Friday, February 8, 2013

Known Knowns and All That

I saw this tweet today.

And I have so many reactions to it.  First, Rumsfeld would probably say that it was true from a certain point of view.  That the war, in terms of a conventional land campaign, was indeed over in weeks.  The US toppled the Iraqi government later than the impatient would have expected but still pretty quickly given how few forces were deployed to Iraq.  But, of course, the problem is that Rummy and his pals thought that they could easily handover Iraq to Chalabi and other emigre pals and then the US forces could run back home.

Which gets to the known knowns as Rummy would say: we knew in 2002 that the Office of the Secretary of Defense was broken.  That is the military term for a dysfunctional organization, and OSD was quite dysfunctional.  The people there lived in fear of Rummy--I saw it on a regular basis during my year on the Joint Staff.  And these folks were given the job of running the "post-war" phase.  I knew they would screw it up, which is one reason why I argued at the time that this was the wrong war at the wrong time by the wrong people.  But little did I know that they would use the list of things that they should not do and use it as a checklist instead.  Disband the army and free up 400,000 or so men who were trained in fighting and knew where all of the guns and explosives where?  Check!

So, the first moves by the US as the Iraqi government fell was to insure that "war" would last for years rather than months. Not providing enough troops meant that the infrastructure needed to run Iraq was decimated by looting.  Disbanding the army and extreme de-ba'athification gave a weak insurgency heaps of oxygen to burn brighter.  I could go on.

The biggest known known of 2003--that Rumsfeld was incredibly arrogant.  What was unknown at the time that he was so arrogant that he was willing to use his war strategy as a tool for domestic political purposes: using only a small number of troops and having the Marines go further inland than in their entire history was designed less with victory in Iraq in mind and more about fighting a bureaucratic battle against an Army he disliked (that would be the US Army).  While Rumsfeld was not the only one responsible for the debacles of 2003-2006, he certainly bore a heap of responsibility that he continues to deny.

Worst SecDef ever?  Almost certainly.  McNamara made poor decisions due to his arrogance, but had a learning curve.  His mistakes were not nearly as profoundly ... stupid as Rumsfeld's.  I guess the question is whether failing in Vietnam did more or less damage to American interests than the Iraq war.  Both wars raised concerns about American decline, caused loss of political capital around the world, did heaps of damage to the American military, and significant harm to the US economy (and world economy as a result).  It would be a toss-up, I guess, if not for the fact that Rumsfeld's focus on Iraq meant that the US did not reinforce victory in Afghanistan, wasting a huge amount of time that gave the Taliban a chance to recover.  Afghanistan may not have been winnable anyway, but the turn to Iraq made failure in Afghanistan far more likely. 

Or is there a SecDef that did a better job of undermining US national security?

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