Rumsfeld Peddles Revisionist History

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Donald Rumsfeld is peddling a bit of revisionist history in the New York Times. His overall aim is allegedly to describe how the Iraq troop surge and strategy may not be able to be precisely duplicated in Afghanistan. But leaving behind his thesis for a moment, we can get right to the revisionist history.

As one who is occasionally — and incorrectly — portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq, I believe that while the surge has been effective in Iraq, we must also recognize the conditions that made it successful. President Bush’s bold decision to deploy additional troops to support a broader counterinsurgency strategy of securing and protecting the Iraqi people was clearly the right decision. More important, though, it was the right decision at the right time …

The decision to conduct a surge came out of an interagency review in the fall of 2006. By mid-December, as I was leaving the Pentagon, there was a rough consensus in the Defense Department that deploying additional combat brigades to Iraq was the right step. Some military leaders raised reasonable questions about the potential effectiveness of a surge, in part because of a correct concern that military power alone could not solve Iraq’s problems. I agreed, and emphasized that a military surge would need to be accompanied by effective diplomatic and economic “surges” from other departments and agencies of the American government, and by considerably greater progress from Iraq’s elected leaders.

During my last weeks in office, I recommended to President Bush that he consider Gen. David Petraeus as commander of coalition forces in Iraq, as General Casey’s tour was coming to an end. General Petraeus and his deputy, Gen. Ray Odierno, had the experience and skill to recognize and exploit the seismic shifts that were taking place in Iraq’s political landscape. And United States troops had the courage to win the alliance of Iraq’s people against a common enemy — and the benevolence to win their friendship.

At the critical moment — a moment when the Iraqis were able and willing to be part of the surge with the American forces — the United States surged into Iraq with the right commanders, additional forces and a fresh operational approach rooted in years of on-the-ground experience. Americans can be proud of what has been accomplished in Iraq over the last five-plus years. They should also be impressed by the results of the surge, which, thus far, has outstripped expectations, including mine.

Balderdash and myths. Rumsfeld and his reports repeatedly talked of standing down as the people and Iraqi Army stood up, and the strategy wasn’t one of counterinsurgency. It was one of a quick turnover and rapid drawdown. Saving the day had to rest on the shoulders of the enlisted men and those in the states who would support the campaign.

For the next three years, Donald Rumsfeld and the senior generals pushed a “short-war” scenario, “which was to get a political solution quickly, transition to the Iraqis security quickly, and get out,” says Gen. Keane. “It didn’t work” ….

In late 2006, after the midterm election debacle for Republicans, pressure rose for a quick if dishonorable exit from Iraq. Gen. Keane met Frederick Kagan, who was putting together a report on an alternative strategy for Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute. On Dec. 11, both men found themselves at the White House to push the plan. Congress, the Joint Chiefs, Iraq commander Gen. George Casey and the Iraq Study Group all wanted a fast drawdown. President Bush ignored their advice. Gen. Petraeus was sent out in February to oversee the new, risky and politically unpopular surge.

Rumsfeld, who apparently never sat down in his office, would have done much better to park himself in a chair and study why his philosophy of rapidly turning over to an Iraqi Army was destined for failure; or perhaps he could have listened to General Eric Shinseki’s recommendation that we needed more troops than called for under the current plan; or perhaps he could have prevented Paul Wolfowitz from making a clown of himself by publicly denouncing Shinseki’s remarks to the Congress; or perhaps he could have paid attention to General Anthony Zinni’s war-gaming of Iraq in which his team found that they needed 400,000 troops; or perhaps he could have thought a little more about the toppling of a government with troops expected to keep order under the ridiculous rules of engagement and rules for the use of force that more closely followed the SCOTUS Tennessee v. Garner decision than rules necessary for post-invasion Iraq.

But he didn’t do any of this. Upon the beginning of looting and after watching the streets of Iraq turn into Lord of the Flies except with adults and guns, the best Rumsfeld can offer is to say stuff happens.

Continuing with Rumsfeld’s fantasy:

The way forward in Afghanistan will need to reflect the current circumstances there — not the circumstances in Iraq two years ago. Additional troops in Afghanistan may be necessary, but they will not, by themselves, be sufficient to lead to the results we saw in Iraq. A similar confluence of events that contributed to success in Iraq does not appear to exist in Afghanistan.

What’s needed in Afghanistan is an Afghan solution, just as Iraqi solutions have contributed so fundamentally to progress in Iraq. And a surge, if it is to be successful, will need to be an Afghan surge.

Left unanswered in the current debate is the critical question of how thousands of additional American troops might actually bring long-term stability to Afghanistan — a country 80,000 square miles larger than Iraq yet with security forces just one-fourth the size of Iraq’s. Afghanistan also lacks Iraq’s oil and other economic advantages. It is plagued by the narcotics trade. Its borders are threatened by terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. Fractured groups of Pashtun tribesmen on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border do not yet appear willing to unite and take on the insurgents in their midst, as Arab tribes did in Iraq.

So after designing the strategy to topple the Taliban regime and push the Taliban into neighboring Pakistan, Rumsfeld now tells us that his strategy failed and going forward in Afghanistan is going to be difficult. But Rumsfeld’s force transformation (otherwise called by the erudite phrase “rationalizing the force structure”) is described for us by John Noonan of OpFor.

To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld’s baby. The Pentagon’s “bridge to the 21st century.” And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.

In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.

And that’s when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation’s real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.

And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld’s bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvees and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.

John describes what will forever be the Rumsfeld legacy for us, and it doesn’t include the surge. After ignoring his own role in the disaster that was post-invasion Iraq and taking credit for the surge, Rumsfeld then refused to admit that his strategy for Afghanistan led us to the debacle we have today with Operation Enduring Freedom. Finally, he tells us that more troops won’t necessarily fix the problem without a new strategy since there is no direct analogue to Iraq – an assertion so obvious that we don’t need to hear it from the man who developed the initial strategy, and who, if he had committed the troops early on in Afghanistan, wouldn’t have to tell us that more troops won’t fix the problem.

Some men have no shame, and history is important enough that lies deserve to be corrected.


You are currently reading "Rumsfeld Peddles Revisionist History", entry #1596 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency,Department of Defense,Force Transformation,Rumsfeld and was published November 25th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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