Friday, April 1, 2011

Strange Interpretation of Dumb Decisions

Tom Ricks took Peter Feaver to task for a variety of assertions Feaver makes in this International Security pieceI addressed some of the big questions at the Duck of Minerva.  In the course of reading this piece, I was stunned, shocked and amazed (but not awed) by Feaver's assertion in a footnote (fn 30 for those counting at home):
My view is that the situation is considerably more complex than that. Rumsfeld had an assertive style, but his assertions do not correlate closely with military failures; the parts of the war plan he focused on—phases I, II, and III—went well, whereas the part that he did not scrutinize—phase IV—had the most serious flaws. Arguably, what was needed was more civilian supremacy, not less.
This is so wrong on so many levels.  First, let me state that I am a big fan of Feaver's work, and it has significantly informed my teaching and research on civil-military relations.  Second, I respect that he spent considerable time doing government service--working on the National Security Council.  I did one year in the Pentagon--it was exhausting.  Two years would have been very tough.  And I think Feaver went to Iraq as part of his job--that took guts.  Third, I appreciate that he is writing a piece that builds on his policy experience.  I am trying to do the same with my current book project.  So, let me attack the assertion itself, and consider it an aberration from Feaver's usual standard of excellent analysis.

Ok, what is wrong with this assertion--that the quality of US defense policy during the Rummy year's, especially the phases of the Iraq war varied with Rummy's notoriously selective attention span?

  1. Correlation is not causation.  Attention produces success and inattention produces failure?  Sure.
  2. Forgetting everything else for a second, a large part of why phase IV--the postwar phase--was so messed up was how the previous phases were conducted.  That is, the idea to have a rolling start and then deploy as few forces as possible set the conditions (a key military phrase) for failure.  The US did not have enough troops on the ground to do the stabilization part.  General Shinseki was right.  And we knew this ahead of time  So, did Rummy really, since he immediately tried to de-legitimate him.  Rummy's ideology/dream that the US could impose its will without numbers on the ground meant that weapons sites (suspected WMD, artillery shells that would become IED's, etc.) could not be guarded; that there would not be enough MPs in Baghdad to prevent the looting--stuff happens apparently; and so on.  The looting should not be underestimated as it not only gutted the capacity of the Iraqi government to help in the transition/stabilization but it also made the US look simultaneously arrogant and weak.
  3. Rummy's inattention was not passive but active.*  He deliberately did not provide enough support to Jay Garner's folks so that they could do the job; he deliberately excluded the knowledgeable people from the stabilization team (you can blame Cheney all you want, but the guy with executive authority on all of this was Rummy); he ran roughshod over General Tommy Franks (so disastrous that he is a running joke over at Abu Muqawama) to get the timetable straight but did not push him to develop a serious post-war plan except how to get out by the end of the summer; and so on.  Rumsfeld clearly wanted a particular kind of phase IV--no real stabilization, just a short interval before getting out, leaving behind some magic émigré dust to keep the peace (oh yeah, an émigré acting on behalf of Iran--good plan!).
  4. Bremer.  What more do I need to say?  There are two ways to interpret Paul (Jerry) Bremer's reign as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA--Cannot Produce Anything]: either he was acting on the orders of Rumsfeld, and thus made many, many poor decisions that made things tragically worse (disbanding army, over-the-top de-baathification, etc.); or he was not.  If not, then Rumsfeld is guilty of losing control of his agent, since Bremer was supposed to be under the SecDef until Rice got sick of it all.  Part of this is Powell's fault for letting Rumsfeld own the whole thing--under the "you own it, you break it, you bought it" bureaucratic tactic.  Bremer had a poisonous relationship with LtG Sanchez, who ran the "postwar" effort for the first year or so.  Who could have forced these guys to work together better?  Who in the US administration was both of their bosses?  Um, that would be Rumsfeld.
  5. Rumsfeld had also broken the Joint Staff's ability to provide a counter-weight to his own advice.  Myers was picked to be his puppy and became his puppy.  And Pace became a puppy, too.  The job of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to give his/her best military advice to the SecDef and the President, not to provide united front to the President and agree with the SecDef when he was making a mistake.  There is a reason why the junior officers were pissed at their senior leadership--because they were let down.  Rummy helped make this happen, although Myers and Pace, just like Cheney, Bush, Powell, Rice, and Bremer all share responsibility for the debacle that was the US effort from 2003 to 2007.  
So, to say that Rumsfeld's inattention was the problem behind phase IV is very surprising because it runs against everything we know about the war.  

*  Rummy did the same in Afghanistan--he set a force cap on how many US troops could be in Afghanistan--and then went on to plan Iraq.  So, he did not pay much attention perhaps, but he set the conditions which meant that it was very hard to succeed with key operations, such as Tora Bora and Anaconda.


McGill student said...

I was wondering if there was any book you would be able to recommend on the Iraqi invasion and occupation in 2003. The points you bring up are definitely persuasive (as was the lecture you gave on this topic at the end of POLI 244) but you're definitely better acquainted with the subject than I am, so if you could point me in the direction of a book (or books), I'd be very appreciative.

McGill student said...

Oops... I meant the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. I'm sure you knew that, but I still felt like that had to be corrected...