America's strategic planning failures in Iraq

The ostentatious strategy for transforming Iraq was nothing less than ill-conceived

The question remains, “has the United States not learned the prudent lessons that they should have gleaned from their niche in global history?”  The opportunities to learn and adjust should have come from being an extra-regional military force in distant lands, more than once in America's history of military endeavors. 

Has the United States, and its ever dwindling repertoire of coalition partners, been so restricted in their recall, prior to embarking on the current mission to democratize Iraq?

Was being ensconced in Vietnam, for over twenty years, and its staggering cost, relegated to a dark corner in the sepulchral collective memory of national leaders and senior military war planners?

The ostentatious strategy for transforming Iraq, and the collective Middle East, was nothing less than ill-conceived, ill-planned, and incompetent. The strategic level assessment of Iraq, made by the United States, and its closest allies, was wrong in ways reminiscent of the blind-eye application of a legendary British Admiral of yore.

The players of the free-world were profoundly uninformed and inaccurate in their assessment as to how the Iraqi people would view the US and its swift moving invasion into their heartland.

Most particularly, strategic planners were far off the mark when it came to an accurate assessment as to the challenges of the future governance of post-invasion Iraq.

Tacit errors were present in the gross underestimation of both the challenges and stumbling blocks, yet to be encountered, in legitimatizing the new government on a broad acceptable scale in grass-roots Iraq, religious and regional allegiances and ascriptions notwithstanding.

Yet, larger obstacles began to factor in with increasing relevance. When the senior Military Intelligence Planners, CIA regional experts and analysts, and State Department experts grasped the fact that they had completely misjudged the legitimacy and deep-rooted influence that Iraqi exiles still held, the consequences began to drive action planning. All-important critical planning became reactive to the point of semi-panic.

Along with other important pre-mission strategy factors that were bypassed or otherwise ignored; Iraq's economic, ethnic, and demographic complexity and potential problems associated therewith, were not effectively considered to the point of effecting the overall mission analysis.

This plethora of significant factors has resulted in a volatile and multi-faceted level of discontentment. What we now see is a reaction to what is viewed as subjugation by the indigenous population. This comes at a time, when, for the first time in decades the citizenry has been close to gaining a collective influence over the political factors and national leadership that so affects their lives. We learned that once the leadership vacuum was created in Iraq, many factions grappled for control, some with barbaric brutal approaches who, to this day, are exacting their appalling toll on a wide range of symbolic victims.

The necessity to plan for long-term, and oft philanthropic, stability operations as well as robust and multinational nation building remained woefully lacking. Also, those entrusted with the responsibilities to plan, either did not see the risk of insurgency, or they did not accurately estimate the potential down, or upside, of a heretofore un-quantified insurgency in Iraq.

It is the ignored insurgency potential that has matriculated to its current form that will continue to hone their skills of resistance in their daily application of unconventional quasi-military tactics.

The distinction between, “military and civilian”, has been effectually blurred by the resistance; rife within Iraq. Tactics such as this are not unintentional. They are largely ideological but they are certainly fueled by other factors of disenchantment and the promotion of their beliefs, political and ideological.

We now face the sustained prosecution of defiance which is comprised of, “asymmetric”, resistance, responsible for the deaths of American Forces and Anti Insurgent Iraqi Forces, as well as countless innocents, on a daily basis.

Even more important, on a broader scale, these insurgents have challenged and affected the national will of America. As we know, wavering national will, can, indeed, lead to the collective failure of America's military effort, as in the past.

The coalition forces assumed that they were so justified in invading Iraq that our historical and potential future allies would clamber to follow our lead. Poor statesmanship failed to detect, effectively quantify, and broach this resultant vacuous growing rift.

The present overall structure of global alliances, and the world's overall opinion of the United States, can largely be blamed on planning failures, rife with lacking foresight.

Also not effectively viewed in considering the big-picture; was the potential impact on the Middle East and the Islamic world which has resulted in a decline for support, by many long-term ally nations, in the global war on terror (GWOT). Misread or more likely, not understood, was the connection between the invasion of Iraq, the long-simmering Arab-Israel conflict, and the impact military operations in Afghanistan. 

Not surprisingly, the personality of sometimes arrogant Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld set a resulting tone.

Senior military leaders, and uniformed planners schooled in military science, were convinced that aggressive military action was viewed as a workable substitute for what should have been; effective coordination, and action, by all the agencies of government. In particular, the U.S. Department of State should have been much more deeply involved in mission planning.

The grand strategy, to seize weapons of mass destruction and depose the tyrannical despotic regime in Baghdad, drove the planning process.

Further, strategic assessments and on-going mission planning was ponderously slow to improve and to see the forest from the trees. Senior intelligence officers in the theater were, in hindsight, grossly incapable of thinking on their feet and performing that action in a rapid fashion.

In fact, Lieut. General William S. Wallace, the U. S. 5th Corps Commander, and initial ground forces leader during the, “run-up-to-Baghdad”, opined to the press openly.

Wallace portrayed himself, his planners, and all the U. S. forces as stunned to learn, not unlike a deer in the headlights of a car, that the enemy they found and encountered was not the one they trained for in pre-war combat operations exercises.

This, revelation on the part of Wallace was a clear and unfettered indictment of the quality of war-planning, largely supervised and overseen by him and his primary Corps staff leaders. More dangerously, it is a painful illustration of deficient mission planning than can spell defeat on any battlefield and the quality of reactive planning was no better than the pre-mission planning actions.

What is likely to be even more painful for the military, and the department of defense in the long run, is the fact that America's grandiose strategy for force transformation was flawed. With that said, one ought to keep in mind that military transformation should be threat-driven! It is obvious, that this modernization was not in direct response to known or suspected adversarial nation-states or non-nation threat actors.

America's military has changed direction from its high-tech driven version of a rapidly growing transformation in military tactics and weaponry. Instead, the military forces have fallen back to a, “human factors-driven”, counterinsurgency style of warfare dominated by the infantryman on the ground. The soldier, whose boots tread in foreign lands, faces old technologies, indigenous and area expertise, unorthodox approaches to long established conventional tactics, and an agonizing lack of cultural and sociological awareness.

As well as apparently forgetting the broader spectrum of strategic lessons, large and small, from America's wars of the past fifty-years, the U. S. military failed to learn from the lessons that should have figured more prominently, in shaping the military's future.

In hindsight, history has recorded that the United States, and in particular its senior military planners, have failed to detect and learn from the strategic complexities and inherent risks involved with combat operations. These operations, at the behest of the United States, have infrequently been mission focused to gain and ultimately possess or control territory.

I assert, however, it is not the fault or necessarily the responsibility of the senior military planner, to address the problems and challenges of conflict termination. Nor should the military planner be tasked with shaping a stalwart peace before, during, and after cessation of combat action. Such culpability falls to the executive office of the land, and the most senior of those close-in advisors.

One must attribute the failure to learn from history, to a varying extent, as the fault of historians who attenuate the significance of military history, for reasons that may be personal, political, or otherwise.

Let us not be challenged or guided by the failures of yesterday! Rather, the effort must be charged by the vigor and support that our soldiers need; political considerations notwithstanding. If our soldiers are to succeed on the battlefield, and in the collective global war on terror, our national will must remain free of eroding influences.

J. David Galland

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Author`s name Olga Savka