Friday, November 24, 2006

General John Abizaid Walks the Plank

CENTCOM Commanding General John Abizaid recently faced a verbal firing squad by US Senators who wanted to know why he cannot win the war in Iraq. With GW Bush's power squashed in the 2006 midterm elections and SECDEF Rumsfeld tossed overboard, it was General Abizaid who stepped into the Administration's first rank of the phalanx to defend "stay the course policy" in Iraq. And unquestionably he took the hits...

Abizaid has been characterized to me as a good general in the wrong war by those who know him well. This may be true, but we cannot expect to tailor the war to meet the man, unless you are West Point apologist. Frankly, my expectations of the General were high. His grandfather was a Lebanese Christian and the General can speak Arabic; he also lived in Jordan as an adult post graduate student, and has a masters degree in Arabic studies from Harvard. Abizaid is an Arab ethnically, albeit not Islamic, but he certainly can understand the area of operations and has a military record that clearly demonstrates he can think under pressure. He replaced General Tommy Franks, a foul personality who according to most critics, incompetently blew the planning for the invasion of Iraq and seeded the growth of today’s bloody insurgency. Abizaid had no where to go except up. He was Deputy under Franks; he knew the lay of the land and hit the ground running as fast as he could run. Yet, it appears now that Abizaid is part of the problem as he defends the Bush policies without remorse.

But like General Westmoreland in Vietnam, he was doomed to fail from the start. For foolish reasons, since Vietnam, the US appears unable to organize for war. The decisive theater operational weakness in both wars has been the inability to achieve unity of command. Most officers who held combat commands, at least at the battalion level in Vietnam, were debriefed by Army historical cadres, who recorded combat experience and operational lessons learned. Very few of these lessons have appeared to be learned in Iraq. It was obvious to most officers who operated above brigade level that in Divisional area of operations there was little unity of command for American units fighting a centralized Vietcong or North Vietnamese forces. In Divisional areas, all sorts of operations were going on over which the division commander had little control – he was usually happy just to know they were occurring. Army of Vietnam, military advisors, CIA, NSA, ASA, Special Forces, AID, Air Force, Navy and Marines, all conducted operations controlled from Saigon, not from the local army division headquarters that held the main combat force in the area. It was a disunity of command. All was coordinated unsuccessfully by a country team, controlled by a civilian of ambassador’s rank. To jazz up the chaos, Bob Hope would fly in with the donut dollies; presidents and visiting congressional fireman popped in; and the press roamed like buffalos throughout the country. If Vietnam was a setting for BLADE RUNNER, Iraq became BLADE RUNNER plus MAD MAX times five.

Based on faith based intelligence General Franks, eager to please Rumsfeld economy of force concepts, executed his warped war plan to invade Iraq. His slogan was idiotically SPEED KILLS – works on highways, but not in war. Apart from having no post invasion plan, the theater of operations was quickly turned over to Bremer's disastrous coalition government. The chain of command went from Bremer to Rumsfeld while US military forces under General Sanchez went also directly to Rumsfeld. Except for frosty handshakes, no chain of command between the military command and the coalition government existed. As in Vietnam, both military and civilian leadership bumped heads protecting bureaucratic turf. This estrangement became more intense later as Rumsfeld sought to shift blame for Bremer's fiasco to the NSC and State Department, organizations that he had intentionally cut out. But the tangled unity of command was not just confined to the Washington/Baghdad axis. The military had its own wild internal chain of command problems.

There is no Tehran Jane Fonda, but the Neocons did make a gift of slimy Ahmed Chalabi who worked in the same context; and, nearly every bureaucratic entity in some form that operated in Vietnam operates in Iraq. The press, however, was better controlled in Iraq by embedding journalists; this was small compensation for problems that followed because of the inability of the command to integrate all the dogs and cats into a cohesive fighting force to dominate the country. Each of the three sectarian groupings presented different tactical problems, but it took too much time to fit the tactics to the sectarian group. As usual the Marines were doing it their way. After Fallujah II, they too gave up on trying to win by brains and blasted away. Each divisional commander had his own way of trying to conquer. Some used massive arrests; others did more screening of detainees. On this score, there appeared to be very little guidance from Sanchez as detainees flooded Abu Gharib to become playthings for the unsupervised US Army’s sick, hillbilly guards – let's hear it for DELIVERANCE. By the way, 65% of the detainees were not involved in the insurgency – after they are released we’re not so sure.

