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Posts Tagged ‘rumsfeld’

Neocons never seem to learn.  Even after the Somalia disaster and the dubious win against Serbia, their first recommended response to 9/11 was to attack Iraq.  Public opinion required them to delay things for a while–in spite of a vigorous debate–but after a short and ineffectual campaign in Afghanistan, they finally go their wish.  We’re still in Iraq, and we’re also plodding around Afghanistan, Iran is stronger, and this is all in the name of spreading democracy as the antidote to terrorism. None of these campaigns is a great showpiece of neoconservative strategic thinking.

So, this week, Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the most bellicose neocon, has suggested the US should be invading Libya and arming the rebels.  Similar sentiments were uttered by his fellow travelers regarding Egypt.  Worse, some Republicans mindlessly pile on Obama’s leadership deficit in this arena, even though his leadership problem is not his caution regarding a military response, but rather his rhetorical invitations for rebellions among strange and unpredictable peoples coupled with his estrangement of longterm and reliable partners.  Who are these rebels?  What do they stand for?  Can we do any good for them or ourselves?  If we intervene, how long will we be there? Do we really want democracy among people shouting Allah Akbar?  I don’t want Obama’s “leadership” here, especially if it means we’ll be putting our troops into harms way without a clear idea of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Qadaffi is a dirtbag, terrorist supporter, whom I haven’t heard much from since Reagan sorted him out in 1986.  But even a nutcase who keeps a lid on things is preferable to anarchy.  What I don’t understand, or rather what I understand and have great contempt for, is the continued call by neoconservatives for mindless, hubristic US interventions after what has gone down in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Worse still is the Pavlovian Obama-hatred among many conservatives that cannot see when, in spite of himself, he is doing something useful, in this case by not doing very much.  Conservatives have been easily manipulated into supporting wars that serve no American interest whatsoever; it is time conservatives woke up, returned to their nationalist roots, and rejected the Wilsonian “global cop” role once and for all.

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I would not be so offended if Obama or any other politician said:  we’ve spent too much money on too many things for too long; we must economize, and the Defense Department too must learn to be more efficient with public funds.  But Obama, instead, has said we must spend far and wide on everything from sidewalk improvements and  “green jobs” to home mortgages and banks, because government spending is needed to lift us out of an economic crisis.  But the one area that must embrace austerity and cut its budget is the Department of Defense, which is charged with fighting two wars and keeping us safe from any emerging threats

The whole thing suggests partisan spite, a holdover from Obama’s 1980s liberalism and its contempt for Reagan’s rebuilding of the military after the painful, post-Vietnam degradation of its capabilities.  This spending has proven to be a huge bargain, leading to the end of the Soviet Union, the nearly bloodless victory in the First Gulf War, and our ability today to project unmatched conventional power in defense of our nation and its interests around the globe.  Those interceptor vests, Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters, and stealth fighters weren’t cheap, but neither should be American lives. 

It may well be debatable whether the F-22 is absolutely necessary given the state of conventional threats.  But if we’re going to be spending gazillions of dollars on everything and nothing in a Pelosi-drafted Stimulus Bill, while also surging our forces in Afghanistan, would it be too much to ask that they be given the best, most life saving weapons whether improved MRAPs, body armor, rifles, and transport helicopters like the Osprey. Is it so extravagent to update our helicopters every 40 years so that pilots don’t fly unsafe aircraft older than they are! The Pentagon must do better with the money it has and have a strategic reality check on the threats ahead.  Rumsfeld, to his credit, did away with the Crusader Artillery program and encoruaged all branches to be more expeditionary.  But to cut its budget in a time of profligacy on general principle reeks of spite and Obama’s (and his socialist father’s) college kid dreams of sticking it tot he military-industrial complex.  After all, unlike midnight basketball and housing bailouts, national defense is a constitutionally mandated federal government responsibility.

