with Operation Desert Fox in 1998, when US and British warplanes attacked Iraq over a 3 day period, the cost would go much higher.

Will the Real Objection Please Stand Up?

So if the war isn't really that expensive, why do some people persist in saying it is?

The left says it's too expensive because they are in need or more and more money to fund their ever more costly social programs. They are convinced that the problems with health care insurance can only be solved with more money, as the example above shows.

But aren't these the same people who are always telling us that we need to increase foreign aid, especially to Africa? And aren't they the same ones who get so upset when we withhold money from the UN, arguably the most wasteful, if not outright harmful, organization on the planet?

Therfore, I cannot take the financial argument at face value when it comes from the left.

Nor can I accept that argument when it comes from the right. There is no advantage to the United States in keeping the rest of the world poor. Quite the opposite, we gain when everyone does well. We are better off today with Japan and Germany as economicaly well-off nations than if we'd tried to keep them poor and undeveloped after the Second World War. We imagine that we have a problem with a trade imbalance with Japan, but consider our problems if we didn't have them to trade with. Remember that they buy our goods as well. What type of airplanes do we think their airlines fly?

My objection to foreign aid has never been from an "I need the money instead" position. My objection has been that most of it doesn't work.

Reshaping the Middle East

We have a chance to reshape the entire Middle East. The democracy in Iraq is very imperfect, and we should not expect even that to spread quickly across the region. Trouble with Iranian nuclear weapons could spell doom for the entire project. But by the same token the results of success would be immense.

This is not a "do gooder" stance, although I believe that as Christians we have an obligation to help other people. The Middle East has long been a source of instability, and the cause is that all Arab/Muslim governments save that of Iraq today are dictatorships of one sort or another (Jordan's is somewhat more benign, but the King is an absolute ruler nonetheless). By reforming the region we can end a source of conflict and as such we can relieve ourselves of a security headache.

By not repeating the mistakes of Versailles in Germany after World War II, we ended the vicious cycle of European wars. By rebuilding Japan in our image, we squashed their militarism.

However, by ending theReconstruction of the American South after the Civil War prematurely in 1876, we sentenced blacks to another hundred years of persecution.

In summary, by historical standards the Iraqi war does not cost very much, and in time history will show that the return on our investment will prove it to be some of the best money we've ever spent.

Posted by Tom at 1:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 11, 2006

Iraq War Fallacies: "We Should Have Kept the Iraqi Army"

One of the most persistent myths is that we should have kept the Iraqi army of Saddam, or at least parts of it, after our initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. One hears this so often from commentators that I do not think any links or quotes are necessary.

But just like the idea that we need(ed) "More Troops!" in Iraq, it is rarely examined. I don't think I have ever heard a interviewer question the claim by a guest that "we should have kept the Iraqi army". It gets a complete pass.

In an interview published yesteday on NRO, Kathryn Jean Lopez asked Paul Bremer about this very issue:

Lopez: What's the biggest myth about your time in Iraq you want to set people straight about in this book?

Bremer: I suppose the myth that we made a mistake “disbanding” the Iraqi army. The facts are these: There was not a single Iraqi army unit intact in the country at Liberation. There was no army to “disband.” It had “self-demobilized,” in the Pentagon’s phrase. Hundreds of thousand of Shia draftees, seeing which way the war was going, had simply gone home. They were not going to come back into a hated army.

The army and intelligence services had been vital instruments of Saddam’s brutal regime. He had used the army in a years’ long campaign against the Kurds, killing tens of thousands of them, culminating in the use of chemical weapons against men, women, and children in 1988. The army had brutally suppressed the Shia uprising after the first Gulf war, machine gunning tens of thousands of Shia civilians into mass graves in the south. Together these two groups make up about 80 percent of the population.

So recalling the Iraqi army (which would have meant sending American soldiers into Shia homes, farms, and villages and forcing them back into the army under their Sunni officers) would have had dire political consequences. The Kurds told me clearly that they would not have accepted it, and would have seceded from Iraq. Such a move would probably have ended Shia cooperation with the Coalition and perhaps even led to a Shia uprising, initially against such an Iraqi army, and eventually against the Coalition.

But we knew we had to find a place in Iraqi society for the former army men. So we welcomed them back into the new army, including officers up to the level of colonel. And we started paying the other officers a monthly stipend, which continued right to the end of the occupation.

See, I told you so.

Unquestioned

Just as with the claim that we need(ed) "More Troops!" in Iraq, the problem is not so much as to who is right and who is wrong, it's that those who make the claim never back it up with anything. The issue of whether we need(ed) more troops is extremely complicated, and not the simple one that so many seen to suppose (see link above).

Such is the case with the issue of Saddam's Iraqi army. In my opinion, it is much more obvious that keeping - really bringing back - Saddam's army would have been a terrible mistake, but I'll admit that reasonable people can debate. The key is to get the issues out into the open and make all parties answer them.

To be fair, Bremer does think that we should have had more troops in Iraq. In the interview, he says that he argued with military commanders over this issue. But what critics should note is that this also dispels the myth that Bush, Rumsfeld, et al, were isolated and not listening to their commanders, or only heard what they wanted to hear, or that commanders were intimidated, or...whatever the latest version of this one is from the Kos crowd.

Problems of Analysis

In a post last summer, I wrote about Static vs Dynamic Analysis:

People who blithely say that we “need(ed) more troops” or that we should have “kept the Iraqi Army together” assume that only positive results would come from such a decision. They seem not to realize that there were potential negative consequences from taking a decision other than what we did.

More specifically, they seem not to realize that if you change one factor in the equation of history, everything else changes too.

For example, if you raise taxes by 10% on an item, it is invalid to automatically assume that the government will get 10% more money. It is true that on some items, such as cigarettes, the increase in revinue will be about 10%, because the demand curve for such items is inelastic. But on other items, such as candy bars, people will simply adjust their spending habits, buy less of the product, and the government may not end up with any appreciable increase in revinue at all.

Following up on this, I wrote about some of the problems that may have occured had we reconstituted Saddam's army:

Once again, those who say we should have kept or recalled the Iraqi army only see the potiential positives. They fail to even consider that doing this may have made the situation worse.

Armies in many third-world countries are used as much to oppress the population as they are to defend the borders, sometimes more so. In the case of Iraq Saddam had long used some units to carry out his murderous atrocities. Many Iraqis didn't have much respect for much of the army, and saw it as an oppressive institution. To have kept it in place might have made the population even more angry at us. Remember, things can always be worse.

Further, Iraqi units were organized along sectarian lines. Shi'is, tired of Sunni oppression, might have taken this opportunity to seek revenge. Shi'ite units might well have moved into Sunni neighborhoods and wrecked havoc. Same with the Kurds. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine Iraqi units fighting each other. And who is to say that they would not have turned on us is an opportunity presented itself?

