Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

"The enemy that we're fighting is different from the one we'd war gamed," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace told the Washington Post a couple days ago. "We knew they were there-the paramilitaries-but we didn't know they'd fight like this."

In addition to chagrin, for those of us who follow military affairs and national security issues, I think this comment couldn't help but recall the "Millennium Challenge" war games and the leaked remarks of General Paul Van Riper, who headed up the "red" or enemy team in that mock war. Basically, Van Riper complained that the folks running the war game stopped him when he tried to think outside the box with the sorts of low-tech, asymmetric tactics an outnumbered and outgunned enemy might use. In the most notorious instance, when Van Riper knocked out several US navy vessels in the Persian Gulf with suicide speed boat attacks, the war-gamers stopped the exercise and "re-floated" the ships.

Anyway, I'm not going to say more about this particular point because Fred Kaplan has an excellent piece on this issue in Slate which covers it admirably. (Just a side note: Kaplan's reporting on the war has been invaluable. If you haven't checked him out, you should.)

As I've noted, I think Don Rumsfeld has a great deal to answer for in all this. But the war-game mini-scandal clearly goes beyond just Rumsfeld. This was also the sort of group-think, bureaucracy and lack of accountability which is endemic to all vast bureaucratic organizations -- not least of which the military. In retrospect, the conduct of that war game looks very, very bad.

Here's another point. Many people on the web have been buzzing about this Russian website, which has reports on the war said to be based on information from Russian military intelligence, the GRU. The site is similar to Debka, out of Israel. In any case, it's impossible to know precisely where they're getting their info and the tone of the reportage is unmistakably hostile to the US position (the headline of the site is "Aggression Against Iraq.") But there is one piece of strategic analysis on their site, which a reader sent me, which I am sure is quite valid.

The first myth is about the precision-guided weapons as the determining factor in modern warfare, weapons that allow to achieve strategic superiority without direct contact with the enemy. On the one hand we have the fact that during the past 13 years the wars were won by the United States with minimum losses and, in essence, primarily through the use of aviation. At the same time, however, the US military command was stubborn in ignoring that the decisive factor in all these wars was not the military defeat of the resisting armies but political isolation coupled with strong diplomatic pressure on the enemy's political leadership. It was the creation of international coalitions against Iraq in 1991, against Yugoslavia in 1999 and against Afghanistan in 2001 that ensured the military success.
It's hard to see those who wish the US ill having such a perceptive analysis of our folly. But this is about as perceptive as it gets. And it recalls a exchange retired General Wesley Clark had with a senior Pentagon appointee just after the turnover of administration's in 2001.

The official mocked the conduct of the Kosovo war, telling Clark, "We read your book ... And no one is going to tell us where we can or can't bomb." (I know, but am not in a position to say, who the official is. But let's just say he's really senior.)

Let me quote at length from an article Clark wrote a few months ago in the Washington Monthly ...

That day at the Pentagon, the senior official and I never had the opportunity to complete the discussion. But it was clear that he had totally misread the lessons of the Kosovo campaign. NATO wasn't an obstacle to victory in Kosovo; it was the reason for our victory. For 78 days in the spring of 1999, the alliance battled to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's Albanians being carried out by the predominantly Serb troops and government of then-President Slobodan Milosevic. It was the first actual war NATO had fought in its 50-year history. Like the U.S. war in Afghanistan, it was predominantly an air campaign (though the threat of a ground attack, I believe, proved decisive). America provided the leadership, the target nominations, and almost all of the precision strikes. Still, it was very much a NATO war. Allied countries flew some 60 percent of the sorties. Because it was a NATO campaign, each bomb dropped represented a target that had been approved, at least in theory, by each of the alliance's 19 governments. Much of my time as allied commander was spent with various European defense officials, walking them through proposed targets and the reasoning behind them. Sometimes there were disagreements and occasionally we had to modify those lists to take into account the different countries' political concerns and military judgements. For all of us involved--the president, secretaries of state and defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and me--it was a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process. But in the end, this was the decisive process for success, because whatever we lost in theoretical military effectiveness we gained manyfold in actual strategic impact by having every NATO nation on board.

