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douglas macgregor

When the Bush administration came in, a lot of the rhetoric was that "the grown-ups are finally coming to town." How was that received by the uniformed military?

I think people in the military in general, from top to bottom, assumed that a Republican administration would be an improvement over the Clinton administration simply because the Clinton administration, in the minds of the, so to say, "pure war fighters," had emphasized everything other than the readiness to deploy and fight.

And when [Donald] Rumsfeld is picked as the secretary of defense?

To be quite frank, people were very surprised. Secretary Rumsfeld, of course, had been there in 1975, but his only recent connection to Defense at all was the Space and Missile Commission. And so he was seen as someone who was a strong advocate for strong missile defense, but not someone who was heavily engaged in defense policy and defense or military affairs over the intervening period since he'd been secretary of defense.

When Rumsfeld comes in, there is, across the river at the State Department, a formidable former Defense official, Colin Powell.

Well, there was obviously an immediate competition. You may recall that Richard Armitage's name was mentioned as a possible deputy secretary of defense, who, by the way, I think would have made a brilliant deputy secretary of defense. But largely due to his connection to Gen. Powell, people felt uncomfortable with that idea, perhaps because they thought that this would open up a channel of influence for Gen. Powell. Who knows? We could speculate all day long about those possibilities, but there was obviously a gulf that that opened up very rapidly between the Defense Department and the State Department.

What's the battle with Gen. [Eric] Shinseki all about?

Well, you know, you could speculate on that as well. I mean, Gen. Shinseki certainly didn't confide in me, and neither did Secretary Rumsfeld, on what bothered each other. And clearly, Gen. Shinseki was very well connected to the Democrats, particularly in the Senate, and I'm sure that that did not go over well. He has aspirations in that political realm which is unusual, I think, for four-star generals. Again, I'm sure that was not well received.

photo of macgregor

A tank commander in Desert Storm and currently a Senior Military Fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, Col. Douglas Macgregor (U.S. Army-Ret.) is a well-known maverick in the military establishment and the author of Breaking the Phalanx, a book on how to reform the Army. Donald Rumsfeld read some of his ideas and as the Pentagon was formulating its war plan, he was invited to consult with military officials. "They brought me in and said: 'We're looking at Iraq. The chief of staff of the Army says it will take at least 560,000 troops.' Well, of course I burst out laughing immediately, because those are more troops than we have in the active component. Secondly, the Iraqi enemy was always so weak. Why would you want that many forces?" This interview was conducted on July 23, 2004.

In 1997, Macgregor wrote a book featuring an eerily prescient imagined scenario: a war between a U.S.-led coalition and an allied Iraq and Iran in the year 2003. The book eventually found its way into the hands of Donald Rumsfeld, who read it shortly before planning for the war in Iraq began. Click here to read excerpts from Macgregor's scenario. >

But there were other issues. One was the tendency of all of your ground-force generals to equate capability with mass. Every problem on every battlefield inevery war, as far as the generals that you've got right now are concerned, can be solved by lots and lots of soldiers. Flood the place with enough soldiers, and ultimately you will achieve victory.

...You've got to keep in mind that the Joint Staff as it's currently structured is designed to obstruct. It's designed to give the services  leeway to veto anything that comes up that is new.

To Secretary Rumsfeld's credit, he rejected that and said, "No, that's not enough; it's what you put into the battle" -- the composition, the quality of the force and so forth -- that makes a difference. I happen to agree with him on that point. Now, I didn't agree necessarily with ultimately the new composition of what came down the line, and I'm not even sure that that originates with Secretary Rumsfeld. But my point is, capability does not necessarily equal mass, and that was a real sticking point.

Shinseki, I know, is viewed by many as a leader of reform himself. Agreed?

No, not at all. I think Gen. Shinseki's preoccupation from the beginning was to preserve the old structure, and all that would ever would be done would tinker on the margins of the old structure. I briefed Gen. Shinseki personally in 1997 on the sweeping changes and reforms that I strongly advocated when I was still lieutenant colonel, and his response to me at that point was very clear: "We have to be able to mobilize millions of men to fight a peer competitor in 2010, to put 10 million men in Army uniform." Well, my jaw hit the floor. I can't imagine any war in the future where you would want 10 million men in Army uniform. I mean, it's not the direction [in] which technology and the world is taking us.

