TCS Daily

Everyone's a Critic

By Dale Franks - April 3, 2003 12:00 AM

The media blather about the "unexpected setbacks" to the coalition's war plan has blown up into full-scale criticism of the plan. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has decried its "incoherence". Twice-disgraced television reporter Peter Arnett called it a "failure". A legion of retired generals has come out of the woodwork to declare that it called for too few troops.

None of these critics is actually privy to the war plan, of course, and therefore cannot know what the planners intended to accomplish. Their comments about the war plan - like mine - are nothing more than speculation; however, we can judge the quality of such criticisms by comparing them to what is actually occurring on the battlefield.

Many in the press seem to think that the whole thrust of the war plan was to assume that the Iraqi regime would simply collapse as soon as we punctured its outer defenses. That implies that CENTCOM planners blithely took it for granted that they could walk into Baghdad right after breakfast, watch the Iraqis conveniently fall apart, and be back at the Doha Officers Club by 5:00 p.m. for cocktails.

I seriously doubt that. That just isn't how it's done. Professional military planners with two or three decades of military experience don't just assume that the enemy will obligingly surrender simply because we point our rifles menacingly in their direction.

That doesn't mean CENTCOM wasn't at least thinking about the possibility of an Iraqi collapse, however.

As a general rule, if you can strike the enemy at no cost to yourself, then you take the shot. It's likely that CENTCOM planners decided that a dash for Baghdad might cause an Iraqi collapse, but reckoned that even if it did not, our forces would still be in an advantageous position, on the whole. This would put us in a win-win situation.

If the Iraqis fell apart, then we could be in and out in a week, very few civilians would be seriously disturbed, and the whole war would be over in a flash. If the Iraqis did not collapse, however, it would still be a win for us. We'd control two-thirds of the country, which would give us an enormous jump on prosecuting the war by allowing us to do several things concurrently.

First, we could use captured airbases in Iraq, allowing us to increase our sortie rate for attacks on Iraqi forces. Second, we could secure our supply lines by mopping up or isolating centers of resistance, while at the same time holding any remaining Iraqi forces inside a tight ring around Baghdad that could be bombed around the clock. Finally, we could then bring in the 4th Infantry Division and some armored cavalry units to reinforce an eventual assault on Republican Guard units around Baghdad, if necessary.

As it turned out, the Iraqis did collapse, at least as far as the regular Iraqi Army was concerned. Iraq's regular army is - or was - larger than the Republican Guard. It withdrew from the battlefield almost as quickly as the war started, however, and never provided any resistance to speak of. That the Republican Guard forces around Baghdad did not collapse is not a sign that the war plan failed, merely that the most advantageous option failed to occur.

So, even though the Republican Guard didn't collapse, we still controlled most of the country, and all of its airspace at the end of our initial dash towards Baghdad. Subsequently, we were able to secure our lines of supply at little cost, despite the best efforts of irregular forces like the Fedayeen Saddam, whose main accomplishment was to die in large numbers while causing us minor inconvenience.

This hardly seems like "incoherence", much less "failure".

There still remains the criticism of many former generals who say that insufficient ground forces were allotted to the campaign. In a sense this is partially true, in that the original plan called for the 4th Infantry Division to open a northern front by invading Iraq from Turkey. That it didn't happen is not a failure of Pentagon planning, however. One must also keep in mind that no general ever believes that he can't use additional forces.

In any event, the best reply to such criticisms is to point to the actual situation on the ground in Iraq.

At the outset of the war, CENTCOM had several objectives, all of which were critically important. First and foremost, of course, was the defeat of the Iraqi regime. At the same time, coalition forces had to prevent the regime from destroying Iraq's oil wells in order to preserve them for the Iraqi people. The threat of missile launches from the Western Desert had to be eliminated in order to prevent strikes on other countries that would widen the conflict. Finally, the Iraqi regime had to be prevented from using its armed forces to create huge numbers of civilian casualties.

The war plan has so far accomplished all of these subsidiary objectives, and has moved rapidly to complete it's ultimate objective, the removal of Iraq's Baathist regime. In furtherance of that, the Baghdad and Medina divisions of the Republican Guard have been eliminated as coherent fighting forces, and coalition troops are within 20 miles of Baghdad.

Most importantly, in every engagement between the coalition and the Iraqis, the Iraqi forces have been defeated utterly, at little or no cost at all to the coalition forces. Coalition losses have been fewer than 100 killed in action while Iraqi losses are estimated in the tens of thousands.

So far, it seems, we have a sufficiency of force to accomplish all of our objectives.

Any war plan, no matter how well-conceived, will always have it's critics, perhaps especially among professional military officers, many of whom still argue endlessly among themselves about battles that were fought centuries ago. The hallmark of a helpful criticism is that it accurately reflects the objective reality of the situation on the battlefield. Criticisms that do not meet the test of that reality are, quite simply, useless.

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