Former Rumsfeld advisor: “Army is broken”

Maj.-Gen. (Retd.) Robert H. Scales is a former commander of the US Army War College– and also, according to Col. Pat Lang, a former ‘counsellor’ to D. Rumsfeld. So we should all take it very seriously that Scales writes, as he did yesterday,

    the current political catfight over withdrawal dates is made moot by the above facts. We’re running out of soldiers faster than we’re running out of warfighting missions. The troops will be coming home soon. There simply are too few to sustain the surge for very much longer.

(Hat-tip to Pat Lang for that, anyway. Also, for the very similar message reportedly coming from Gen. Barry McCaffrey.)
Scales starts his article, which was published in the rightwing Washington Times, thus:

    If you haven’t heard the news, I’m afraid your Army is broken, a victim of too many missions for too few soldiers for too long…

He also writes,

    The Army’s collapse after Vietnam was presaged by a desertion of mid-grade officers (captains) and non-commissioned officers. Many were killed or wounded. Most left because they and their families were tired and didn’t want to serve in units unprepared for war.
    If we lose our sergeants and captains, the Army breaks again. It’s just that simple. That’s why these soldiers are still the canaries in the readiness coal-mine. And, again, if you look closely, you will see that these canaries are fleeing their cages in frightening numbers.
    The lesson from this sad story is simple: When you fight a long war with a long-service professional Army, the force you begin with will not get any larger or better over the duration of the conflict. For that reason, today’s conditions are pretty much irreversible. There’s not much that money, goodwill or professed support for the troops can do…

I could add to this, perhaps, that the Bush administration’s deliberate decision of having as much of this war as possible outsourced to private contractors has hugely accelerated the rate at which sergeants and captains have been leaving the nation’s military…
But anyway, the Scales piece is just the latest piece of evidence that– as I have been writing for a while now, including herethe main driving force pushing the US towards a fairly rapid withdrawal from Iraq currently comes from within the military establishment itself.
Scales also makes clear that however much money Bush and the Congress want to try to throw at the Iraq problem, and however much they want to try to increase the size of the military, it is now quite simply too late to “save” the situation in Iraq.
(Lang also notes this: “MG Robert Scales has been a military analyst for Fox News, and was a counselor to Rumsfeld. He helped create the situation that he complains of now. He should go and hide somewhere and not walk abroad among the living.”)
So now, I guess the US will be pulling out of Iraq with the Army it has, rather than the Army it might wish it had?
We do all still need to figure out what the politics– domestically and globally– of a ‘Tank’-led US withdrawal from Iraq will look like.
We also need– all of us in the world community, not just people who are US citizens– to work together to figure out what kind of a military establishment the US might actually need as it comes out of this terrible, terrible misadventure in Iraq.

The Arab world and Iraq: column & discussion

Here is my latest CSM column on the views that Arab analysts have of the situation in Iraq. (Also, here.)
Sometimes, as on this occasion, I find writing in the CSM-column format hugely challenging… primarily because of the intense constraints on word-length. My experience is that it is far more intellectually challenging to write a short piece– especially when I have so very much great material to be working with– than it is to write something much longer. (Such as I frequently write here on the blog.) Or to put it another way– when I write “composed” pieces, there are always numerous intellectual, organizational, and conceptual challenges involved… and generally, these don’t seem any easier to deal with when writing a short piece than when writing a long, long piece like some of my great long things in Boston Review. But what you end up with in a CSM column is just 850 tightly-considered words. It might not seem very substantial, but I can tell you it represents a huge amount of work.
This column was written about ten days ago, and has undergone various edits since then. I’m not as happy with the shape of it as I was with the “Four trends” one that preceded it. Moreover, this one raises many more queries than it actually answers.
For example, I report there (with, as you may imagine, my own implied approval) the judgment of my Iraqi friend that there’s a possibility that a fairly speedy US withdrawal from his country “would concentrate the minds of his countrymen on the need to find a workable reconciliation”… but “if the Americans stay, we can expect the situation to remain bad.” But I also note later on– with my own explicit endorsement, the judgment of another longtime friend and colleague, Hussein Agha, that, “for now, all of Iraq’s neighbors prefer that US troops stay tied down inside Iraq, rather than withdraw.” In addition, I express my own clear judgment that, “the broad deployment of US troops in Iraq has been transformed from an American asset in the region into a liability that erodes US power and standing.”
How, therefore, can all these widely varying interests in the remaining or leaving of the US troop presence in Iraq be reconciled? This is, clearly, a tricky diplomatic/strategic conundrum. (One regarding which, imho, the UN is the only body capable of orchestrating the search for a solution. And I approach that question in the full knowledge that the UN we have is the UN we have, if you get my meaning.)
Basically, what I come out of this whole analysis with is the conclusion that,