Imagine the consequences of any perceived atrocity; "human-rights" groups would immediately protest that it was all the fault of the United States, that because we invaded and kept the Iraqi units together, we were responsible for their actions. The western media would have a field day.

None of these things might have happened. But they might well have happened, which is why, as Paul Bremer says, our decision to start from scratch was the correct one.

Problems of History

People forget that Saddam's army was just that: Saddam's army. James Dunnigan of StrategyPage explains:

The Iraqi army has been, for over half a century, the chief source of tyranny and oppression in the country. Army commanders overthrew the government time after time, and used their soldiers to brutalize the population. By keeping all, or part, of the army intact, and armed, coalition risked a quick return of the warlord attitude that gave the Iraqi people dictators like Saddam (and several others who preceded him.) Saddam’s innovation was to establish the Republican Guard as a force to keep the army from overthrowing him. Saddam also freely fired, or executed, army officers who appeared likely to try and stage a coup. And there were several coup attempts by army officers, even in the face of Saddam’s secret police and Republican Guard. Keeping the old Iraqi army in business was just asking for more trouble.

Bottom line; don't let anyone tell you that one of our mistakes was in "not keeping the Iraqi army". It's a myth.

Posted by Tom at 8:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2005

Humvee Armor II, and Why So Many Critics are Clueless

An issue that still occasionally pops up is the issue of armored Hummvees. All you have to do is google for "Humvee armor scandal" or something similar and you'll find the following criticisms of the Pengagon, Rumsfeld, or even George W Bush:

- The Humvee should have been built with armor in the first place
- Once we realized that we were facing an insurgency we should have uparmored our Humvees faster
- Pentagon bosses like Rumsfeld and Myer were told about the problem early on but ignored it because they're stupid and/or don't care about the troops.
- The bosses at the Pengtagon made high-tech weapons a priority when they should have made armored Humvees their priority.
- Nothing like this has ever happened before in all of recorded history, or at least before Vietnam, the only war any of them seem to be aware of.

Basically, war critics say that this episode demonstrates "criminal negligence" and/or "incompetence" on the part of the administration, or as many put it, "BushCo". What is almost funny is that when you read their "recommendations" as to what the military should do, the miliary has already been doing these things or is in the process of doing them. It all reminds of of John Kerry during the 2004 elections, everything he said we should do we were already doing.

It's all, of course, a bunch of nonsense. The reality, as usual, is more complex.

First, What is a Humvee and Why did we Build It?

Up until 1980s the US military used the venerable jeep of World War II fame. In 1983 a company called AM General was awarded a contract to build a vehicle known as the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV, pronounced "Humvee".

It was designed to replace the venerable Jeep, various models of which which we had used in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Anyone who has seen a picture of a jeep knows that it is relatively small, and there is no practical way any armor can be put on it.

The idea behind the Humvee was simple; something bigger and more modern was needed. In the post-Cold War era, the army wanted to move from a "heavy" to a "light" footing. Remember all that talk in the '90s about "lighter and faster"? How we were going to get away from tracked vehicles because mobility (strategic and tactical) would be the key to success?

The Humvee would fit into this. Along with the new Stryker, it was light and fast, but could carry a lot more than the old Jeep. Sure, it was unarmored, but it wasn't meant to be a front-line vehicle.

And in Desert Storm, it worked. The M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradlee fighting vehicles led the way, and the Humvees stayed in the rear. The Humvees could carry enough to be useful, but didn't burn that much gas (more on that later).

Where's Your Crystal Ball?

Now, there are some among us who pretend like they knew all along how Iraq was going to turn out. They act like they knew there would be an insurgency, that Saddam destroyed all of his WMDs, and that of course we needed armored Humvees.

Not so fast.

It's Not That Simple, Stupid

In addition to crystal balls, the critics have extraordinary project management and mechanical abilities. All that you do is fire off some paperwork, a factory starts slapping armor on Humvees, and you ship them off to Iraq. How hard can that be?

Pretty hard, according to W Thomas Smith, who wrote about this issue a few days ago for National Review. His story got me thinking about this entire subject again. I first wrote about Humvee armor last December, when this issue came to the forefront at a meeting between Rumsfeld and some troops. With additional information from Smith's article, it's time for another post.

Smith looked into why it seemingly took so long to get uparmored Humvees into the field. No matter where he looked, he got the same four answers

* These things take time.
* Replacing the Humvee is not really what it's all about.
* The Humvee was not designed to handle mine and IED attacks.
* It is far more complex than anyone realizes.

Critics like to bring up World War II. During that war, the time between initial design and production could be measured in months (double digits, but months nevertheless). True enough, but this misses several critical points.

Quality control was sacrificed to meet the demand for quantity. Not that manufacturing was "slipshod" or anything, but it was expected that a relatively high percentage would break or crash. About 50% of our aircraft losses during the war were from non-combat causes; take off or landing accidents, weather, simply getting lost, or mechanical failure. If this occured today it would be national scandal.

With tanks we sacriciced technical superiority as well. Our best tank of the war, the M-4 Sherman, was decidedly inferior to the worst German tank (the Pz 4) at the time it went into production, and we knew it. We deliberately decided not to design a more advanced tank because we thought quantity better than quantity.

Now think about that a minute. "Quantity over quality". And the enemies tanks are superior. Can you say "cannon fodder"? The entire strategy of "overwhelming the enemy with numbers" presupposes that you will take horrendous losses while doing so, which we did.

Lastly, weapons were less complex back then. Yes, so was design and manufacturing techniques, but in the final analysis it is simply easier to produce a piston engine fighter than a modern one. Those who advocate that we build "more, and cheaper" weapons don't know what they are talking about(remember Gary Hart in the 1980s?). "More and cheaper" weapons don't work for a number of reasons I don't have time to get into here but if I remember I'll take that up in another post.

Yes I know there's a difference between a Humvee and an F-22, but uparmoring a Humvee is still complicated.

You Can't Just Snap Your Fingers

Smith tells us why it's not so simple

Presidents, Defense secretaries, and generals can't just issue orders that vehicles be built.

Once all options are weighed, including accepting the realities like weight reduces speed and nothing can protect against all and changing threats, the military makes the decision as to exactly what type of vehicles it needs to win wars and save lives.

Then the big vendor companies — like General Dynamics, United Defense, and Boeing — which are geared-up to manufacture large numbers of already contracted combat armored vehicles, aircraft, and other weapons systems; must choose to compete for the new project by conceptualizing, designing, and developing a new system which ultimately their company may never be contracted to produce in numbers large enough to justify their own development. Yet, those companies have to retool some of their operations for specific R&D if they hope to compete. The risk and cost is enormous.

