Lessons of War
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MARGARET WARNER: At a town hall-style meeting in Qatar Monday, Donald Rumsfeld told the troops the Iraq conflict marked a turning point in the history of warfare.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Baghdad was liberated in less than a month, possibly the fastest march on a capital in modern military history. The war was remarkable not only for the speed and skill with which it happened, but also for what did not happen because of that speed and because of the design of the plan and the brilliant execution. When the dust is settled in Iraq, military historians will study this war. They’ll examine the unprecedented combination of power, precision, speed, flexibility, and I would add also compassion that was employed.
This much is certain: From this experience, our experience in Afghanistan as well, we’re learning lessons that will affect how the United States of America, how the Department of Defense and the services will organize, will train, and will equip– lessons that will impact budgets and procedures, training and doctrine, and affect the future success of our country for many years to come. So let there be no doubt: With the liberation of Iraq, you have transformed the country. But how you did it will help transform how we defend our country in the 21st century.
REPORTER: You talk about the vision for the 21st century. How would you portray that to us here, who are going to be going into the 21st century defending our country?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, when you think about it, the Department of Defense has historically been organized to be able to deter and defend against armies and navies and air forces. And what we’re finding is a world where the weapons are increasingly more powerful, capable of killing not just hundreds or thousands, but tens of thousands, when one thinks of biological attacks and chemical and nuclear attacks. So the task we have is a quite different one in the 21st century. It’s not conventional, it’s unconventional.
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, visiting troops in Baghdad, Rumsfeld fielded more questions about how the Iraq conflict would affect U.S. war-fighting in the future.
SPOKESMAN: Sir, do you think that our experiences in operation Iraqi freedom has validated our efforts to transition to a more strategically mobile, lighter military force?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I think that the plan and the execution of the plan in Operation Iraqi freedom has been superb. And what I want to see happen is I want to see those of you who have that experience in combined joint war-fighting, and such successful experience, bring that knowledge back into your respective services. We have a long way to go for this defense establishment of ours to get itself fixed so that it can deal with the kinds of problems we’re facing in the 21st century.
We do need to be quicker on our feet. We need to be able to do things in hours and days instead of weeks and months. We need to be able to do things with somewhat smaller footprints. We need to be able to do a variety of things. We need to be able to function with the services in a completely interconnected way. I think that the leadership, that some of the key leaders standing right behind me on this platform, have fashioned an approach to warfare which will be critically important as we go forward. So when people are writing the history books, you’re going to be in it. Thank you very much. (Cheers and applause)
MARGARET WARNER: Was this a war for the history books? We get four perspectives on that. Lucian Truscott IV grew up in an army family, graduated from West Point in 1969, but resigned his commission. He’s a freelance journalist and the author of several novels with military themes, including “Dress Gray” and “Army Blue.” James Dunnigan has written extensively about military doctrine and history, including the textbook “How to Make War.” He now runs a military affairs Web site. Patrick Lang, one of the NewsHour’s wartime military analysts, is a retired army colonel, special forces officer and Middle East intelligence analyst. And Winslow Wheeler, a longtime Capitol Hill staffer on defense issues, directed a GAO study on lessons learned after the Gulf War. He’s now a fellow with the Center for Defense Information in Washington.
Welcome, gentlemen. We just heard Donald Rumsfeld tout this war as essentially new and revolutionary. Do you agree with that, James Dunnigan? Was this really a new kind of warfare?
JAMES DUNNIGAN: Well, yes and no. In 1941, the British marched on Baghdad, took it in three weeks, out numbered, you know, 3-1. So that was from itself unique. But what was unique was the low casualty rate. I mean taking seven casualties per day per division is unprecedented, and the reason we did that was because of a lot of innovations that have been basically building up over the last 70 years.
MARGARET WARNER: What about the fact Rumsfeld and the Pentagon talked about this, about driving to Baghdad, bypassing the cities, not getting bogged down in frying to seize territory all along the way. how new is that?
JAMES DUNNINGAN: That’s an idea that’s been used successfully for about 4,000 years.
MARGARET WARNER: Lucian Truscott, your view on how or revolutionary this was?
LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV: Well, I’m not owe sure how new or revolution it was because there was a General Moore, too that outran his supply lines and won an important battle. His name was Patton. There was even a scene in a movie about it. I think what’s new in this war is we have a great general in this war, but it’s Patton in pinstripes. The great general is the person you you’ve just been watching in civilian clothes there. This was Rumsfeld’s war. It’s clear it was Rumsfeld’s war. For all of the platitudes that he’s come out with, it was Tommy Franks’ plan and so forth, how much have we heard from Tommy Franks since the war started in how much have we heard from Rumsfeld?
MARGARET WARNER: But what was it that Rumsfeld brought to the thinking of the strategy that was new?
LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV: I think that what he brought was shock and awe with a small “s” and a small “a.” Rumsfeld, it was his idea to but the troops over the line into Iraq before he started a huge great big 40-day air war. And it was his idea to move them very, very quickly, run the risk of outrunning their supply lines run the risk of being attacked by the Fedayeen. Part of this I think was due because… was because Rumsfeld knew that Saddam pretty much had a papier-mâché army by that time. But nevertheless, the thing that really interests me here… I mean I’m the grandson of a four-star general and I’ve been listening to one question for 35 years, and that is: Whatever happened to the great generals like Patton and Bradley and Eisenhower and even your grandfather?” And I don’t think that we’ve had a general in our services on that scale for 50 years. But we have one now and he’s a civilian.
MARGARET WARNER: Weigh in on this, Pat Lang.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I wouldn’t argue for a moment this wasn’t Mr. Rumsfeld’s war and that she didn’t shape the plan. It’s quite obviously that was true from the beginning. And he made it clear what he expected to be in the plan when it was submitted. So I’m not going to argue about that in the least. But I’d be very careful as Mr. Dunnigan when I think about saying there was anything really revolutionary about the way the war was fought.
The idea that that plans should be executed with great speed is something that something unexpected should be done, that you should bypass unnecessary resistance. I mean people like Von Manstein and Rummel would have been very, very familiar with concepts like that, or even the old cavalry generals. This isn’t very new. There are some things always remain the same and you have to be careful about is in war you need to have some sort of element that delivers fire on the objective, and then you’ve got to have a ground force that occupies the objective. And if you start letting those two things get out of balance too much, you’re apt to end up in a situation where you can take the objective but then you have a hard time holding it.
WINSLOW WHEELER: To answer some of these questions, I think you have to look at it in a different perspective. Right now, we don’t know what happened at any meaningful level. The after-action reports are just being written, the databases on what was used where are just being put together. Nobody’s been through the Iraqi tanks to figure out what killed them, what didn’t. Right now, there’s no data, there’s no lessons to learn that are worth warm spit. We have to go through a period of having professional evaluators and experts look at what’s actually happened. It’ll be months before even Secretary Rumsfeld knows what actually happened at a meaningful level. Between now and then, we’re going to hear a lot of stuff. We’re going to hear, like we did after Desert Storm, how wonderful all the pet rocks were. And when the data does come in, most of that will be about take those numbers and divide them by about half.
MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking here about the weapons strikes, the air strikes and how much they took out and so on.
WINSLOW WHEELER: The hits in Desert Storm, the chief of staff of the air force announced that the f-117 had an 80 percent hit rate. We went through their database bomb by bomb. They could validate about 50 percent. The navy announced that the Tomahawk had a 97 percent launch success rate, whatever that’s supposed to mean. They classified the hit rate data, it was actually about half.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, let me get James Dunnigan to weigh in on this. Do you think it’s premature to draw lessons here, or do you think there were elements in this success, James Dunnigan, that in fact we do know to be true?
JAMES DUNNIGAN: Yeah, I mean as I mentioned earlier, the casualty rate was, you know, historically very low. And there are good reasons for that. I mean we tend to forget that now we have an all-voluntary army. They’re professionals. They’re not in for two years; they’re in for three, four or more. That makes an enormous difference. Also, the training is much better. It’s superior, you know, probably the best in the world. And that has made a big difference. We’ve also managed to defeat the enemy weapons over the last, you know, 50 years. They can’t get their artillery on us, they have no air force against us. And there’s also a spirit of innovation in the armed forces, which I think Secretary Rumsfeld was alluding to when he was talking about that spirit of jointness. And that has made a tremendous difference — as Rumsfeld pointed out, we’re faster and that mix an enormous difference, no matter what you’re doing on the battlefield.
MARGARET WARNER: Lucian Truscott you earlier referred to Saddam’s forces being a paper tiger. How much did the success the strategy, the tactics, all of it really depend on having this weak foe that has been pounded for ten years by both sanctions and no fly-fly zones?
LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV: Well, I think you’re going to hear about how much it depended on when you take a look at the fact they threw out… they were fight ago war in a zone of the world where for 6,000 years they’ve been fighting wars pretty much around the clock. And they threw out the war handbook that was 6,000 years old, the first day of the war when they didn’t knock out a single communications tower anywhere. That was revolutionary, and I was really interested to see what would happen there because what in effect they did was they weaponized the media. They used the media against the Iraqi leadership in an attempt to make him sort of surrender and we’re going to find out – well, we found out how well that worked, they didn’t surrender and it was a big risk, but it was a throwing out of the whole textbook on war.
I mean you know, the book says you’ve got to keep the enemy ignorant of where you are, what you’re going to do. And I said to my wife one day, I opened up the New York Times, turned it to the back page and said, “if I was an Iraqi general I could fight the war off of this map.” They were letting them know where they were every minute, but I think there was a method behind that madness because they expected the Iraqi generals and colonels to call each other up and say, “oh, my God they’re down there next to the Chevron at Karbala.” And that was supposed to scare them and I think as it went on, it did.