    (a) The Arab governments are all quite serious in their argument that US needs to find a way to deal straightforwardly and in a constructive way with Iran, rather than continuing to pursue destabilizing agendas of regime change or other forms of confrontation and escalation against Iran;
    (b) They are also quite serious about the need for real progress to be made on Arab-Israeli peacemaking; and
    (c) Regarding US-Iran relations, they do have a fear that the US and Iran might conclude a ‘grand bargain’ covering Iraq and various other issues without any input from them and in a way that might infringe seriously on their own interests.

Anyway, the regional dynamics in the Middle East right now are extremely interesting. One big additional factor that I didn’t adequately reflect in the column is that the US troop ‘surge’ is being notably unsuccessful… I conclude that this means that what I have called a ‘Tank’-driven US withdrawal from Iraq– that is, one that is driven on the US side primarily by the need of the military establishment to avoid complete logistical/organizational breakdown due to the overstretch in Iraq– will become more urgent than ever within the coming weeks…

More on the four-year US occupation of Iraq

Commenter Bernard Chazelle suggested we watch this very moving short video from Guardian films. It’s about some kids in an Iraqi orphanage.
And there’s a link there to this other short video, which is a powerful testimony from and about Kadhem Jabouri, the one-time Iraqi weightlifting champion who achieved a brief measure of fame when he heartily swung a hammer against the base of the Saddam statue in Firdaus Square on that day in early April 2003 when the statue was brought down.
Today, Kadhem says he wished he’d never done it. He says the four years of occupation have been worse than Saddam’s dictatorship. He says, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” He takes the cameraperson on a sad tour of his neighborhood, ending up at the echoingly empty expanses of Firdaus Square.
So when– as no doubt will happen– in the early days of April the (increasingly depleted) ranks of the war supporters in the US and UK once again replay that footage of the (partly orchestrated, partly ‘spontaneous’) assault on the Saddam statue, and the statue’s final toppling… in their attempt to reconvince themselves and perhaps some others that their war venture in Iraq really was “worthwhile” because it resulted in a toppling of that dictator and his artistic representation there in the square… in an exuberant outpouring of the Iraqi people’s “popular will”…
When you see those film clips replaying again, go back to the one of Kadhem Jabouri, and listen carefully to what he says.
You can note also that though he did swing that hammer with great verve and gusto, actually as the statue-toppling scene progresses it was not the efforts of Kadhem and his friends that brought it down. (They only succeeded in inflicting a few broad pock marks on the statue’s plinth.)
What brought it down was the US armored vehicle that was later brought into the task.
Anyway, watch both those great video clips… Kadhem, and the children… No matter how idealistic the intentions of some of those who planned and undertook the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they surely need to understand the terrible effects that that invasion had on the lives of millions of actual Iraqis.
(Thanks for the link, Bernard!)

