Why Colin Powell is concerned Posted by: McQ
on Monday, December 18, 2006
Colin Powell is not at all convinced that sending more troops into Iraq is a good idea. In fact, he doesn't like the idea at all ... at least not at this time. And it's not because he doesn't think we don't have a great military. He was one of the main reasons it is as good as it is today. So if anyone knows our military capabilities, it is Colin Powell.
Some have argued he's simply become over cautious. I'd argue that he's certainly earned the right to be cautious given his experience in Viet Nam as a young officer and watching the impact of both poor policy and an unpopular war had on the military at the time. And he knows how a military can be misused and wasted. I think that is probably his major reasons for opposing the troop increase. His reason is to be found in this quote, a quote that anyone who has read or understands anything about Colin Powell the soldier will recognizes as prototypical:
"If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question . . . is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish? . . . Is it something that is really accomplishable? . . . Do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"
Now obviously questions two and three hinge on question one, and what Colin Powell is actually saying here, even rhetorically, is we don't know what the mission is that the troops are supposed to accomplish.
Let me take a digression here. All operational military decision making begins with a product called Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield or IPB. IPB is the driver for everything that follows. You cannot assign a military mission until you understand the enemy, his strength, his deployment, his goals and his probable courses of action.
So IPB provides the following at all levels of planning:
[A} systematic process of analyzing the weather, terrain, and threat in a specific geographic area. IPB integrates threat doctrine with the environment (to include far more intricate factors than weather and terrain) as they relate to the mission within a specific area of interest. IPB is a four-step process: define the battlefield environment; describe the battlefield's effects; evaluate the threat; and determine the threat's courses of action (COAs). Additionally, a crucial and often under-emphasized element of IPB is truly understanding the entire environment.
That last sentence is crucial to Iraq.
Consider doing IPB on a conventional enemy. You can easily define his configuration, his capability, his leadership, their propensities, his size, the threat he poses, and, given all of that, his probable courses of action. And if you've been fighting him for a while, you can probably feel confident that you understand the entire environment under which he (and you) fights. So while it still isn't an easy task, the IPB is something which any competent staff can quickly and pretty confidently put together. And from that, it wouldn't at all be difficult to write a clear, concise and "accomplishable" mission statement.
Now consider Iraq. There is no single enemy. There is no unity of command among enemy elements. Depending on what militia, or insurgent group or criminal gang you're facing your threat has multiple differing capabilities, purposes, weaponry, leaders and goals. So given this hodge-podge of sometimes cooperating and sometimes warring groups and factions, who are all a threat to our forces, how does one put a coherent product together which delivers to the commanders in theater the probable threat courses of action on which to base the rest of the planning process and arrive at the mission statement for which Powell is asking?
I don't believe he's going to hear the answer he wants to hear. Unless we give them the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" mission, this may be mission impossible, militarily speaking. And given that, you have to then question the utility of more troops. That's precisely where Colin Powell is coming from.
So when I see Powell talking like this, I'm not at all put off by it, nor do I hear "defeatist talk". I hear a commander who, during his entire time in the service, demanded answers to those very questions and ensured that they were answered satisfactorily before he ever approved an operation. In fact step 2 in the Powell Doctrine asks "do we have a clear attainable objective?"
That is the same question as that found in his quote. At this point, unless I've missed it, the answer is no.
That's because step 3, which asks, "have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed", hasn't been answered either. And until it is, until we understand the entire environment in which we're talking about committing more troops and until we can produce an IPB which credibly produces viable probable courses of enemy action on which to base our planning, we're not going to have a clear mission.
"I'd want to have a clear understanding of what it is they're going for, how long they're going for.
Me too. This is important stuff and we should ensure that his questions are answered completely before anymore troops are sent into harm's way. To this point, I'm not satisfied that's been done.
The problem is that the much-maligned "Mission Accomplished" banner was spot-on. That was the only point in this entire d*mned mess that we’ve known what we wanted our military to do: Take out Saddam, dismantle his army, and destroy the Baathist infrastructure. Since then, it has been downhill, and our military is basically being used as a police force. Never a great history for that use. If we can’t come up with some concrete goals for our troops to accomplish, other than vague things like "restore regional stability," I’m pretty much off the Iraq bus.
I posted this comment earlier on an Outside the Beltway post about a similar subject. I think it is also relevant here:
Since the aftermath of WWII, the military has had considerable experience in the “assistance in governing” (aka occupation) business, and has been quite successful at it in a number of places; most notably, Germany and Japan.
Even in Vietnam, MACV was reasonably successful during its entire 15 year stay there, with the assistance of Fifth Special Forces and the CIA air wing.