And then secondly, he said we won Desert Storm: "Our doctrine, tactics and organization were validated for 20 years." And once again, I was completely shocked, because I didn't see much evidence that Desert Storm validated anything other than that any European army can quickly dispatch any Arab army in the world.

So the notion that Gen. Shinseki was this strident reformer or advocate for fundamental change I think is ludicrous nonsense. Ultimately, he invests in this wheeled armor based on this peacekeeping experience in Bosnia [and] Kosovo, and that's really what wheeled armor is used for, in very low-threat, low-intensity environments. And then secondly, he buys something that he said at the time was supposed to be "new" because, he said, "If we don't buy something new, no one will really think anything is changing."

We were, as people used to say, "electrifying the horse cavalry." We weren't fundamentally changing anything. The policies, the problems we have today in Iraq, for that matter, with regard to no rotational system for units, no rotational readiness, a personnel system that doesn't provide for cohesive combat power -- all of those things were raised in the 1990s by me and others. Any reform was rejected out of hand, and Gen. Shinseki had a major role in rejecting those reforms. ... The Army's timelines for any change stretched out for 20 years. In fact, Gen. Shinseki's preferred timeline originally was 2031, at which point in time, of course, whatever change you thought you were contemplating today, in 2031 would be completely irrelevant.

9/11 happens. How does it change the way the secretary of defense does his job and the way that the military views its role in the society?

First of all, let's distinguish the military from the Army. The Army continued to see itself as essentially designed to fight wars on the scale of World War II. Gen. Shinseki and the senior generals did not regard Afghanistan as anything more than a police action, didn't necessarily buy into the idea that this was a place where the Army should be heavily engaged, and any attempt to bring in Army conventional ground forces was met with the usual response of "It will take six months, and we'll need the entire 18th Airborne Corps," and so forth and so on.

This is not unusual. Historically, if you go back over the last 50 years and you look at the Army, the Army senior leadership usually responds with a bill that is so high, the assumption is that any reasonable politician will balk and forget the idea. This was used in 1990. Gen. [Norman] Schwarzkopf said: "Well, if you really want me to do these other things, Mr. Secretary, you're going to have to give me another corps. I'll need another 100,000 men." And what he didn't expect, I think, at the time was the answer, "You've got it," at which point in time it became impossible not to conduct the operation.

Well, this time you didn't have the additional combat troops, but you had an administration that was determined to conduct the operation. Ultimately, the Afghans turned out to be even more unimpressive than the Iraqis were in 1991; they folded relatively quickly. The bad news was that the Al Qaeda elements in that country that we should have had forces on the ground to capture or destroy ultimately escaped.

We've all read the famous reports from Bob Woodward and others about a meeting at Camp David within four days of 9/11, where Deputy Secretary [Paul] Wolfowitz and Secretary Rumsfeld argued strongly for Iraq. Were you surprised when you first heard that Iraq was on the target list?

No. No, not at all. But I think you've got to understand, there are different reasons why different people inside the administration and inside the military saw a return to Iraq as inevitable. I cannot speak for Secretary Rumsfeld. I'm familiar with the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] argument. That, by the way, was never my rationale for supporting intervention in Iraq, which I strongly supported and still do.

But it had much more to do with the failure of the mission in '91. We simply failed in '91. Not only was our offensive a failure in that it did not destroy the foundation for Saddam Hussein's power, which was his Republican Guard Corps, and then allowed them to escape over the Euphrates River to restore him to power, and then our failure to intervene in that, which would have been quite easy. We'd taken very, very few forces. Then we impose these sanctions that did nothing but inflict terrible, terrible damage and misery on the people of that country, many of whom had hoped that we would, in fact, rescue them from this terrible set of circumstances. There was always a reluctance to do the one thing that made sense, which was to go in on the ground with a small force straight into Baghdad and simply put this regime, [which] was always far weaker than it appeared to be, out of business.

9/11 comes along, and it seems reasonable to assume that this unfinished business in Iraq is something that will be taken care of. And people should also not lose sight of the fact that you're in the strategic jugular of the Western world, the Persian Gulf. Iraq is sitting on top of some of the finest crude oil in the world. And there has always been and there always will be a concern that these oil resources could fall into the wrong hands and suddenly create enormous surpluses of cash that can be used for the wrong purposes.

