Diplomatic failures concern to retired U.S. commander


Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, retired former chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, said Wednesday the Iraq war is "going remarkably well." But the military's rapid progress toward Baghdad has done little to ease his deep reservations about U.S. policy in the region.

McPeak, who headed the Air Force during the first Iraq war and now lives in Lake Oswego, said the United States will pay a political price for the Bush administration's "maladroit" diplomatic efforts in the region. Turkey's refusal to become a staging ground for the U.S. military hampered war plans, and he predicted a long and turbulent U.S. occupation of Iraq and perhaps other countries in the region.

"We've been in Europe now since 1945. We've been in Japan since 1945, been in Korea since 1950," said McPeak, one of the United States' most outspoken retired generals. "We haven't had a Middle East occupation force, so this is a start of that. This is the way great powers operate; it's the way Rome operated."

McPeak's provocative views don't end there. He said it makes little sense to take over Iraq while a much more vital problem -- North Korea's developing nuclear capability -- is allowed to fester.

"This is a problem of global military significance," he said of North Korea. "Iraq is a regional problem."

Here is a condensed and edited version of the conversation Wednesday with McPeak:

What are your impressions on the first week of the war?

There are some things that surprised me a little bit. One is, as a consequence of the political clumsiness, we do not have the help of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. They should have been on our side from the beginning. It's our fault they're not, in my opinion.

The nonparticipation of the Iraqi Air Force is not a surprise. They do have, still, a remnant of a once-pretty substantial air force, now maybe something half the size it was in the early '90s, but still reasonably well equipped and sizable.

I mean, we kept butting into them in the no-fly zones for the last dozen years, so we know they're turning aviation fuel into hot air.

So is there anything working in the Iraqis' favor?

What they've got going for them is that our maladroitness politically and diplomatically has put us in a real bind. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein is an unpopular guy in Iraq, but he's running against George Bush. If you're an Iraqi, you've gotta decide who you're going to vote for here.

General, did you expect, as did the Bush administration, that our troops would be treated as liberators?

I hate it when military plans are made with optimistic assumptions of that kind. I never made a plan that relied on the courage of my own troops. You hope that -- and they generally will -- fight bravely. Your plan ought to be predicated on more realistic assumptions.

And if we sent the 3rd Infantry up there naked, by themselves, because somebody assessed that they'd be throwing bouquets at us, that's the worst thing you could say about political leadership, is that they made optimistic assumptions about warfare.

Now I'm not saying they did, and I'm not prejudging this case. We're only a week in here. If we were at a football game, then we're in the first quarter here, and we haven't scored yet, but we're down to the red zone. The fans don't boo at that point. So we've got no right booing what is really quite remarkable progress so far.

Is time on the United States' side in this battle?

Yeah. I really think time is on our side here. This is a fragile society, a little old one-town country, the size of Nebraska, maybe a little bigger, with the GDP about half the Army budget. So if this is a hard problem, we ought to get ourselves some new generals. I mean there's no reason why this shouldn't be a walkover.

And the pacing of it should be determined by us. We decide whether this is going to be quick, slow or in the middle.

After the worst of Iraq is over, do you anticipate that the Bush administration will launch military action against North Korea?

My guess is that we will very quickly agree to bilateral talks. What I would expect is as soon as we can gracefully do it, hand off Iraq to some sort of military-slash-civilian administration; then Washington will be ready to turn to the next problem, which is Korea.

It's a bandwidth problem in Washington. It can only deal with one thing at a time.

The bad part is, the fuse is burning. The (nuclear material) processing is going to be difficult for the Koreans to do and so forth, but (North Korea) has nuclear weapons already, or they're quite close to it.

We have to get involved in that. And my view is that there's at least some possibility that the timelines of what we're doing in Iraq are not being driven by the Iraq problem, but by the Korean problem.

You think Korea poses the more serious threat to peace?

Oh, yeah. First of all, this is a problem of weapons of mass destruction. Unquestionably. Don't have to be a genius to figure that out. Second, they're at the nexus of great power politics -- the Chinese have a border; the Russians have a short border. Japan's there. We're there. I mean if this is not a strategic part of the world, what the hell are we doing with 40,000 troops (in South Korea)?

So this is a problem of global strategic significance. Any way you look at it, Iraq is a regional problem, and it's an important problem, it ties to a lot of other problems, but it's a regional problem. If I were helping the president decide what we ought to work on today, I would have put Korea ahead of Iraq.

