What it takes to win

What it takes to win
: After Vietnam, the meme (were there memes back then?) was that we either should have done what it takes to win the war or gotten out a lot sooner. “What it takes” in that case was usually code for nuke ‘em in Hanoi.

I wonder what the definition of “what it takes” is for Iraq.

It starts with more troops to establish and secure order for rebuilding and elections.

Andrew Sullivan says this morning what many have said: that the war was done well but the aftermath was — is — mishandled:

It’s worth saying here what we now know the president got wrong – badly wrong. There were never enough troops to occupy Iraq. The war-plan might have been brilliant, but the post-war plan has obviously been a failure. We needed more force and we needed more money sooner. The president has no excuses for not adjusting more quickly to this fact: he was told beforehand; he was told afterward; but he and the Defense Secretary were too pig-headed to change course. I still favor the war; but I cannot excuse the lapses and failures of the administration in the post-war….

  • Paul A’Barge

    Oh good greif.
    Surely someone out there could display the nanocubicmeter of intelligence necessary to acknowledge that rebuilding Iraq always is/was going to be at best a very difficult, painful enterprise.
    Given that, what if what GWB is doing currently is about the best one could expect? What if “the schedule” is right on time and right on the money? What if throwing in more troops really would not have made much of a difference? What if no matter what we did and how we did it, we always were going to have to deal with Fallujah and the Shiite mobsters?
    Look folks. Some problems are really hard. This means that the process of solving them is long, challenging and fraught with pain. I submit that creating the first and only democracy in the Arab world, in a country that has been at the bottom of the dictator heap for 30 years is one of these problems.
    Am I alone in losing my patience for the 20/20 hindsight prognostications pumped out be a geeky boy with a keyboard, a mouse and a venti latte?
    Think you can do better? NP. Go invade your own country and prove it.
    Sigh.

  • http://www.learnedhand.com/scrutineer.htm MDP

    After Vietnam, the meme (were there memes back then?) was that we either should have done what it takes to win the war or gotten out a lot sooner.
    Back then it was called a “paradigm,” and before that the term was “idea”.
    Why do people insist on saying “meme” when they mean nothing more hifalutin’ then “notion”?
    (The number of people who write “meme” and “paradigm” who’ve actually read Dawkins and Kuhn probably doesn’t rise into double digits.)

  • lk

    Maybe Bush was too involved with the gay marriage issue? Or steroids in sports? Or getting to Mars? Or stem cell research? Or tax cuts? Or political fund raising? He cannot be all things to all people, give him a break for being human, and costing hundreds of human lives in the process.

  • Bill Sessions

    Andrew Sullivan knows as much about nation building as I do — absolutely nothing. Unlike Andrew, however, I have the good sense to keep my ignorant mouth shut.

  • lk

    Actually Sullivan, and virtually every American, knows nothing about nation building, especially in a Muslim country. But we become instant experts, and flap our gums nonetheless. We did not understand the Vietnamese people, and we do not understand the Iraqis.

  • Pete

    I’m sick of hearing the quagmire and Vietname analogies. Anyone remember the flypaper strategy? This is it. By letting the borders of Iraq stay open and letting the insane clerics build their armies, we are getting them to play into our hands. The Iranians and Al Quaeda (and everyone else) are sending their terrorists to attack our military instead of our citizens. And isn’t it better that the terrorists attack the best trained, the best protected, best equipped, most professional military in the world instead of attacking citizens?
    When iraqi army retreated, they melded into the population. If we had clamped down on Iraq the way everyone wants us to, we would have pushed all the combatants underground – only to have them pop up in a deadly game of whack-a-mole. We would have had to go door to door to find individuals that can look like anyone. Instead, we let them build themselves into identifiable armies that we can shoot at. This isn’t a quaqmire, it’s great strategy. This war isn’t going badly. It’s going about as well as any war can.

  • Bill Sessions

    Speak for yourself lk. Just because you don’t know diddly about Iraq doesn’t mean there aren’t people in this country who know quite a bit. I just said Andrew Sullivan wasn’t one of them. You’re flapping your gums just as much as he is. I understand if you and he don’t have faith in our troops and our government — but “they’re screwing up” isn’t good enough as criticism. I want to know how to fix what needs fixing — not how to start surrendering. We have to win, period. If you’ve got something useful to say on that score, say it. Otherwise put a sock in it.

