Posted by: Tony Carson | 21 September, 2007

Iraq: the ‘cheap’ war

This USA Today editorial entitled The soldier’s burden is a succinct precis on the inherent dilemma of the Iraq war: it has been planned and fought on the cheap with, perhaps, predictable results …

Anyone wondering why the debate over the Iraq war is so frustrating and likely to remain so need only look at the choice the U.S. Senate faced this week. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., proposed an amendment that, on its face, no reasonable American could object to. Webb wanted to guarantee troops at least the same amount of time at home as they’ve spent on deployments. A year in Iraq, a year at home, and so on.

That hardly seems too much to ask. Nearly 3,800 U.S. service members have lost their lives in Iraq, and thousands are physically or psychologically maimed. Some soldiers are on their fourth tours; some year-long deployments have been stretched to 15 months. Rates of suicide and divorce are up. Official Pentagon policy, abandoned because of war demands, is for troops to spend twice as long at home as on deployments.

Despite all this, the amendment lost. Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued that it would hamper the generals’ ability to fight the war.

Which side is right? Both, and that is the problem. Placing so much burden on such a small number of people is grossly unfair. It is happening because the Bush administration knows that the only other way to maintain force levels is a military draft, which the nation would reject. But telling the generals to win a war and then depriving them of the means to do it is just as senseless.

The choice exposes the halfway-in nature of the U.S. commitment. The resources don’t match the objectives. Because former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to prove that wars could be fought with high-tech weaponry and relatively few troops, he used a force of less than 200,000, in contrast to the 660,000 U.S. and allied forces of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. That was enough to oust Saddam, but it was inadequate for what followed.

Estimating how many troops are needed to occupy and pacify Iraq now is problematic, but the general who headed the British army at the time of the invasion says it would take 400,000, which is politically out of the question. So we muddle along with the 164,000 we have.

This is an all-too-familiar mistake, one that was widely recognized after the Gulf War was won in 100 hours. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defined the characteristics separating that war from the misbegotten war in Vietnam. Success, he said, required a clear objective pursued with overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy. Any change in goals, he argued, required caution and a new commitment to the necessary means.

That lesson has been forgotten in Iraq. As a result, the nation is mired in a conflict with no satisfying way out and the sacrifice falling disproportionately on a valiant few.



  1. I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak. I believed another Vietnam could be avoided with defined missions and the best armaments in the world.

    It made no difference.

    We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

    Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

    There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

    The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

    So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

    This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

    The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

    For more details see:

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