mm065.1: Listening to the Generals? – Early Warning

July 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

William Arkin’s Early Warning blogroll26.gif blog in the Washington Post is a highly respected read on military affairs. I know this because my brilliant son, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former Navy lieutenant, with two late-’90’s tours in the Arabian Gulf, is always forwarding his insightful stories. Here’s Arkin on the same subject as our earlier post (mm065), Thursday’s Bush press conference.

William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security

Listening to the Generals?

At his press conference yesterday, President Bush urged Congress and the American people to let the military leadership determine the “conditions on the ground” in Iraq and the possibilities for success. He urged support and respect for the “command structure.”

I noticed, however, that none of the president’s statutory military advisers was mentioned by name or position. Some Bush critics and war opponents may conclude that the president is avoiding widespread dissent in the Pentagon by creating his own command structure and stacking it with yes men and weak leaders. I read it exactly the opposite: The brass is avoiding the president and the war in Iraq — and doing so in the passive-aggressive way that has come to characterize our current civilian-military relations.

The generals have spoken. They think the war is lost. I’m not referring to the numbskulls who waited till they retired to join the political fray. I’m referring to the military leadership that is left waiting for this administration and this war to pass into history.

Here’s the lineup of military commanders and “military thinkers and planners” that the president is listening to: Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Iraq. Yesterday in his press conference, Bush mentioned him more than 10 times.

Yes, Bush mentioned the Joint Chiefs a few times in some vague way as people he consults with. But Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president’s principle military adviser by law? No mention, even by position. Adm. William Fallon, the commander of U.S. Central Command, the president’s combatant commander for the region by law and the next in the chain of command above Petraeus? No mention.

The president said he was sending Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region in August to reassure allies and discuss the long-term strategic thrust of the United States. Does he know he has a Middle East military commander?

The president said he would bring the Joint Chiefs in to “discuss” the recommendations of Gen. Petraeus. When it comes to the decision-making circle, though, the Joint Chiefs are merely props.

The president said as much in answering a question about whether he had listened to the commanders in the first place regarding the number of troops that were needed. He said he asked Gen. Tommy Franks, whom he says was “obviously in charge” whether he had “what it takes to succeed.” Franks said yes, the president said. Then the president said he met with the Joint Chiefs and got on a video-teleconference with the other commanders on the ground and asked each whether they had what it takes, whether they were “satisfied with the strategy.” And their answer, the president said, was, yes.

I know something of this session. I’ve talked to two of the flag officers involved, and both give the same description of events: It was a multi-star photo-op. The commander-in-chief, at the eleventh hour, gathered his commanders for a pep session, script in hand, and everyone performed as planned. Even then, in March 2003, there were dissenters and skeptics as to whether there were enough troops and whether the “peace” had been adequately planned for. There were even some general officers who thought the war was a mistake.

What we’ve learned since then about the military is that the command structure itself is broken. Adm. Fallon is in Tommy Franks’ position today. The president seems uninterested in his opinion on Iraq. He has, in fact, created a four-star slot and removed the combatant commander from running the war on a day-to-day basis — an insurance policy just in case another Tommy Franks comes along (and by that I mean someone whom everyone agrees is in over his head).

Gen. Peter Pace, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was in that meeting in March 2003. That’s why he’s being ignored now. The chairman then, Gen. Dick Myers, turned out to be an affable yes man, steamrolled by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. By the time Gates took over, Pace was himself half-flattened; the administration wasted no time finding someone to replace him.

At the same time, the administration seems uninterested in what a fresh voice might say. Adm. Michael Mullins has already been appointed to take office when Pace retires in September. Does the president care for his counsel? Evidently not enough to either mention him, bring him into the decision-making circle, or accelerate his appointment.

I’m all for listening to the generals. Congress should be as well. Maybe, though, we need to shore up the command structure and educate the president regarding how to receive genuine military advice.

By William M. Arkin | July 13, 2007; 7:58 AM ET

Listening to the Generals? – Early Warning

Why should an executive with less than zero experience in the field (except for the avoiding the his actual service requirements part) listen to his military leadership?

I can’t ask how we let this happen to a competent and mighty organization, because many of you, and the Supreme Court, put the decider and his hatchet man Rumsfeld in the position to work their destructive (unfortunately, not against an enemy — Pogo, you’re back!) magic.

Congress: it’s in your hands — we gave you the mandate last year. First, Cheney, then…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm065: The outrageous White House report on Iraq. – By Fred Kaplan – Slate Magazine

July 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Slate blogroll2 offers a refreshing look at the ongoing debacle.

war stories: Military analysis.

You Call That Progress? The outrageous White House report on Iraq.

By Fred Kaplan
Posted Thursday, July 12, 2007, at 5:47 PM ET

George W. Bush. Click image to expand.

President George W. Bush

The White House report released today, on how far Iraq has progressed toward 18 political and military benchmarks, is a sham.

According to the report, which was required by Congress, progress has been “satisfactory” on eight of the benchmarks, “unsatisfactory” on another eight, and mixed on two. At his press conference this morning, President Bush, seeing the glass half full, pronounced the report “a cause for optimism”—and for staying on course.

