Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
The invasion of Iraq was sledgehammer-simple: Slug in some “shock and awe” and kiss Saddam Hussein goodbye.
But while our troops and generals deserve a big “bravo” for their brilliance and bravery during the initial war-fighting phase, the occupation – which went wrong right from the get-go and has bled along for almost two more terrible years – is going down as one of the biggest snafus in U.S. military history.
If the generals had any kind of plan to stabilize Iraq, it had to have been drawn up and approved by serving officers seriously stoned on LSD. But as there’s zip evidence of any high-level pre-invasion planning effort, I suspect that Gen. Tommy Franks bought into all the Pentagon hype about how once the statue of Saddam fell it would be wine, roses and ecstatic dancing in the streets – and then the majority of our soldiers would leave 40,000 peacekeepers behind to assist the appropriately grateful Iraqis in building a booming, oil-rich democracy and return home to confetti and victory parades.
Our troops were truly magnificent in the early days of the fumbled occupation. Their skill, sacrifice and flexibility gave new meaning to “take charge and move out, field expediency and staying loose” and prevented even worse disasters in the chaos that ensued after our forces took down Saddam.
There is no doubt both that our warriors won the battle and that our generals blew the occupation and have been playing catch-up – badly – ever since. And nearly two years later, too many of our senior military geniuses still don’t understand that we’re fighting insurgents and that they need to get the necessary additional combat power on the ground quicksmart.
Again, the three mistakes that have continued to haunt our forces in Iraq since April ’03 are: (1) No initial occupation plan; (2) no acknowledgment at the top that we’re fighting an insurgency war; and (3) not enough combat troops to put down the insurgents, who daily become smarter, stronger and better-organized.
Our grunts have been letting me know since the early days of the invasion that there has never been enough people power on deck to do the job. “We’re stretched too thin” has been a constant complaint. “Battalions are doing the work of brigades and brigades divisions,” snorts an infantry skipper now in the Mosul area of operations.
So far not one general has had the guts to stand tall and demand more troops from either Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers – who was selected for the job because he’s a technical whiz, not a war-fighter – or his boss, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld. And late last year, when a reporter tore into Rummy on CNN about how our forces were knee-deep in an insurgency war that wasn’t going well, Rummy remained in undaunted denial, defending the one-note, high-tech 21st-century force he keeps pushing – in spite of the overwhelming evidence that this war is now all about insurgency.
Meanwhile, our brass hats appear to be suffering from the Shinseki disease they caught bearing witness to then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki’s being treated as a leper for standing up to Rummy over the number of troops needed for the occupation. The lesson learned from this telling example: Don’t cross Rummy. So even though Shinseki was dead-right, the brass went along – to get along – with a shamefully inadequate troop strength.
In my judgment, the war in Iraq against the insurgents is still winnable if Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran are told to stop supporting the insurgents or else; if we get enough boots on the ground ASAP to saturate and dominate the badlands; and if the brass allow the small-unit leaders to do their thing without the obsessive micromanagement that infects our Army.
The troops should be left alone to build up a solid network of Iraqis who want the war to end. Then together they can put down the spoilers and spread the good life that the majority of the people in Iraq are now starting to enjoy.
Fighting insurgents is relatively simple. You don’t need to be the top guy in the class to win the game. But you do need common sense and commanders who aren’t afraid to stand up to bum-kissing top brass and dumb policy.