The other reason I would have put it ahead is I don't think we have anything like a strategy for the Middle East. (This) has all the aspects of a kind of a slapdash pickup fight. You always call audibles in war, but we're drawing the plays on the ground in the huddle. We don't have a playbook.

There is an argument here, which is that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear know-how . . . that the Iraqi government could give these weapons to somebody that's willing to use them, which could wreak pretty serious consequences on the world. Do you buy that?

This reminds me of the story about the guy who said, If I had some ham, I'd make a ham sandwich, if I had some bread.

If (Saddam) has munitions of mass destruction, and a decent and a working relationship with al-Qaida, and al-Qaida can figure out how to deliver it in downtown New York City.

I'm not saying it's a nonthreat. In fact it's an important threat, and one we have to figure out how to deal with without having the FBI listen to every one of our cell phone conversations.

But Saddam, if he has munitions of mass destruction, we haven't found it yet. I mean it's laughable to think he has the delivery capability that can reach outside the region.

And he's a secular guy. He's not an Islamic fundamentalist, by any means. Now his back's to the wall in downtown Baghdad. If he's got them, I expect him to use them against our guys, i.e., a regional use.

The Korean case is entirely different. There's no doubt about the weapons of mass destruction. They do have delivery (means?) and can reach out and hit great powers, including U.S. territory with these weapons.

There was a piece in the Washington Post about how we were overconfident going in, that we have put our soldiers in a bad situation because there's not enough of them there, and the supply lines are too long. Any thoughts on that?

Well, I don't agree. My one concern is we don't have enough first-class tactical air support in there; that's a basic problem. If we had F-15s and F-16s in there in large enough numbers, then we can run a pretty thin operation on the ground, and we can succeed.

But the Republican Guard forces, who are at the centerpiece of what we have to do now, are a mobile target. They're not highly maneuverable, but they're not stationary. The minute they maneuver, they're certainly attackable by air. Now you can see them.

Does the diplomatic situation in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have other ramifications?

These countries have hit on the problem of legitimacy. What is a legitimate use of American power? This is an overarching problem, that's going to be with us for a long time. I mean we all pray that we'll be the premier world power for centuries.

For whatever reason, the Turks and the Saudis have decided that this is not a legitimate use of power. By the way, they appear to be in the majority worldwide. I believe that one of the elements of power is the ethical and moral authority that is conferred on forces when their use is seen to be legitimate. It's as important as bullets, in my opinion.

When we started bombing Kosovo, everybody in the world saw that -- how painful that decision was. They knew we weren't there to make Kosovo the 51st state; they knew we didn't go into Afghanistan to put George Bush's face on the money there. When we act with legitimacy, it gives our military actions a source of strength. I mean for me this is an aspect of the political maladroitness. I mean you just have to say that you wonder if there's anybody in the White House that's an educated adult.

But the administration would argue that, in the age of terror, unilateralism is valid, and we can't wait for another Pearl Harbor to make this war legitimate in the eyes of the world.

In my judgment, you can fight a war on terrorism and do it legitimately (and) do it without sacrificing civil liberties in the United States, but it requires a certain intelligence and sophistication be brought to the table.

So maybe we ought to start grading presidential candidates for an IQ. Although it's hard to see why anybody that's very smart would want to run.

What do you make of the strategy the Iraqis are pursuing?

I don't know that there's a strategy here on their side. I can't think of one that leads to success.

Overall, from a strategic standpoint, we should never want to run our short-range ground power against their short-range ground power. Even though we win that fight, we lose a lot of people in that fight, too.

So we should run our long-range air power against his only strength, which is short-range ground power.

There was one projection of 3,000 American casualties. What do you think a reasonable number would be?

I don't have a guess. Quite frankly, we can say what that number is. That number is within our power. If we decide we want street fighting in Baghdad, it's going to be a big number.

Is there an alternative to urban warfare in Baghdad?

We could put Baghdad under siege and sit on the outside.

Would you really think so three years down the road, with stories from Baghdad of people dead and emaciated kids?

Yes. The impact on world opinion is an argument against that approach. It's an argument for finishing this thing quickly. But, nevertheless, it's a decision we can make. And we've already made decisions that said, 'World opinion's not very important to us.'

Is Iraq the last country we confront in the Middle East?

Who wants to volunteer to get cross-ways with us? We'll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.