NATO itself acted as a consensus engine for its members. Because it acts on the basis of such broad agreement, every decision is an opportunity for members to dissent--therefore, every decision generates pressure to agree. Greece, for example, never opposed a NATO action, though its electorate strongly opposed the war and the Greek government tried in other ways to maintain an acceptable "distance" from NATO military actions. This process evokes leadership from the stronger states and pulls the others along.

Of course, this wasn't a pleasant experience for any of the participants. For U.S. leaders during the war, it meant continuing dialogue, frictions, and occasional hard exchanges with some allies to get them on board. For some European leaders, the experience must have been the reverse: a continuing pressure from the United States to approve actions--to strike targets--that would generate domestic criticism at home. There was no escaping the fact that this was every government's war, that they were intrinsically part of the operation, and each was, ultimately, liable to be held accountable by its voters for the outcome.

In the darkest days before the NATO 50th anniversary summit in late April in Washington, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to our headquarters in Belgium on very short notice. To be honest, it wasn't altogether clear why he was coming. But as he and I sat alone in my office, it quickly became apparent. "Are we going to win?" he asked me. "Will we win with an air campaign alone? Will you get ground troops if you need them?" Blair made it very clear that the future of every government in Western Europe, including his own, depended on a successful outcome of the war. Therefore, he was going to do everything it took to succeed. No stopping halfway. No halfheartedness.

That was the real lesson of the Kosovo campaign at the highest level: NATO worked. It held political leaders accountable to their electorates. It made an American-dominated effort essentially their effort. It made an American-led success their success. And, because an American-led failure would have been their failure, these leaders became determined to prevail. NATO not only generated consensus, it also generated an incredible capacity to alter public perceptions, enabling countries with even minimal capacities to participate collectively in the war. As one minister of defense told me afterwards, "Before Kosovo, you couldn't use the word 'war' in my country. War meant defeat, destruction, death, and occupation. Now it is different. We have won one!"

The victory in Kosovo was complicated and messy. But it worked. One doesn't have to agree with that approach or think it couldn't be improved upon. The issue with Rumsfeld and his deputies is less their difference of opinion than their arrogance. They repaid advice with ridicule, assuming that they knew everything. Now we're seeing some of the results.

Now we hear from Mark Tedrow, from the Old Dominion ...

From: "Mark Tedrow"
To: talk@talkingpointsmemo.com
Subject: Let me add...
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2003 23:35:12 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2800.1106

my own 'last paragraph' to the remarks of Michael Thomas, of Kentucky.

MY son is fighting today, risking HIS life...and some are dying...for your right to assist our enemies. That must make you very proud.

To think for a second that you have served this country in combat is laughable. You're too busy munching a croissant and pretending to have some clue about what makes this country 'America'. Easy for you to sit and flap your fingers or look pretty in front of a camera while 'someone else' puts his/her life on the line for your privelege; typical elitist. You spend hours denegrating our current president, who didn't create the mess in Baghdad or North Korea, and exactly zero time questioning the ones who did; typical elitist.

My son is currently in Iraq...somewhere. Air Force Special Ops., Sgt. We haven't heard from him in a while...and we pray. We pray for his safety...and we pray for our country. We also pray that critics such as you will someday grow a brain and become a productive piece of this incredible country; instead of spending all your time in the red...throwing rocks at those who make your life possible.

Mark Tedrow

More soon ...

Just do it? Here's an article by the aforementioned Joseph Galloway. And it paints a pretty uncomfortable picture. Basically the civilians at the Pentagon are pushing Tommy Franks to attack Baghdad before the arrival of the 4th Infantry Division. Here's one of the key passages ...

So it apparently falls to one heavy Army division, one light Army division and a division-plus force of Marine infantry to destroy at least two and possibly more Republican Guard tank divisions dug in and blocking the approaches to Baghdad.

In other words, roughly 100,000 U.S. servicemen could face about 30,000 Iraqi troops, not enough for the 4 or 5 to 1 ratio that conventional military doctrine calls for when attacking an entrenched enemy.