So we have a permanent interest there that goes well beyond just what happened to us in 9/11. The other thing is, keep in mind, 9/11 shouldn't have been a dramatic surprise, even though it was, because we'd been at war with the kinds of people that inflicted that damage since the 1970s, when our embassy was seized in Tehran by the first radical Islamic state that emerged in the region, Iran.

So I didn't see any of it as surprising. ... I never heard any other sinister agendas that suggested that this was some sort of secret conspiracy to go after Iraq using 9/11. Iraq was always there. It was always a problem. It was always a sore point because we had failed in '91 -- something that nobody wants to stand up and admit, but we did. I was there. I remember it vividly.

How good was their army when you fought and killed them?

It was terrible. The Iraqi army was never a significant problem. The problem in 1991 was the same problem that people worried about in 2003: weapons of mass destruction. And we shouldn't forget that when we did get into Iraq in '91, Saddam Hussein and his scientists were much further along in the development of weapons of mass destruction than we had anticipated. In fact, the Central Intelligence Agency had been wrong in its assessment. They were years ahead of where we thought they were. ... But the Iraqi army? Absolutely of no consequence whatsoever. The whole operation in 1991 could have been conducted in a couple of weeks with a fraction of the force that went there to do the job.

That, again, is something that no one wanted to admit, especially in the military at high levels, because you always like to bask in the sun of victory regardless of how weak and incompetent or inept your opponent may have been. But there was another issue, and that was the possibility that if people discovered just how weak the Iraqi military was, they would say, "Well, then we don't need all of the forces that we have." And that's a valid concern. There are always people out there willing to shift resources out of defense. And in some cases, those are valid, but in some cases, they're not valid. And the fear at the time was, if we admit to the weakness of the enemy, then we'll lose resources.

There were those at the time, and still until this last war, who said [what] "Desert Storm represented was validation of the Powell Doctrine, complete proof that we were over Vietnam, absolute definitive proof that we could do almost anything we wanted in the world as long as we kept fueling the engine."

Right. Well, of course these things are all very misleading. What Desert Storm turned out to be for the Army, sadly, was what Waterloo was to the British army. After Waterloo had been fought and won, the emphasis was in maintaining the army that they thought had won the Battle of Waterloo in perpetuity, without any reform, without any change, without any structural modification. The result was that by the time the British had to go elsewhere and fight, such as the Crimean War in 1854, it was a disaster. And thousands of British soldiers suffered terribly as a consequence. In many respects, that's what happened to the Army after Desert Storm. Desert Storm was suddenly enshrined as a sacred monument that had to be imitated ad nauseam, forever. But military affairs never stand still.

There was a lot of mythology connected with Desert Storm. A fraction of the force could have been used differently, and it would have been over very quickly. Three or four days of air strikes were more than adequate. And the Air Force pilots knew from the time we decided to go in there that they had no threat in the air, that the Iraqi pilots would fly into the ground in confusion before they had a chance to shoot them down. We were the ones on the ground, or I should say [it was] the generals on the ground that continued to insist on inflating the threat. And unfortunately, since the generals never came forward to see what was actually happening on the ground, they never saw the weakness of the enemy, and they didn't believe the reports that were submitted saying that the enemy is irrelevant. And again, you've got people who have an interest in inflating the quality of the enemy. If you step forward and say, "Well, this was nothing more than a expeditionary operation on the scale of the British army in the Sudan in 1899," suddenly everything's deflated. You don't want to say that, so instead you try to depict this as the fifth largest army in the world, that it fought the Iran war and so forth, not pointing out that mowing down thousands of Iranians with AK-47s isn't terribly challenging either.

We rip through Afghanistan in whatever it was, four weeks, and start heading inevitably, inexorably toward at least serious planning for war in Iraq. What role do you play in the preparation for that war?

There was no real enthusiasm at all at high levels in the Army for this idea. Again, this is consistent with Army culture. ... And I was suddenly called -- this is the first week in December -- to a meeting with a representative, a personal representative, of the secretary of defense. And it was a very nice meeting. They served excellent coffee. They brought me in and said: "We're looking at Iraq. The chief of staff of the Army says it will take at least 560,000 troops." Well, of course I burst out laughing immediately, because those are more troops than we have in the active component. Secondly, the Iraqi enemy was always so weak. Why would you want that many forces?

