Friday, December 4, 2009

Donald Rumsfeld, Cockroaches, and Getting the Hell out of Afghanistan


Why Setting An Exit Date For Afghanistan is Sound Military Strategy


Donald Rumsfeld is pissed.

Seems he has taken exception to the President’s statement that the Bush Administration, including Rumsfeld, didn’t provide proper support to the military.

Specifically, Rumsfeld disputes this line in President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy speech,

Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive…

Rumsfeld emerged from his secret lair like a trapdoor spider surging from its hidey-hole to issue the following response,

“Such a bald misstatement, at least as it pertains to the period I served as secretary of defense, deserves a response. I am not aware of a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006. If any such requests occurred, "repeated" or not, the White House should promptly make them public.”

It’s not surprising that in Rumsfeld’s red sky world that such requests never occurred.

Rumsfeld always defined his own reality and never bothered with the opinions of others. He created his own ground truth whole cloth when military intelligence didn’t say what he wanted, going so far as to create his own private intelligence agency in the Pentagon specifically designed to bypass the entire US Intelligence system and conditioned to provide only the tailored intelligence estimates that said exactly what Rumsfeld wanted them to say. Rumsfeld routinely denigrated and publically belittled those who tried to provide him with contradicting viewpoints – considering his own opinions superior to those of actual military experts.

So, again, it’s not at all surprising that this twisted, vindictive, arrogant son of a bitch wouldn’t be “aware of a single request of that nature” because he either never heard it - because he never bothered to listen to his subordinates - or he dismissed it from his memory, as he constantly did when he heard things that contradicted his worldview.

It is not necessary that “the White House should promptly” make public such records that refute Rumsfeld’s claims  – they already are.

At the beginning of the Iraq war, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Eric Shinseki publically stated before Congress that in his professional military opinion as America’s senior military commander, it would take “possibly several hundred thousand troops” to hold and secure Iraq following an invasion.  This directly contradicted Rumsfeld’s dictate that the country would be secured with as few as ten thousand.  Rumsfeld essentially fired the General for having the audacity to disagree and then publicly ridiculed him.

Astute readers will notice that in Rumsfeld’s refutation, quoted above, he specifically referred to Afghanistan and did not mention Iraq, and that my example of the Shinseki incident is about Iraq and not Afghanistan – on the surface it would appear that I’m moving the goalposts, but I’m not. The two combat zones are irrevocably intertwined at the Secretary of Defense level – i.e. the strategic decision maker layer of the Chain of Command.  Strategic decisions in one battlespace both directly and indirectly affect the other because there are only so many assets to go around. Rumsfeld’s decision to lowball the Iraqi invasion and occupation against the specific recommendation of his generals was a purely political decision that led directly to the Iraqi insurgency and the corresponding requirement to divert more and more assets and personnel to that battlespace at the expense of Afghanistan – and which led directly to denial of requests for additional forces in that same battlespace.  Additionally, Rumsfeld’s arrogant public dismissal of his senior and most experienced general – a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran with extensive training, education, and experience in the very things necessary to take and hold territory – speaks directly to the level of support that military commanders could expect from Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration. That humiliating public dismissal of Shinseki was a direct message to the military, don’t disagree with Rumsfeld. Period, or you will be made an example of.  I have no doubt whatsoever as to the source of Rumsfeld’s contempt for general officers. See, he served on active duty with the US Navy from 1954 to 1957 and was trained as a pilot. In 57 he transferred to the reserves and rose to the rank of Captain, retiring in 1989.  He never flew in combat, despite serving through the height of the Vietnam war, and he never made Admiral.  It must have given him no end of secret satisfaction to have final and complete power over those officers who accomplished what he had not and who once had ordered him about. Rumsfeld always considered himself superior to those men, and now he was. Rumsfeld didn’t ask what his troops needed, he told them, just as he told General Tommy Franks to reduce his troops estimates. 

Rumsfeld can make the claim he does above, because he created a climate where his reality was the only reality – and one he’s still living in – and those that dared oppose him were removed and made an example of.

When his vision failed the acid test, instead of accepting responsibility for his actions as a real Navy Captain would have done, he blamed us, the military. And then his scorn was not reserved for the generals.  In a townhall style meeting in Iraq in December 2004, Rumsfeld responded to this question from Army Specialist Thomas Wilson:

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?”

by replying

“It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, ah, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can still be blown up...”

And that, right there, is how Rumsfeld responded to requests from the military.  Fuck you, suck it up, Soldier. 

I cannot tell you how offensive we in the military found that comment.  It is a mark of the professionalism of the United States military that Rumsfeld didn’t suffer an “accident” during his visit to the warzone.

