The constraints Bush faced re sending more troops to Iraq
By smagar Posted in Spotlight Blogs | User Blogs — Comments (15) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
A theme I've noticed more and more in Iraq war discussions is the Bush Administration's "botching" of the war's execution. I'm sure the Bush Administration has made mistakes--and, I'm even MORE sure that any mistake it makes will be trumpeted by the MSM and blogosphere until the cows have come home and long since died in their stalls.
But, I don't hear much discussion of the constraints the President, SECDEF and JCS faced as they devised the OIF invasion plan and the subsequent occupation/transition to democracy. So, for the sake of discussion, I thought I'd raise one of the most common charges levied against the Bush Administration--that it failed to send enough troops to Iraq to "do the job right" or "finish the job." Then, I'll list a few of the constraints that, IMO, the Bush Administration faced--constraints that, when considered, are valid qualms over sending/having sent more troops. Again IMO, any assertion or implication that sending more troops to invade/pacify/safeguard Iraq was a "no-brainer," should be politely challenged. It would have been very hard to do, and certainly not without risk. Especially when you looked at it from a POTUS' point-of-view, who never has the blogosphere's/MSM's luxury of ignoring the constraints imposed by reality. (And never will).
Therefore, those who criticize the President for not using more troops in Iraq should, to be fair, address how the President should have dealt with these constraints.
Disclaimer: I am not a national security professional. Nor do I read national security publications/websites regularly. I also haven't read Fiasco or any of the other books recently written on what went wrong/what should have been done differently in Iraq. I write from the respective of a retired Army Reserve officer (with some active duty time and one combat zone deployment as a junior officer) who is now a defense contractor and blogjunkie.
If you're still willing, read on:
Constraint #1: In the winter of 2003, there was no other military on earth who could take over the de facto missions of the US military--and there still isn't.
I'll admit that this is opinion, but IMO the US military is the only military force in the free world capable of mounting and sustaining a successful combat campaign at distant places on the globe. If the US military sustains enough damage that it loses its expeditionary capabilities, we can't expect the British or the French or the Australians to fill in for us. No one can fill in for us. And the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans and Iranians know it. No other countries' military can intimidate them (or give them pause) like ours.
If you accept that, then it follows that the President had to consider that, if the US military (specifically its ground forces) were either crippled or entangled by fighting in Iraq, that other members of the "Axis of Evil" or their cousins might sense opportunity and choose to stir up trouble elsewhere.
Constraint #2: The US military in OIF was LOTS smaller than it was in the Gulf War.
We wanted a peace dividend in the 1990s, and we got it. By my reading of the OIF invasion order-of-battle from On Point , the Army's history of OIF, half of the Army's active duty combat divisions were committed to the invasion of Iraq. For the ones not committed (1st Cavalry, 1st Infantry, 1st Armored, 10th Mountain, 25th Infantry and 2nd Infantry), there were other missions on the horizon--the immediate needs of Afghanistan; or the potential need to respond to North Korean provications, a Chinese threat to Taiwan, a flareup in the Balkans, or something unforseen. (I am not ignoring the Marines. According to On Point the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was committed to Iraq, leaving two more MEFs to be our nation's--and the free world's--911 force for the rest of the Earth. )
Given that, I wonder where President Bush was going to get these other troops he should have sent? Where were the US divisions sitting idly by, who could have gone to Iraq AND STILL left the USA with enough forces in reserve to maintain our ability to respond to a second world crisis? Those who criticize the President for not using enough troops should address that.
But, let's say the President had thrown caution to the winds and committed virtually all of our combat power to Iraq? That bring up my next constraint:
Constraint #3: What if something went wrong?
What if the battles for Nasiriyah, Balad, Basrah and most of all Baghdad had been mini-Stalingrads? What if the Baathists had waged a street-to-street, to-the-death fight? What if Hussein's forces had used chemical mines or artillery shells? Even those Coalition forces that survived those chemical strikes would have had to decontaminate and reconstitute. (Question: if you were a tanker, how would you feel if you had to live in a tank that had been sprayed with deadly nerve agent, but was now "decontaminated." Wouldn't you wonder if, perhaps, down in a nook/cranny somewhere, there wasn't a drop or two of the bad stuff still lingering, waiting for you to breathe in a whiff of it? Good for morale, eh? But I digress...)
Bad things happen to armies in war all the time. Even armies that win. So, if an Iraq invasion had resulted in significant damage to our ground forces, or embroiled them in an ongoing fight from which they could not extricate themselves--then, wouldn't that be an argument for NOT committing all/virtually all of our ground combat power to Iraq to begin with?
Constraint #4: To have a rotation plan, you need troops onhand to replace the ones currently in the fight.
Again looking at the OB from On Point , it appears that half of the Army's fighting strength was committed to the actual invasion of Iraq. Eventually they needed to be replaced/rotated--and they were, essentially, with the rest of the Army. So, if we had sent virtually all of the Army's fighting strength to Iraq in the first place--who would have replaced it? Who would have continued the fight, while the "first wave" came home to rest/refit/train to redeploy? Again, a constraint which--once again, IMO--POTUS critics don't thoroughly address.
That's enough for now. As you've probably sensed, I don't know if President Bush fought the Iraq War the right way. I suspect none of us will know, for years to come. But, I do feel that many of his critics seem to ignore factors which President Bush couldn't ignore, factors which could have constrained his (or any President's) ability to send more troops into Iraq, either for the invasion itself or the reconstruction. IMO, the need for the US to maintain an ability to respond militarily to other crises worldwide, and the limited number of ground forces we had on hand in the winter of 2003, were real constraints upon President Bush, the SECDEF and CENTCOM.
Leaders have to construct action plans that take into account the constraints the face. Otherwise, they are doomed to fail.
Submitted for your discussion.