Consequently, smaller start-up companies able to expend all of their energies on a specific design characteristic or particular vehicle are often the best way for the government to go: But only if those companies have the start-up capital to begin designing without a contract.

Then the companies — whether monolithic defense contractors or small start-ups hoping to win a big government contract — have to factor in the reality that the dynamics of the battlefield are constantly changing. For example: Lately, there have been fewer IED attacks in Iraq, but the mines and the roadside bombs are much larger.

Each time the threat changes, the scientists have to go back to the labs; the engineers to their drawing boards; the marksmen, explosives experts, and test drivers back to the ranges.

The Next Generation

My perception is that it is not common knowledge, but the military has been hard at work fielding new vehicles.

The MUV-R's manufacturer, South Carolina-based Force Protection, is currently producing much-larger mine-and-blast protective vehicles — the Buffalo and the Cougar — which are already in service with U.S. forces in Iraq. The Buffalo, which CBS News' Bob Schieffer called a "Humvee on steroids," is a mine-clearance vehicle. The Cougar is a troop transport, but geared for the same market that the M113 armored personnel carrier would be. Not a Humvee.

Therein lies the problem.

"The Humvee is a glorified jeep," says Blount. But the Army and Marines are now using the Humvee for a purpose for which it was never intended.

So it's not so much a question of replacing the Humvee, as much as it is developing a brand new armored vehicle with the same speed, climb, and general off-road performance capabilities of a Humvee.

That may well be the MUV-R, and that vehicle could be on the ground and running in the fourth quarter of 2006, a phenomenal feat considering the concept was realized one year ago. And vehicles weren't initially slated to roll of the line until 2007.

Today, a fully armored proof-of-concept vehicle is charging over the hills and racing around the mud and red clay roads in the backcountry of South Carolina, not far from where the Buffalo and Cougar are manufactured in Ladson.

At 10-12 tons — more than twice the weight of an up-armored Humvee — the MUV-R cruises at 65 miles per hour with burst speeds of up to 80. It can carry 6-to-10 fully armed soldiers, and it has a roof-mounted weapons system, remotely controlled by the right front-seat passenger, giving a whole new meaning to the term, "riding shotgun."

Moreover, the vehicle's design features can enable it to withstand — basically deflecting — enormous blast and ballistic impact from every angle.

I can't find the "MUV-R" on the internet, and don't have time now for an extensive search (if you find it please let me know). But I do encourage everyone to check out the links to the Cougar and Buffalo, one, because the photos make it clear that they're not just glorified Humvees, and second because the performance specs are fairly impressive.

The Next War

It used to be that it was said that "generals and admirals always want to fight the last way". In other words, they think the next war will be like the last, and request weapons accordingly. The best example of this is the Maginot Line. French generals thought that any future war with Germany would be like World War I, so they planned for a defensive campaign. Ooops.

Now, however, it is the civilians, and war critics in particular, who seem to to think that all future wars will be like Iraq. They tell us we don't need the F-22 (guess the China-Taiwan controversy will magically disppear) or advanced warships (ditto). We are told that Iraq is the wave of the future.

What nonsense.

There are at least three possible conflicts that may break out in the next five years, all of which will require high-tech weapons on our part.

China/Taiwan - My analysis shows that there is a good chance the PRC will make it's move shortly after the 2008 Olympics in Bejing. If we do get into a war with them over Taiwan, it will be an old-fashioned shoot-out on the high seas coupled with (or mainly) air battles overhead.

Iran - Everyone knows they are developing nuclear weapons. Their president, and many before him, have stated that once they have them they'll use them against Israel. Any war with Iran will necessitate the use of our most advanced aircraft and weaponry.

North Korea - It is not terribly likely that Kim Jong il will send his army south, it is possible that war could erupt. Much of it will be a nasty ground campaign, but in order to take out the massive amount of artillery he has hidden in the mountains just north of Seoul, not to mention taking out his nuclear assets (another debate I know), we will again need high-tech aircraft and weaponry.

History and More History

The critics seem to think that this incident is unique in history. At least this is my general perception, but I think it correct.

The first time I looked at the issue of Humvee armor I did a little survey of all that we did wrong in World War II and Vietnam and came up with this:

We entered World War II with 80% of our torpedoes being defective. That's right, folks, up to 80% of the torpedoes that we fired didn't work for one or more of three reasons: they dove too deep, they failed to explode on contact, or they detonated en route to the enemy ship, the magnetic detector being the culprit (ideally a torpedo goes under the enemy ship and detonates to achieve maximum damage, thus a magnetic detector is required to detect the steel of the ship).

Not only did we enter the war with inferior and outright lousy tanks, we never did achieve parity with the Germanys. The reasons why we stuck with the venerable Sherman are many (and some quite valid), but that does not excuse the fact that we entered the war with inferior tanks. (Note to techies; yes I know this issue, like all others concerning military hardware, is very complex).

The Shermans that we did finally build couldn't deal with the hedgerow country in Normandy in the days and weeks after the D-Day invasion. The tanks became stuck in the hedgerows that were all over the area and became bogged down. Finally a US sergeant came up with the idea of welding a fork-like scoop to the front of the tanks. When they came to a hedgerow they were able to plow the hedges up and keep moving. None of this was anticipated, as arguably it should have.

However one comes down on the debate about US tanks, no one can dispute that our aircraft were almost universally inferior, especially to those the Japanese had. Our F4F Wildcat couldn't match the famous Mitsubishi Zero, the F2A Buffalo was a joke, the and TBD Devastator obsolete . At least theSBD Dauntless was a good aircraft.

We went into Vietnam with F-4 Phantom fighter aircraft that didn't have guns. In our infinite wisdom we had thought that the days of gunbattles in the sky were over and everything would be decided by missiles. Wrong. Pilots quickly discovered that while missiles were preferred, there were many cases where only a gun would do. To rectify the situation we strapped a gun onto the center hard-point of the Phantoms (or some of them anyway), and only later reincorporated a gun into the aircraft.

Victor Davis Hanson, in an article in National Review last February, reminded us of other things that we seem to have forgotten:

Most of our armored vehicles were deathtraps, improved only days before the surrender. American torpedoes in the Pacific were often duds. Unescorted daylight bombing proved a disaster, but continued unabated. Amphibious assaults like Anzio and Tarawa were bloodbaths, plagued by terrible planning and command. The recapture of Manila was clumsy and far too costly. Okinawa was the worst of all operations, and yet was begun just over four months before the surrender — without careful planning for kamikazes, who were shortly to kill nearly 5,000 American sailors. Patton, the one general who could have ended the western war in 1944, was earlier relieved and then subordinated to an auxiliary position with near-fatal results for the drive from Normandy. Mediocrities like Mark Clark flourished and were promoted. Admiral King for far too long resisted the life-saving convoy system and thus unnecessarily sacrificed merchant ships; Admiral Bull Halsey almost lost his unprepared fleet to a storm.