Rumsfeld is technically correct in his refutation to President Obama’s assertion, but you need to read Rumsfeld’s statement carefully, it is a masterwork of information management – note how he carefully avoids any mention of Iraq, or the overall “Global War On Terrorism” (thereby limiting the scope of his statement to a specific area, without actually stating it), and how he is very careful to specify a specific timeframe (and thereby exclude the military request for 20,000 additional troops by Afghan Campaign Commander General David McKiernan in 2008, a request that was refused by the Bush administration due to the surge in Iraq  - and strangely not a single conservative Congressman or pundit raised a fuss over that.  Careful, Folks, don’t step in the hypocritical bullshit. Those troops were not available specifically because of decisions made by Donald Rumsfeld – who by that time was long gone like the aforementioned trapdoor spider, hidden in his hole and washing his cold bloody hands of the mess he’d left us).

Rumsfeld also specifically avoids mentioning his failure to fund and issue proper equipment, or the withholding of special systems and support and assets. Or his office’s abject failure to plan for post-invasion occupation and reconstruction of either Iraq or Afghanistan – and how that failure directly led to the rising insurgency in both countries and how that in turn directly led to the deaths of 6000+ servicemen.  Rumsfeld cannily fails to mention why his office was able to fund Blackwater Security and Haliburton and KBR and Cheney’s other pals in the defense industry to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, but could not afford basic body armor or properly armored vehicles for American troops as voiced by Specialist Wilson above.

Rumsfeld finished his rebuttal Tuesday with,

The President's assertion does a disservice to the truth and, in particular, to the thousands of men and women in uniform who have fought, served and sacrificed in Afghanistan

The only person doing a disservice to the truth here is Donald Rumsfeld, and as far as dishonoring the troops, well, perhaps it would put things in perspective if you remember that Rumsfeld’s decisions killed far more US service members than Osma bin Ladin has. 

Frankly when I hear Rumsfeld talk about those of us who fought, served, and sacrificed it makes me want to puke.  Personally, I hold Donald Rumsfeld in the same degree of contempt as Vietnam vets reserve for Hanoi Jane and Robert McNamara – and at least both of those assholes lived long enough to eventually regret their actions and apologize, Rumsfeld will die unrepentant.

Neither Rumsfeld nor any member of the Bush Administration have any business whatsoever voicing advice on how to pursue this war. They got us into this, they screwed the pooch on it – led by that arrogant prick Rumsfeld – they bent every single one of us in uniform over the barrel and they completely failed to extricate us from it or clean up their own mess.  Now they want to offer advice? 

Press Secretary Bob Gibbs’ off the cuff response to Rumsfeld is a beautifully crafted ironic fuck you, Don,

“You go to war with the Defense Secretary you have…”

It is unsurprising that members of the former Bush Administration and members of the Republican party are up in arms over the President’s plan for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in particular the fact that the President appears to have set an end date for the conflict in Afghanistan.

Setting a date is something conservatives have all resisted for the last eight years.

They have repeatedly failed to establish realistic goals, or determine what it is that we intend to accomplish with this war.  Instead they offer up vague generalities.  We’ll stand down when they stand up.  We’ll stay the course.  These fuzzy and meaningless statements reflect fuzzy and superficial thinking, poor planning, and lack of specific objectives. You don’t send your kids into the meat grinder with a plan based on fucking sound bites.

In previous conflicts the end state was obvious, obtain an acknowledgement of sovereignty from the King of England, force the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan, push invading forces from Kuwait, and so on. The objectives were clearly defined and understood by all. Victory was obvious.

But what is the end state of this war on terrorism?  What is the end state of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Neither Bush nor any of his band of cronies ever bothered to define that condition.  They took us into a war without end, like the perpetual state of conflict in Orwell’s 1984.  There is no victory, worse, there can be no victory as we traditionally define it.  There will be no Emperor of Terrorism or Pirate King to bow over his sword and command the surrender his forces on the deck of a US Battlewagon.  There will be no dictator to commit suicide in his bunker or mountain cave as our tanks roll victorious through the shattered streets his capital and whose second in command will surrender the rag-tag teenaged remnants of his once mighty forces. 

We can kill bin Laden, but terrorism will not end. 

We could kill every last member of Al Qaeda, but terrorism will not end.

We could burn Afghanistan down to the bedrock and salt the ashes – and it will not end.

So, what then is victory?

Victory in this case must be a functioning government with power to control and police its territory – whether or not that is a democracy is irrelevant. 