The Americans are far better trained and equipped than the Iraqis, and they have a huge technological edge, especially when fighting at night. But military analysts say there may not be enough of them to do the job.

On CNN last night, Wes Clark made an interesting and ominous observation, which he said he based on recent conversations with various region experts. The gist of it was that we have a four or five week window to finish this up. And if we don't do it before then, a bad chain of events kicks off. Saddam starts to look strong, like he's making a stand against America, and so forth. Then Arab or non-Arab Muslim volunteers start streaming into the country to take up the fight. Basically, instead of just being angry and marching in their own countries because they think we're clobbering Iraq, they decide that Saddam's actually making a fight of it and go to get in on the action.

I can't say whether this is an accurate prediction or not. But it has the ring of truth to it -- in my ears at least. And, regardless, it's probably one of the issues that's being considered. Unfortunately, says the Galloway article, the 4th ID won't be ready for at least three weeks.

That math doesn't add up too nicely, does it? Maybe we do have to hit Baghdad now to prevent some broader regional deterioration.

The one thing that seems really clear is this: We should not be in this position of having to decide whether to go in under-gunned or wait longer than we can really afford to. This is what's so nice about having the world's most powerful military, several times over: you shouldn't have to wing it. We should have had all the necessary troops and hardware in position when we pulled the trigger on this war, rather than having what turns out to be a critical component on the ground in Texas.

Why was that allowed to happen?

I have a simple request: Is it possible for the Bush administration to go one day without fulfilling its critics' direst predictions about its war aims and operational abilities? Yesterday, The Washington Monthly released my new article on the Bush administration's grand plan for reforming the entire Middle East. One assertion many found difficult to believe was my claim that the administration would soon seek to provoke wars with Syria and Iran. Today, Don Rumsfeld threatened both countries with just that. Admittedly, this creates some extra buzz for the article and this website as well. But frankly, Don, TPM is doing okay and, buddy, you're starting to get a kinda scary.

The language Rumsfeld used was key. He basically accused the Syrians of committing acts of war against the United States. The key wording was: "We have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles. These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."

Now, what makes this really weird is that background briefings at the Pentagon suggest that we're not reacting to anything new. Rather, this is a long-standing issue we've had with the Syrians -- presumably a subset of our larger issue with their sanctions-busting.

This invites a pretty obvious question: was this the best day to bring it up? I'm no expert on the military art. But I have the impression we've got our hands full at the moment.

Here's another question ...

Let's assume Bill Clinton had launched the country on a major war on the other side of the globe. Clinton's top military advisors had told him and his Sec Def that he was sending them to war gravely under-gunned, without all they needed to get the job done and protect the lives of American troops. Then let's assume that Clinton and his Sec Def ignored their advice. He and the Sec Def told the generals they didn't understand how modern wars were fought and sent them out anyway. And then let's assume that the generals and admirals warnings were rapidly confirmed on the battlefield with a bogged down offensive and an escalating number of American casualties. Do you think Clinton and his Sec Def might be in some hot water? Yeah, me too.

Joseph Galloway, a storied old war reporter, was on Lou Dobbs show this evening and walked through the whole sorry story. In its outlines it was basically what I've been telling you on this site for several days. But obviously Galloway knows a lot more about war-fighting doctrines than I do and also much better sources. So he laid out the story with gripping, sorrowful detail. Basically, the Rumsfeldians thought a new day had dawned in the annals of war. The old doctrines were out the window. And the fuddy-duddies with the uniforms and medals just didn't understand. Now it seems like they knew something after all.

Finally, is it time -- strictly for humanitarian reasons -- to set up a journalistic no-fly-zone to give some sanctuary for the hawks who've been telling us for months that a few good SWAT Teams could take down Saddam's regime.

