Last summer, the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) prepared a quick look at the military lessons to be learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom. It stressed the battlefield synergies made possible by greater jointness, adaptive planning and integration of conventional forces with special operations units, while arguing for more spending on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In other words, it told proponents of military transformation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense what they wanted to hear.
Ever since then, JFCOM has been noodling around with a more definitive assessment. Unfortunately, the Iraqis don’t seem to be cooperating with JFCOM’s initial findings. The victory won in Operation Iraqi Freedom looks less and less decisive, while the remaining challenges look more and more imposing. So here are some suggestions for revised lessons that might go in the final report, if and when one is released.
1. U.S. intelligence capabilities are pretty mediocre. The federal government spends nearly a billion dollars a week conducting reconnaissance of foreign countries (some of which falls outside intelligence budgets). That’s supposed to give the U.S. a big strategic edge, but it turns out that after carefully scrutinizing Iraq for a dozen years, analysts couldn’t even tell whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. It’s bad enough that analysts can’t say what’s going to happen tomorrow (as in 9-11), but judging from our weak grasp of the Iraqi insurgency, they can’t even say for sure what happened yesterday.
2. There is no “strategic pause.” Advocates of military transformation have been arguing for a decade that the U.S. should use the post-cold-war pause in global threats to transform its military for information-age warfare. Meanwhile, the U.S. has fought one war after another — in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. Guess what: there is no strategic pause. Which means the military can’t wait for grand schemes like the Future Combat System to pay off. It needs new helicopters and armored vehicles and communications now.
3. Land power is the core of military capability. The U.S. Army spent the first year of the Bush Administration trying to convince policymakers that transformation didn’t mean much unless you could still seize and control real estate. It ended up sacrificing both its Chief of Staff and Secretary to that unfashionable idea. But imagine where we would be today in Iraq if the big thinkers had actually succeeded in cutting the number of Army divisions from ten to eight. Is anybody in OSD ever going to admit that Gen. Shinseki was right?
4. War really is mostly about politics. Launching a military campaign without rigorous political analysis of the target state isn’t very bright. Most of the reverses U.S. policy has suffered in Iraq have resulted from wishful thinking about who and what Iraqis would be willing to support once Saddam was gone. Iraq is three countries masquerading as one. Our experience in former Yugoslavia should have told us that is not fertile ground for a democracy. Moktada al-Sadr is a passing problem, but the fragility of Iraqi democracy is likely to prove chronic.
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