Victory in this case must be those things that we can realistically accomplish. To paraphrase the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer of serenity, Lord, give us the serenity accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can – and the wisdom to know the difference.  We must do what we can to assure our own security, to help those whose countries we’ve torn asunder, and bring an end to this conflict – it is our moral duty to do so as Americans.  But we must also understand that we cannot fix the world, we have neither the right nor the ability nor the resources to remake the world in our own image, we cannot impose freedom and democracy by fiat, and we cannot wipe out terrorism once and for all.  We will never be completely safe, ever. 

Terrorists are like cockroaches.  You can’t kill them all.  You can’t eradicate them completely.  Wipe them out, and they will seemly spontaneously generate from thin air to scuttle about in the dark and feast on the crumbs of the world.  The best you can do is to control their population, get it down to manageable levels.   When you have an explosion of roaches you call in an exterminator, he fumigates the house and kills the pests where they live.  Then he leaves.  And you then keep your house clean, you bleach the floors, you take out the trash, you put out traps, and you stomp on the fuckers whenever you see them.  You don’t demand that the exterminator to move in with you. The exterminator doesn’t hang around, day after day, for years on end until he’s killed every last bug and made certain that no bug will ever again set filthy appendage on your property.

But he also doesn’t just bail out on you either, not if he’s an ethical businessman and a man of his word. He doesn’t leave you holding the bag - blowing up your house in the process and leaving his poison and equipment laying about and the roach population undiminished and scurrying towards the surrounding neighborhood houses.

And so it is with Afghanistan.

There must be an end state. There must come a time when we, as the exterminator, turn the task of vermin management over to the homeowners.  Now, later, an end state must be set – but we also have a responsibility to put the property back in some semblance of order, and to give the property owner an estimate of when we’ll be done with the job we were hired to do.

Setting this date has risks.  It assumes that we will get the cockroach population down to manageable size by the time we leave and that the homeowner will be able to assume responsibility for keeping his own house in order without our constant help. There is always this risk.  Always.  Whether it happens now, or later.  Delaying changes that not at all, it only changes the degree of risk – but that state will never be zero.

Establishing a date gives us, and the Afghans, a target to aim at. A goal.  Without such a goal, you have no metric to measure against to determine progress.  Without a goal, you go through the motions simply to go through the motions.  We don’t fight just to fight, we didn’t invade just to invade, we didn’t send our sons and daughters to die just to watch them die – we have to have a goal, an objective. Setting a date gives us a metric to hang the rest of our exit strategy on.

Listen, when we invaded the beach at Normandy, General Eisenhower didn’t say, “Well, it’ll take however long it takes to secure that beachhead, could be years, could be decades. Hell if we establish a date, the Nazi’s will just wait us out!”  No, the Allied commanders established very specific timeframes for each phase of the operation and for good reason – it gave their commanders specific goals and objectives to aim for, to build the rest of the plan around.

Establishing that date tells us what to plan for, it allows Congress to budget for the mission, it tells the military what to budget for and where to place assets and whether or not to commit assets held in reserve. 

Establishing a date makes the public part of the process and tells them how much longer they’ll have to commit their children and tax dollars to this fight.  It’s one thing to tell the public, stiff upper lip eighteen months and we can begin to bring our people home, it’s another thing entirely to keep saying, well we just don’t know could be a year could be ten years.  You want the public’s support you better be a tad more specific.  Don’t think specific goals and dates are important to public opinion? Don’t think that specific dates are important to world opinion? Don’t think those dates are important to the military and morale and public support?  Then you don’t understand either people or politics.  The day after the establishment of that goal by President Obama, our allies committed an additional 7,000 troops to fight alongside us – bringing the surge to nearly 40,000.  Those conservatives who condemned Obama for touring Europe and Asia and apologizing for our previous behavior and for acting like an ally and friend instead of an arrogant jackass – this is the result, willing support, 7000 more troops, from our allies to help protect your sons and daughters. In some cases those commitments are nearly the sum total of that ally’s reserve.  That’s right. You damn well ought to get down on your knees and give thanks that you have leader willing to mend fences and build bridges and do what it takes to get that support – because that support will directly and measurably increase the safety of your sons and daughters in uniform and help to ensure their success – and thereby significantly improve their odds of coming home outside of an aluminum box.  Obama bowed low, he shook hands, he apologized, and he asked for help instead of demanding it and he just damn well may have saved your kid’s life in the process – ask yourself if Donald Rumsfeld would have done that when he wasn’t even willing to send your kids to war with a bulletproof vest or armored vehicles. Ask yourself if George W. Bush would have done that? Or Sarah Palin? What are you kids worth to them? Not a hell of a lot, not enough to swallow their pride anyway.  For those of you who condemn the President for apologizing to the world, I’ll tell you what Rumsfeld told us, suck it up, Soldier.