There were two quantum internal organizational command control differences in Iraq that was not evident in Vietnam. Supervision of logistics and massive reconstruction projects are all run by highly paid civilian contractors. The positive result was, when the troops were not blown apart by IEDs or riddled by gun shots, they did eat well. There are an estimated 70,000 civilian contractors working in Iraq – I have yet to figure out how these highly paid workers are integrated into commands. From time to time they get killed or captured and our low paid soldiers have to rescue them. As far as Iraq goes, it may as well be an intergalactic space station, given the total lack of effective internal military control – this is one of the main reasons the insurgency flourishes and refuses to abate. War is defined as organized chaos. In Iraq we have only chaos.

Unity of command is a hierarchical concept on which military organizations are built. You have to ask Abizaid why he let it unravel in Iraq without protest. Right now it appears he takes orders from the Ambassador, the Pentagon Joint Chiefs, and civilian leadership such as the contractors and the weasely Iraqi government. At the same time you have to wonder to whom his field commander General Casey gives orders. One thing for certain, Abizaid is not General MacArthur or General George Patton – right now he appears to be a Westmoreland Light with a Harvard degree – at least he is qualified to join Kissinger Associates Inc. when his service is completed.

Pounded by the senators questions on what to do in Iraq to win, Abizaid desperately reached into his hat and pulled out the military assistance rabbit: higher density of US military advisors to be assigned to Iraq military and police units. In my day we called it Vietnamization, now it is Iraqization. After inviting our Vietnamese Army counterparts to the Army messes for lunch and they reciprocated by feasting us with a meal of roast dog, this mutual exchange of values quietly ended. Those US military who advised and trained the Vietnamese in an integrated fashion worked hard and dangerously – my close friend Colonel Robert Brownlee was last seen at Kontum trying to rally his broken South Vietnamese division. He was a 6 foot 4 inch one-quarter Iroquois Indian, being chased across the jungle landscape by little yellow men in khaki baggy uniforms. His name is chiseled into the Vietnam War memorial – Vietnamization did not work in Vietnam. Given the tensions and attitudes between Iraqis and Americans, doubt it will work in Iraq.

For starters, you need Arabic interpreters who speak English who really do not exist in sufficient numbers. It took Pasha Glubb 16 years to make the Jordan Arab Legion a reliable Arab fighting force, and that was with English officers and NCOs in the ranks. Abizaid knows this, so why pretend this will fix the problem? So far the only effective troops in the Iraq Army are mainly the integrated Kurdish Peshmerga Militias. They better fight. If the Sunnis or the Shiite win they will be slaughtered like dogs.

You need roughly 5,000 US military advisors and massive amounts of military equipment to stand up the Iraqi Army; if you succeed, and this is doubtful, chances are you have equipped and trained a Shiite fighting force that is a military auxiliary of Iran. This is colossal stupidity. Since Vietnam, the US military still has not learned political reliability is the key to development of foreign forces; and, you cannot get there with search and destroy tactics and carelessly detain the population.

As far as Abizaid winning in Iraq; that is not my expectation. Too many errors in which he participated have been made for him to seize victory in the war. I do expect him to have the courage and integrity to try to end it to save lives. His Arab ethnic background has not aided him toward conquest; he is first a Christian, and to pacify the region, he must help the Iraqi Arabs and Shiites live securely – APOCALYPSE NOW, have seen this film too.

Abizaid is at the end of the plank. Will he jump? Will he be pushed? Or will he walk back? We will soon find out of what the man is really made. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA RET


Anonymous W.LindsayWheeler said...

Brilliant post! and a happy post-Thanksgiving!

It is a debacle from the day it was thought about. These Neo-cons, Richard Pearle, Paul Wolfiwitz, Adelman, et al., really don't know what they are doing. It is a debacle now.

It is a crying shame that 3000 Americans are dead and three divisions of men are wounded because of it.

Iraq was better under Saddam Hussein.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

great article... Lew Rockwell should post you on his site. He used to post COL Hackworth.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Col Bartos zeroes in with razor sharp precision at the unfortunate decline in american military power. While we give the 470-million European Union a free ride, the US insists on carrying our weight around as the world's only super power. If we keep up doing this we will be a bankrupt former super power while Europe,. Japan, China and the others will be laughing at us all the way to the bank. In the meantime the real culprit of all of this is ISRAEL-- which counts on American unconditional support. Our support is unlimited-- Israel simply cannot do any wrong. The entire world cannot believe the stranglehold that Israel holds on us. We must remember to be evenhanded if we want to have credibility in the Middle East. If we continue being one-sided, we will only aggravate matters. Bartos-- please keep it up!

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