Since roughly 1965, however, the problem with our endeavors at this kind of military operation has been, what I have called “duelling objectives”.
In the jargon of governmental assistance work, the objective there is to “win the hearts and minds” of the assisted (occupied) nation’s populace, encouraging larger and larger groups of people there to govern themselves, and become responsible citizens.
On the other hand, the objective of making war is always to close with and destroy the enemy. That objective is almost always antithetical to winning hearts and minds.
Keeping those with the latter objective out of the way of those with the former is the hard part. It was never properly harmonized in Vietnam.
It remains to be seen whether it will be successfully harmonized in Iraq or the rest of the Middle East.
Secretary Powell is acutely aware of this phemonenon, having experienced it first hand in VN. Apparently, we must relearn it again in Iraq. I hope it is not too late.
Except Dustin arguably in that case the Kurds don’t want the resto f the country...they want Iran, Turkey, and Syria and THOSE nations are willing to come to IRAQ to prevent it from happening. Turkey has massed troops on the Iraq border and the Iranians spent most of the First Gulf War supporting their faction of Kurds. If IRAQ, doesn’t work Kurdistan isn’t likely to work either.
As to knowing where and when the mission ended General Powell seemed to have no troulble as a Corps commander, in Germany, with opened-ended missions with no clear conclusion. He was one of a long string of folks that commanded V or VII Corps stretching back tot he "unpleasantnesses" of 1944-45.
And General Powell might note that we DID BEAT the Huk and the Moro’s in the 1900’s and the 1940’s and pacified Nicaragua in the 1930’s all using Hearts and Minds AND Guns. Powell just doesn’t like reading that portion of US Military History.
Colin Powell has a wonderful rep. and who am I, but the truth is Col. Lindbergh opposed US actions prior to Dec. 1941. Being a "Pop Culture Hero" doesn’t make you a sage. Powell’s a bright DC player that got burned in Vietnam and wants to avoid being burned again. OK, but his "concerns" his "fears" aren’t necessarily the TRUTH, they are just that fears and concerns. As to the Mission I guess that’s what the President will be explaining when and IF he deploys them.
Oh and Sean the US Army has spent a great deal of it’s time, being a police force/gendarmerie. It has done it well. Militaries DO break things and kill people, BUT they can do more and that’s not all they can do. And if we are going to operate in a binary world where there is the US Army and US Aid, but never the two together we might as well just scrap BOTH of them, because the world requires men and women WITH GUNS, help build the sewers and improve the societies of the nations they are in, not just shoot the bad guys and then come home. Lastly, you DO know what the Roman Legionary spent the bulk of his life doing, right? Building and policing? Armies have been doing this for millenia. Americans just keep forgetting it.
I don’t think that anyone is likely to be satisfied with merely sending more troops into Iraq. In fact, most Americans will likely slap their foreheads at the prospect, wondering what the hell Bush is doing, if he does in fact ramp up the troop levels. Even those who are proposing more troops will likely be blinking at the explanation or lack thereof that the President gives.
So, first, be prepared to be disappointed.
But if we dolly back from the events in Iraq and put them in historical perspective, rather than simply seeing them as an irritant in our daily intake of media, then what we see is an exceedingly minor major war, probably the most minor major war the U.S. has ever fought, in which the costs are low, the real violence sporadic, and the potential benefits exceedingly high.
We have, for instance, a remarkably convenient kill zone that draws jihadis like flies to honey, where American lethality is available in an environment where killing the enemy is a benefit not only for Iraq, but for the rest of the Islamic world and the West. And that’s the least of the advantages.
The neuroses of The New York Times, the American Left in general, sad Europeans, and anyone in the Muslim world more concerned with American power than its actual on-the-ground benefits to Muslims will naturally gain more prominence than what is really unfolding. And what is really unfolding is a reasonably modern civil society in the middle of the Middle East that is gradually taking the place of the most destabilizing regime in the middle of the Middle East, which is the most unstable and destabilizing region in the world.
Why Americans might want the military struggle associated with that to be over is due to a short historical attention span. The West has been fighting Islam for nearly 1,400 years, most recently occluded by the Cold War and the long disintegration of Islamic society. Here, in Iraq, is an opportunity to put a course correction at least on the Arab core of Islam that will take it from medievalism to something resembling modernity in a reasonably short time.
Remember that Iraqis have gone to the polls and voted for a civil society, and civil society, to be effective, must develop the capacity for the violence necessary to maintain itself. Civil society is an alternative to kinetic violence maintained by potential violence. What Iraq is going through now can result in stability, and it is very likely that stability in Iraq would never come without a preliminary period of violence. That was the stage that the U.S. set, perhaps naively, when it cracked open the seal on the Hussein regime, removed that criminal enterprise, and began a democratic process.