Faiza: The story of Husaam

Faiza al-Araji is a courageous, talented Iraqi civil engineer of about my age (mid-50s), also with three grown-up children. Hers are all male; two of mine are daughters. When I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting her– in Boston in summer 2005; and later, more briefly, at a conference in New York City– I found we had so many things in common!
Yesterday, she had a really moving post on her blog “A family in Baghdad.”
Actually, for now, all her family is out of Baghdad. She and her spouse are in Jordan, her sons scattered to the corners of the earth. Well, that makes them representative of the vast number of Iraqis currently living in exile from their homeland, thanks to George W. Bush.
You may find the urological details at the top of the post a little hard to read. (Ouch! Poor Faiza! I hope you’re feeling better now… ) But if they don’t grab your attention, scroll on further down the post for the story of a young man she knows called Husaam.
One of the great things about Faiza’s blogging is the way she puts a human face on what we all know are some really horrible events. Her work is really a great example of what makes bloggging such a revolutionary medium.

GAO’s Pogo Report on Unsecured Munitions In Iraq

GAO, meet POGO.
Yesterday, the US Government Accounting Organization released an unclassified 35 page version of a study submitted to the Pentagon in December, with a long-winded title: “Operation Iraqi Freedom: DOD Should Apply Lessons Learned Concerning the Need for Security over Conventional Munitions Storage Sites to Future Operations Planning.”
A better title, in Pogo’s immortal “Swamp Speak,” might be, “In Iraqi IED’s, We have Met the Enemy and He is Us.”
The gist of the report is that “hundreds of thousands of tons” of Iraqi munitions were left unsecured after Iraq was “liberated” in April of 2003. Such munitions and components are being used by insurgents in making the roadside mines (IED’s), the devises deemed responsible for half of American casualties.
As Secretary of Defense Gates admitted yesterday, unsecured weapons caches have been a “huge, huge problem.” Characterizing Iraq now as “one huge ammo dump,” the munitions on the loose literally provide the raw materials for much of the carnage in Iraq today.
So how did this happen dear Pogo?
Elementary. We did it to ourselves.
First, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (OIF) assumed that after Saddam’s regime was overthrown,

“the regular Iraqi army units would ‘capitulate and provide internal security.’ Knowledgeable senior-level DOD officials stated that these Iraqi army units would have been used to secure conventional munitions storage sites….” (over 400 of them… p.8)

“As stated in the OIF war plan, the U.S. Commander, CENTCOM, intended to preserve, as much as possible, the Iraqi military to maintain internal security and protect Iraq’s borders during and after major combat operations.”

The US military planners also assumed that,

“Iraqi resistance was unlikely…. the plan did not consider the possibility of protracted, organized Iraqi resistance to U.S. and coalition forces after the conclusion of major combat operations. As a result, DOD officials stated that the regime’s conventional munitions storage sites were not considered a significant risk.”

Why should they have feared such resistance? After all, then Assistant Defense Secretary Wolfowitz was channeling the koolaid being mixed by Chalabi, Lewis, Ajami and their neocon pals. Remember the welcome to Iraq predictions?
In short, and as incredible as this may now sound, OIF planners assumed that, “Postwar Iraq would not be a U.S. military responsibility.”
As a result, “U.S. forces did not have sufficient troop levels to provide adequate security for conventional munitions storage sites in Iraq because of OIF planning priorities and certain assumptions that proved to be invalid.”
“Heck of a Job there Tommy.”
Worst of all (and to be more candid than the GAO report), the OIF military’s planners did not anticipate the actions of their own government:

“On May 23, 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolved the Iraqi Army, which the CENTCOM commander assumed would provide internal security.”

As a direct consequence, Iraq’s weapons caches and manufacturing facilities went essentially unguarded for months. The US Military did not have a coordinated effort to manage and monitor Iraq’s munitions depots until after August of 2003. Even now, the GAO contends that monitoring and control of such “vulnerable” Iraqi munitions sites remains poor.
The consequences of leaving Iraqi munitions so vulnerable to theft have been… grave:

“As reported by DOD and key government agencies, the human, strategic, and financial costs of not securing conventional munitions storage sites have been high. Estimates indicate that the weapons and explosives looted from unsecured conventional munitions storage sites will likely continue to support terrorist attacks throughout the region. Government agencies also assessed that looted munitions are being used in the construction of IEDs.”

