Do We Need an Iraqi Freedom Elevator Speech?

By Brown, John S. | Army, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Do We Need an Iraqi Freedom Elevator Speech?

Brown, John S., Army

Last month's issue of ARMY featured a review of Thomas Ricks' bruising attack on our profession. The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today. Ricks has become a popular interviewee on his chosen subject, and a fistful of pundits have picked up on his refrain. Operation Iraqi Freedom has risen to the top as an object lesson supporting Ricks' theme, and critics are now increasingly prone to attribute allegedly unsatisfactory results to military - best translated as "Army" - incompetence. This is unfair, of course, but also dangerous. If one believes that the most significant causes of unhappy results were the decisions and advice of senior Army leaders who were overruled, one should go to great lengths to assure that Army counsel is not similarly ignored in the future. No one will listen to us if we are presumed to be incompetent. Unfortunately, our detailed postmortems will be read by few. Our comeback for broad audiences has to be as readily grasped as the pundits' simple accusation that our generals were incompetent. If one is looking for "bullets" suitable in an elevator speech, I recommend six.

First, there were far too few troops for the assigned and assumed missions. Occupations and counterinsurgencies are manpower intensive. We knew this. British colonial successes featured a ratio of one reliable soldier for 50 people in a contested population. A study of American experience suggests one can make do with one in 100. This presents a requirement of between 300,000 and 600,000 to occupy Iraq. Our then-Chief of Staff of the Army, GEN Eric K. Shinseki, famously recommended several hundred thousand to Congress. The Army Staff supported the Chief and provided estimates of its own. Overseas, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) planners came at the problem through a different angle - troop-to-task analysis - but had about the same result. They envisioned 20 brigades with supporting troops, or about one soldier for every 100 Iraqis. Then-Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White was called on the carpet to disavow these sober projections. He refused and was fired. This was no dereliction of duty in speaking truth to power. It is hard to imagine a point being more strongly made or more summarily rejected. Several years later, the "surge" of 2007 redressed the numerical shortcomings in part.

Second, we had to fight unnecessary enemies. Absent sufficient numbers of American and allied troops, CFLCC planners anticipated turning to former Iraqi units to provide security. In this they had the "Panama model" in mind, hearkening back to Operation Just Cause and the rapid refielding of Panamanian units. "Bad actors" could be plucked out of units after the fact when identified, but a substantial trained force could be quickly deployed under American auspices on the American payroll. The CFLCC plan was embraced by retired LTG James (Jay) Garner, the veteran leader of Operation Provide Comfort in Kurdistan (1991) heading up civil administration with his Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). Garner also planned a light touch with respect to "de-Baathification," moving out only the most problematic functionaries and administrators but leaving the rest intact. Garner was replaced by the better connected and more ideologically driven Ambassador L. Paul Bremer ?? and his Coalition Provisional Authority. Despite vigorous objections, Bremer "fired" the Iraqi Army and dismissed the Baathist administrative structure virtually overnight. CFLCC/ ORHA Phase IV planning for Iraqi Freedom was undone, and chaos ensued. To hear Garner explain it, we made 600,000 enemies in a single day. In 2007 GEN David H. Petraeus reversed the worst of this when he put the "Anbar Awakening" on the American payroll, hiring many of the people Bremer had fired four years earlier.

Third, our political leaders declared victory too soon. President George W. Bush's "mission accomplished" aircraft carrier photo opportunity proved symbolic of a larger delusion. …

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