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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ankle Deep in Shinseki

Anyone who has closely followed the progress of our effort in Iraq is familiar with retired Army lieutenant colonel turned military analyst/writer Ralph Peters. Of late a bullish observer of our efforts there, he has for the most part been a biting critic of the politicians who have made the post-Saddam period so trying. He was early in his call for the head of SecDef Rumsfeld and early retirement for General Casey and his failed strategy. He supported the invasion but has been outspoken about what he perceives as unnecessary mistakes committed in the aftermath.

Peters has always been exasperating, never satisfied with anything concerning military operations there, particularly as they intersect with political considerations. And he has also struck me as a bit erratic in his thinking processes - he sometimes lets emotion get the better of him (he appears to be settling scores).

He has an article today that fits that description. He justifiably calls for accountability among the generals who failed strategically and more egregiously, failed to talk straight to the CinChief. All well and good. But then Peters loses his bearings and and retreats to the military figure of choice for those who wish to drive this war looking in the rearview mirror - General Shinseki.
For their part, the generals are happy when left to their sandbox. In February 2003, when then-Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, an honorable soldier, told the truth when asked how many troops an occupation of Iraq would require (hundreds of thousands), Rumsfeld sidelined him. (Thereafter, Rumsfeld took care to appoint weaker men to the Joint Chiefs.)
Peters is consistent in arguing numbers - he has always called for more troops to occupy Iraq properly. But The more important point, never addressed by Shinseki, was how those troops were to be used.

General Casey could have fielded 300,000 soldiers in Iraq, but with the strategy he employed (clear an area and then retreat back to the massive bases) there would have been no difference in results. The problem was always in strategy and tactics, not numbers of soldiers. They needed to clear and hold, as they are doing now (and with far fewer soldiers than Shinseki thought were needed).

Peters has always made the case for both more troops and better anti-insurgency tactics. He neglects to do so here and adds further to myth of Shinseki the Sage. It's the kind of sloppiness that you'll unfortunately encounter with Peters from time to time.

Find me the man who recommended, pre-war, the currently clear-and-hold strategy that is working so well. That man is a Sage, not Shinseki. I don't believe he exists - pretending he does is unfair to those who, like Casey, fought gamely but failed.

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