« And the Spanish Roman Catholic Church Actually Has Some Bishops... | Main | Am I a Secret Austrian? »

January 19, 2005

Max Hastings Turns Pessimistic on Iraq

Via Lance Knobel:

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Julia Roberts has a better chance of winning this war: There is growing dissension and dismay in the US armed forces about their prospects of victory in Iraq. The yellow ribbons, lapel pins and yard signs expressing solidarity with the nation's soldiers are still conspicuous around army bases across America. But commanders and soldiers alike are conducting an increasingly anguished debate.

There are four reasons for this. First, many service people are shocked by the incontrovertible evidence that the justifications offered by the Bush administration for invading Iraq - WMD and a link with international terrorism - were false. Second, bitter and painful fighting, notably in the showpiece assault on Falluja, has failed to suppress insurgency. Third, there is deep scepticism about progress in recruiting Iraqis to assume the security burden. Even General David Petraeus, the US airborne general charged with organising Iraq's new forces, is said to be increasingly despondent. And finally, the army and marine corps are acutely aware that they have to sustain the occupation without sufficient troops to control the country effectively.

Having begun the campaign convinced of the justice of their cause and their ability to secure victory, many members of the US military and their families now suspect that the cause may be invalid and the battle unwinnable.... [T]he US army has been forged into a motivated, effective tool for large-scale military operations overseas. But it has never been suited to combating insurgency. Guerrillas and suicide bombers can impose a deadly corrosion on conventional forces.

Years ago, I heard an American general's lament for what was once a formidable cold war fighting machine. He said to me: "We went into Korea ... in 1950 with a very poor army, and came out of it in 1953 with a very good one. We went into Vietnam in 1964 with a fine army, and came out in 1975 with a terrible one."

This is the threat that some thoughtful American officers see hanging over the Iraq deployment. The US armed forces are fighting the sort of conflict that least suits their capabilities. It would be a devastating blow to the confidence painstakingly rebuilt since Vietnam if the US, having committed enormous resources and suffered painful casualties, was obliged to quit Iraq without achieving its purposes....

Posted by DeLong at January 19, 2005 08:53 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Max Hastings Turns Pessimistic on Iraq:

» 10 Days Until Iraqi Elections from Freiheit und Wissen
Just how long are we going to be in Iraq anyway?...And yes, it looks as though Prime Minister Allawi personally executed six unarmed suspects in an Iraqi jail shortly after taking office. [Read More]

Tracked on January 19, 2005 10:34 PM


Thank you Mr. Bush for an incredibly stupid, strategic blunder based on deceit, deception and dishonesty that is now coming home to destroy our credibility and our armed forces.

How much more damage can we suffer in 4 more years of your misguided foreign policy?

Posted by: pfknc at January 19, 2005 09:35 AM

George Bush has done more damage to the US Army then any America since Robert E. Lee.

Moreover, as a very good article in the Boston Globe recently showed, he has nothing in his budgets for replacing the equipment now being destroyed in Iraq.

Posted by: spencer at January 19, 2005 09:45 AM

Do you think there will be much dismay in evidence amongst the well connected at the inauguration? Neither do I. Their future looks bright.

Posted by: d at January 19, 2005 10:28 AM

Yeah! And now, on to Iran! And Syria!

I wonder what the possibilities are for a military revolt? Not a coup--just the senior officers refusing to follow the plainly stupid (and perhaps illegal) orders of Bush, Rummy, and the rest of the idiots.

I think it's plain that the Bush presidency will leave us with a broken military, a teetering (if not failing) economy, and a government on the verge of collapse. Quite the legacy, that.

Posted by: Derelict at January 19, 2005 10:29 AM

[Be polite...]

Posted by: at January 19, 2005 10:39 AM

[Be polite.]

Posted by: at January 19, 2005 10:45 AM

Keep in mind that Rummy plausibly wants to break the Army; he's an airpower-and-special-forces true believer, and the entire neo-con cabal is perfectly capable of convincing themselves that the entire Iraq plan would have worked if the Army wasn't mired in the past.

Posted by: Graydon at January 19, 2005 11:43 AM

Spencer, at this moment Lyndon Johnson has still done the most damage. It took the Army 10 to 15 years to fix itself after Vietnam. In my opinion as a former active duty Army officer, we have only sustained about 5 years worth of damage this time. NCO flight has not reached epidemic levels yet, and we've only had one year of seriously underperforming recruitment in the Guard and Reserve. This is not to say that Dubya isn't trying for the record...just that he hasn't set it yet. Another four years for the Army and Marines, and he'll be in LBJ territory though (I can't speak for Navy and Air Force, but optempo for those two services seems to be considerably lower...all Army units, on the other hand, now have just three states--recovering from Iraq, getting ready to deploy to Iraq and "In Iraq").