Establishing that date tells the Muslim world that we are not the crusading imperialist power they’ve been led to believe we are. Establishing a date directly refutes the claims made by the insurgents, by bin Ladin, and by fear mongers like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who recruit their cannon fodder and local support by pointing to our continuing presence and failure to set a date for withdrawal as evidence of our colonial designs on the Middle East. 

Establishing a date does nothing to give away our intentions or hide our withdrawal. What? Did you think that when it comes time to pull out we were just going to sneak off suddenly in the middle of the night? Surprise!  The insurgents rush in, ready for battle, Allah Ahkb… what the hell? They’re gone! Goddamnit! They tricked us!  Pulling two hundred thousand troops and that many again contractors and their equipment out of Afghanistan is going to be a long drawn out process. There isn’t going to be anything secret about it.  Hell, even if you wanted to keep it a secret you couldn’t – Congress couldn’t keep it a secret if their lives instead of our kids lives depended on it, and they’re the ones that are going to have to pay for it.  Trust me here, there is no way whatsoever to hide when we’re pulling out, there will be hundreds of plane flights, hundreds of transport ships, we’ll be shutting down bases and moving millions of tons of equipment. The insurgents will know long before we go – and to pretend that the situation is anything other than this is just hyperbolic bullshit. That’s the kind of mental masturbation that Rumsfeld and his bosses used to get us into this mess.

And yes, establishing a date now tells the Taliban and Al Qaeda and the rest of the insurgents that we will be leaving for certain.  Conservatives say this will cause the insurgents to lie low, bid their time, and wait us out.

Could be they are right.

I sure hope so.

See, it is a measure of their lack of understanding of history and military strategy that makes these bloviating idiots think that this is somehow a bad thing.

By all means, let the insurgency go to ground for the next eighteen months.

By all means.

First, that will make those that don’t go to ground all the more obvious and easy to hunt down and kill.  There are old terrorists, and bold terrorists, but there are damned few old, bold terrorists.

Second, it lets us concentrate our forces on those aforementioned bold terrorists. The ones that don’t have the sense to get in out of the shitstorm that’s coming when those 40,000 troops arrive in country are doomed.  We should have little trouble mopping them up in short order – thanks to their more cautious brethren giving us the breathing space.

Third, those that go to ground give up the tactical advantage. Understand something here, the insurgents cannot stand against us in a conventional fight.  They only persevere where our control is slight and they have refuge they can retreat to, places to train and breed and rest and plot and plan and rearm and reequip – just like cockroaches scattering under the furniture when the lights come on. Without a safe haven on the Pakistan/Afghanistan boarder, without safe haven in the cities – something the surge will deny them – they have only two options, hide or be destroyed.  Some will attempt to fight, like cockroaches that stay out in the light too long, and as I said above they’ll be destroyed in short order.  Most will choose to hide, to wait us out – exactly as the critics predict.  But what those critics are missing is this: for eighteen months those that hide deed us the high ground. 

That’s eighteen months to build schools and bridges and government and security and win over the population and establish peace.  It gives us eighteen months without these cockroaches spreading their filth and disease and misery – and those that do, well they’ll get hunted down and killed like a game of whack-a-mole.  In eighteen months, done right, the population will be settling into peace, into the normalcy they haven’t had in decades, into stability.  In eighteen months, children will be going to school and many new ones will be born (nothing like a sudden cessation of hostilities to inspire a baby boom), crops will be planted, products will appear on shelves in the stores, broken windows fixed, bullet holes patched, electricity and water and  sewage flowing. Mail delivered.  Jobs in reconstruction.  Again, if done right, if the insurgents go to ground for the next eighteen months, they will give the population a year and half of breathing room – imagine then, how hard it will be to convince Afghans that they should give that up and return to the desolation of war.  The Americans are leaving, what then is their motivation? Why join the insurgents? Why give them haven?

In eighteen months, done right, the insurgents will emerge from their holes to discover that they quit the battle – and thereby lost the war.

In eighteen months we will have cut down the roach population, with the unwitting cooperation of the roaches themselves, to a level the homeowners can manage themselves.  And then we can finally extricate ourselves from this conflict.

And that, my friends, is why establishing a public date for the end of this conflict is so damned important.

The critics have it right, they just don’t understand strategic opportunity when they see it.