When I burst out laughing, the representative said, "That's interesting, because that was Secretary Rumsfeld's reaction, and the secretary would like to know what you think." Well, I was rather surprised. Why does he want to know what I think? And he said, "He's read your book, Breaking the Phalanx, that you published back in January of '97," in which I have a chapter that talks about intervention in Iraq in response to Iraqi moves and activities, and the whole thing is over in two weeks, and we use fewer than 50,000 troops to do it.

Well, he said, "What do you think?" And I said, "Fifty thousand troops," assuming that we are going to go in from a standing start, or what later was called a cold start, and we can rapidly reinforce as necessary. But I said: "The real emphasis has to be on getting rapidly to Baghdad on a couple of axes and using mobile armored forces for that purpose. And once we get there, we remove the government, but we don't want to fight with the army, because ultimately the Iraqi army's going to have a key role in the postwar environment. They're going to have to maintain security, and there are many Iraqi army generals, based upon my experience, once again, in '91, who would be delighted to cooperate with us and could form some sort of interim government."

I said: "Bottom line is, the secretary's right. The enemy's very weak. This will not take very long," at which point in time I was told: "Well, great! Can you put together a plan?" And I said: "Sure. How soon do you want it?" He said, "Well, could you get it to us in the next two or three weeks?" I said, "Of course," and I went back, and I worked, and I put together a briefing. And that briefing was delivered on New Year's Eve, 2001.

I read in Bob Woodward's book that when Rumsfeld asked CENTCOM [Central Command], he was told three years to reevaluate and rethink the attack plan, and it was going to take you three weeks. What's the difference?

You've got to keep in mind that the Joint Staff as it's currently structured is designed to obstruct, not facilitate. It's a multi-service Staff. It's designed to give the services and their representatives on the Staff maximum leeway to veto anything that comes up that is new or anything that may not serve the interests of a particular service. So the notion of getting anything quickly out of the Joint Staff under those conditions or circumstances is simply unrealistic.

Did you meet the secretary during any of this?


But you had a sense that what you were saying and how you were acting was music to his ears?

Oh, I knew that. I knew that because I had other sources up there in the office of the secretary of defense who were telling me that, you know, your stuff is all over the inner circle; people are very pleased with it; they agree with you; they think you're right. And the problem, of course, was always "What do we do with the generals? How do we get Gen. [Tommy] Franks on board with this?," because Gen. Franks walked in with the standard plan that had been sitting around for years, which was essentially a repetition of Desert Storm.

Did you ever go down to CENTCOM and meet with those guys?

Yes. I received a call from CENTCOM, from Gen. Franks' staff group director who was a full colonel, who said, "The secretary of defense has directed the boss to bring you down to CENTCOM for three days." This would have been about the 12th of January, about 10 to 12 days after I had submitted the plan. And I said: "Well, that's interesting. What does he want to talk to me about?" And he said, "Well, he wants to talk to you about Iraq." And I said: "Okay. Is there anything else I need to know?" He said, "No."

What I discovered was that the people that were working for Gen. Franks were, with a few key exceptions, very much in line with the 1990 thinking: "Oh, this could be very dangerous. This could be very bad. We'll need at least a quarter of a million troops." Of course when I told them that I thought that was utter nonsense, and I talked about relying on CH-47 helicopters and C1-30s to fly out to the open desert land [to] refuel, resupply armored forces, when I talked about attacking without any warning, a cold start, avoiding all of the forces in the South and making an end run straight up into Baghdad, let's simply say that they viewed me as someone who is clearly not balanced or sane.

In their estimation, this was a very potent force ... and there were all sorts of concerns about the use of chemicals. And I kept arguing: "Well, if you use a force that's smaller than the enemy expects, you seize the bridges early with some key special forces, confuse the enemy as to where you're really going to cross, then ultimately you won't have to worry about those because you'll outpace the enemy. And once you're closing in on Baghdad, he's going to be very reluctant to use those weapons at such close proximity to his own capital." It was not well received.

So you come back and write a memo. What do you say? Who did you send the memo to in the first place?

Well, I delivered 11 copies of the memorandum to the representative from the office of the secretary of defense. I was told 48 hours later that these copies had been distributed to the national command authorities [NCA]. That means the key people in the White House: the vice president; his chief of staff, Mr. [Lewis "Scooter"] Libby; Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, [Undersecretary] for Policy [Douglas] Feith, [Undersecretary for Intelligence] Dr. [Stephen] Cambone, all of the people in the so-called inner circle.