I mean, think about Ken Adelman, who a year ago said that Iraq would be a cakewalk. (Okay, what did he really say? Ummm, well "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk." I think that counts as calling it a cakewalk.) Now he's been driven to the hills by reportorial fedayeen. He's run ragged, exposed to the elements, and short on food. Or what about Richard Perle, who said Saddam's regime was "a house of cards [which would] collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder." Sure, AEI would like to send out a relief mission. But most of their troops have run off to the hills with those makeshift tarp-and-cardboard tents like Adelman and Perle. And well -- how to put this? -- let's just say they're just not in much of a position to beg relief from the UNHCR. Can't we at least protect these war-hawk worthies from fixed-wing aircraft, if nothing else? Toss 'em some MREs from the spare C-130? I mean, just for humanitarian purposes.

Before we get down to business today let's hear some sage words from the estimable Michael Thomas of Kentucky ...

From: "Michael Thomas"
To: talk@talkingpointsmemo.com
Subject: Objectives
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2003 10:21:15 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2800.1106

I browsed your memo... (very 'creative' title btw)... it doesn't take long to see that your objective is to demoralize our troops and our citizens, de-ligitimize the efforts (any efforts) of the Bush (or any Republican) Administration, further the "liberal cause" (although there really is no such thing - gaining power is not a cause in itself, you know), and attempt to help us lose this war - and any war - as long as a Republican is in the White House.

Your motives are clearly political and self-serving. I am sure they have made you quite popular with your friends in academia and Hollywood.

This may be the most critical time in the history of the modern world much less of our country; and it is my fervent hope that the American People will remember and appropriately reward those, like you, who have chosen to use this opportunity to forward a political cause, and not incidentally their own careers, by attempting to sabotage an honorable effort to make the world a safer, better place.

Our sons are fighting today, risking their lives... and some are dying... for your right to assist our enemies. That must make you very proud.


Michael Thomas

More soon ...

I've become associated over the last several months with the proposition that the Bush foreign policy team is simply incompetent. I have to tell you though that in recent days I have been repeatedly shocked by just how true this seems to be. If you still need to be convinced how disastrously the situation with Turkey was handled, take a look at this article in Friday's Post. It's almost beyond belief. A bull in a china shop doesn't do it justice. The other analogies I came up with were just unmentionable...

I was finishing up an interview early this evening when I flipped open my laptop to find that Richard Perle had resigned his post as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board. All I can say is, it's about time. At TPM, we've been on Perle's trail for the DPB shenanigans since early October 2001. But clearly our efforts were just -- as the folks in uniform might say -- reportorial triple-A compared to the transformational, big munitions Sy Hersh and others brought to bear in recent weeks.

As I said, it's about time.

Another point. The conventional wisdom right now isn't really 'things are going badly.' It's more aptly characterized as 'things sure look like they're going badly but it's too soon to know.' Let's unpack this for a moment. The specter of Afghanistan is hanging over the reaction to, and reportage of, this war. Back in Afghanistan things looked like we were in for a long, tough, bloody battle. And then suddenly everything broke free. Pundits who had deployed the Q-word (i.e., "quagmire") too soon felt awfully exposed when the Taliban simply collapsed. No one wants that to happen to them again. So everyone's keeping their powder dry.

But the Afghanistan experience hangs over this moment in a deeper way too. Back in Afghanistan, the folks at the Joint Staff really wanted to go slower. They wanted to bring up more men, more equipment, the whole bit. But Rumsfeld and his people said 'no.' They wanted to move much more quickly, relying on a mix of high-tech weaponry, quick-moving Special Forces operations, indigenous proxy armies, and agile, on-the-fly decision-making.

And something happened: it worked.

When people write the history of these years, I think they'll place great emphasis on this fact. Rumsfeld and his deputies didn't need a lot of convincing that they understood military affairs as well as or better than anyone. But this experience greatly emboldened them.

But it did more than embolden them. This part is harder to get at or know. But I think it subtly shook the confidence of some of the folks on the Joint Staff. Rumsfeld went for the Hail Mary pass and, amazingly, Paul Wolfowitz came down with the ball in the end zone.

Of course, this is an over-simplification. But it catches the outlines of what happened. And I think it played a key role on a variety of levels in allowing the Office of the Secretary of Defense to get the Joint Chiefs to go along with an Iraq war plan they were never comfortable with.

We'll be saying more about this ...

Meanwhile, self-parody seems to be the answer to our recent reverses in Mesopotamia.

