Iraq without a Plan
O'Hanlon, Michael E., Policy Review
THE POST-INVASION PHASE of the Iraq mission has been the least well-planned American military mission since Somalia in 1993, if not Lebanon in 1983, and its consequences for the nation have been far worse than any set of military mistakes since Vietnam. The U.S. armed forces simply were not prepared for the core task that the United States needed to perform when it destroyed Iraq's existing government--to provide security, always the first responsibility of any sovereign government or occupier.
The standard explanation for this lack of preparedness among most defense and foreign policy specialists, and the U.S. military as well, is that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and much of the rest of the Bush administration insisted on fighting the war with too few troops and too Polyannaish a view of what would happen inside Iraq once Saddam was overthrown. This explanation is largely right. Taken to an extreme, however, it is dangerously wrong. It blames the mistakes of one civilian leader of the Department of Defense, and one particular administration, for a debacle that was foreseeable and indeed foreseen by most experts in the field. Under these circumstances, planners and high-ranking officers of the U.S. armed forces were not fulfilling their responsibilities to the Constitution or their own brave fighting men and women by quietly and subserviently deferring to the civilian leadership. Congress might have been expected to do more as well, but in fact it did a considerable amount of work to highlight the issue of post-invasion planning--and in any case, it was not well positioned to critique or improve or even know the intricacies of war plans. On this issue, the country's primary hope for an effective system of checks and balances on the mistakes of executive branch officials was the U.S. armed forces.
The broad argument of this essay is that the tragedy of Iraq--that one of the most brilliant invasion successes in modern military history was followed almost immediately by one of the most incompetently planned occupations--holds a critical lesson for civil-military relations in the United States. The country's Constitution makes the president commander in chief and requires military leaders to follow his orders. It does not, however, require them to remain mute when poor plans are being prepared. Nor does it require them to remain in uniform when they are asked to undertake actions they know to be unwise or ill-planned.
This argument is not intended to suggest that military leaders are always right on matters of war simply because they are professionals in that arena. Often they are wrong. Eliot Cohen's book Supreme Command (Free Press, 2002), dramatizing several periods in history in which civilian leaders have usefully challenged their military establishments not just on military strategy but on operations and tactics, was convincing in its main thesis. Reportedly the book was read before the Iraq war by President Bush and received a good hearing elsewhere in the administration as well.
But if military affairs are too important to be left to the generals, they are also too important for key decisions to be left just to the civilians. In the ongoing debate over the proper roles of uniformed personnel and their constitutionally superior civilian bosses in American national security decision-making, it is probably now time for a correction in favor of an enhanced role for the military voice.
It is of critical importance to the United States that civilians and military personnel share responsibilities. They must not pretend that their jobs can be neatly separated into two broad and distinct bins--high strategy, the primary province of civilians, and military operations, where the uniformed services possess the nation's principal expertise. There are usually no clear red lines separating strategy from operations. Clausewitz depicted war as a continuation of policy by other means; Sun Tze wrote that the greatest form of military victory was the one that required the least battlefield action. What these observations have in common, from these two great yet very different military theorists, is a recognition that broad strategy and military operations are inherently intertwined.
So civilians and military personnel must of necessity encroach on each other's policymaking territory. The question of how wars are conducted affects decisions on whether to fight them, meaning that civilians must concern themselves with the technical subjects in which the armed forces specialize. Likewise, the political goals of the nation's conflicts--and the political assumptions on which plans for them are shaped--fundamentally affect the tactics and operational plans available to the military to prosecute them, meaning that military planners and commanders must also think about and understand strategy.
Missing: "Phase IV" in Iraq
UNFORTUNATELY, IN THE Iraq operation, the U.S. defense planning system did not work. Indeed, it failed badly in planning for the aftermath of Saddam's fall from power. The first three phrases of the operation, including the buildup, initial preparatory actions (largely by covert teams), and the main air-ground thrust, were impressive. But what is now commonly called Phase IV was handled so badly that its downsides …
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Publication information: Article title: Iraq without a Plan. Contributors: O'Hanlon, Michael E. - Author. Journal title: Policy Review. Issue: 128 Publication date: December 2004. Page number: 33+. © 1999 Heritage Foundation. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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