And in this memorandum, I outlined the meeting, and I pointed out that Gen. Franks had listened to me after he talked for about 15 minutes. He said, "What do you think?" And in 10 minutes, I very rapidly ran down the concept of operation, which was a smaller force than the enemy expects; standing start; no warning; key is to get the bridges; sustain rapid movement; avoid contact with the enemy as much as possible, [in] particular the Army, which I didn't think wanted to fight; get to Baghdad very quickly to capture as many of the government as you possibly could. And I estimated that if we did this correctly, we could get there in four or five days, without too much trouble at all, especially if you used armored forces.

I talked about far fewer light infantry. And then I talked about bringing in 15,000 light infantrymen directly into Baghdad once the place had fallen. And I completely dismissed out of hand the notion that there would be any significant defense of Baghdad. Didn't see any evidence for that at all. The Iraqi army had never trained for urban warfare -- neither had the Republican Guards -- and I simply didn't see them putting up much resistance. My concern was get to the government very, very quickly. Then the outlying administrative structure will collapse.

And Gen. Franks generally signed up for that. He was trying to sort through in his mind: "Should things be sequential? Should they be simultaneous?" I argued strongly for simultaneity. I did not think we needed to bomb very much. I didn't think there was anything over there left to bomb. We'd been bombing this place forever. And I urged that not a single bomb be dropped until we were well over the Euphrates River.

Were the words "shock and awe" used in that meeting?

No. Listen, overawing the Iraqi [army] is not very difficult if you use armor. In the Middle East, you get further with a tank and a kind word than you do with just a kind word. So you've got to use armor, number one. Number two, it was critical, as I outlined in the briefing, that you bring in Iraqi army types relatively quickly; in other words, that they'd be treated with respect, especially if they didn't fight. And some people may not be aware of it, but actually, Iraqi prisoners that had been captured that were listening to radio transmissions and were told that Republican Guard forces were being attacked actually cheered ... [and] if we could use any of it on our way up there so we ride in with Iraqi flags flying as well as American flags, that that'd be a good thing.

The generals you met with at CENTCOM -- how many of them had actually seen blood in combat?

Well, the key Army generals had not seen any. ... This is not a new phenomenon. There is nothing that says to be advanced to senior rank, you must have been in combat. What concerned me, though, was that the general officers that I spoke to while I was at CENTCOM, and then subsequently the general officers whose names were revealed to me who would ultimately be conducting the campaign, were people who had never been under fire, and certainly had not been under fire in Iraq. And I said, "It's very useful to have people in command who know the Arabs, who know the Iraqis." … Of course, I had volunteered to go myself, but that was never going to happen because of the bitterness and resentment the Army generals felt towards me. You've got to keep in mind that the notion that a colonel or a lieutenant colonel would stand up and suggest something different from a general in the United States Army is impossible. To do that is effectively the end, which of course is what it meant for me. ...

One of the things that we discovered in '91, with the exception of the Republican Guard Corps, was that you didn't have to kill very many people; that you could shoot two or three, and you would get mass surrenders; that most of these people, most of the time, really didn't want to fight and didn't want to die. The Republican Guard did, but dispatching them was not difficult. You're talking about the absence of any teamwork, any effective training, very weak leadership, no noncommissioned officer corps, essentially lots of enlisted men and then privileged officers where there wasn't much leadership from the front. Given the sanctions and the debilitating impact of these sanctions on their military establishment, it seemed inconceivable to me that what we would face in 2003 would be very difficult to defeat. But if you hadn't seen these people in action, there was always a danger of believing that there was an enemy there who wasn't. And ultimately, I think that's what happened.

So the months roll on. Brent Scowcroft is writing in the Wall Street Journal that preemption is against the moral code of the U.S. Colin Powell is saying, "Please go to the United Nations, at least." I think it's on the first anniversary of September 11 that the president actually speaks at the U.N. It's a political process that seems anathema to what you've advocated.

Yes. Well, initially remember, there was an understanding that going to the U.N. was a hazardous affair. President Clinton had wisely opted out of that when he decided to support the Kosovo air campaign. And at the time since I was involved with that, it was made very clear to me that it's far easier to get forgiveness within the United Nations than it is to get permission.

The United Nations and the Joint Staff are a lot alike. They can support, they can back up, but they don't exist to initiate. When that decision was made, it was inevitable that months would drag on, months of time, and we would end up attacking far later than we wanted to, which meant a deterioration of the weather. Remember that one of the key concerns was always to go in when it was cooler. It's very hard on soldiers. One hundred-sixteen-degree heat is brutal for any American or European soldier in that environment. That's why, ideally, early October would have been much better.

