The constraints Bush faced re sending more troops to Iraq

By smagar Posted in | 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.

Those facts don't make President Bush look much better. If he knew of limitations that would make the fight difficult and take this long, why wasn't there a push to resolve those limitations? In World War II, for example, this country wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be to fight a war in two theaters. So we buckled down and did what we needed to do to turn out the men and war machinery.

I'd argue that the problem with this President was that he either grossly miscalculated the result of taking out Iraqi leadership, or he grossly misrepresented it to the American public for political reasons. We are the greatest country in the world, and have the capacity to take on any challenge but I think everyone after Carter has been terrified of asking for any sacrifice from us. So my criticism isn't so much that he didn't commit more troops -- if he had them -- but that his pre-war planning fell into the category of wishful thinking, and that as things got worse, he didn't admit the mistake and ask us to take on the burden.

to sacrifice, to buckle down.

I've wondered why ideas for expanding the active Army by a few divisions haven't gotten much traction. (I suspect that the Pentagon, wary of the impending rise in baby-boomer-support Federal spending, is leery about adding more troops that Congress may soon decide it can't pay for). Or, why the Administration hasn't tried to enlist Hollywood in a more energetic effort to recruit more soldiers. (Surely SOME of the Hollywood glitterati would lend their fame to recruiting efforts, especially ones that emphasized the good that American soldiers were doing worldwide). And, why no "Iraqi War Bond" drives, marketed as a way to help the Iraqis and defray the US government's costs of the war?

I think the President has underestimated the level of sacrifice the American people are willing to accept. So, he hasn't tasked us to rise to the occasion, to the level that we can rise. This war effort (currently) isn't as all encompassing as WWII was. So what if a third of Americans will refuse to rise to the President's call, because they hate the war or hate him or love Michael Moore or... ? I'd bet that plenty of Americans would pitch in.

I'm surprised at how well the US military is doing. Morale seems good, and recruiting is going well. I recently spoke with a friend who's a National Guard LTC. According to him, the Guard is able to replace the soldiers it's losing, and readiness is still good.

BZ, Purple Vet. If the President were to really put out the call, I think he'd be able to inspire a lot more popular support for this war.

"Who will stand/On either hand/And guard this bridge with me?" (Macaulay)

Political Correctness was another constraint. Just as his father called a halt to the shooting on the "road of death" north to Basra out of Kuwait" for fear of being seen as too harsh to Arabs, W., sought to keep the blood letting to a minimum in Gulf War II.
Unfortunately that had the effect of allowing too many of the bad guys to escape, hale and hearty, to fight again another day.
I'm guessing that total casualties in the two major Axis countries of WWII were around 30% to 40%. Unlike WWI, Germany on May 9,1945, knew it had been defeated.
What were Iraq's casualties? 1%?
Even with the Iraqi Army gone, you still have to ferret out the remaining bad guys. Only this time you're doing it one patrol at a time. W. found himself in the position of being damned if he did and damned if he didn't.
We can follow the "Pied Piper", the white flag Democrats, out of Iraq and find out to our sorrow the meaning of Patton's words "Some of you are wondering if you'll know what to do. Believe me, when you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a few seconds ago was your best friends face,you'll know what to do."
Only this time it will be your child's face,or your wife's, mother's, or brother's face.

The bottom line in my mind with the way the Iraq war has been run is simply this: the Bush folks wanted to have a WWII-like, throw-back war without causing any finanicial pain for the country. They wanted budget cuts AND more spending for the military. Did they not study history? The only way to win a war like this is to ramp up to fight it, spend what you need to, and pay it off later. To use a poor business analogy, the civilians who are in charge want to run the war using the operating budget without making any capital outlays so as not to alarm the stockholders. That was a mistake and our troops are paying for it now, and the military in general, which is being forced to take a 10 percent budget cut next fiscal year, will pay for it in the long run.

that at least the Army is making major changes to its fighting echelons, to better prepare them for a future of counterinsurgency challenges. The Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) are being revamped, with (among other things) larger intelligence sections, a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and better communications equipment. And, the Army is training many more HUMINT and counterintelligence specialists to staff those BCTs.

I would, however, like to get back some of the infantry divisions we lost in the 1990s drawdown.

"Who will stand/On either hand/And guard this bridge with me?" (Macaulay)

But I guess it helps me to differentiate between the actual invasion and the post-Saddam activities. We clearly had just about exactly the right number of troops to utterly destroy Iraq's defenses, topple the regime, and remove Saddam. It took only a bit over a month to do it, if you generally call March 20 to May 1 as the "invasion mission" timeframe.

So it's post-invasion that seems the most troubling for people. In that context I think your #3 is a non-issue - perhaps they did hold the invasion force a little smaller for fear of losing too many troops to something unexpected, but post-invasion that would not have been a reason to hold troop levels lower than they oherwise could have been.

Your other three points all seem to revolve around a constraint based on not having a military big enough to apply more force in Iraq yet continue other obligated military commitments as well as cover the need for a domesic defense. If that's actually the case then it implies there isn't much more we'll do in Iraq to curb the inter-Iraqi violence beyond our current activities (i.e. we wont be adding any significant troop numbers), and the key metric to watch will be the rate at which we churn out self-sustaining Iraqi military forces that serve to augment to overall security effort. If the rate is too low or the quality/loyalty of Iraqi personnel is poor, inter-Iraqi violence will perhaps rise and a full scale civil war will begin. If the rate is high enough and training produces quality output, then the violence may slowly return to a low simmer.