In turn, ongoing high levels of violence impede reconstruction and stabilization efforts.
Remember this report next time you learn of a breathless claim that Iranian origin components are somehow the root of the road mines that are “killing Americans.” The neocons wanted to use such claims to buttress their “regime change” and bomb Iran campaigns. One wonders how the neocons will respond to the more plausible explanation that such American casualties are the fruit of American incompetence at the highest levels.
Pogo would frown at blame-somebody-else tactics.

Reidar Visser takes on US politicians’ myths about Iraq

Our esteemed friend Reidar has a solidly argued new piece on his website that roundly criticizes some of the myths about Iraq being disseminated by US politicians– primarily but not exclusively Democratic pols– in preparation for the pursuit of a policy of “cut and blame” in Iraq.
He writes,

    to dismiss Iraq’s civil strife as “chronic”, as Democratic commentators increasingly do, requires blind ignorance of centuries of Iraqi coexistence – as seen for instance during the monarchy (1921–1958), during Ottoman rule in the nineteenth century (when Shiites and Sunnis coexisted in the two mixed provinces of Basra and Baghdad), and during the reign of the Baghdad-based Georgian mamluks, who ruled from Mosul to the Gulf between 1747 and 1831. And to diagnose a state of “irreconcilable sectarian conflict” in contemporary Iraq would be to overlook the fact that it is the post-2003 Iraqi elites of returned exiles, rather than the Iraqi population at large, that are behind many of today’s most outrageous sectarian maximalist demands. In historical perspective, it is the current heightened sectarian tension – particularly acute since 2006 – that is the “artificial” aspect of the Iraq situation, and it should be an American responsibility to try to reverse this situation as part of a withdrawal strategy.

Blaming Iraqis for being the backward kind of people who are locked in age-old sectarian hatreds etc is very analogous to some of the arguments made by westerners about other conflicts throughout the world, including former Yugoslavia, Africa, etc. In all such cases these arguments are used as a pretext to cover up the ineffectiveness of the various interventions made by the “international community” or to try to justify the inaction of the states of the rich western world.
Visser makes some excellent argument in this piece. I am concerned, however, that he still seems too easily to believe that there is some “optimal” mix of US sticks and carrots that, if correctly brought to bear, can produce a better-than-otherwise outcome in Iraq. For my part, I still hold that

    (1) it is none of the Americans’ damn’ business at this point how the Iraqi people choose to rule themselves,
    (2) the track record of the US’s attempt to build a workable political order in post-Saddam Iraq has been abysmal, since the level of killings and major conflict there has increased with every year the US forces have remained there,
    (3) therefore the first demand of the US government should be to pull all of its troops out of Iraq, without engaging in any further political maneuvering inside the Iraqi system, whatsoever, and
    (4) the very fact of an imminent, rapid, and complete withdrawal of US troops from the country may well serve to concentrate the minds of Iraqis on finding their own form of political entente to produce a functioning national administration after the departure of the US troops and the end of all the harmful interference their presence has caused.

For more details of my thinking on these matters see any of the ‘withdrawal plans for Iraq’ that I provide links to near the top of the sidebar on the main page of this blog.

Open power struggle over Iraqi ‘High Court’

The Iraqi ‘High Court’– the special war-crimes court that was supposed Exhibit A in the US occupation forces’ attempt to bring accountability and the rule of law to Iraq– has become the scene of some ugly and very open political tussling between the US ‘advisors’ who have been the eminence grise behind the whole court from the very beginning and the Iraqi judge who thought he was supposed to be running it.
This report from AP’s Qassem Abdul-Zahra tells us that,

    A session of the war crimes trial of six former officials in Saddam Hussein’s government was canceled Sunday after a defense attorney who had been ejected last week made an unexpected appearance, court officials said.
    Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa asked bailiffs why Badie Arif Ezzat was back in his courtroom, and was told the attorney was there on the order of U.S. officials attached to the court in an advisory capacity, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
    “So, does my decision mean nothing?” an angry al-Khalifa responded, referring to his decision to eject and hold Ezzat in contempt last week. The two had a heated exchange over comments Ezzat made in a television interview. The judge said the remarks were an insult to the court.
    Al-Khalifa adjourned the trial until March 26.