MARGARET WARNER: So Pat Lang, go back, though, to Rumsfeld’s assertion that this is going to essentially provide the template for how we fight for wars and prepare for wars in the 21st century. Would that be true if there were a stronger foe, let’s say– and not that we’re going to war against the Chinese or the North Koreans, but it was a more formidable army?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, there’s a danger in that. There’s a danger in thinking here that in fact ground forces, especially heavy ground forces become increasingly unnecessary. In fact, if you subtract the third infantry division and the marines from this thing, what you have is a situation which we pound Iraq into oblivion and then they all run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off but they don’t surrender, which is what happened in the first Gulf War. They didn’t surrender before we went in on the ground against them in Kuwait. So you still have to have ground forces to have decisive action. And we killed tremendous numbers of Iraqi fighters in this thing. If those guys had fought more effectively in local pockets, like maybe some other enemy would, you would have had a somewhat different outcome probably.
WINSLOW WHEELER: Inside the good news sometimes there’s some bad news. Mr. Dunnigan was talking about the low casualties. That’s great news. The bad news is how many of those did we inflict on ourselves? There’s obviously lots of problems inside some of these data. It’s going to take months to figure these things out. We don’t know what the meaning of this war is yet.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Dunnigan, what about mistakes made? Are there any obvious mistakes made?
JAMES DUNNINGAN: The only mistake I can see they made is that they didn’t move a little faster. I mean the American army is an army that is not used to being a highly professional capable peacetime army. That’s unique in American history. And if anything, you saw that in some of the background chatter, you know, during the war between Rumsfeld and his generals and some of the pundits that he was being too aggressive when it turned out he probably wasn’t being aggressive enough. I mean, you study military history and you’ll find out when it comes to speed, you can’t have enough of it.
MARGARET WARNER: Mistakes?
LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV: You know, I think that as important as the lessons learned about this war are the lessons that we haven’t learned yet. And that is one of the key ones that really, really interests me is the whole concept and the theology that’s built up around precision bombing. I wonder if precision bombing is doing enough damage to a country to cow the populace sufficiently that when you want to democratize them, it actually works.
There’s a lot of comparisons between Iraq and Germany and Japan before this war and during the war. I think those comparisons are folly. I lived in Germany in 1955, ten years after the war ended, and you could walk blocks in cities like Meintz and never see anything higher than a half of a cobblestone. We killed hundreds of thousands of civilians that were nasty, nasty civilians, Golden Higgins’ Book proved that the German’s wholesale supported Hitler on every single level. And I think that the justification for killing so many of them was because, and we found out in his book, was because they weren’t innocent civilians. They were guilty civilians. Precision bombs avoid civilian casualties and there’s a theology built up around this, and I’m not sure that wars are going to be won with precision bombs that can be carried into pieces that mean anything.
WINSLOW WHEELER: When we killed millions of Japanese and German civilians, we killed all kinds. We killed lots of true innocents. I don’t think it’s a particularly helpful doctrine to suggest that we should be running around in the Middle East killing civilians.
LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV: That’s not what I suggested.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Wait a minute. He does have a good point there in that and it was very clear that the precision bombing of Baghdad and places like this did not in fact intimidate the Iraqis. Look at the way they’re acting in fact. These people are not cowed in the least. Their own forces were defeated, but as a people, they certainly don’t act like they were beaten.
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE OF GUEST: There were shots in that war…
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Mr. Dunnigan in here because he’s not at the table. Mr. Dunnigan, do you think that the post-war period, that there are any mistakes coming to the fore now?
JAMES DUNNINGAN: Yeah, I mean there’s obviously with a problem with the civil affairs. The special forces had a much larger role in this war, largely as a result of their success in Afghanistan. But the special forces have always been looked on by the generals as a bunch of, you know beatnik crazy people. But they are really the soldiers of the 21st century. In fact I have a book coming out next month called “The Perfect Soldier, “which goes into the professionalization of the American military and adopting the techniques of the special forces and commandos. And I think you’ll see a lot more of that in the future. And I think one of the mistakes people will look upon, the Iraq war, is the fact this we didn’t use these guys enough. And in fact we used them a lot mo are aware of, and that’s one of the stories that’s going to come out in the next few months.
MARGARET WARNER: We have a very short time, Pat Lang, quickly, Rumsfeld has always wanted to transfer in the military cons form the military, quote unquote. And the Pentagon has fought him. Do you think this war… that the pentagon will now sign up for what he wants to do?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: No. I think that the people are going to continue to believe in what they believe in, but he’s going to have to have his way in a lot of things. One of the things that worries me about special forces in this war is the fact that we ended up trying to did things like capture the city of Mosul with 200 men with rifles who are riding around in SUV’s, and I would hate to see 200 of these fine guys get wiped out some place.
WINSLOW WHEELER: Secretary Rumsfeld needs to take a breath and stop gloating about people who criticized him during the war. We need to sit back and understand this conflict, and then decide, in this type of situation, how we should posture ourselves. There’s going to be plenty of other situations. The force that did well in this war may not do well in North Korea, if that ever comes to pass. We need to sit back and take a breath, and he’s not doing himself any service by the kind of statement he made the other day about who was wrong and who was right. The best way to do that is do what President Roosevelt did at the end of the World War II. He commissioned his secretary of war to do a thorough, long-term study of what happened. And that study was not under the control of the Department of War or the Department of the Navy at the time; it was under control of people who were trying to find out the truth, the strategic bombing survey was an excellent model for him to follow.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, thank you, all four. We have to leave it there.