Monday, March 20, 2006

Rumsfeld revisited

Retired Gen. Paul Eaton, who supports our venture in Iraq and was in charge of training Iraqi forces in 2003 and 2004, agrees with me that Rumsfeld must go.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not competent to lead America's armed forces. First, his failure to build coalitions with U.S. allies from what he dismissively called "old Europe" has imposed far greater demands and risks on American soldiers in Iraq than necessary. Second, he alienated his allies in the U.S. military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.

In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to America's mission in Iraq. ... Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his Cold Warrior's view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower. As a result the U.S. Army finds itself severely undermanned -- cut to 10 active divisions but asked by the administration to support a foreign policy that requires at least 12 or 14.

Rumsfeld made a rookie mistake: thinking that what helps in one type of military situation is effective in *all* military situations. His idea that technology will mean we need fewer soldiers is a classic example.

In force-on-force combat, technology offers *huge* multipliers. My Abrams tank could hit targets more than 2,000 meters away. We had great commo to coordinate our movements, and satellite technology allowed us to pinpoint and anticipate enemy movements and locations within a few meters.

A tank battle was like a live-action video game, moving the targeting reticle from target to target, firing, reloading, doing it again.

But the closer you get to your enemy, and the more you have to discriminate between friend and foe, the less technology helps. I can nuke a whole city from the continental U.S.; if I want to capture the city, I have to send in troops. If I want to minimize civilian casualties, I have to be very careful in my target selection, and send in far more troops per target. And the closer you get, and the more wind or rain or dust there is, the less difference there is between the U.S. soldier and his ragtag opponent.

That's one reason the Army *hates* urban combat. The close quarters neutralize many of our advantages; it gets down to the infantry digging people out of holes, one hole at a time. It's bloody, nasty, exhausting work that has destroyed more than one elite military force.

The U.S. military is unparalleled in its ability to destroy an enemy armored brigade. But it's effectiveness in pacification comes down to training, unit cohesion, discipline, leadership and numbers -- not technology. You don't build local support by dropping bombs from space; you do it by walking the streets every day, meeting people, shaking hands, establishing relationships. A U.S. soldier's technology is no help in that regard. They are no more effective at that -- and, due to language and cultural barriers, perhaps even *less* effective -- than Pakistanis or Bangladeshis.

Rumsfeld ignored this, and the Bush administration let him. Living in an alternate reality may be comforting, but it makes for real bloody messes when such fantasies are used as the basis for real-world policies.

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