Abdul-Zahra added that the court officials said,

    that negotiations between the two sides would continue until a mutually satisfactory settlement is reached.
    They said the U.S. officials took custody of Ezzat from Iraqi authorities over the weekend, keeping him under protection in a residence located inside the Green Zone, the heavily fortified Baghdad region that houses the U.S. Embassy and offices of the Iraqi government and parliament.
    U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said he was checking on the report but could not immediately offer comment.

In the past, at least one attorney providing services to the defense side in the court has been killed, and it is quite possible that Ezzat has entertained some strong and not unreasonable fears for his life in recent weeks.
Many people in the international legal and human rights communities held out the hope for a long time that criminal trials for past atrocities, such as have been attempted by this Iraqi ‘High’ Court, can somehow be insulated from political considerations and in a generalized, ex-cathedra sort of way somehow magically help in strengthening the rule of law in multiply stressed and traumatized societies.
They can’t. Indeed, in societies in which political power is still hotly contested, conducting a criminal trial of major political figures will always exacerbate existing social and political cleavages and make far harder the attainment of the kind of social-political calm in which the rule-of-law protections can start to have real effect.
Let’s hope this whole series of debacles in this US-run political court in Iraq will cause more people in the international human -rights movement to understand the strict limitations on the applicability of war-crimes trials in politically fragile situations that have recently experienced deep inter-group violence or that– as in Iraq, Rwanda, Uganda, or elsewhere– are still actually living under the rights-abusing yoke of such conflict.
(For more of my recent thinking on this check out this recent JWN post or more of the writings on the Transitional Justice Forum blog.)

Reidar Visser on Basrawis and oil; other oil questions

Our esteemed friend Reidar Visser has another great writing now available on the question of the thorny relationship between the people of the Shiite-dominated ‘Deep South’ of Iraq and their co-religionists in the more central Shiite heartland, especially over the issue of oil.
Visser’s excellent training as a historian– and a historian of southern Iraq, in particular– stands him in good stead there as he teases apart and analyzes the recent and current political trends at work in the Iraqi Deep South… which just happens to be the part of the country in which the vast bulk of the country’s proven oil reserves are located.
In regard to questions of oil location and potential versions of decentralization vs. centralism in Iraq, I just note that at a session on Iraq that I attended last Friday at Chatham House here in London, the point was underlined that with or without Kirkuk, the Kurdish-dominated north of the country still has far, far less oil in its land than the south (especially the Deep South)… And that therefore there are some Kurds who quite credibly argue that from the economic point of view their people would do better to count on having a population-proportionate amount of revenue from the oil resources of a still centralized Iraqi state than by getting the revenue only from “their own” oil resources up there in the north.
Anyway, here is the bottom line in Reidar’s piece:

    [E]ven with [the] strong pressures in the direction of territorial sectarianism, signs of local resistance remain. Exhausted by experimentation with regional schemes, many Shi‘i citizens of Basra today simply favor the restoration of a central Baghdad government that can deliver security and services. Others still cling to the “southern region” project, despite a potentially fateful lack of progress in recruiting support among the secularists, Sunnis and Christians of Basra. Even the wild pan-Islamism of Ahmad al-Hasan survives. In the long run, these alternative visions may not derail the sectarian scheme and its powerful sponsors, but they will certainly delay it. In fact, they might prompt experienced actors like Iran, which probably takes a more nuanced view of the Iraqi scene than do many Western analysts, to distribute their bets more evenly, on a wider range of players on the Iraqi scene. In spite of extreme pressures from an increasingly violent political environment, projects like these will carry on an intellectual heritage that discourages many Shi‘a from thinking about their religious community in terms of crescents, rectangles or, indeed, any kind of cartographical projection.