So from the time you write your memo until you know it's actually going to happen, what's going on inside the Pentagon?

Well, Secretary Rumsfeld was involved in what you might call a seesaw battle with the Army general officers, senior leadership, on this notion of how many forces. And at one point it shot up to over 200,000, and then it shot down to 68,000. ... The bottom line was that the secretary finally says: "Enough is enough. You've got two divisions. Go with it." The problems that we then began to see were problems of a tendency to see an enemy that wasn't there, which was inevitable. All of these things militated against rapidity, against rapid movement. And unfortunately, we pull up in front of Baghdad, and the Army leadership says, "It's time to stop." We spent five and a half days, and we sent the Air Force out to bomb what turned out to be, for the most part, a nonexistent enemy. Lots of empty vehicles. There's now a report that is being published by the Army War College that questions all the lessons learned. It points out there wasn't much of an enemy out there. How can you learn lessons defeating an enemy who is so weak, so incompetent and so inept that he's incapable of presenting any real resistance?

This idea that the Iraqi army, and certainly Republican Guard and the Fedayeen, melted away on purpose, with the intention of coming back later and picking us off if we stayed as an occupying force -- do you buy that?

No. I think, first of all, the army didn't intend to fight; that was very clear. I mean, if you have dozens of your generals executed on a routine basis all through the 1990s, how excited are you likely to be to die for Saddam Hussein? I think that you need to distinguish the vast majority of Iraqi soldiers, over 100,000, who had absolutely no loyalty to the Baathist Party structure at all, from the few Baathist thugs, if you will, who knew they had nowhere else to go once the regime fell. And we killed large numbers of them. Probably didn't kill enough of them...

Now, with regard to the army, the army goes home. And I think you can find plenty of evidence for this. In fact, we've seen some articles recently where Iraqi generals were interviewed, and they fully expected to be called back. They expected to be rewarded for their nonparticipation. Ultimately, we reward them by throwing them out of work. You're talking about a country where the top priority has to be restoring power and creating order and solving joblessness. There is already too much joblessness, to the point where everybody in the nation was on the dole.

Well, we took it over, and one of the easy ways to end the jobless problem is to get all of these young men, all of whom had gone home with their RPGs and AKs, and rapidly reconstitute them in an army under their own officers. Would it have been a perfect solution? Probably not. But the whole solution in these kinds of operations, if you go back and look at the British or the French or anyone else who's operated in the Arab world for any length of time, is to rapidly back out, that is, with your own force; to move into the background and to push forward the local capabilities that are there; to work with the local people, the tribal sheiks, the clerical structures, to work with them and ultimately to pay them, to subsidize them, because they have no other means of support. Saddam Hussein was the only game in town. You had no choice but to take subsidies from him and do his bidding, or you would starve.

We had to fill that vacuum. And I think with the military, the Iraqi military, we could have easily done that. There were even members of the Republican Guard who were willing to work with us. And by throwing them out of work, absolutely rejecting them -- which didn't happen immediately; it took a month or two for this to take effect -- we essentially fed the insurgency which at the outset was very, very minor. And we recruited for the insurgency, subsequently, in a lot of other ways because we asked American soldiers to go into an environment they didn't understand. None of us spends a great deal of time in the Islamic world. The cultural sensitivity isn't there; the understanding isn't there. And if you don't spend any time in that part of the world, there's a very, very unhealthy tendency to dismiss the people who live there as being something less than they are because they're different. They don't have the same standards of hygiene, the same standards of behavior that we adhere to. They can't. It's not their fault. That's the way the society is structured. But when you put American soldiers and Marines in that environment, it's very easy to start dehumanizing your potential adversary. It's also easy to see enemies in places where they aren't, to misinterpret behavior. We weren't prepared for any of that. That's why it was so critical to bring people in that country into the police and military very, very quickly. We can't police those places.

By September 2003, there's this amazing moment where the secretary flies over to Baghdad, and the press is saying: "What about this insurgency? Isn't this terrible? Isn't this a failure of the policy?" And he says, "We're painting orphanages; we're helping people."