  • Paul

    I agree with Mr. A’Barge. Much of the difficulty is a direct result of the brevity of the military campaign. Too many of the enemy were left alive and ready to fight another day. This constant nitpicking by nitwits who know little or nothing about the difficulties involved is just more encouragement for our enemies. Despicable.

  • Mike

    This WAS all said before the war. We all knew that we would defeat Saddam, but have a damn hard time occupying the country. Andrew makes it seem like this is news. NO — this is we were always saying.

  • http://www.modempool.com/nucleardann/blogspace/blog.htm Dann

    Jeff-
    I guess I must be old. I understand ‘paradigm’, but I don’t understand ‘meme’. [8*)
    Seriously, I disagree with your assessment of ‘what it takes’ for Vietnam.
    What was required then is the same thing that is required now. A patient and supportive public willing to put up with the defeats in order to experience the victories. And a media that is willing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
    I have more hope for the former than the latter, but as evidence mounts that we lack the perserverance needed to mount a multi year campaign, that too is waning. I doubt that our current nation could send its military into the field for 4 years with no major rotations and the occasional defeat as did our parents/grandparents in 1941.
    We won in Vietnam from a military standpoint. All we had to do was to continue operations until the north surrendered. Something they were all too prepared to do…until they found our college campuses to be so opposed to ‘the war’ and so supportive of communism.
    -Regards

  • Mustapha

    Heh heh

  • belloscm

    I think that the Bush Administration’s plan was to “low-ball” everything: costs, personnel requirements, casualties, etc. Does this imply that the Administration was being deliberately disingenuous? Absolutely.
    The argument against more “boots on the ground” in Iraq was always about opportunity costs and dollars. We can’t have a reasonble troop rotation plan and forces held in reserve for other contingencies (i.e. N Korea, Syria, etc) if all of your combat strength is tied up in Iraq.
    The way out of the dilemna was to increase U.S Force Structure by a significant amount, but the Admin didn’t want to increase the Defense budget by the amount necessary (several billions) to add the required 3-4 new divisions.

  • Mike H.

    Thank you folks, I’ve just come back from reading the Iraqi bloggers and it’s damned depressing out there. Good analysis sure does help get things back in perspective.

  • Ebb Tide

    Two words: Jay Garner
    We thought all we had to do was give all the countries who wanted part of the re-construction payouts a card table and tell them where to sign. Way, way, way TOO optimistic about how it would go.
    Then L.Paul Bremer tried to do a little bit more handholding to show how a democracy builds a beauracracy and in small steps progress was being made. But we got the rosy-colored-glasses ripped off in some suicide car bombings and it has been very slow going after that.
    Personally, I thought this post-war period would be like when Vaclav Havel (a playwrite) became president of Czecheslovakia, sure the Slovaks split off pretty soon afterwards, but it ramped up into a functioning government pretty quickly. No suicide car bombs there, though.
    Our idea of bringing stability and prosperity to Iraq will take MUCH, MUCH longer than we thought. But we still have to keep at it and not be discouraged.
    Nation building is not an easy game to play…. and the only reason we are doing it is for national security interests, not because altruistically we like to depose tyrants. The sooner that is said by GWB the better. He isn’t fooling anyone with that silly “saddam was a bad man” refrain.

  • KMK

    Well said Pete. Brilliant reminder.
    I think Andrew forgot his own post – http://www.andrewsullivan.com/main_article.php?artnum=20030906

  • http://radio.weblogs.com/0107946 ed cone

    James Fallows in the Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2004
    http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2004/01/fallows.htm
    He writes a well-researched article about why this is happening — it’s not going as well as could be expected, it’s not well executed, and Fallows explains that this is because Bush ignored the advice of his own experts…
    Fallows: “The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a debacle not because the government did no planning but because a vast amount of expert planning was willfully ignored by the people in charge. The inside story of a historic failure.”