(Drum roll, please...)

...Umm, DUH. That was the plan from the beginning. It is the plan that was implemented and that continues to be implemented.
I hate to come right out and say that to you, zroxx, as your posts are usually a sign of a well-informed person, but we've been harping on that point of at Least the last year.

The other part of that is that the "extra" troops we're sending to Baghdad are coming from provinces that were recently turned over to Iraqi control and no longer needed our soldiers. So we're not just watching the rate at which we turn out new Iraqi Divisions, but the rate at which we turn over the provinces and pull our troops into a smaller and smaller area...

"Always be honest with yourself even if you are honest with no one else...
...It helps you keep track of your lies..."

I hate to come right out and say that to you, zroxx, as your posts are usually a sign of a well-informed person, but we've been harping on that point of at Least the last year.

Point (and no offense) taken, but I honestly hadn't intended my observation, or thinking out loud as it were, to be a brand new and different light bulb for the community - moreso just responding to the OP's ideas re: certain perceived constraints and taking them to what I thought was a logical conclusion as to what those constraints may imply towards an eventual outcome!

but post-invasion that would not have been a reason to hold troop levels lower than they oherwise could have been.

Actually, I think the Army would have been hard-pressed to send many more troops over for the peacekeeping phase. From what I could see, most units were either in the box, recovering from getting back from it, or preparing to go into it. Once you count in a division or two as a strategic reserve, that's pretty much it for both the Army and the Marines. From all that I can tell, ALL of the Army Reserve and National Guard's top-echelon combat brigades were tapped to go to Iraq. I take that as a clear sign that the pool of available reinforcements for peacekeeping was shallow at best, if not de facto empty.

Also, don't forget that troops committed to Iraq are troops that might not have been available if another crisis in the world emerged. Disengaging from a hot counterinsurgency and redeploying to another combat zone elsewhere on the planet is a proposition fraught with "what ifs."

But, here I think you've hit it right on the head:

Your other three points all seem to revolve around a constraint based on not having a military big enough to apply more force in Iraq yet continue other obligated military commitments as well as cover the need for a domesic defense. If that's actually the case then it implies there isn't much more we'll do in Iraq to curb the inter-Iraqi violence beyond our current activities (i.e. we wont be adding any significant troop numbers).

I think you've read that implication exactly right. I don't see the Army willingly increasing its level of committment to Iraq. In fact, the discussion I'm hearing now is whether we can sustain our current level of involvement. Frankly, no one is sure how the Army as a community will react if divisions start departing on their third year-long tour in a warzone. I suspect we'll be alright (albeit strained), but no one's really for sure. We're entering new territory here, with our post-Vietnam volunteer-based military fighting a protracted war while the country itself is essentially at peace.


"Who will stand/On either hand/And guard this bridge with me?" (Macaulay)

However, it seems to me that they indicate incomplete planning before the war began. It could be that all intelligence pointed toward a swift victory followed by an occupation with minimal/manageable resistance, but that clearly is not the case. Either intelligence was grossly inadequate in this area (as well), or the factors you list should have entered into the President's planning before the war ever was initiated -- and should have been factors taken into account before even deciding to topple Saddam. If our resources were limited in responding to the contingencies we're seeing now, maybe another approach should have been taken with Saddam -- more sanctions, precision bombing of suspected WMD targets, blockades. Certainly not as effective as toppling him altogether, but we're now seeing limits to the effectiveness of that stragegy as well, it would seem.

I do think it will be years before we know whether the decision to topple Saddam was correct, regardless of the adequacy of planning. That is in large part, I believe, because of the President's continuing inadequacy as a communicator, which I believe is the number one contributing factor to his low approval ratings.

It must be noted that at the last minute, our 'allies' the Turks refused us access to Iraq from the north, messing up all previous planning for the fight.
"In this day and age, you're not going to get a fair shake in the media" -- Lance Armstrong

Point noted. However, that appears to me (and I admit I'm only a "verteran" of 8 years of paperwork shuffling in the Air Force) to have been a factor affecting the swiftness of the original invasion, rather than affecting the long-term occupation.

Re Constraint #2, I recall commentators at the time of the first Gulf War saying that if Saddam had invaded Kuwait a year later, the US couldn't have sent the Desert Storm force because of scheduled reductions-in-force. RIFS were the principal source of the "peace dividend" during the 1990's, which left the undersized, underequipped force we had post-9/11.

Another contraint was Iraqi opinion. The invading force could not be perceived as conquerors, so its footprint could not be too big once Saddam fell. The plan was to have the UN spearhead reconstruction.

Insurgents deliberately targeted the UN and blew them up, and the UN folded. So that brings up another constraint- the fanatic evil of the enemy. One common error that the Iraq critics make is to forget that the oppenents have free will: to choose or not to choose murder and mayhem as a strategy.

Getting access through Turkey and the Kurd-controlled north could have gotten us to more key parts of the country even faster, which would let us keep the civil disorder from getting too out of hand.

Having to go entirely from the south slowed down our occupation of the entire country.
"In this day and age, you're not going to get a fair shake in the media" -- Lance Armstrong

Into friendly territories and return later as insurgents/guerillas. We weren't able to completely cut off their retreat...

"Always be honest with yourself even if you are honest with no one else...
...It helps you keep track of your lies..."

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