Operation "Gotcha" against Rumsfeld

National Review Online Editorial:

The McCain-Hagel Caucus has spoken. It has no confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Senator John McCain has said so explicitly, while Senator Chuck Hagel has only strongly hinted at it. Both senators have 2008 aspirations, and Republican-primary voters would do well to take early note of how they behave during a budding media frenzy directed at one of the Bush administration’s key players.

The get-Rumsfeld crowd — mostly Democrats, joined by the McCain-Hagel caucus and a few stray hawks — takes great umbrage at Rumsfeld's answer to a National Guardsman's question about an insufficient number of up-armored Humvees. Hagel intoned, “those men and women deserved a far better answer from their secretary of Defense than a flippant comment.” But Rumsfeld wasn't being flip. One wonders whether Hagel has even taken the time to read the full transcript of the secretary's remarks. The troops gave Rumsfeld a standing ovation at the end. Is it the position of the secretary’s critics that the troops were too stupid to realize they had just been belittled?

The comment that has most angered Rumsfeld's detractors is his statement that you go to war with the Army you have. That may have been too frank in such a forum, but it was true. We went into Iraq with a military not yet fully transformed to adjust to 21st-century reality, which turned out to include an insurgency launched in a harsh urban environment. If Rumsfeld's hawkish critics, some of whom were banging the drums for the Iraq war for years, thought that war could be responsibly fought only with an Army equipped with 8,000 up-armored Humvees, they had adequate time to make that known — or at least lessen their enthusiasm for the enterprise accordingly. Of course, they didn't.

Once it became clear exactly what we were facing in Iraq, the Pentagon adjusted. Such adjustments are an inevitable part of any complex and difficult military enterprise. At roughly 140,000, there are many more troops there now than were initially planned. The training of Iraqi forces has undergone changes in both its nature and volume since the end of the war, as we have realized both the importance of the training and our initial failures in its implementation. Over a year ago Pentagon task forces were set up to figure out how best to counter roadside bombs and how to rush equipment — from up-armored Humvees to night-vision goggles — to the troops in the field. In both areas our performance has steadily improved.

Behind much of the criticism of Rumsfeld is the idea that he has disastrously skimped on troop levels, especially when it comes to the occupation. But insurgencies aren't crushed by sheer numbers. Would that it were so. Counter-insurgency depends on intelligence and a sound political strategy, which in this case involves integrating Iraqi forces into the fight and moving ahead with the elections. Given that more troops would require an even larger logistical tail (read: more Humvees and “soft” vehicles carrying supplies, i.e. more targets) to support them, it makes sense that commanders on the ground aren’t asking for significantly more troops.

Actually force to space is important in defeating a raiding strategy like the insurgency. That does not necessarily mean that the US needs more troops in Iraq. It means that more troops are needed in areas where the insurgence are attempting to operate. That is apparently how General Abizaid has arranged his forces. The McCain-Hagel approach is also undermined by the fact that the military commanders have not asked for any troops that they have not received, and both Rumsfeld and Bush have made it clear that if commanders request more troops they will get them. What this really means is that the critics are second guessing the military commanders on the ground.

Rumsfeld's statement that you go to war with the army you have is a truism of all wars and everyone in the military knows it. Giving the enemy the gift of time while you attempt to perfect equipment is making the perfect the enemy of the good. That kind of attitude would have meant not fighting the Germans in World War two since their tanks and other equipment was superior to those of the US.


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