  • John Anderson

    Hindsight is wonderful, true. But some mistakes seemed obvious from the start: whose idea was it to try to co-opt militias like al Sadr’s as auxiliary police rather than insist they put themselves under police orders or disband? And I certainly don’t know, but ask, how much effort was put into subsidizing an Iraqi satellite radio/TV operation: Zayed says most of the country still gets nothing but al Jazeera or other outside news. And I’ve heard the explanation but don’t really buy it for changing VOA to a top-40 music operation with little or no news/analysis: why not 50-50?

  • O’McSomething

    Awhh STFU, Andy, why doncha? Speaking of pig-headed…..It’s worth saying here what we now know the president got wrong – badly wrong…and who else got it wrong…What an incredible GD shilling hack! And we are supposed to take his crap seriously? He’s got a whole n’other paragraph of crap piled on top of this crap…..We are trying to hand over power to a new government; but the effective components of that government have long been hard to identify….Geaawd!…what we need to do is stop thinking guys like Andy ever get it at all.

  • http://www.rogerlsimon.com Roger L. Simon

    OT, why do we need words like “meme”?

  • Paul A’Barge

    “a vast amount of expert planning was willfully ignored by the people in charge…”
    What transparent nonsense. Not to imply that GWB has done everything right, but the implication of this kind of meme (there, I said it) is that if only we’d done this differently, the result would be a cakewalk to nirvana.
    This meme is what needs to be disputed. Take a micro second and a deep breath and look at the depth and breadth of the problem space. Now, make a cogent argument that an alternative plan would have made a substantial difference.
    What’s that? Sorry, I don’t believe you.

  • Franky

    I agree with the people who ask out aloud why do we take the opinions of someone like Sullivan seriously. What does he know about anything to do with Iraq? About 15 months+ I saw him and Hitchens on one of those morning programs on C-Span. I was stunned by Sullivan

  • http://hubris.typepad.com Hubris

    Mr. Simon,
    I think it’s because words and phrases, like clothes, can become fashionable (and then go out of fashion).
    The blogosphere seems to accelerate this phenomenon. Suddenly the word of the day becomes “apologist,” or the phrase of the day becomes “that’s a distinction without a difference.”
    We should make a list of blog cliches (although it’s probably already been done, no?).
    P.S. Am I a victim of word fashion? Was my use of the word “phenomenon” really necessary? How about the smug “,no?” at the end of my comment?

  • hen

    hey mustapha — do you use your koran to beat your wife? i know i’ve asked you this before but you still haven’t answered.

  • O’

    yeah, get back OT, Roger.

  • http://radio.weblogs.com/0107946 ed cone

    Paul A’B: Is there really no middle ground between a “cakewalk to Nirvana” and what we’ve got now? Fallows doesn’t just say there was planning that got ignored, he’s got 17 well-sourced pages on the subject. Are you saying that specific actions have no consequence, eg, disbanding the army? Nobody makes a serious argument that this could have been done easily, but that is not the same thing as saying it could not have been done better.

  • http://www.photodude.com/ Reid

    From this comment thread, it looks like if you are on the left and criticize Bush, you’re stupid. If you’re on the right and criticize Bush, well, you’re stupid, too.
    Bob Novak, who has been accused of being a shill for the Bush administration, says the generals are peeved: “A former national security official considers the relationship at the Pentagon between civilians and the military as worse than at any time in his long career.
    At the heart of this debate is the original belief by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s team that conquering U.S. troops would be welcomed by open arms in Iraq. In this highly political season, Democrats are replaying the debate of a year ago. Gen. Eric Shinseki, then about to leave as the Army’s chief of staff, said ‘several hundred thousand soldiers’ could be needed in Iraq. ‘Way off the mark,’ retorted Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
    Adhering to the principle of civilian control of the military and unvarying obedience to orders, the generals have not publicly expressed their opinion that Shinseki was much closer to the truth than Wolfowitz.
    I guess that means that Bob Novak and the generals are stupid, too. Because the Bush adminstration did no wrong, and can do no wrong. There’s simply no way any of these problems could have been anticipated, or better planned for. James Fallows just made all that stuff up.
    As the Third Infantry Division’s after action report declared, they entered Phase IV of their “plan,” the occupation of Iraq “in the absence of guidance.” So to those who ask, “could you come up with a better plan,” I have to answer, any plan is better than no plan. And if you think there was one, you can go argue with the 3rd ID, the guys who had to implement it.