Never forget that the car bombers killing to terrorize everyday Iraqis and keep the stream of death flowing into the ever-so-sensitive Western media are essentially drawn from or hired by the faction that once controlled the government. That’s a terrible step down for them, to be relegated to filling vehicles with explosives and killing people that they once could merely pull off the street, for any reason or no reason, and throw into jail under the color of authority. As bad as it looks, it’s progress to have them on the outside looking in.
So, it’s likely that more U.S. troops in Iraq will contribute, at least, more potential violence to the suppression of kinetic violence and will buy more time for the Iraqis to learn how to gain control of their country through civil authority.
Does the U.S. benefit? It already has, and will continue to benefit. The Hussein regime was an exceedingly dangerous outfit, with or without WMD, and by its very nature capable of outsourcing more terrorism than our most paranoid intelligence analysts could imagine. After what happened on 9/11, tolerating such a regime would have been criminal. The continuing benefit will be an Iraq that can eventually manage itself and concentrate on maintaining order so that it can develop into something hopefully much better than what it has been.
So, calling Iraq a "fiasco" or a "calamity" is about as short-sighted as short-sightedness gets. If more American troops are sent in to help move things along, then it shouldn’t be held up to any monumental scrutiny based on the "Bush is a moron" and "Iraq is a catastrophe" narratives that the media and the Left have constructed. If it represents nothing other than more boots on the ground, then each U.S. soldier is probably worth 25 Iraqis should more pushing come to more shoving around Baghdad.
I don’t want to sound either glib or cynical about this. I believe that this is and always has been a worthy mission for our troops. And even if it didn’t measure up, precisely, to some transcendent standard for military involvement that we suppose ourselves to have, the fact is that we need to have troops who know how to fight and an officer corps that knows how to lead in conditions exactly like those in Iraq because we are likely to be facing them over and over again. Although that will be made less likely if we succeed in this venture.
I don’t want to sound either glib or cynical about this. I believe that this is and always has been a worthy mission for our troops. And even if it didn’t measure up, precisely, to some transcendent standard for military involvement that we suppose ourselves to have, the fact is that we need to have troops who know how to fight and an officer corps that knows how to lead in conditions exactly like those in Iraq because we are likely to be facing them over and over again.
Powell is a direct result of such a war in those type conditions and knows first hand the falsity of what you’re proposing. So do I.
What is going on now is not a "worthy mission" for our military, at least not as it is configured. It is, in fact, a mission which will eventually badly damage the military as we continue to misutilize its members in jobs for which they were not trained while the jobs for which they were trained, and the skills commensurate with them, atrophy and are eventually lost. And soon, that sort of loss of skill becomes a systemic problem and takes a very long time from which to recover.
We’ve been through this once before and like Powell, I’d rather not see it happen again.
As to the Mission I guess that’s what the President will be explaining when and IF he deploys them.
There you go. But the issue is MORE than just the mission. Some folks seem, hereabouts seem to have the view that Armies shoot folks and once they have shot a sufficiency of folks then they go home. And that ain’t the turth, never was.
I think you’re being too kind to Powell. Powell opposed military action in Gulf 1 and he opposed military action this time around as well. I’m not sure there’s been any military action he has approved of and I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole idea of the ’Powell Doctrine’ was to make it all but impossible to use our military (for instance, #8, getting international support... Iran could nuke New York and the Russians and French would counsel restraint).
Not willing to fall on his sword and resign back in 02/03, he went along with Bush on the surface but tried to put so many ’yes, but not yets’ in Bush’s way so as to delay military action as long as possible, if not rule it out altogether. His ’you break it, you fix it’ wasn’t based on an analysis of what was good for America, it was him trying to throw another obstacle in the way. His insistence on trying to get UN and international support was more of the same, as was his claim that Bush needed bi-partisan support in Congress.
So I look at Powell’s not wanting to send more troops is his way of making sure Bush doesn’t ’win’.
Having said all that, I too don’t think more troops ought to be sent. In fact, all of our troops ought to pulled out of harm’s way as fast as possible as I simply don’t think American troops, whether they want to or not, ought to be at risk of dying trying to keep Iraqis from killing Iraqis.
Powell is a direct result of such a war in those type conditions and knows first hand the falsity of what you’re proposing. So do I.
What is going on now is not a "worthy mission" for our military, at least not as it is configured.
Well, I respectfully disagree, both about the present mission, and the earlier one in Vietnam. Even though the resemblance between the two is superficial, and the present mission far more significant in this era than Vietnam was in the Cold War era, I’ll stipulate that the two are similar enough to be graded against one another.