I'll tell you one thing we should not hope for (is) a democratic Iraq. When I hear the president talking about democracy, the last thing we should want is an election in Iraq. We're not very popular. So I don't think we'll see any open elections in Iraq for a long time.

Hopefully over time they can be brought along like Japan and Germany -- Japan and Germany were relatively easy, I think, and South Korea.

Copyright 2003 Oregon Live. All Rights Reserved.

The Daily Kos http://www.dailykos.com/ has been named the "Best Warblog" by Forbes Magazine
Check out  http://www.dailykos.com/archives/002209.html#002209 for a Monday, March 31, 2003 posting, which I have copied below.
Also see  http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?030407fa_fact1 for SEYMOUR HERSCH ON RUMSFELD

"A Lack of Character"

Ten HUT! . . . OK, at ease. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. This is Blog Commentator Second Class Billmon reporting in with another dispatch from Officer X — our anonymous but honest military commander who has been updating us from time to time on his view of the war.

And right now his view could best be described as . . . disgusted. He has a few choice words not only for Donald Rumsfeld and his cabel of neocon aides, but for the generals who are tripping all over themselves now in their rush to blame everything on their civilian masters.

So here it is. (As usual, the bits in italics are mine.)

The big issue this week deals with the underlining problem with the military, and perhaps with the strategic political scene — a lack of character. Today, it is more important to pursue a personal agenda—promoting one’s career—at any cost to those around you and to the organization, rather than admit the need for adjustment based on changing conditions. This selfish act violates an understanding of Grand Strategy and Strategy which requires patience and an enlightened understanding of the complexities of war.  But, my purpose is not to address political issues. I only attest to understand the military issues.

OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) and the upper echelons of the Army are now in denial as to the plan, and the surprise that the Iraqis would fight as hard as they have.  Of course, the use of the words “terrorists,” “thugs” and other words to dehumanize these techniques are to sell an ignorant public that these techniques are wrong. But as always, a blunt soldier, in the 3 ID (infantry division) said it best on Thursday when asked what he thought about the Iraqis tactics in response to U.S. methods, “Well we have all the firepower, technology and airpower," he said. "I cannot blame them for fighting this way, they have to find a way to respond.” It is obvious from this statement that the soldiers and marines who are dealing with the fighting understand the nature of 4th generation warfare more than those paid the big bucks to make decisions.

I now surmise that the plan initially used was based on a personal agenda. Rumsfeld surrounds himself with people who believe in technology first, ideas second, and people last. This of course means more investment in weapons systems, which in turn benefit the contractors and those in the inner circle that seek jobs with these companies.

Let’s first start with the denials of the war plan being off track.

Anyone that understands military theory knows that when you attempt to achieve surprise and a rapid advance, you want to maintain a high tempo—keeping the enemy off balance—with an echelonment of forces.  The U.S. planners, particularly those educated in the French based “Methodical Battle” at SAMS (School of Advanced Military Studies) do not understand the tenets of controlling tempo, and the dangers of allowing the enemy to catch his breadth. Yet, this occurred with the spacing between the initial bombing phase (surgical strike on Saddam’s bunker) and the initial maneuver or road march phase.

An armor reserve of at least a couple of brigades could have been prepared to “pass through” the 3rd ID when they “paused.”  I continue to attest this could have been the British 7th Brigade Combat Group (instead of using them to seal off an urban area—Basra—that CENTCOM contends they never wanted to enter in the first place) and maybe the 3rd ACR (armored calvary regiment). The current conditions allude to the fact that planners thought that the 3rd ID would simply road march into Baghdad as the vaunted “Shock and Awe” and pre-war hype induced the Iraqis into surrendering as soon as the war began.

The wargaming also omitted a study of culture—of Iraq and its tribal system, and the ability of Saddam to influence his people through threats of violence, so that they grew accustomed to living that way.  We saw Iraq through the lens of how we wanted to view the situation.  We could not imagine living the way Iraqis do, in our country where 65% of our population is overweight or obese, where every family has 2.5 cars despite congestion, and most everyone is in debt to someone. This aspect of culture as a facet of wargaming was apparently missing from the CENTCOM approach.  Again, this wargaming technique—dealing with the best case scenario—allowed the decision makers to solidify what they wanted to believe versus what would be reality.  (JP note - and the Pentagon FIRED the War Game Commander (Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper) it had assigned to play Saddam during the last set of exercises, because of his use of "unorthodox" tactics in opposing the invasion being practiced!  Link1, Link2, Link3, Link4 Link5)

We saw this on a small scale when the 3-7 Cavalry (Squadron) screened the move of the 3rd ID for 250 miles from Kuwait to Nasraj. Once the 3-7 made contact and was ambushed, it was “relieved in place” by one of the maneuver brigades of the 3rd ID. But instead of continuing to push forward, which is the obvious course of action, they were “paused.” Why?

