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March 29, 2003

Support the Troops, Fire Rumsfeld?

Posted by Mike on March 29, 2003 6:45 PM

Updated: Haven't done much warblogging to speak of because, I guess, there are more interested parties doing more efficient jobs of it when it's being done well, and because blogging for the sake of snarking isn't much fun (to me . . . I know it's supposed to be the point for others). One interesting little blip on the radar has my attention, though, which is that of Donald Rumsfeld's sell-out of our warfighters in the form of undercutting logistical and troop support.

Jim Henley caught it in Unqualified Offerings by noting:

"By far the most dramatic and disruptive change to the battle plan, however, was Rumsfeld's decision last November to slash Central Command's request for forces. This single decision essentially cut the size of the anticipated assault force in half in the final stages of planning, and it had a ripple effect on Central Command and Army planning that continues to color operations to this day."


"for instance, the 'Pentagon's decision not to activate many transportation Reserve units before last Christmas also created personnel shortages. Meanwhile, COSCOM itself has only 150 heavy transport trucks for an operation that Army planners estimate requires 700.'"

Maureen Dowd picked up on it in the NYT, too, noting, as did Mr. Henley, that Rumsfeld is happy to lay all credit for the plan at the feet of Tommy Franks, despite his own involvement in undercutting what Pentagon planners wanted. Dowd says it's an obsession with airpower as the answer to all woes:

"Retired generals were even more critical of the Rumsfeld doctrine of underwhelming force. The defense chief is so enamored of technology and air power that he overrode the risk of pitting 130,000-strong American ground forces - the vast majority of the front-line troops have never fired at a live enemy before - against 350,000 Iraqi fighters, who have kept their aim sharp on their own people."

Republican cant has it that when the Democrats are in power, they ruin everything by getting their civilian paws all over the military, which could do a competent job if left alone. That was pretty much the going line among fellow soldiers when I was serving, and Somalia was roundly placed at the feet of Clinton's DoD and its failure to adequately arm and protect our soldiers on the ground there. Maybe so. In fact, probably so. Civilians with political goals telling warfighters with military goals how to conduct themselves in the field sounds like a liberal democracy with a tight rein on the most potentially dangerous institution it maintains, but in practice it means a little more: it means issues of bullets and beans . . . the most basic concerns of an army in the field . . . are subjected to political considerations, not basic laws of logistics and consumption, which bend to no party's will.

My guess is that Rumsfeld and his underlings don't care as long as it's General Franks holding the bag at the end of the day.

Update: Reuters says The New Yorker's to thank for the idea:

"'He thought he knew better. He was the decision-maker at every turn,' the article quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon planner as saying. 'This is the mess Rummy put himself in because he didn't want a heavy footprint on the ground.'"


"'He was so focused on proving his point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart,' the article, by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, cited an unnamed former high-level intelligence official as saying."

I'm not even "for" this war, but if the thing had to happen, and if we have to have men killing each other and innocent civilians, wouldn't it have been better to commit as much of our might as possible and just win the damn thing? Or should we just be relieved that Mr. Rumsfeld, at least, isn't as eager as Dick Cheney was to just thrown an airborne division at the problem and hope we could wash it away with copious amounts of blood and box sets of the Civil War miniseries?

It's silly and naive to think that this thing was going to be over in a few days, even if all our embedded reporters can't help but bring to mind picnicking Yankees at First Manassas, and I don't think anyone using the words "stalemate" or "quagmire" at this point in the conflict is doing so honestly, but it's even worse to think the people most eager for this war were the most stingy in equipping and provisioning the people they sent in to fight it.

Another Update: There's some discussion of this on, where a few of the louder commentators seem to think sniping at Rumsfeld is sour grapes from the Army, which is bummed over the attention the Air Force gets. But that seems to ignore the notion that even the administration says supply lines are overextended, not to mention the upcoming presence of 120,000 new troops in the field.

Yet Another Update: CNN says Rumsfeld said it's all hooey. The generals in the field agree, not because there were enough men in the field and adequate supplies in the first place, but because things will eventually work out regardless of initial under-strengths.