No I am not excusing true incompetence. What I am saying is that it is in the nature of war that unexpected things happen, one of which is that sometimes you end up needing different weapons than the ones you thought you needed. It's easy to say that someting should have been done "faster", and to be sure there's always room for improvement, but from where I sit the Pentagon handled the situation regarding Humvee armor reasonably well.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 6, 2005

Yes we have a Strategy and Yes we are Winning

Of the many Iraq war fallacies that we hear from the naysayers is that we have no plan, no strategy.

Of course we have one. All you have to do is listen. But then, I've noticed that the same people who say we have no strategy are the ones who claim that President Bush "insinuated" that Saddam knew about or helped plan 9/11, when no one else has such a recollection.

For anyone who has not been paying attention these past few years, the White House released the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq

What is "Strategy"?

Properly understood, strategy refers to a plan for applying scarce means to achieve the nation’s goals.

Mackubin Thomas Owens, writing on NRO, summarizes the definition of "Strategy" as follows:

First, strategy relates ends, the goals of policy (interests and objectives) to the limited resources available to achieve them against an adversary who actively opposes the achievement of the ends.

Second, strategy contributes to the clarification of the ends of policy by helping establish priorities in light of constrained resources. Without establishing priorities among competing ends, all interests and all threats will appear equal. In the absence of strategy, planners will find themselves in the situation described by Frederick the Great: “He who attempts to defend too much defends nothing.”

Finally, strategy conceptualizes resources as means in support of policy. Resources are not means until strategy provides some understanding of how they will be organized and employed.

The Nineteenth-Century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz offered this clarification

The activities characteristic of war may be separated into two categories; that which are mainly preparation for war, and war proper.

What Clausewitz meant is that it is one thing to raise, train, and equip an army, quite another to win a war with it. All the best weaponry in the world is so much useless junk unless it is properly employed. Further, war is about much more than fighing. One must take into account the social, political, economic, and psychological aspects of it as well.

Back to Owens on NRO:

All too often, strategies do a fine job of describing the goal but don’t address the plan to achieve the goals. But this is the essence of strategy: How do we apply scarce resources in the most effective way to bring about our desired end? If the president’s Iraq strategy left this out, it would be a serious omission. But this is not the case. The document lays out three interconnected tracks that describe the “how” of the U.S. approach in Iraq. These tracks incorporate “eight pillars,” or strategic objectives:

* Defeat the Terrorists and Neutralize the Insurgency
* Transition Iraq to Security Self-Reliance
* Help Iraqis Form a National Compact for Democratic Government
* Help Iraq Build Government Capacity and Provide Essential Services
* Help Iraq Strengthen its Economy
* Help Iraq Strengthen the Rule of Law and Promote Civil Rights
* Increase International Support for Iraq
* Strengthen Public Understanding of Coalition Efforts and Public
* Isolation of the Insurgents

As sophisticated observers are always quick to point out, insurgencies are never won by military means alone. There must be a political track leading to a stable government. To bring about this outcome, the document calls for isolating the real enemy elements by driving a wedge between them and those who can be won over to the political process. The second component of the political track is to engage those outside the political process by inviting them to participate in the governing process if they are willing to turn away from violence Finally, the political track calls for building stable, pluralistic, and effective national institutions capable of protecting the interests of all Iraqis, enabling Iraq to be fully integrated into the international community.

What gets me is that so may critics, from Pat Buchanan to John Kerry, pompously offer their "solutions" that are really little more than restatement of what the administration has been trying to do all along.

So Is It Working?

We are according to the people who ought to know; the troops fighting the war in Iraq. This article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the "perception gap" between the soldiers in the field and (many) civilians in the US:

Like many soldiers and marines returning from Iraq, (Corporal)Mayer looks at the bleak portrayal of the war at home with perplexity - if not annoyance. It is a perception gap that has put the military and media at odds, as troops complain that the media care only about death tolls, while the media counter that their job is to look at the broader picture, not through the soda straw of troops' individual experiences.

The story goes on to relate the experiences of Corporal Mayer and his comrades, and how they befriended several Iraqis, including two 9 year old girls. Read the whole thing.

Max Boot, writing in the LA Times last month, also says that the war looks quite different when you talk to the soldiers about it:

American soldiers are also much more optimistic than American civilians. The Pew Research Center and the Council on Foreign Relations just released a survey of American elites that found that 64% of military officers are confident that we will succeed in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. The comparable figures for journalists and academics are 33% and 27%, respectively. Even more impressive than the Pew poll is the evidence of how our service members are voting with their feet. Although both the Army and the Marine Corps are having trouble attracting fresh recruits — no surprise, given the state of public opinion regarding Iraq — reenlistment rates continue to exceed expectations. Veterans are expressing their confidence in the war effort by signing up to continue fighting.

The economy in Iraq is doing pretty well, too, which is something you read absolutely nothing about in the media:

There are also positive economic indicators that receive little or no coverage in the Western media. For all the insurgents' attempts to sabotage the Iraqi economy, the Brookings Institution reports that per capita income has doubled since 2003 and is now 30% higher than it was before the war. Thanks primarily to the increase in oil prices, the Iraqi economy is projected to grow at a whopping 16.8% next year. According to Brookings' Iraq index, there are five times more cars on the streets than in Saddam Hussein's day, five times more telephone subscribers and 32 times more Internet users.

The growth of the independent media — a prerequisite of liberal democracy — is even more inspiring. Before 2003 there was not a single independent media outlet in Iraq. Today, Brookings reports, there are 44 commercial TV stations, 72 radio stations and more than 100 newspapers.

This past Saturday evening Fox News had an excellent one-hour special on Iraq in which they showed clips from popular Iraqi TV shows. It was amazing stuff. One show features the confessions of captured terrorists. The idea is that by having them tell their story on TV, about how they killed ordinary Iraqis and why they did it, will take away any "glamour" anyone sees in such activity.

No doubt, as Boot admits, there is a large terrorist problem in Iraq. No one denies this. Yet to portray all as lost is foolishness. Consider that

Since the Jan. 30 election, not a single Iraqi unit has crumbled in battle, according to Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who until September was in charge of their training. Iraqi soldiers are showing impressive determination in fighting the terrorists, notwithstanding the terrible casualties they have taken. Their increasing success is evident on "Route Irish," from Baghdad International Airport. Once the most dangerous road in Iraq, it is now one of the safest. The last coalition fatality there that was a result of enemy action occurred in March.

So yes we have a Strategy and Yes we are Winning.