Looking at Vietnam, for instance, you see that only 16 years after the fall of Saigon, the Cold War in which Vietnam was but a battle ended in our favor. That was an exceedingly short period of time for that type of war to reach such a favorable conclusion after our supposedly disastrous defeat in Southeast Asia.
But Vietnam was a mere outpost, a literal jungle far off from the core of the problem, and the war there was always constrained by the overarching prospect of superpower conflict. It was conditioned by a unique set of circumstances that despite the similar problem of insurgency in Iraq made it much more deadly than Iraq. It was by no means a minor major war. Iraq, by contrast, is.
But Iraq is also right at the core of the problem, right at the center whence the energies of Islamic terrorism spring. The benefits of success can be far greater. The benefits of defeat far more serious. And I don’t think that Colin Powell contributes much if his contribution is based primarily on a meditation drawing from his experience in Vietnam.
Further, I think that we should be prepared to engage a half-dozen, or more, situations like the one in Iraq at the same time. The more prepared we are for them, the less likely we are to wind up fighting them. So we need to know how to fight and win in, but more importantly deal with, these situations because we are likely to be faced with the break-up of a number of societies that have one leg in and one leg out of the modern world and that are capable of spinning out of control and threatening more than just their own people — Pakistan, for instance, with its nuclear weapons. Iran also. Success in Iraq will make that less likely to happen, both because it will model the benefits of stability and the determination of the United States.
That said, I certainly understand the anxiety of someone like Colin Powell and the need to be cautious, but there’s also something to be said for showing some spine and not letting the media and the Left rot out the core of our will. There’s also something to be said for fighting wars that need to be fought, just so long as we do not make ourselves into a "corpse in armor." And I believe that there are going to be a number of such wars that we will need to be prepared to fight, and the more successful we are in fighting any of them, the fewer there will be. Seeing things through in Iraq will be vitally important to forestalling similar situations, making bad regimes far more wary of acting out the way Hussein’s regime did.
Some folks seem, hereabouts seem to have the view that Armies shoot folks and once they have shot a sufficiency of folks then they go home.
Sure do. The typical Roman response to an incursion by forces from a neighbouring tribe was to attack said neighbouring tribe (undertake mission), pacify it (accomplish mission) and then return to the border forts (go home). The pacified tribe would be offered a treaty with Rome or a Roman vassal tribe, with Rome acting as gaurantor of this treaty it would be their choice to accept or have Rome invade again. It was standard practice during the early to mid years of the Roman Empire to maintain the militia as a heavily armed border force specifically for this aggressive purpose and have seperate civil guards (less well equipped) to police the existing territory.
Lastly, you DO know what the Roman Legionary spent the bulk of his life doing, right? Building and policing? Armies have been doing this for millenia. Americans just keep forgetting it.
It was only near to the Fall that the army was deployed within the Empire against generic enemies of the state, policing all over the damned place. Not that using militia this way (without a defined mission, enemy, objective) neccessarily caused the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages, but y’know...
I also do not get the need for more troops. It seems to me that unless we have really good intel and targets, the troops will just patrol about the city hoping to run into a death squad or two. (Now, if there are Mahdi Army camps or arsenals that we could assault, that might be different.) I think we really do need more Iraqis and embedding our troops with them would be the the best method.
I also think we should make one final push for the Sunnis to get on board and if they don’t comply - we do the 80% solution. Political solutions will net more than military at this point. Supporting the Shias and Kurds over the Sunnis may even drain the swamp of Iranian influence to some degree and the Saudis are already supporting the Sunnis via Al Qaeda in Iraq.
At this point, I am almost ready to decide that they should just call the whole country Kurdistan, and we just support the Kurds doing whatever they want to do to pacify the rest of the country.
That is a common feeling among the grunts stationed along the "border" of the Kurd area. They look at what the Kurds have done in their area and what the Arabs have done in their’s and...
Except Dustin arguably in that case the Kurds don’t want the resto f the country...they want Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
Only parts of those countries. :-)
Increasing troop levels without changing the ROE is just supplying more targets to the bad guys. I don’t know the complete thing (it’s classified) but I do know that it is SEVEN AND A HALF pages long, and I do have a concrete example: IED goes off. Fortunately the triggerman misestimated vehicle speed, and it simply tears up the front right tire on the humvee. Convoy comes to a stop and one of the .50 gunners, from his elevated perch sees a guy bent over, boogieing directly away from a low wall on the other side of a 70 yard wide empty field.
Put a couple of rounds around him to stop him and interrogate, plug him if he doesn’t stop, right?
Nope. Under the present ROE, the gunner has no direct evidence that he actually had anything to do with the IED - hey, he might be just an innocent bystander, right? - so... he keeps on boogieing.
Go big or go home, and big means more than more bodies.