The failure to road march unmolested into Baghdad meant that the Army was still practicing the “American Way of War” with its plan of march-to-fight versus fight-to-move (a facet of Maneuver Warfare).  This philosophy explains the 3rd ID’s march north in the desert. The precept was to race to meet the Republican Guard in a decisive battle south of Baghdad. It did not involve the notion of subduing the enemy by avoiding battles, or fighting to gain a decisive position. Thus, again, the Army’s focus was and is attritional.

We see this with the “operational pause,” the bringing up of massive air and artillery, along with Apaches, to attrite the Republican Guard, while the air force is allowed its show with the bombing of Baghdad. What the CENTCOM planners did not plan for was the stiff resistance along the supply line which tied down their secondary effort and kept the massive amount of supplies that are required for attrition warfare from getting to the front.  When this friction became too much, then risk aversion reared its ugly head. The fracture of trust is also apparent. While the generals are posturing to blame Rumsfeld, their own culture is as much to blame with their focus on attrition warfare. The first reason was risk aversion.

To shake off the perception of the plan being wrong, senior political, military leaders and “talking heads” are now using the worn out saying that “no plan survives the first contact.” As a plan is written, this is true in that minor adjustments will have to be made. But the overused statement is wrong.

A good plan is a flexible plan. What demonstrates that this plan was neither is the fact that when the President authorized an early strike to take out Saddam, the ground forces could not adjust their timeline to connect the opening strike with a ground maneuver. This created a dangerous pause that allowed the enemy to recover, or at least build evolutionary resolve for surviving—daily—war with a superpower.  A good plan, and a military that practices maneuver warfare, can go when the opportunity exists based on an ability to exploit an enemy weakness, not based inward on the ability of one’s own side to adjust.

A good plan also possesses a large reserve force with which to exploit opportunities as they arise. The reserve force can rotate with forces that have reached a culiminating point, in order to preserve the momentum.  This was not the case in regards to this “good plan.”  One may argue — as the Air Force would — that air power can provide this reserve, but air power has severe limitations, especially when it is used by itself, as a separate force.

When one is using attrition warfare, dependent on massive firepower and centrally controlled from the “Chateau” in Qatar, then one views a broad front assault as a case of everything is equal.  Additionally, when there is a lack of a reserve — replaced instead with a broad front assault — the commander must be expecting weak resistance throughout the depth of his zone of operations.  Spreading forces out, attacking along multiple axis, or employing multiple thrusts would collapse an already weak enemy by overloading his OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop.  But, I don’t want to give the plan that kind of credit. This is attrition warfare, and attrition warfare views the occupation of space, territory as the criteria of success. It is mattter of putting one’s ball in the end zone by marching down a field measured by yard by yard.

The second reason would be logistical. When everything is in working order, and conditions are perfect, as they were in Gulf War I, then the U.S. military is almost unstoppable at the tactical level of war.  But wars are not always conveniently fought in your own back yard.  With this tactical might comes the downfall of its huge dependence on logistics.  Remember the fuel shortage on the third and fourth day of the ground phase of Gulf War I?  That was on a tail end of a LOC line of communication half the distance than today’s 250-300 mile supply line.

Next. A lack of understanding of war in order to please the boss.

“"The enemy we are fighting is different from the one we'd wargamed. We knew they were there - the paramilitaries - but we didn't know they would fight like this."" to quote the words of V Corps commander general William Wallace. (Quote corrected by JP) This incredible statement, which according to ABC News drew angry verbal (and perhaps more) rebukes from both Tommy Franks and Rumsfeld, is extremely telling to the level of or lack of military professionalism.

“The truth hurts.”

Wallace’s statements—along with how Rumsfeld is retreating from responsibility for the war plan—tells me that the upper echelons wargamed what they wanted to see, versus what military professionals would have done, which is to plan for the worse case scenario and then figure that anything less than that would be great to have. Or as Officer Y says, “Train as if you were fighting the Waffen SS, and you can never go wrong.”

It appears that evidence pointing to all of the ongoing signs was available, but was ignored.