  • onecent

    Reid, the New York Times isn’t exactly an non-parisan newspaper. Reading any article regarding Iraq by the NYT’s, one must filter the selected interviews/quotes on that bases.
    Rumsfelt was correct that Iraqis would and have to date have accepted US troops as a welcomed force. In a country with a population of 22.6 million, if that wasn’t the case, we would have been run out by now. Recent armed oppostion is the being done by unrepentant Baathists and religious fanatics with funding from Iran.
    That Rumsfelt disbanded the regular Iraqi army, instead of using it as a national police force, if that was realistic, is a better debate. Hindsight, says it might have been good. Germany and Japan were disarmed.
    I have to answer, any plan is better than no plan. How simplistic. There was a plan. It just wasn’t perfect as no plan ever is.

  • Ted

    When I first became aware of James Fallows, he was writing a series of articles in _The Atlantic_ about how the Japanese were going to eat our lunch unless we adopted their economic planning strategy. They were well written articles, but they seem laughable in hindsight. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong now, of course, but he’s certainly not infallible.
    As for tension between the Sec Def and the brass, I tend to think that if there is none, the Sec Def is not doing his job. He has to kill pet projects and mesh political reality with strategy & tactics.

  • Ted

    When I first became aware of James Fallows, he was writing a series of articles in _The Atlantic_ about how the Japanese were going to eat our lunch unless we adopted their economic planning strategy. They were well written articles, but they seem laughable in hindsight. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong now, of course, but he’s certainly not infallible.
    As for tension between the Sec Def and the brass, I tend to think that if there is none, the Sec Def is not doing his job. He has to kill pet projects and mesh political reality with strategy & tactics.

  • O’

    CNN is streaming that State Dept confirms the bodies of four missing contractors found in Iraq. TKTKTK
    Oy

  • http://www.learnedhand.com/scrutineer.htm MDP

    Ted: “When I first became aware of James Fallows, he was writing a series of articles in _The Atlantic_ about how the Japanese were going to eat our lunch unless we adopted their economic planning strategy. They were well written articles, but they seem laughable in hindsight.”

    Fallows has also written that journalists have a fundamental responsibility to acknowledge and correct their errors, yet he’s never addressed (as far as I know) his laughably misguided cheerleading for the “Japanese Model” of government-business relations.
    It’s drives me to distraction that Fallows is still taken seriously. To be clear, he isn’t bad because he’s “biased”. He’s bad because he habitually exaggerates his knowledge and understanding.

  • http://www.photodude.com/ Reid

    “Reid, the New York Times isn’t exactly an non-parisan newspaper.”
    And Bob Novak isn’t exactly a non-partisan reporter. Did you read his piece? Are the generals he reports are complaining leftist pansies? How about the the 3rd ID? Are they a liberal mouthpiece as well? Just because their after action report was covered by the New York Times doesn’t make the report false. It’s a published government document, not an anonymously sourced creation.
    “How simplistic. There was a plan.”
    I don’t know how to put it another way. The 3rd ID was the point element, and they have stated on paper they entered the occupation phase “in the absence of guidance.” On April 10, the guys who were supposed to begin “security and stability operations” were staring at a blank page.
    That’s their official report, not some anonymous leak.