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I think it’s remarakable that General Ricardo Sanchez, former Corps Commander of all coalition assets in Iraq, is now pointing the finger at everyone–including Rumsfeld, Bremer, Casey, Bush, etc.–when he was so singularly incapable of getting the mission accomplished in Iraq. He failed to keep control when the daily numbers of IED and other attacks were 20% of what they are today. He supervised the slow-motion effort to up-armor American vehicles, train Iraqis, and win “hearts and minds” with little attention to the security of ordinary Iraqis. His and Bush’s motto could have been, “Who needs security when you can vote!”

He failed to sound the alarm about our troops’ lack of language training, the porous Iraqi borders, and the failed detention system that culminated in the Abu Ghraib scandal. His task may have been too ambitious and his assets too few, but even so he misused what he had and never risked his career to do the right thing for the American troops in the field. He willingly gave support to Rumsfeld’s ideological blindness about the war’s progress and failed to provide an appropriately skeptical counterweight to Rumsfeld and Bush’s more outrageous demands. Finally, he failed to provide a proper “big picture” mission to his division commanders, and thus a lack of mission clarity hampered efforts at every level.

I believe this anecdote, recounted by the highly credible Thomas Ricks, speaks for itself:

I actually said to Sanchez one day, something my driver had said to me. My Iraqi driver said, “You know, when I lived in America, we could call 911 if you wanted police help.” He said, “Why isn’t there a hotline here that we can call in and say, ‘Hey, I saw some insurgents'”? …

I mentioned this to Sanchez, … and he said, “Oh, that’s an interesting thought.” Well, this was March, I think, 2005. I believe they finally did stand up a national hotline.

Sanchez symbolizes everything that is conventional, unimaginative, incompetent, and overly political in today’s corps of generals.

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In the wake of the Cold War, the US military was cut dramatically. We went from a 750,000 man Army to one of about 475,000 today. The Navy and Air Force undertook similar cuts. We went from spending about 5.5% of GDP on the military to 3%. One consequence has been that the “all volunteer force” is stretched thin, has had to make due with relaxed recruiting standards, and there is a great deal of grumbling from senior commanders that the Iraq War and the repeated, lengthy deployments are killing recruiting and retention.

A larger military, both now and in the future, likely would be easier to recruit for and retain manpower, even during a time of war, than the present system. There is a reason for this paradox: such a military would allow greater time between deployments, greater flexibility when a surge of any kind is needed (including for contingencies in other theaters), and it would ease the strain on the battlefield through more overwhelming force whenever a large number of forces may be concentrated. Since one of the missions our troops will likely be called upon in the future is counterinsurgency, large numbers of skilled, trained, and well-rested infantry will be needed. The basic dynamics of this type of war are less technology and more manpower intensive than their counterparts. The U.S. had over 500,000 troops in Vietnam and the French had more than 400,000 in Algeria. We have now approximately 160,000 troops in Iraq. Since our goals in the wake of 9/11 have been so ambitious–indeed, overly ambitious and utopian in my opinion–Rumsfeld and Bush’s continuation of the “peace dividend” military and their failure to demand a larger military (particularly when support would have been high right after 9/11) has proven foolish indeed.

This is not just a matter of 20/20 hindsight. Their decision-making was truly warped. Who looks at the Soviet problems in Afghanistan and blames them on troop levels rather than on the Soviet penchant for “scorched earth” tactics and the inherent unpalatability of its ideology to the religious Afghan people? Who looks at a looming occupation and thinks gratitude will grease the wheels when governance and power are necessary? Who looks at a country the size of Iraq and thinks troop levels that are a fraction of the number of (per capita) police in the peaceful United States will get the job done? The combination of incompetence and ideological blindness is the root of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq. Some hard-headedness, including about the size of the military, will be needed in the next administration. We should not, because present-day recruiting problems avoid planning for the next conflict in a way that is sustainable, avoids a draft, and allows the military to accomplish the mission.

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