Do go read the whole text. You can post comments and probably engage Reidar in discussion on it here.

The US and Iran, in Iraq

One week ago today we were sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Amman,
Jordan, talking with the very smart and well-informed Middle East
analyst Joost Hiltermann about the interactions that US power now has
in and over Iraq with Iraq’s much weightier eastern neighbor,
Iran.  (Hiltermann has worked on Iraq-related issues for many
years, including for several years now as the senior Iraq analyst for
the International Crisis Group.)

He said,

Well, the US and Iran agree on two
things inside today’s Iraq– but they disagree on one key thing.

What they agree on, at least until now, is the unity of Iraq, and need
for democracy or at least some form of majority rule there.

What they disagree on is the continued US troop presence there.  Because the US basically now wants
to be able to withdraw those troops, and Iran wants them to stay!

He conjectured that the main reason Iran wants the US troops to stay in
Iraq is because they are deployed there, basically, as sitting ducks
who would be extremely vulnerable to Iranian military retaliation in
the event of any US (or Israeli) military attack on Iran.  They
are, in effect, Iran’s best form of insurance against the launching of
any such attack.

I have entertained that conjecture myself, too, on numerous occasions
in the past.  So I was interested that Hiltermann not only voiced
it, but also framed it in such an elegant way.  (For my part, I am
slightly less convinced than he is that the decisionmakers in the Bush
administration at this point
are clear that they want the US troops out of Iraq… But I think they
are headed toward that conclusion, and that the developments in the
region will certainly continue to push them that way.)

From this point of view, we might conclude that the decisionmakers in
Teheran– some of whom are strategic thinkers with much greater
experience and even technical expertise than anyone in the current Bush
administration– would be seeing the possibility of “allowing” the US
to withdraw its troops from Iraq only within the context of the kind of
“grand bargain” that Teheran seeks.  The first and overwhelmingly
most important item in that “grand bargain” would be that Washington
credibly and irrevocably back off from any thought of pursuing a
strategy of regime change inside Iran or from any threats of military
force against it.

Under this bargain, Washington would need to agree, fundamentally, that
despite serious continuing disagreements in many areas of policy, it
would deal with the regime that exists in Teheran– as in earlier
decades it dealt with the regime that existed in the Soviet Union–
rather than seeking to overthrow it.  Teheran might well also ask
for more than that– including some easing of the US campaign against
it over the nuclear issue, etc.  But I believe there is no way the
mullahs in Teheran could settle for any less than a basic normalization
of working relations with Washington– that would most likely be
exemplified by the restoration of normal diplomatic relations between
the two governments– in return for “allowing” the US troops to
withdraw from Iraq.

There are numerous paradoxes here. Not only has Washington’s wide
distribution of its troops throughout the Iraq has become a strategic
liability, rather than an asset, but now the heirs of the same Iranian
regime that stormed the US Embassy in the 1970s and violated all the
norms of diplomatic protocol by holding scores of diplomats as hostages
there are the ones who are, essentially, clamoring for the restoration
of diplomatic relations with Washington.

… Meantime, however, a great part of the steely, pre-negotiation
dance of these two wilful powers is being played out within the borders
of poor, long-suffering Iraq.  For the sake of the Iraqis, I hope
Washington and Teheran resolve their issues and move to the normal
working relationship of two fully adult powers as soon as possible.

One last footnote here.  I do see some intriguing possibilities
within the Bushites’ repeated use of the mantra that “All options are
still on the table” regarding Iran.  Generally, that has been
understood by most listeners (and most likely intended by its utterers) to mean
that what is “on the table of possibilities” is all military options– up to
and perhaps even including nuclear military options, which the Bushites
have never explicitly taken off the table with regard to Iran.

But why should we not also interpret “all options” to include also all diplomatic options? 
That would certainly be an option worth pursuing.

    (This post has been cross-posted to the Nation’s blog, The Notion.)