Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"One whose upper and lower ranks have the same desires will be victorious"

I have been very critical of the Bush administration's strategic confusion concerning Iraq. This week, there was a very public re-definition of the Iraq war "strategy" (it's nothing more than a slogan). The administration realized that "stay the course" was a very lousy mantra for an administration viewed as close-minded and unwilling to change to confront events. President Bush has articulated a number of other strategtic points in the course of this war. They include, but are not limited to, "stand up/stand down" and "clear, hold, build".

Yesterday, the Guardian blog linked to an entry of mine on the Bob Woodward book, "State of Denial". The author most likely found this quote to be compelling:

"One whose upper and lower ranks have the same desires will be victorious"
- Sun Tzu (R. Sawyer translation)

I juxtaposed that with Bob Woodward's interview on 60 Minutes:
And, according to Woodward, another key general, John Abizaid, who’s in charge of the whole Gulf region, told friends that on Iraq, Rumsfeld has lost all credibility.

"What does that mean, he doesn’t have any credibility anymore?" Wallace asks.

"That means that he cannot go public and articulate what the strategy is. Now, this is so important they decide," Woodward explains. "The Secretary of State Rice will announce what the strategy is. This is October of last year." She told Congress the U.S. strategy in Iraq is "clear, hold and build."

"Rumsfeld sees this and goes ballistic and says, 'Now wait a minute. That’s not our strategy. We want to get the Iraqis to do these things.' Well it turns out George Bush and the White House liked this definition of the strategy so it’s in a presidential speech he’s gonna give the next month," Woodward tells Wallace. "Rumsfeld sees it. He calls Andy Card, the White House chief of staff and says 'Take it out. Take it out. That’s not our strategy. We can’t do that.' Card says it’s the core of what we’re doing. That’s two and a half years after the invasion of Iraq. They cannot agree on the definition of the strategy. They cannot agree on the bumper sticker."

"General John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, you quote him as saying privately a year ago that the U.S. should start cutting its troops in Iraq. You report that he told some close Army friends, quote, 'We’ve gotta get the f out.' And then this past March, General Abizaid visited Congressman John Murtha on Capitol Hill," Wallace says.

"John Murtha is in many ways the soul and the conscience of the military," Woodward replies. "And he came out and said, 'We need to get out of Iraq as soon as it’s practical' and that sent a 10,000 volt jolt through the White House."

"Here’s Mr. Military saying, 'We need to get out,'" Woodward continues. "And John Abizaid went to see him privately. This is Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s commander in Iraq," Woodward says.

"And John Abizaid held up his fingers, according to Murtha, and said, 'We’re about a quarter of an inch apart, said, 'We’re that far apart,'" Woodward says.
To be fair, this account by Woodward misses key points. Rumsfeld is right to state that "clear, hold, build" cannot be the United States strategy in Iraq. The U.S. does not have the combat power to do that for the entire country (in addition to securing the borders and training the Iraq military). Don't take my word for it, here's General Thurman of the 4 ID in the New York Times this week:
“What takes the combat power is the holding piece,” said General Thurman. “We can do the clearing. But once you clear if you don’t leave somebody in there and build civil capacity in there then it is the old mud-hole approach. You know the water runs out of the mud hole when you drive through the mud hole and then it runs back in it.”
The plan has always been for Iraq's security forces to augment the combat power of the United States -- in particular with the "hold, build" part of the policy. There are great concerns about the Iraqi military and police forces. Moreover, they will confront entrenched militias with popular support -- and apparently the support of the Prime Minister.

My main point concerning the complete strategic break down of this administration is valid. Bush and others, including Secretary Rice, have been too fond of strong assertions that depart from the underlying strategic plan. No doubt, this bothers the hell out of word-conscious Rumsfeld. I can picture him freaking out as he diagrams the sentence: "we will clear, hold, build". He most likely would prefer: "we will clear, the Iraqis will hold and build". In terms of domestic politics, which is our center of gravity for the insurgency's offensive operations, a confused articulation of strategy is a terrible setback.

George W. Bush is scheduled to make a substantial statement on Iraq today. I will review those remarks soon after they happen.


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