But I've posted on that so much I can't begin to list all of the links. If you're interested just go to the right under "Categories" and choose "Iraq."

The Big Question

The question at this point is now if we're winning, for I think that anyone who is either not not hopelessly partisan or simply cannot see beyond the daily headline would have to conclude that trends are seriously our favor.

The question is whether we will be allowed to win. This is an issue because as I told you in the previous post the Democrats have become the Party of Defeat. They do not simply think we are losing, but by advocating that we pull out immediately they are advocating defeat.

Let's fight tooth and nail to see that doesn't happen. Too much is at stake.

Posted by Tom at 8:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 26, 2005

"More Troops"

One of the things that is often heard is that we should have committed more troops to Iraq. The criticism of "more troops" comes from all sides, and for a variety of reasons. When we hear it from John McCain, we can be sure it is honestly made, with the best of intentions in mind. When we hear it from leftist war critics, their motivations may not always be so kind.

Nevertheless, it is one I will consider in my series on "Iraq War Fallacies. I take it up because we hear it so often, and because those who make it are so vague when they say it.

This post is not so much military analysis as it is an attempt to define how we should think about the matter.

Lastly, please understand that because this is a blog post and not a book or academic treatise, I am not going to set things up by quoting those who have said we need or have needed more troops. Anyone who has listened to the news these past few years knows who they are.

Timeframe Matters

When do the critics say we should have had more troops? We need to remember that broadly speaking the war in Iraq has consisted of two phases; the initial invasion, and the insurgency.

Unfortunatly, it has been my observation that most of those who say that we need "more troops" are either not specific on this point or they get it wrong. Most who say that we need "more troops" seem to be saying that we should have had them there from the beginning.

If they say that we should have had them there from the beginning, it is my contention that they have it exactly backwards. From everything I saw the initial invasion was brilliantly planned and executed, and the forces used were almost exactly right.

And indeed the success of that initial invasion is too often forgotten. Those who never supported the war from the beginning crow all too often that "we have been proven correct." Nothing, of course, is further from the truth. The critics predicted thousands of American casualties in the initial invasion, as well as the famed "Battle of Baghdad", neither of which took place. But my intentions here are not to make the critics eat their words.

It was only later, once the insurgency started, that we should have sent in more troops. One problem we have faced is that after we have cleared an area of insurgents (or "terrorists" if you prefer. I prefer not to quibble over terms), and our forces have moved on, the terrorists move back in. In other words, we can clear but not hold. Another problem is that the insurgency is supplied with men, material, and intelligence from Iran and Syria. We do not have enough troops to secure the border against their infiltration.

These problems are slowly but surely being alleviated with the emergence of the new Iraqi army. Unfortunately this is a slow process, burdened by a tradition of incompetence among Arabs in general and Iraqis in particular in military affairs. In another post I will tackle the fallacy that "we should have kept the Iraqi army(Saddam's army)" after the initial invasion. For now suffice it to say that we should have had more troops in the country to secure the areas we have cleared of insurgents.

But it's not that simple.

Where Would they Come From?

The most absolutely frustrating thing in listening to the critics is that I have never heard a one of them say exactly where the additional troops are supposed to come from.

There are two choices for obtaining more troops; bringing them from another theater, and raising new units. Each has advantages and disavantages.

Another Theater

The main advantage of bringing in troops from another theater is that it could be done quickly. It would also be cheaper than raising new units.

The disadvantage is that we have those troops in various places around the world for a reason; we need them there. We face threats around the world, and these days troops are likely to be used for anything from humanitarian relief during a natural disaster, to peacekeeping missions, to what the military calls high-intensity warfare.

So where are they to be taken from? The critics rarely say. We have troops in South Korea, so maybe we can take them from there. "Can't they defend themselves?" is something we often hear. The answer is that yes, they could, but this misses the point. We have our troops there not because the South Koreans coulnd't defend themselves (they could), but to prevent a war from breaking out in the first place. Kim Jong Il might mistakenly calculate that he can take the south, but the risks grow immesurably when American forces are involved.

Ok perhaps we take the risk and move those troops to Iraq (to continue our example). The point is that those who say we need more troops in Iraq, and want to use existing forces, have an obligation to tell us 1) where they would come from and 2) why the risk is acceptable. That they almost never do so is simply irresponsible.

New Forces

The next option is to increase the size of our military. After all, we are told, we need "more troops" both at home and abroad.

The advantage to this is that given the level of threats around the world, and the use to which our forces are put, we do need more troops. We constantly hear that our forces are "stretched thin", and in this the critics are right.

One disadvantage is that the process of reactivating units takes time. Most sources that I've read put the time at about two years. That new units would not be ready for action for some time raises two issues; one that in the meantime they are not where they are needed, and two that when they are ready they might not be needed.

"Not needed!?!" you say. Yes, "not needed". Far too many critics seem to think that they have a perfect crystal ball and can predict with absolute certainty what the future will hold. They act like they predicted the insurgency, when few of them did. They act like they know how long it will last, which none of them do.

The other problem is one of money. We already face a mounting federal deficit. Where are we to get the money from? There are two options; raise taxes or increase the deficit. Either would hurt the economy. Again, my problem is not that we should not do one or the other, but rather that those who are on the "more troops!" bandwagon have an obligation to tell us where we will get the money and why the negative effect on the economy is worth it. But they almost never do.

It's the Logistics, Stupid

The old aphorism "amateurs talk strategy, pros talk logistics" is true. Modern armies consume vast amounts of food, ammunition, fuel, and a million other things without which they would deteriorate rapidly.

During the Gulf War of 1990-91 we had access to the excellent port facilities of Saudi Arabia, and also to bases thoughout the country. Ever since the 1970s we had contingency plans for putting troops in that country, and years of building facilities paid off.

Saudi Arabia did not want lots of additional American troops coming to their country for an invasion of Iraq. As such, their help was limited to what we already had in the country, and the use of some clandestine bases for special ops work.

American troops, therefore, were limited to Kuwait as their staging area for Operation Iraqi Freedom(OIF). Kuwait's port facilities are smaller than that of Saudi Arabia, and the country itself is much smaller. The first meant that the amount of material that we could off-load into the country every day/week/month was limited and could't support a Desert Storm size force. The second meant that it would be harder to keep a large army dispersed enough to prevent preemptive attack by Saddam.

Dynamic vs Static Thinking

A static thinking model assumes that if you change one thing in history, everything else would have turned out just the same.

A dynamic thinking model understands that if you change one thing, everything else may change too, and not necessarily for the better.

Consider for a minute that you had married a different person. Today you wouldn't just have a different person in the house, everything else about your life would probably be different too. You would probably have a different job, be living in a different house in a different city, and so on.