When I was doing course-work in graduate school I studied a little 19th and early 20th century German history. What always struck me was that "crude Marxism" looked a lot less crude when you looked at it through the prism of late 19th century German history. You had the cartoonish reactionary leaders, the alliance of ancien regime with plutocratic capital. And a foreign military adventure was pretty much always the solution of choice when things looked iffy at home or the Socialists looked set to win a majority in the parliament.

In any case, you can see all sorts of examples now -- cropping up everywhere it seems -- that we're heading toward some similar Gotterdammerung of ridiculousness.

I was watching a British military briefing this morning when a reporter asked one of the British generals what he thought of the fact that the running of the port of Umm Qasr has apparently already been raffled off to some American company. The look on his face was priceless. Sort of the Blair tragedy writ small.

Now, we hear that California Congressman Darrell Issa, a major recipient of money from hometown cell phone goliath Qualcomm is lobbying the Pentagon to rewire (rewireless?) Iraq with Qualcomm's CDMA standard rather than the one now used in the country, GSM, which is preferred by European manufacturers. "Hundreds of thousands of American jobs depend on the success of U.S.-developed wireless technologies like CDMA," says Issa.

And to think that for a moment I thought we were about to turn Iraq into a parodic banana-republic where favored US campaign contributors got to line up for Iraq-pork!

And speaking of the rather shariah-offending concept of Iraq-pork, at least we're not going to try to evangelize Iraq by turning over aid distribution to evangelical faith-based organizations from the Bible Belt, right?

Well ...

Here's another charmer from the always invaluable Beliefnet. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said yesterday that his organization, Samaritan's Purse, has an army of relief workers "poised and ready" to roll into Iraq to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the Iraqi people. He's in constant contact with the US government agencies in Amman to help coordinate efforts.

Graham says that he knows he can't just whip out the good book and start preaching the gospel in an Arab country. But "I believe as we work," said Graham, "God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son... We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ."

That should go over well.

I mean, it's not like the Muslim Arabs have a chip on their shoulder or anything about the Christian West launching a new crusade against them to reclaim Arabia for the cross. So it shouldn't be any problem.

In all seriousness, obviously the US can't bar anybody with a Christian affiliation from doing relief work in Iraq. But optics seems to be the issue here. The American president is a deeply-believing born-again Christian. He's closely associated with Franklin Graham. Graham has repeatedly called Islam a "wicked" religion. And now Graham's missionaries are coming in behind US tanks invading Iraq.

If the Arab world had electronic media that tended toward sensationalism and inflammatory coverage this could really be a problem ...

"We do not all love Saddam, but we do not love the United States either." That's one line from a very sobering article at ABCNews.com. Until Saddam Hussein's regime is totally displaced we'll never quite know what people really think as opposed to what they say.

Hope is not a plan, as the Army planners say. And they say it for a reason ...

Here is our text for the day. It comes from an interview last evening on PBS's Newshour, when Gwen Ifill asked retired Colonel Samuel Gardiner whether the momentum of the campaign could be sustained. Gardiner said ...

No. I just want to add a political military dimension. Yesterday a very important thing happened. Two retired four-star generals: Wes Clark and Barry McCaffrey, who was a division commander in the first Gulf War, said we don't have enough force. Whether they are right or not, the leadership of the United States has a problem. And that is if we go to Baghdad with two divisions and there are losses, that's regime change kind of stuff. And I don't mean Baghdad regime change. But you don't send American men and women into battle without all it takes to do that. I mean, that's a very serious thing.
Now, a few points. I know Gardiner was only talking about changes of government at the ballot box but I'm still always a bit uncomfortable when even retired military men talk publicly about US governments being turned out because of poor military decisions. I didn't like it under Clinton; and I don't like it now. Retired military officers have as much right to speak out as the rest of us. But given the importance of civilian supremacy over the military, there's a penumbra of prudence that stretches over the public comments of even retired career officers. (Late Update: My criticism, if there is any, is not directed at McCaffrey and Clark. I think it's not only right but incumbent on them to speak out. My only point is that, in the case of Gardiner, it may be the better part of wisdom for retired career officers to speak out against bad defense policy but leave spelling out the political consequences to others. Again, a mild, tentative criticism, but one that I think worth voicing.)

