Monday, August 15, 2005

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?
How much further do we go?
Families churn and fret
And morale is at a low
Are we there yet?
The soldier wants to know
Because he has paid his debt
And put his life on hold
Are we there yet?
He is asking to be told.


The Republican leadership and many prominent Democrats have accepted the assumption that we cannot set a date for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. That assumption must be challenged.
If we can stand down only when the Iraqi forces stand up and the Iraqi political apparatus is functioning, then we must set a date and set objectives for those outcomes. Otherwise, the classic question, ?Are we there yet?? will drive us into a pattern of activity instead of achievement.

Failure to set recognizable objectives will repeat a major error of Vietnam and will result in an Iraqi military and government that are never ready or, worse, the temptation for US leaders to say that Iraq is ready when it is not. We must also focus on mutually developed objectives or else the image of puppetry like the Soviets in Afghanistan or the US with the Shah of Iran will be center stage again. That means that Iraqis must participate in setting the departure date.

Setting clear objectives and measuring them may put the president at risk for being judged as unsuccessful, but it simultaneously increases his chance for success and for a shorter schedule overall. If we were to do the unthinkable and actually set objectives, then we could solve problems such as training Iraqi soldiers. We need to consider the offers of Europeans to train Iraqis off site (in Europe). This simultaneously reduces the number of fixed targets in Iraq; shares the training responsibility with our allies and reduces our own casualties and the probability of becoming targets when we defend fixed targets. It also diffuses the magnetism insurgents have for the targets of Iraq. In other words, if training is a goal, then set specific skill objectives and find ways to optimize that learning. The concept that we will stay there as long as it takes smacks of the worst of WW I where stubbornness and pride resulted in the slaughter of thousands, solved nothing, and led to WW II. Similarly, we must set goals for infrastructure repair, training civil servants, operational hospitals and schools, etc.

Ironically, some very well meaning souls have justified not setting a real end of combat operations date to prevent the enemy from planning around our timing. There are several good reasons for setting a departure goal along with objectives as noted above. We need to remember is that we have little or no control over this enemy. We do have some control over our own soldiers, but we limit our chance for success by not telling our own soldiers what is going on. Soldiers and their families need to plan for a return home. Playing ?dress up? and strutting around in a flight jacket will not fool the enemy. The enemy is on the ground and not susceptible to a PR campaign out of the White House. The enemy sees what is going on and views FOX as entertainment without the classic suspension of disbelief that is so essential to good fiction.

I have to rely on my personal experience with soldiers who are not given a clear goal. Back in the distant days of 1961, I was platoon leader for two platoons of Company E of the 1/325th Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division. I regularly trained the entire company in PT including calisthenics and running. One morning I felt a little ornery and announced to the company of 250 men that anybody who fell out during the run would have extra PT with me at 1600 (4 PM). The exercises went very normally, and we proceeded on a running route that had become routine if not habitual. However, instead of finishing the run by turning into the company area, I simply continued the run without another command. More than half of the soldiers fell out. I had to literally hold two soldiers by the backs of their belts. Several were embarrassed and a few were angry, and, of course, we had extra PT that afternoon. There are two major lessons we can all draw from my experience. First, leaders need to be extremely clear when setting or changing goals or soldiers will set their own goals and may fail to achieve what is needed for the mission. The second lesson is that the leader is responsible to communicate those clear goals or face resentment and worse. Hiding behind words to falsely encourage the soldier or his/her family is not an alternative. Neither is ?boldly? announcing that there is no date. We have all recently learned that we will withdraw thousands of troops next spring, so the enemy knows that we are leaving while leaving some behind. The enemy also knows that we have not prepared the Iraqis for self-governance. The targets for the enemy frequently include the recruiting stations for Iraqi soldiers and police. Today, the accepted estimates of Iraqi military ready for independent action numbers only 2500 to 3000 men while the total force is about 170,000. There are about 75-80 attacks per day against soft and hard targets including recruiting lines. It is virtually impossible to train soldiers and defend fixed targets simultaneously. It is time to put an end of this ?go it alone? approach and adopt MBO in Iraq where the payoff is in blood saved. We can accept the help that is offered rather than annoy our allies and bring back trained soldiers and police from Europe.

It is time to put pride aside and to set realistic objectives and to solve problems as Americans love to do. Surely setting a date is not magic and we will have to plan for a contingency force to respond to any ?end game? reaction by the enemy, but we have ample positive examples from our post-war occupation of Germany, Japan and Korea. Even our industrial experience with Management by Objectives tells us that we are on the road to disaster unless we set clear objectives sooner rather than later. ?More of the same? and calling for pride is a design for failure. It will inevitably result in more deaths than necessary and a revision of history for those who cannot admit to an error and move on to solve the problem. When war becomes a matter of pride, only those who sell war and the pride will profit. Everybody else loses. Of course, George W. could ask his daddy to get him out of Iraq like he got him out of Vietnam. O, Vietnam, where we declared victory and left the Vietnamese to fend for themselves as we slipped out the back door. Could this happen again? Is Camp Anaconda the new Cam Rahn Bay?

Peace,

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