The Fallacy of only Assuming the Good

Suppose you conclude that you should have gone to a better college. With a degree from a better institution you would have a higher-paying job. This is good. But while daydreaming you forget that you met your spouse at your current job, and you have a wonderful marriage. If you had a different job you would not have met him or her, and indeed might be in a bad marriage.

The point of course is that people who say that we should have done this or that tend to only assume the good results that would have come from such a decision.

People who say that we “need(ed) more troops” or that we should have “kept the Iraqi Army together” assume that only positive results would come from such a decision. They seem not to realize that there were potential negative consequences from taking a decision other than what we did.

For example, we are often told by war critics that the mere presence of American troops upsets the region. Ok...so wouldn't more troops make things worse?

Suppose we took troops from the western pacific, and China took that opportunity to make a move against Taiwan? Or, to return to our previous example, we took them from South Korea and Kim Jong Il decided that the time was ripe for an attack? What would the critics say then?

The Advantages of a Small Force

As Rich Lowry of National Review pointed out last year in "What Went Wrong" (subscription required), there were significant disadvantages to having put more troops in the field of battle:

If more troops would have enhanced security in the aftermath of thw war (a debateable proposition, as we shall see), the lighter and more mobile force had significant advantages in the prosecution of it. "The decision was made to collapse the regime as quickly and violently as possible," says a senior administration official. the most kimportant advantage of this approach, he sways, was simple: "A quick collapse saves American lives and Iraqi lives."

It served other objectives as well. It made it possible to take the oilfields - crucial to Iraq's rebuilding - mostly intact before Saddam had time to destroy them. And there was the political consideration. It was thought important to avoid a drawn-out war, and the destabilizing effect it might have on the region. "You don't want an American army slogging it's way to an Arab capital," is how one official puts it.

The Most Wrongheaded Criticism

"We shouldn't have invaded if we didn't have enough troops"

This is actually something I heard from a caller to a radio talk-show last week, and figured I may as well use it in this post.

First, we needed to take down Saddam. OIF was right for many reasons, but that is not the subject of this post.

Second, we did have enough troops for the invasion, as events proved correct. That we did not anticipate the insurgency was a failure, but one that was largely unforseen by anyone at the time. And that includes war critics, who spent their time telling us about the tens of thousands of American casualties that would result from battle with the regular Iraqi army, especially in the "Battle of Baghdad" that would resemble Stalingrad of WWII fame.

Final Thoughts

Simply put, we had the right number of troops for the invasion but should have sent more in later. We should have taken them from Europe, especially the former Yugoslav republics and demanded the Europeans pick up the slack. We should have increased the size of the Army and Marines (and let the Navy and Air Force remain at current levels). Taxes should not have been increased, and painful as it is for me to say this, it should have been done through deficit spending. The economy is doing relatively well, and the worse option would be to increase taxes.

While the President is partially at fault, both parties in Congress must also shoulder much of the blame. The Republicans because they lack the courage of their convictions, and the Democrats because they seem intent on reverting to Jimmy Carterism.

So there you have it.

Posted by Tom at 7:48 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 21, 2005

Vietnam Redux?

The left compares Iraq to Vietnam incessantly. Of course, they did that with our involvment in Central America in the '80s, the Gulf War, and Afghanistan, too. Bill Clinton got a pass, but one feels sure that if a Republican had sent troops to Kosovo it, too, would be "another Vietnam".

Iraq is not, and never was, "another Vietnam". The differences are many, and have been commented upon extensively elsewhere.

But now we have the incredible situation in which if Iraq isn't "another Vietnam", the Democrats, or some of them, anyway, are determined to make it one.

Mackubin Thomas Owens, in today's National Review Online, reminds us of just what did happen in Vietnam:

After 1968, the situation in Vietnam was very similar to the one that prevails in Iraq today. Trends were moving in the right direction for the Americans and South Vietnamese. The United States had changed its strategy after Tet 1968, scoring significant military successes against the North Vietnamese while advancing "Vietnamization." These successes helped stabilize the political and economic situation in South Vietnam, solidifying the attachment of the rural population to the South Vietnamese government and resulting in the establishment of the conditions necessary for South Vietnam's survival as a viable political entity.

The new strategy was vindicated during the 1972 Easter Offensive. This was the biggest offensive push of the war, greater in magnitude than either the 1968 Tet offensive or the final assault of 1975. While the U.S. provided massive air and naval support and while there were inevitable failures on the part of some South Vietnamese units, all in all, the South Vietnamese fought well. Then, having blunted the communist thrust, they recaptured territory that had been lost to Hanoi. So effective was the combination of the South Vietnamese army's performance during the Easter Offensive, an enhanced counterinsurgency effort, and LINEBACKER II — the so-called Christmas bombing of 1972 later that year — that the British counterinsurgency expert, Sir Robert Thompson concluded US-ARVN forces "had won the war. It was over."

But as Bob Sorley has observed, while the war in Vietnam "was being won on the ground... it was being lost at the peace table and in the U.S. Congress." First, the same sort of domestic defeatism that is endangering our effort in Iraq today impelled President Nixon to rush to extricate the country from Vietnam, forcing South Vietnam to accept a cease fire that permitted North Vietnamese Army forces to remain in South Vietnam.

Second, the Watergate scandal changed the makeup of Congress, which, in an act that still shames the United States to this day, then cut off military and economic assistance to South Vietnam. Finally, President Nixon resigned over Watergate and his successor, constrained by congressional action, defaulted on promises to respond with force to North Vietnamese violations of the peace terms. Only three years after blunting the communist Easter Offensive, and despite the heroic performance of some South Vietnamese units, South Vietnam collapsed against a much weaker, cobbled-together communist offensive. And South Vietnam ceased to exist, consigning millions of souls to communist tyranny and weakening the United States for a decade.

How did the North Vietnamese Communists pull this off? In 1990, North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, confirming what he has written in his own memoirs, told Stanley Karnow that "We were not strong enough to drive out a half-million American troops, but that wasn't our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war."

Exactly. Many people seem to think that the South collapsed as soon as we pulled out. As Owens writes, this is not true.

It is just possible that if we pulled out of Iraq, and still committed substantial funding, continued training their army, and provided close air support, the current Iraqi government would survive.

But it is much more likely that Congress would cut off funding, forbid any but a few trainers (remember the restrictions on our trainers in El Salvador?), and through control of the pursestrings, eliminate the funds necessary to maintain air strikes. After all, prescription drug benefits and fiber to the desktop at your local public school are much more important than the lives of millions of Iraqis. And, bty, you can be sure I'm including Republicans as greedy in spending public money in order to get themselves reelected.