Yet a close look at the 25-page report reveals a far more dismal picture and a deliberately distorted assessment. The eight instances of “satisfactory” progress are not at all satisfactory by any reasonable measure—or, in some cases, they indicate a purely procedural advance. The eight “unsatisfactory” categories concern the central issues of Iraqi politics—the disputes that must be resolved if Iraq is to be a viable state and if the U.S. mission is to have the slightest chance of success.

Here are the benchmarks at which, even the White House acknowledges, the Iraqi government has not made satisfactory progress:

  • Legislation on de-Baathification reform
  • Legislation to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue without regard to sect or ethnicity
  • Setting up provincial elections
  • Establishing a strong militia-disarmament program
  • Allowing Iraqi commanders to pursue militias without political interference
  • Ensuring that the Iraqi army and police enforce the law evenhandedly
  • Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces capable of operating independently (here, the number has actually gone down)
  • Ensuring that Iraq’s political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of Iraqi security forces

The status of former Baathists, distribution of oil revenue, local elections, disarming militias, sectarianism within the police, the legitimacy of the national army—these are the main issues grinding the parliament to a standstill, aggravating ethnic conflict, and forcing millions of Iraqis to flee the country. These are the issues that the Iraqi political leaders are supposed to be resolving while American troops fight and die to make Baghdad secure.

Yet the White House is admitting that the Iraqis have made no real progress on any of these fronts.

In its legislation requiring this report, Congress stated, “The United States strategy in Iraq, hereafter, shall be conditioned on the Iraqi government meeting [these 18] benchmarks.” Yet even on the eight benchmarks that it admits are not met, the White House report explicitly denies the need to change strategy.

The report’s account of the eight supposedly successful benchmarks is, on inspection, no less dismaying.

Take Benchmark No. 1: “Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.” The report admits that Iraq’s “political blocs still need to reach an accommodation on these difficult political issues.” (The report neglects to point out that many of the Sunni blocs are boycotting the parliament.) And yet it declares that the Iraqi government has made “satisfactory progress” because the constitutional review is “now underway.”

Or Benchmark No. 9: “Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.” The report admits, “Manning levels for deploying units continues to be of concern.” The report doesn’t explain what this means—namely, that Iraq’s brigades have only 50 percent to 75 percent of their soldiers. And yet it concludes that the Iraqi government has made “satisfactory progress” because it “has provided” the brigades.

Then there’s Benchmark No. 12: “Ensuring that … the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of sectarian or political affiliation.” The report admits this task “remains a significant challenge” in “some parts of Baghdad.” However, it claims “satisfactory progress” because U.S. commanders report “overall satisfaction with their ability to target any and all extremist groups” and because U.S. diplomats, in their talks with Iraqi officials, “continue to stress the importance” of the topic.

The good mark for Benchmark No. 17 is particularly dubious: “Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.” The report admits that the Iraqi government has spent only 22 percent of its capital budget, that “it remains unclear” whether the oil ministry has “made any real effort” to spend its share of the funds, that it’s hard to track the budget, and that the effects of new spending are felt “unevenly.” Still, it claims “satisfactory progress” because some of the revenue is dribbling into the economy.

The other four “satisfactory” grades concern purely procedural matters. They assess legislation on “procedures to form semi-autonomous regions” (not on whether the regions have been formed); “establishing … political, media, economic, and service committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan” (not whether their support has been effective); “establishing … joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad” (not whether they’re effective, either); and “ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected” (not in Iraqi society).

The report card was rigged from the outset by how the White House defined “satisfactory.”

The legislation required the president to submit a report “declaring, in his judgment, whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is, or is not, being achieved.”

The White House report states, “In order to make this judgment … we … asked the following question: As measured from a January 2007 baseline, do we assess that present trend data demonstrates a positive trajectory, which is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment in the near term? If the answer is yes, we have provided a ‘Satisfactory’ assessment; if the answer is no, the assessment is ‘Unsatisfactory.’ ” (All italics added.)

Subtle but pernicious wordplay is going on here. “Satisfactory progress” toward a benchmark is very different from “a positive trajectory … toward satisfactory accomplishment.” The congressional language requires a satisfactory degree of progress. The White House interpretation allows high marks for the slightest bit of progress—the “positive trajectory” could be an angstrom, as long as it’s “tracking toward” the goal; the degree of progress doesn’t need to be addressed.

Yet even by this extraordinarily lenient standard, the White House authors could not bring themselves to give a passing grade to the Iraqi government on half of the benchmarks—and the most important benchmarks, at that.

This is no academic matter. As President Bush and Gen. David Petraeus have said many times, the point of the surge and its strategy is to make Baghdad secure, so that Iraq’s political leaders have the “breathing room” to resolve their disputes. Yet if they are incapable of resolving their disputes—if they have made no measurable progress on the major issues and if the Iraqi military hasn’t advanced much either—then the surge may be a hopeless cause. Certainly, members of Congress are right to question the strategy, and Bush is deceptive in dismissing their challenges out of hand.


The outrageous White House report on Iraq. – By Fred Kaplan – Slate Magazine

Who’s not white hot angry about this? My blogging kindred spirit ClapSo (A View from the Bridge at ClapSotronics)blogroll2 remains eloquently angry, today including a Keith Olbermann video regarding a related Bush administration cesspool (Homeland Security) that shouldn’t be missed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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