  • Doctor Slack

    How weird to find myself completely agreeing with Reid. But there it is: I completely agree with Reid.
    Leave aside the question of whether the war should have happened — now that it has, the least Americans can ask is that it the occupation should be carried out competently, without leaving total chaos in its wake. That means defining a “win” scenario, setting out steps to achieve it and then putting the necessary resources behind them. Just hasn’t happened with Bush.
    Even looking at the response to the recent uprisings, it’s pretty plain they’re still winging it, as witness shifting back and forth from threatening Sadr with the wrath of God to negotiating with him. Either option has extremely nasty drawbacks, but vacillating between them is the worst of both worlds. Brutal.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    Folks, let’s be realistic:
    (1) there aren’t any more soldiers. We can’t put 300,000 or 400,000 sets of boots on the ground because we don’t have’em, and haven’t since the post-Cold War build-down was overplayed by Clinton. What’s more, a draft wouldn’t even help; it takes a year to train a modern soldier. Draftees would be through their enlistments before they were due to rotate back.
    (2) We’re running into one big problem with “nation building” that no one has ever seen before: we didn’t destroy the country and bomb its population into insensate shock. We didn’t kill off the military, we didn’t decimate the population … hell, we didn’t do as much damage as a bad ‘flu virus. At the same time, people in Iraq — and the rest of the world — have developed the impression that we can do anything, so much so that when it took several months to build up a power system superior to anything the Iraqis had before, they resented our slowness.
    This could be fixed: the Romans would have just encircled Najaf and put everyone to the sword. So would the Soviets, or Mao, or Attila. Is this what you want?
    No?
    Then figure we’re going to have to muddle through and try not to “rattle their teacups” too much.

  • http://radio.weblogs.com/0107946 ed cone

    Charlie, there are plenty of other soldiers. Unfortunately, they work for countries we thumbed in the eye in our rush to invade.

  • Doctor Slack

    we didn’t destroy the country and bomb its population into insensate shock
    Well, except for the whole economic sanctions thing. But that’s a discussion for another thread.
    At the same time, people in Iraq — and the rest of the world — have developed the impression that we can do anything
    Actually, the people in Iraq have developed the impression that Americans can’t do anything, starting with running an occupation that actually controls the country and provides security and deteriorating from there. That’s the problem.
    Ironically, though, you’re right that the choices are basically between muddling through or filling some more mass graves. (That gets back to why there was an antiwar movement in the first place… but never mind.) However, all scenarios for “muddling through” were not created equal. Presumably, muddling through with a plan and with some international support would be preferable to just flying by the seat of one’s pants, yes?

  • Joe Peden

    Sullivan has panicked and now fears the end is near, or blame should be affixed. He has these episodes. I agree totally with Mr. Paul A’Barge.
    I disagree that the Vietnam war was winable. We would have had to have been able to invade North Vietnam. Bombing was not going to do it, as it didn’t in S. Vietnam in the attempt to suppress the Viet Cong. Prior to our war in Vietnam the French had fought a Colonial war there and lost [surprisingly], without any sanctuary for Ho’s forces anywhere. War would have continued in the South unabated, without invasion of the North, in spite of bombing it.
    Had we invaded N. Vietnam, China would have entered the war, quite simply because it does not want us on its border, either physically or by proxy. This was proven in Korea, and no doubt communicated to the American Administration in the case of Vietnam at the time. That’s why invasion didn’t happen.
    Fortuneately Vietnam was not a threat to us, nor was any other S.E. Asia Country. We could pull out and the war stop. Not so in the Mideast.
    There is no comparison between Iraq and Vietnam, except in the case of J.F.Kerry, who, in a fit of consistency, started with support of each war, then bailed. He’s reliable as a fool and in being unreliable.

  • http://mithras.blogs.com Mithras

    To begin with, nobody is talking about what “victory” means in this context. If you mean a country that we don’t need to keep large numbers of troops in to keep from flying apart, and doesn’t get lots of our troops killed, then it is going to take a long, long time to get to that point. At the current rate of over $1 billion per week and rising.
    (As an aside only, let me also point out that the pre-war containment program was costing us $1 billion per year. And it was a program that, as we were told by people like Ritter beforehand and know now, had thoroughly disarmed Saddam.)
    Charlie (Colorado) said, “there aren’t any more soldiers.” Well, there ain’t any more money, either. It all went in the form of tax cuts. You can spend more money on this boondoogle, or you can raise taxes. Pick one.

  • Sandy P

    We needed more money sooner – We’re not Europe, W can’t say so let it be written, so let it be done.
    Congress holds the pursestrings.
    How about letting me take a whack at the budget?
    I’m sure I could find some cash.