Now, if only Rumsfeld will crawl back into his hole for the next year…


  1. ...we cannot impose freedom and democracy by fiat...

    You said it, brother. We don't have some god-given mission to spread democracy. By its very definition, democracy must be chosen by the population, not imposed from the outside.

    And yeah - fuck Donald Rumsfeld, captain of the insane clown posse.


  2. ...we have neither the right nor the ability nor the resources to remake the world in our own image, we cannot impose freedom and democracy by fiat, and we cannot wipe out terrorism once and for all. We will never be completely safe, ever.

    I see we're picking out the same things, here.

    Excellent post, Jim. How appropriate the captcha word is 'skils'. You has them.


  3. You left out, I think, the certainty that a request for more troops did come into the pentagon from the field, and probably never made it to the E ring, much less past the Sutherland clone.

    That whoever was runing the special forces in Afganistan in 01-02/03 certainly made public that he wanted more forces. Then some brass hat noticed the troops were too native and not shaving etc.

    The only movie with Hanoi Jane I'll watch is Barbarella, which she wishes she had never made. But for me it is Westmoreland much more than the secdef.


    writing a blog in a sans serif font

  4. Bush et al, took us into Afghanistan and Iraq while being on record saying,

    "I'm worried about an opponent who uses nation building and the military in the same sentence."
    (Nov. 6, 2000)


    "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation building."
    Oct. 11, 2000

    And he, apparently never changed his mind about it. Somehow, Bush and Rumsfeld thought we could just go in, kill all of the bad guys, and walk away, leaving the same tribal squabbling and ineffectual or non-existent governments.

    I wasn't a big fan of Rudy Giuliani, but I will say that his implementing Broken Windows Theory showed demonstrable and measurable results. There's no question that the "Disney-fication" of New York is an improvement over the NYC of the 80's that I moved to. Give people a clean slate (clean streets, less graffiti, whole windows), and you give them something they can maintain. The alternative is to just look at a problem that seems insurmountable -- It's just so big that no-one knows where to start -- so they don't start.

    Give Afghans and Iraqis 18 months to clean house, and they'll notice that they much prefer it to what they had before. It's a lot easier for someone bent on destruction to hide in a rubble strewn backdrop than it is to hide in the midst of normalcy and prosperity. How do you tell the difference between a kid picking through bricks in a demolished building because he's bored and has nothing else to do, and the kid who's planting an I.E.D.? They look pretty much the same.

    If you deny "Nation Building" as a goal, WTF are you there for? And, truthfully, I don't give a rat's ass either what form of government gets established -- just that there's some form of reasonably workable government. Even if that form of government ends up being hostile toward us. No -- really!

    Of course, I'd prefer we do things right and end up transforming enemies in to allies (Germany & Japan, anyone?) But I'd still prefer that if we have to go to war in the area again in the future, its against conventional forces in a type of war where we do have absolute superiority. One day, we probably will figure out exactly how to pick out our enemies from amongst an indigenous population, but its still a pretty hairy proposition. Much better when they're (mostly) wearing uniforms.

    Oh, that silly Mr. Obama with his timelines and goals.


    BTW Jim, why don't you grow a pair and tell us how you really feel? :D

    (Posts like this one make me really glad you've retired!)

  5. Nathan

    The planning for the occupation of Germany began almost at once, I assume the same was true of Japan.

    As I recall The Green Books, devoted several volumes to the subject.

    That is the sort of thing that you take a bright O-5 and pair her with an agressive 0-7/8 and tell them to come back with a plan this time next week, then tell them bullshit or do it, depending.


    One leers ather

  6. Looks like everyone is targeting the same time period. I think Canada's due to start pulling out in 2011 as well. We all need to stop being invaders, regardless of intentions. Absolutely agree we can't overlay our culture on others.

  7. Warner,

    I'll admit that post-war Germany policy was likely inspired by (and aided by) near universal distrust of the Soviets. Nothing makes a defeated enemy more compliant than the looming threat of being occupied by someone worse.

    Having said that, it doesn't make the Marshall Plan any less impressive (or successful). Just blowing shit up and then going home is really short-sighted.

  8. You know, because setting a timeline on the SoFA in Iraq lead the insurgents to just roll over and wait for us to pull out. There's a few hundred dead Iraqis who might disagree though.

    And when we let the Afghanis know we intend to leave, it will change the balance of public opinion. The Taliban's argument will have to become more complex, which has a greater chance of failure.

    Plus it might give Kharzi and his cronies an injection of fear to clean up their acts.

  9. it might give Kharzi and his cronies an injection of fear to clean up their acts.

    I wouldn't count on that, Steve.


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