Jason Leopold: Donald Rumsfeld's War
Donald Rumsfeld's War
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Wednesday 07 December 2005
The US military death toll in Iraq surpassed 2,100 soldiers last month, and despite the fact that there is a strong debate about permanently pulling troops out of the country, there are still unanswered questions as to whether there are actually enough ground forces to deal with insurgents.
The lack of soldiers on the ground has been a hot-button issue since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003. Career military officials believe that's the reason the war hasn't been a "cakewalk," and they blame Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for designing a flawed war plan.
The war plan Rumsfeld shaped in the year before the Iraq war has led to deep divisions between military commanders and the defense secretary that continue to this day, according to some military officials who requested anonymity because they said they were not authorized to speak publicly.
In October 2002, Rumsfeld ordered the military's regional commanders to rewrite all of their war plans to capitalize on precision weapons, better intelligence, and speedier deployment in the event the United States decided to invade Iraq.
The goal was to use fewer ground troops, a move that caused dismay among some in the military who said concern for the troops requires overwhelming numerical superiority to assure victory.
Several longtime military officers said they viewed Rumsfeld's approach as injecting too much risk into war planning and said it could result in US casualties that might be prevented by amassing larger forces. Those predictions have been borne out over the past 33 months.
Still, Rumsfeld refused to listen to his military commanders, saying that his plan would allow "the military to begin combat operations on less notice and with far fewer troops than thought possible - or thought wise - before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks," the New York Times reported in its October 13, 2002, edition.
"Looking at what was overwhelming force a decade or two decades ago, today you can have overwhelming force, conceivably, with lesser numbers because the lethality is equal to or greater than before," Rumsfeld told the Times.
Rumsfeld said too many of the military plans on the shelves of the regional war-fighting commanders were freighted with outdated assumptions and military requirements, which have changed with the advent of new weapons and doctrines.
It has been a mistake, he said, to measure the quantity of forces required for a mission and "fail to look at lethality, where you end up with precision-guided munitions, which can give you 10 times the lethality that a dumb weapon might, as an example," according to the Times report.
Through a combination of pre-deployments, faster cargo ships and a larger fleet of transport aircraft, the military would be able to deliver "fewer troops but in a faster time that would allow you to have concentrated power that would have the same effect as waiting longer with what a bigger force might have," Rumsfeld said.
Critics in the military said there were several reasons to deploy a force of overwhelming numbers before starting any offensive with Iraq. Large numbers illustrate US resolve and can intimidate Iraqi forces into laying down their arms or even turning against Hussein's government.
According to Defense Department sources, Rumsfeld at first insisted that vast air superiority and a degraded Iraqi military would enable 75,000 US troops to win the war. General Tommy Franks, the theater commander in chief, convinced Rumsfeld to send 250,000 (augmented by 45,000 British). However, the Army would have preferred a much deeper force.
The new approach for how the US might go to war, Rumsfeld said in a speech in 2002, reflects an assessment of the need after 9/11 to refresh war plans continuously and to respond faster to threats from terrorists and nations possessing biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
Like his well-known "Rumsfeld's Rules," a collection of wisdom he has compiled over three decades on how to succeed in Washington, Rumsfeld's checklist used the same methodical approach to determining when US military force should be used in the event of war against Iraq.
Rumsfeld kept the checklist tucked away in his desk drawer at the Pentagon. In the spring of 2002, when it became clear that the Bush administration was leaning toward using military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime, Rumsfeld added what he said were important elements to the checklist to ensure the US would be prepared for a full-scale war.
Risks: Rumsfeld warns that the risks of taking action "must be carefully considered" along with the dangers of doing nothing. The administration has repeatedly made the case against inaction - the possibility that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons and strike the US. But it has not been equally candid about the dangers of action.
Honesty: Rumsfeld urged US leadership to be "brutally honest with itself, Congress, the public and coalition partners."
In response to the criticism that Rumsfeld had accepted too much risk in war planning, Rumsfeld said he had ordered rigorous reviews and was satisfied.
"We are prepared for the worst case," he told the Times.
Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak invesigation, and will be a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t.