Having said that, his comments get at a very big issue and one that may have profound political implications. War is, by definition, unpredictable. But what we're seeing right now was predicted. The predictions were just ignored.

Relations between the Pentagon's civilian political leadership and the uniformed services has been more vexed and acrimonious in the last two years than it has been for decades. (I discussed this at greater length in this article I wrote last August in Salon -- you can also see it here -- and touched on part of the debate in this earlier post.) The disagreements range over a number of issues including war-planning, 'transformation,' force structure and military-diplomatic relations with various countries across the world. At heart, however, the civilians believed the folks in uniform were overly conservative, risk-averse and failed to understand how technology had transformed modern warfare.

Don Rumsfeld (and Rumsfeld, in this case, stands for Rumsfeld and his various civilian deputies) thought Saddam Hussein could be taken down with a relatively small number of ground forces in conjunction with fast-moving and agile high-tech air power and special forces. (Keep in mind that the Pentagon's civilian leadership originally wanted to mount this war with as few as a quarter of the troops we now have in the theater.) The Sec Def's military advisors told him he was sending them into Iraq under-gunned. They argued about it for months. Rumsfeld thought he knew better than they did, however, and sent them in that way regardless of their objections.

We'll be saying more about this. And I think it's still to soon to fully evaluate Rumsfeld's plan. Perhaps Saddam's regime will collapse spectacularly in the coming days. But at the moment the results of Rumsfeld's gamble are not looking very good.

P.S. Special thanks to valued TPM reader BZ for sending the Newshour link ...

The uncomfortable reality is that presidents have often deceived the American public to pull the country into wars or extensive military engagements. FDR said he was trying to keep us out of World War II, even as he courted a conflict with the Axis powers, which he believed both necessary and unavoidable. History has judged him well. LBJ manufactured an incident to get us into Vietnam. Eventually it destroyed him. When President Clinton put American troops into Bosnia he claimed they'd only be there for a year, even though everyone knew they'd be there much longer. The verdict there has been generally positive, though more time needs to pass for a definitive verdict. There are many other examples both before and since.

Yet what the Bush administration has done and is doing is, I believe, qualitatively different from these and other examples both before and since. In each of these other cases the public had some sense of what war was being debated. Do we get into another world war based in Europe? Do we get into Vietnam the way we got into Korea? Do we sign on for a murky and perhaps unpredictable period of military oversight in the Balkans? Presidents may have lied about the costs of war or the pretexts. But there was at least some sense of what sort of war we were talking about.

That's not the case here.

This war isn't really about Iraq or deposing Saddam or even eliminating his WMD, though each of those are important benefits along the way. Nor is it something so mundane as a 'war for oil.' The leading architects of this war in and out of the administration see this war, and have pursued it, as an opening blow in a far broader war against political Islam. They see it as the first in a series of wars and near-wars which will lead eventually to the overthrow of most of the current governments in the Middle East, the establishment of western-oriented democracies throughout the Arab world, and the destruction of nothing less than the political world of Islamic fundamentalism.

That, as you might say, is a rather tall order. And it would have been very hard for the administration to sell the American people on such a struggle. So it didn't try. It pushed rather to get us into Iraq, knowing that if it went about the process in the right way it would make a further series of wars against Iran, Syria and perhaps lower-level hostilities against Saudi Arabia and Egypt all but inevitable.

As Jeffrey Bell put it last week in The Weekly Standard, this is nothing less than a "world war between the United States and a political wing of Islamic fundamentalism ... a war of such reach and magnitude [that] the invasion of Iraq, or the capture of top al Qaeda commanders, should be seen as tactical events in a series of moves and countermoves stretching well into the future."

In any case, I've tried to sketch this out and put together the various ideas and aims involved, in the cover piece of the soon-to-be-released new issue of the Washington Monthly. The piece was finished on, I think, the first day of the war. But events have been moving so quickly that we've decided to preview release it on the Monthly's website. You can read "Practice to Deceive" here.