The result would be a massacre in Iraq well beyond anything we have currently seen. A four-way civil war would likely break out between the Sunnis, Shi'is, Kurds, and insurgents. Syria and Iran would certainly step up their involvement, even to the point of actual ground troops. We left Vietnam, cut off funding to the South Vietnamese government and failed to support them during the North's 1975 invasion, and the result was a bloodbath. Tens of thousands became known as the "boat people" as they fled in "the largest mass departure of asylum seekers by sea in modern history." Is this what the Democrats want? If not, why did they give a standing ovation to Rep John Murtha, who has not backed down from his call to withdraw troops?

Even if we continued the funding, training, and air support, it is highly likely that the government would devolve into a dictatorship, seeing democracy as an "unnecessary hassle" in the midst of a war.

In other News, the GOP Senators aren't Much Better

Mark Steyn reminded me this morning that

Last week, the Republican majority, to their disgrace and with 13 honorable exceptions, passed an amendment calling on the administration to lay out its "plan" for "ending" the war and withdrawing U.S. troops. They effectively signed on to the Democrat framing of the debate -- all that matters is the so-called "exit strategy." The only difference between Bill Frist's mushy Republicans and Harry Reid's shameless Democrats is that the latter want a firm date for withdrawal, so Zarqawi's insurgents can schedule an especially big car bomb to coincide with the formal handover of the Great Satan's guts.

Sigh.

The Marines are Still Doing What Marines Do Best

In other words, they're kicking butt. W Thomas Smith, Jr, describes in NRO what the Marines have been doing in Operation Steel Curtain. As for how the insurgents are doing:


In more than one instance — and to the delight of American and Iraqi troops — insurgents have been caught attempting to flee the battlefield dressed as women: Considered a particularly disgraceful act among Iraqis.

"They've proven to be cowards," says Kerr. "We found a number of them skulking among a flock of sheep trying to escape in Ubaydi, and there have been several instances of insurgents dressing up as women trying to escape."

I guess if I had the US Marines coming after me, I'd resort to desperate measures also.

The Larger View

I think this view of the situation in Iraq is a bit too optimistic, but then again James Dunnigan and Austin Bay of StrategyPage are pretty experienced analysts. You'll want to read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

If it weren't for Internet access to troops, expatriates and Iraqis in Iraq, you would think that coalition military operations in Iraq were a major disaster, and that prompt withdrawal was the only reasonable course of action. But the mass media view of the situation is largely fiction, conjured up in editorial offices outside Iraq, with foreign reporters in Iraq (most of them rarely leaving their heavily guarded hotels) providing color commentary, and not much else.

Posted by Tom at 9:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 29, 2005

Iraq War Fallacies I: Why We Have a Military

As you can tell from the title, this is the beginning of a new series. Future installments will cover issues such as:

- We needed more troops in the initial invasion
- Bush lied about WMD
- The purpose of the war was to enrich Halliburton et al
- We should have kept the old Iraqi Army
- The IED is an unstoppable weapon that will lead to our defeat
- Because public opinion polls have turned, the war was a mistake
- We need to revamp or eliminate hummer/figher jets/tanks/ because all future wars will be like Iraq
- The effort in Iraq detracts from the war on terror
- Iraq is a quagmire

______________________________________________

They just can't let it go.

I was watching the news last Sunday while at my part-time job (electronics retail has this as a side benefit when things get slow) and I heard it again.

Someone (I didn't catch who) was being interviewed about hurricane preparations in one of the southern states, and the issue of the National Guard came up. The person being interviewed said words to the effect that "we'd be more prepared if more of the guard wasn't in Iraq", the clear implication by the tone of his voice being to admonish the Bush administration.

By now we've all heard this argument:

We shouldn't be in Iraq because we need the troops here at home to help with disaster relief

There are so many things wrong with this line of reasoning it's hard to know where to start. But before we get started, let's go over a few variations of this argument that we hear.

Variations

During the last election, we heard that the war in Iraq was using money that we "needed" at home. John Kerry made this part of his campaign pitch, saying that the administration requested

$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans...We're spending $200 billion in Iraq while the costs of health care have gone through the roof and we're told we don't have the resources to make health care affordable and available for all Americans. They're charging 17 percent more for Medicare while making America pay $200 billion for a go-it-alone policy in Iraq. That's the wrong choice; that's the wrong direction; and that's the wrong leadership for America.

Although I don't have the link to prove it, I also specically recall hearing about school funding in particular. This argument is that since schools in the US are "starved of money", the money spent in Iraq is taking money that is badly needed at home.

However it is stated, the objection is really the same, that we need the troops or the money at home.

Why it is Dishonest

The argument is dishonest for a very simple reason; it's not the real objection. Afghanistan costs money. Our deployment of troops in Kosovo etc costs money. In fact, we have a lot of troops in a lot of places around the world period, yet one never hears objections to these deployments along the lines of disaster relief or financial necessity. Granted, we have more troops in Iraq and it costs more than the other places, but I really don't think that invalidates my point, which is that the disaster relief/financial necessity argument is a smokescreen.

Generally speaking, whether a war is right or wrong must be decided on issues other than financial need at home. Let's be honest, compared to most of the rest of the world in a country we are filthy rich(a good thing, I hasten to add). Consider;

We worry about computers in schools, while most of the world worries about roofs for their schools.

We worry about prescription drug benefits, most of the world worries about getting drugs period.

Either a war is right or it is wrong. The arguments used to justify a war can be many, as can the arguments against it. But to argue that it would cost too much just seems rather vulgar to me given that we live in the richest nation in the world.

During the last election campaign, many Democrats were making the "we need the money at home" argument. Christopher Hitchenshad some choice words for those who subscribed to this line of reasoning:

There is something absolutely charmless and self-regarding about this pitch, and I wish I could hear a senior Democrat disowning it. It is no better, in point of its domestic tone and appeal, than the rumor of the welfare mother stopping her Cadillac to get vodka on food stamps. In point of its international implications, it also suggests the most vulgar form of isolationism, not to say insularity. ...

The further implication is that this is a zero-sum game, and that a dollar spent in Iraq is a dollar not spent on domestic needs. In other words, that this hospital or school in New Jersey or Montana would now be fully funded if it wasn't for a crowd of Arab and Kurdish panhandlers. Could anything be more short-sighted than that? Have we not learned that failed states turn into rogue states, and then export their rage and misery? Would we not prosper ourselves—if the question has to be stated in this way—if the Iraqi economy recuperated to the point where it could become a serious trading partner?

