Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (1/18/07)


Nearly four years after our preemptive invasion of Iraq, the United States finds itself trapped in an unwinnable war. Despite being discredited and rejected in the November election, the President's "stay the course" strategy is now masquerading as a "surge of troops." How did a situation come about in which the most powerful nation on the face of the earth could be frustrated and stymied by a shadowy army of irregular guerrilla fighters who strike suddenly and melt into the shadows of the night? Neither the administration nor the media ever explore the reasons for the impasse, which stems from crucial miscalculations about changes in warfare following the ending of the Cold War in 1989.

During the four decades of our tense standoff with the Soviet Union, planning was for a global conflict largely centering on the clash of massive armies on the plains of Central Europe. To wage such a war, large numbers of ground forces, naval forces and airpower were required. The battle plan of the U.S. and its NATO allies anticipated sustained ground combat against the massed divisions of the Soviet Union and its client states of the Warsaw Pact. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the need for massive combat forces suddenly evaporated. Pentagon thinkers envisioned a changed world in which clashes would involve one country at a time. Combat was anticipated to be over quickly. And the United States would be able to decide or decline to enter such successive combats in according to its national interest. Emphasis shifted from manpower to sophisticated technology. In fact, technology became in Pentagonspeak a "force multiplier" that would make up for the reduced numbers of troops.

Given the on-again, off-again nature of anticipated US involvement around the globe, a lighter, faster, smaller and more easily transportable ground force was seen as preferable to the Cold War's ponderous divisions. Planners bought into this philosophy, and accelerated the transformation of the U.S. ground forces into a highly mobile force that placed great reliance on technology. Stockpiles of supplies were positioned near expected key flashpoints around the globe. From reliance on a large standing force, the Pentagon shifted to dependence on Reserve and National Guard components pressed into service for short tours of duty.

As it turned out, the new force structure proved ideal for handling situations in the 1990s, including the senior Bush's introduction of troops into Somalia, and Bill Clinton's interventions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. But if recent history has proved anything, it is that Pentagon thinkers created an armed force inappropriate to the preemptive wars the Bush administration has chosen to fight. Instead of being narrowly engaged in one country at a time, U.S. forces found themselves fighting simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of being terminated quickly, both wars have become open-ended and unconventional engagements with stubborn, elusive guerrilla forces. And rather than being elective, with September 11, the United States found itself faced with a challenge it did not have the luxury of ignoring.

Modern warfare has three traditional phases: deployment of each country's forces, destruction of the enemy's forces and occupation of the enemy's territory. Civilians in the Pentagon like Donald Rumsfeld saw the third aspect, occupation warfare, as less important than the first two. The now-legendary clash between Rumsfeld and Gen. Erik Shinseki was over this precise issue, sometimes encapsulated in the phrase, "boots on the ground." After a flower-tossing victory parade in Iraq, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz planned for a quick pullout of troops. Regrettably, crucial military specialties that are now in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan--career-slowing assignments in civil affairs, for example-were delegated almost entirely to units of the reserves.

What the chickenhawk neocon encouragers and enablers never foresaw is that Afghanistan and Iraq would continue to be low-intensity guerrilla conflicts in which counterinsurgency and sectarian civil war negated pacification programs and threatened the American military's very control of the ground. Guerrilla forces understandably avoid direct clashes with superior forces and are less susceptible to defeat by advanced technology. Such combat requires the presence of large numbers of widely dispersed ground forces exposed to hit-and-run attacks and to lethal improvised explosive devices planted along major routes used by the occupiers. Victory, in the accepted sense of the term, is always impossible to measure or even to achieve.

Late in 2003, it became clear that the U.S. force that defeated the Iraqi army was too small to pacify the country in the face of resistance from insurgent tribal and religious groups, and that the mix of technology to manpower was dangerously disproportionate. The Bush administration's solution was to dip more heavily into Reserve and National Guard components. But not only was the military created after the close of the Cold War ill adapted to the task it faced in Iraq, a long, drawn-out, inconclusive war more resembling medieval siege warfare, but the burden shared by the active duty and Reserve forces was unfairly out of balance.

Made up of older, more-experienced troops, this country's Reserve and National Guard have a larger proportion of higher noncommissioned ranks, heads of families who have wives, children and responsibilities. Many are in the process of buying homes and have mortgages they cannot pay for on military pay. Some are proprietors of small businesses that will fail without their owners present to operate them. Ignoring these realities, the Bush administration is coldheartedly destroying lives and families by repeatedly calling up Reserve and National Guard units for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A crisis exists that is not being addressed. During World War II, troops served for the duration." As it turned out, this was to mean service for as long as four years. But long continuous service was mitigated by the sense that sacrifices were being made by everybody in and out of uniform. During the Vietnam War, the grossly unfair draft was compensated for in part because an overseas tour of duty lasted one year, and draftees were discharged in two years. No small part of the growing unrest among soldiers and their families, not to mention most of the country, over the way the Iraq War is being conducted stems from the failure of the Bush administration to adapt to the reality of the unsustainable conflict into which they have plunged the country.

Recognizing the dangerous repercussions in the 2008 elections of the President's headstrong determination to prolong the blood letting at all costs, Republicans in Congress are becoming jittery. Military strategy is now being driven solely by the President's callous determination to dump the inevitable withdrawal of American troops in the lap of his successor in the White House two years from now. In the meantime, Osama bin Laden, who touched off the conflagration in 2001, chuckles to himself in his mountain fastness somewhere inside Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. We have indeed become a nation of sheep.


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Comments: Post a Comment | Postscripts Homepage

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?