Another Tennis Lob Into The Side Of Mt. Philo
John’s got some interesting meat on the next round of the ongoing conversation spurred by the Diamond book (scroll down for more).
were the actions and/or policies of the Bush Administration and its Defense Department which have proven to be demonstrably negative in outcome, mere “mistakes: with unintended and/or unforeseeable consequences, or is there significant culpability?
He mentions that we’ve been ripping on Diamond a lot. Yeah, he was in the right place at the right time to be critiqued. I plead guilty to spending too much time discussing his work to try to get a related point across.
He follows up with a string of various bobbles, big or small, in the immediate afteraction of the war. Some are bigger in scope, some were smaller. I’ll cherrypick so I get at least a couple of hours of sleep tonight.
On some of his complaints I’ve got little beef. I’ve covered my own opinions on the “don’t ask/tell/pursue” thing before; I’d only add that
- the services do an abominable job of getting people training in languages, because it’s always pri 2 or lower until the crisis hits, and (with the exception of the Marines) excrable in tracking what language skills they know already–a case of “not knowing what they know”
- Some of these guys will be useful to the nation and if they aren’t there’s a further problem–the skills are needed where we get collection but not translation
- Some of these guys had other problems that would get them booted out anyway–like getting caught in flagrante delicto in the barracks, which was sufficient for straight guys to get thrown out on ADSEP with other Article 15 things that went on to tip the scale
- Others also get kicked out–like fatter folks who can do the job but failed PRT standards–without a loud advocacy group, and what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander
- Three hundred gay linguists in the military dumb or horny enough to enlist and get discharged for violating DADTDP? Is this nuts? Did the recruiters trawl the wrong bars? Doesn’t that number seem, you know, a little high? Not as in “boy that’s bad” high but as in “how did they inflate those numbers” high?
Some of the Mountain Philosopher’s complaints indicate differences in basic positions. The Powell Doctrine (actually the Weinberger Doctrine with a slight twist) is DOA when you shift from a post-Vietnam, Cold War mindset to fighting a transnational fight carried to home soil like this one. (There’s better folks than me who have fought this out–the public discussion about the time of the “just war” discussion was good–but that’s where John and Chap differ, I think.) A better question might be “is this the right war of choice?” and that’s a good discussion (but one I’m not interested in doing yet again). Bush 41 and his coterie would have, and advocated, a strategy of stability; this is a strategy which I would argue would only invite more and escalated attacks (since that’s what happened when we did it).
Some of my own complaints might be good ones that would work with the Philosopher. Should we have let Sadr go when we had him earlier? Should we have backed down on Fallujah the first time? What went wrong with the Garner period? Was there another way to anticipate the enemy strategy of directly attacking the American will to fight over an extended period? What the heck are we doing with the Saudis, and why? Should we be more ruthless, instead of waiting until the next attack at home to change tactics? What are we doing now to have more guys as strategically important as the one Foreign Area Officer colonel who came out of retirement to singlehandedly arrange for us the basing and support we needed to take down the Taliban? What are we doing with intel now and can we change enough to learn from lessons learned?
But this line of inquiry–listing mistakes and bashing the guys who made it–has two problems at its core.
The first problem is that the magnitude of lessons learned is not necessarily known right now, and some things are more important than others. There is a case to be made that backing down in the first battle of Fallujah was a mistake. How important was that? Is it important enough to be something to carp big about? The model I would think of would be things like WWII battle critiques–so Mitscher did this instead of that. We’re still fighting the war, fix what we can and press on. If we’ve gotta fire McArthur, then do so–but be sure beforehand. “Europe First” lost us a lot of the Pacific, which needed retaken. Was that a firing offense for FDR or Churchill, or the best that could be done under the circumstances? How big is the error or lesson compared to historical precedent? How bad would the mistake be to be a firing offense? (For the antiwar folks, the recent election was an excellent opportunity to discuss and choose such things. But, the guy was reelected.)
The second one is that this is also a political strategy with wartime implications. If the President says “X is a mistake” then two things happen–first, he gets piled on with other claims expecting the same or better, and second, it now becomes a tool to be used by AQ. They’re a thinking enemy and use the advantages we give them–and our weakest center of gravity is the political will. It’s not a good thing for any of this instant critique to be even publicly acknowledged by the guys still running the war for that reason. Also, once you make an operational decision sticking to it is almost always better than vacillating. So we still need to capture lessons learned and adapt, but not in the front page of the paper, and certainly not things like guys in Kuwait being prompted about armor shortages for a quickie “gotcha”, or running lengthy critiques because one of the guys yanking down a Saddam statue brought his own flag and rubbed it in the statue’s face before the locals got him an Iraqi flag. There is a difference.
This line of logic (I thought it up, so it’s probably not logic but humor me here) results in a lot of carping as a result. The administration gets to live with the carping.