This common-sense or self-interested objection doesn't exhaust the argument. A few years ago, many of the same liberals and leftists were quoting improbable if not impossible numbers of dead Iraqi children, murdered by the international sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein. Even at its most propagandistic, this contained an important moral point: Iraqi civilians were suffering for the sins of their dictatorship (and from the lavish corruption of the U.N. supervision of the "oil-for-food" program). OK, then, we'll remove the regime and lift the sanctions. Happy now? Not at all! It turns out that 1) the Saddam regime was only a threat invented by neo-cons and that 2) we don't owe the Iraqi people a thing. Also, we could use the money ourselves.

I'd almost forgotten how good Hitch could be.

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July 2, 2005

Static vs Dynamic Analysis: Why the Critics don't Get It

Once again we’re hearing all the things that we “should” have done in Iraq. Over the last two days I listened to General Barry McCaffrey and Senator Joe Biden on the radio and both of them excoriated the administration for not having followed their oh-so-wise advice.

At least these two have our best interests at heart. I do truly believe that they want us to succeed in Iraq. Others, like Moveon.org, and, well, the entire leadership of the Democratic Party, seem only to be concerned with scoring political points.

Some of the things that McCaffrey, Biden, and others tell us that the administration should have done in the early days of the Iraqi War are:

1) We should have used more troops

2) We should not have disbanded the Iraqi Army

Biden even went so far as to state ad nauseum that "everyone knows" that we need and needed more troops. Biden considers himself a genius, you see. If you don't believe me, just ask him.

Movinge beyond that, let’s take them on. But before we get to specifics, let’s go over some important concepts:

If you change one factor in an equation, everything else changes too. The first problem I have with Biden and McCaffrey is that they are engaged in static thinking.

Dynamic vs Static Analysis

Their mistake is in thinking along static lines. They assume that if you change one factor in an equation, nothing else will change. This is such a basic error that I am amazed that it happens so often, and by people who should know better.

For example, if you raise taxes by 10% on an item, it is invalid to automatically assume that the government will get 10% more money. It is true that on some items, such as cigarettes, the increase in revinue will be about 10%, because the demand curve for such items is inelastic. But on other items, such as candy bars, people will simply adjust their spending habits, buy less of the product, and the government may not end up with any appreciable increase in revinue at all.

People who blithely say that we “need(ed) more troops” or that we should have “kept the Iraqi Army together” assume that only positive results would come from such a decision. They seem not to realize that there were potential negative consequences from taking a decision other than what we did.

More specifically, they seem not to realize that if you change one factor in the equation of history, everything else changes too.

So people who say that we "need(ed) more troops" or "should have kept the Iraqi army" may be right, or they may be wrong, but I have yet to hear aargument from any of them yet that takes any of this into account.

Now that we've laid the groundwork, let's go though each one in more detail.

"We Need(ed) More Troops"

As Rich Lowry of National Review pointed out last year in "What Went Wrong" (subscription required), there were significant disadvantages to having put more troops in the field of battle:

If more troops would have enhanced security in the aftermath of thw war (a debateable proposition, as we shall see), the lighter and more mobile force had significant advantages in the prosecution of it. "The decision was made to collapse the regime as quickly and violently as possible," says a senior administration official. the most kimportant advantage of this approach, he sways, was simple: "A quick collapse saves American lives and Iraqi lives."

It served other objectives as well. It made it possible to take the oilfields - crucial to Iraq's rebuilding - mostly intact before Saddam had time to destroy them. And there was the political consideration. It was thought important to avoid a drawn-out war, and the destabilizing effect it might have on the region. "You don't want an American army slogging it's way to an Arab capital," is how one official puts it.

I can hear it now from the lefties: "But we have lost a lot of American and Iraqi lives!" To which the only logical response is; "not by historical standards, and remember, the situation could be much worse. Remember the "battle of Baghdad" we were assured would happen?"

The problem I have with the "more troops" crowd is not that they're necessarily wrong, but that they don't even think it necessary to consider that the presence of more troops might have made the situation worse.

For example, we are told that with more troops we could have "stopped the looting." Really? How exactly? It is not clear that the mere presence of our soldiers would have stopped anything. By shooting the looters? Oh that would go over well in the rest of the world. By "detaining" them? And put them where, and for how long? What about trials, which our "human rights" groups would not be long in demanding? They never say.

And how would we get all of these troops into Kuwait? They forget that during the Gulf War we had access to huge Saudi ports. In this war we only had access to smaller, less numerous ports in Kuwait. It is not clear that we could have even gotten a significantly larger force into Kuwait and kept it supplied. More troops would also have presented Saddam with an even more inviting pre-invasion target.

In addition, we need to recall that our military was significantly smaller in 2003 than it was in 1991, by a factor of about 40% overall. True it was much more capable on a unit-by-unit basis, but a ship or soldier can still only be in one place at a time. Bottom line; we would have had to drain troops from other theaters.

This would have presented the world's troublemakers with a perhaps rresistible opportunity.

Suppose Kim Il Sung had taken the opportunity to invade the south, or China decided to make trouble over Taiwan. What would the critics be saying them? That it was "obvious" that by depleting troops from other theaters we were inviting trouble.

We should not have disbanded the Iraqi Army

The first thing to say is that we did not disband the Iraqi army; it disbanded itself. It literally disintegrated in the closing days of major combat operations. We would have had to recall it. People who advocated this need to think carefully about the consequences.

Once again, those who say we should have kept or recalled the Iraqi army only see the potiential positives. They fail to even consider that doing this may have made the situation worse.

Armies in many third-world countries are used as much to oppress the population as they are to defend the borders, sometimes more so. In the case of Iraq Saddam had long used some units to carry out his murderous atrocities. Many Iraqis didn't have much respect for much of the army, and saw it as an oppressive institution. To have kept it in place might have made the population even more angry at us. Remember, things can always be worse.

Further, Iraqi units were organized along sectarian lines. Shi'is, tired of Sunni oppression, might have taken this opportunity to seek revenge. Shi'ite units might well have moved into Sunni neighborhoods and wrecked havoc. Same with the Kurds. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine Iraqi units fighting each other. And who is to say that they would not have turned on us is an opportunity presented itself?

Imagine the consequences of any perceived atrocity; "human-rights" groups would immediately protest that it was all the fault of the United States, that because we invaded and kept the Iraqi units together, we were responsible for their actions. The western media would have a field day.

Back to Analysis

Again, what bothers me so much about the sort of 20/20 hindsight analysis that we hear so often is not that it is wrong, but that it is not even stated correctly. The critics do not even think it necessary to consider that had we done things their way, things might be worse. They only see the positives. As Lowry makes clear in his article, the idea that there was "no plan for after the invasion" is utter nonsense.

Prior to the invasion, our government spent a lot of time planning, it's just that many of the things they planned for; mass starvation, a major refugee crisis, destruction of the oil wells, use of WMD, civil war, SCUD missile attacks on Israel, didn't happen.

And, of course, these are many of the things the critics assured us would happen.

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