Well, all of the Iraqis we had worked with said: "Number one: civil order and security. Number two: power restoration. Number three: jobs." They sang that particular song day in and day out for months. From the time that we even got close to the border with Iraq, they said, "Those are your top three priorities." If you address those early on; in other words, you arrive with a civil order, new rules of engagement, psy-ops teams driving down the street, speaking Arabic, saying: "Go back to your homes. Police, stay on duty. If you are seen on the streets and are carrying a weapon, you will be shot. If you loot or commit acts of criminality, you will be shot."

But for whatever reason, that didn't happen. The generals did not plan any of that. And I think that it might be useful to ask them why they didn't. But to say that they didn't because they weren't told to do it doesn't resonate strongly with me. ... If you look at counterinsurgencies, counterinsurgencies are successfully dealt with when you make it very clear that you are not there to conquer; you are not there to occupy. What you really want to do is create conditions of stability and order. To do that, you need the support of the population. That means that they need to look to their police; they need to look to their military. But you can provide the invincible fist that is behind them. ...

Ultimately, we ended [up] behaving, I'm afraid, a lot like the British soldiers in Ulster in the early1970s, where they incarcerated thousands of Irish Catholics without trial, held them for long periods. And about the only thing that the British army managed to do in the early '70s when they intervened in Ulster was to recruit for the IRA [Irish Republican Army]. In the Arab world, you shoot one person, you've now alienated a hundred people in the man's family and tribe. If shoot several, if you injure several, if you incarcerate several, you run terrible risks of alienating large numbers of people. Now, some would argue we didn't have any choice. I'm not sure that's true. We were trying, we thought, to deal with an insurgency effectively, and I think what we did is make it worse. We incarcerated, it's estimated, over 46,000 people. And it's been made clear that less 10 percent of that number is really guilty of anything that justified incarceration. And in the meantime, their families were told nothing. Imagine the consequences in our country for that kind of behavior.

People have told us the Army is very close to being broken, if it hasn't been broken already. What do you think?

I think it is. I think it is, absolutely. The stop losses are symptomatic of it. People inside the force are very frustrated and very unhappy. The 12-month tours are a catastrophe. No one wants to enlist to do that sort of work. The people who will enlist are people that are good people, but they have no choice. But your enlistments and your retention are way down. People are frustrated with the chain of command that didn't listen to them, frustrated with their inability to affect any change, frustrated that no one would take seriously their experience, because now you've got soldiers sergeants, lieutenants and captains with infinitely more combat experience than the people commanding them. We need to listen to them.

And what would they say?

They would build a different force from the one that is currently being fielded. They would tell you that your battalions are too small and the brigade formations are too small. They certainly subscribe to my view that you don't need any divisions, but you need much more combat power at the lowest level, and you need a great deal less overhead.

I talked to a retired general who said he had stayed when many of his colleagues were leaving at the end of the Vietnam War because he was "by God, never going to see it happen again." He finds himself at the end of the Iraq war thinking that after 26 years, he's lost the struggle, and we're more or less back where we started.

That was a citizen-soldier Army full of draftees who didn't want to be there, an Army with policies that made no sense, an Army whose tactics were flawed, an Army that had no strategy for victory and ultimately fell apart in the process. That should not be repeated, and I certainly subscribe to that view.

The problem is, we don't have a citizen-soldier Army full of draftees who don't want to be there. We have the best soldiers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains we've ever had. We don't need the World War II, 1942 force structure, which is what we rebuilt in the 1970s after Vietnam. We rebuilt the Army for the war we thought we wanted to fight. That was the war in Central Europe against the Russians. And we said: "We don't ever want to fight another counterinsurgency. We don't want to go to another place like Vietnam." And suddenly anything that was different from the World War II scenario in Central Europe was unacceptable. It was another potential Vietnam. I remember somebody telling me that Kosovo was Somalia with trees; that Bosnia and Kosovo were potential Vietnams; Afghanistan was a potential Vietnam; Iraq was a potential Vietnam. Suddenly, everything other than the sort of Desert Storm, World War II, massive-force-deployment, short-war departure was a potential Vietnam.

I don't think that makes any sense. We have to be an agile instrument of statecraft. We have to do what the civilian leadership appointed over us tells us to do. ... And this is not Vietnam by a long shot. It never was. Have we sustained casualties? Yes. Have we sustained some we could have avoided? Yes. Could things today be different from the way they are had we done business differently last year? Yes. That's what we ought to take away from this, not that this is another Vietnam.

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posted oct. 26, 2004

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