OIF planning mistakes? Part 3
The writers next focus on the force levels of American troops. Were we sending enough troops in to the battle to be successful?
If you recall, the old media spoke of a "quagmire" early on and breathlessly discussed every difficulty the troops encountered as if it threatened their success. Some "experts" predicted we would lose over 10,000 in the war. Failure has been a consistent meme throughout. No matter what happens, if it's deemed to be "bad", it threatens our success and puts into question the entire operation. (Even now the success of OIF is questioned simply because not everything is going "swimmingly". No allowance is made for difficulties. We must have success today or we have failed utterly!)
But some military officers were concerned about what they perceived as second-guessing at the Pentagon, and complained of delays. One major troop request submitted in late November was not approved until a month later, for example.Did we have enough troops to win the war? Since we were in Baghdad in about three weeks, it would be difficult to argue that we did not. (This despite the fact that the 4th Infantry Division missed the entire war because Turkey wouldn't allow them passage!)
The issue came to the attention of Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Congressional leader and a member of the Defense Policy Board that advises Mr. Rumsfeld, during an early February 2003 meeting with American officers in Kuwait. He said he would go back and press the secretary to stop messing around with tactical-level decisions, according to an account of the session by participants. "The worst they can do is take my designated parking space away," he said.
As the war drew near, Mr. Bush asked his senior commanders if they had sufficient forces, including enough to protect vulnerable supply lines. "I can't tell you how many times he asked, 'Do you have everything that you need?' " Ms. Rice said. "The answer was, these are the force levels that we need."
Civilians unfamiliar with the military need to understand - someone in the military is always dissatisfied with the decisions of others. Furthermore, shortages of supplies are commonplace. In Vietnam, the Swift boat crews slung flak vests along the gunwales (sides) of their boats as a makeshift armor. Forty years later, Army troops in Iraq do the same thing to their humvees.
When you're in the military, you improvise. The supplies you need are never where you need them when you need them. There are always chronic shortages of this, that or the other thing. That's the nature of the military, as anyone who has served can attest. The amazing thing is that our troops, no matter the difficulties, no matter the lack of supplies, always get the job done. On D-Day, almost everything went wrong on Omaha Beach. We still won the day. That's the American warrior spirit - can do, will do, done sir!
There are two things about the way the President has handled the military that stand out to me. First, he has let the generals do the planning and conduct the operations without his interference. This stands in stark contrast to Vietnam, where politicians meddled constantly in military affairs and went so far as to dictate where troops were allowed to go and where they were not allowed to go. Nothing could signal failure more quickly than to tell people who have trained their entire careers to conduct warfare that they can not make the decisions on the battlefield. To Bush's credit, he has never done this. He articulates the plan and the goals, and then he allows the professionals to do their job, without interference or criticism. (Is it any wonder that the troops love him so much?)
Second, Bush does not second guess his people. When things go badly, as they have in Iraq, he simply asks what can be done to get back on track. As a manager with over twenty years experience I can tell you that nothing is more demoralizing than to point out the failures of your subordinates. When things go wrong, you pick yourself up and you look for solutions to the existing situation. After the task is completed, you can examine what went wrong, but the focus must be on avoidance of future problems, not a blame-seeking exercise that seeks someone's "head". Threatening to fire someone at the first sign of difficulty is a certain recipe for timidty and failure in performance. Who is going to be willing to stick their neck out when they are certain to have it chopped off? If people aren't failing some of the time, they're not doing enough.