As far as Derelict's comments, sorry but your notion of widespread uniformed mutiny lies on false premises. Dumb orders are not illegal. Never have been. Remember those poor saps who refused to deliver the contaminated fuel by driving their ill-equipped fuel deuces through hostile areas? They are in deep trouble. The orders they got were self-serving, ass-covering stupidity from a company CO and XO who should have known better...but they were legal. The courts martial will be open and shut. An illegal order violates the Hague and Geneva conventions, or UCMJ. Common Sense doesn't qualify. Boneheaded doesn't even qualify.

Posted by: Doug at January 19, 2005 12:18 PM

While insubordination is not an option resignation is.

My brother is an Army major and I know all about the "can-do" attitude in the Army. However, there does come a point where incredibly stupid people like Rumsfield need to be told no.

I would like to think there are people like Anthony Zinni still around and that they would resign very publicly before doing something really, really stupid like invading Iran.

The scary thing to consider is that there might be more Colin Powells and Tommy Franks than there are Zinnis.

Posted by: Mark at January 19, 2005 12:39 PM

At least Robert E. Lee had the brass after Gettysburg to not only acknowledge to his troops that the loss was all his fault, he also submitted his resignation.

That Mr. Bush had half the decency.

Posted by: knobboy at January 19, 2005 12:55 PM

The US should recognise (& agree to defend with air power) a Kurdish state, which would be friendly, a Shia state, which would be somewhat friendly if it happens before the Shia start believing a democracy will give them the lot. Then shoot Saddam, declare a 2/3s victory & GET OUT.

Posted by: Neil Craig at January 19, 2005 01:31 PM


And what would those purposes be?

Posted by: Melanie at January 19, 2005 01:58 PM

From the article:
"many service people are shocked by the incontrovertible evidence that the justifications offered by the Bush administration for invading Iraq - WMD and a link with international terrorism - were false"

I'd like to believe that many are shocked, but I haven't encountered any evidence of that here in San Diego (heavy military presence).

The divide I hear is between the "I never believed Bush's fright tales" crowd and the "we need to kill the terrorists before they kill us" crowd.

The "holy shite! Whaddaya mean there weren't any WMDs!" group doesn't exist, in my experience.

I'd love to here differently, if others here have encountered the shocked group.

Posted by: Ottnott at January 19, 2005 02:44 PM


I would think that orders to invade Iran would qualify as illegal under Hague (crime against humanity by waging aggressive war).

As for the lack of NCO flight, doesn't stop-loss effectively prevent these guys from quitting? I would guess that an officer or NCO who tried to resign would find him- or herself busted down to private and working BDS on the Bagdad Airport road.

Posted by: Derelict at January 19, 2005 03:09 PM

"I would think that orders to invade Iran would qualify as illegal under Hague (crime against humanity by waging aggressive war)."

And the war against Iraq, done sans UN authorisation or any imminent threat, doesn't qualify under that heading? It didn't stop officers following the order.

Even if you believe that this war was morally justified, you have to strain very hard indeed to sincerely believe it was legal.

Posted by: derrida derider at January 19, 2005 04:10 PM

I wasn't in the military before, during, or after the Vietnam war, but as a civilian observer it looks to me that the Iraq war, or at least the last year of it, may have been a bigger shock; in part because the Vietnam war had already happpened; there was a sense that the lessons had been learned; and in fact those supposed lessons turned out to be pretty useless.

Posted by: sm at January 19, 2005 04:11 PM

There's a lot of this sort of talk in the US press etc. in the last 6 months or so:

"It would be a devastating blow to the confidence painstakingly rebuilt since Vietnam if the US, having committed enormous resources and suffered painful casualties, was obliged to quit Iraq without achieving its purposes.... "

The conditional, however, strikes me as false to fact, a way of hiding ones eyes from an accident that one sees in progress but one cannot prevent. The US forces will leave Iraq without achieving its purposes. If indeed anyone can decide what those purposes are now, or ever were.

To put it another way, the dam has bust and if the water has not reached us downvalley yet, on the particular spot where any of us stands, it will.

Posted by: sm at January 19, 2005 04:17 PM

One of the things that led to the breakdown of the Army after Viet Nam (which I witnessed from the inside) was the strong prevalence of drug use, from pot to heroin, among enlisted men, and the heavy alcoholism among senior NCOs. I do not see any sign that either of these is as much of a problem in Iraq.

Posted by: masaccio at January 19, 2005 04:44 PM

"First, many service people are shocked by the incontrovertible evidence that the justifications offered by the Bush administration for invading Iraq - WMD and a link with international terrorism - were false."

Shouldn't that be "many service people are shocked - shocked! - by the incontrovertible evidence [that Bush was lying to them]" ?

Yeah, I know, they're military, and Bush seemed like One Of Them philosophically. So I guess they ARE shocked.

Melanie, I think those purposes have dwindled from the original lofty goals of bringing democracy and prosperity to the entire Middle East, to leaving a semi-stable Iraqi government in charge of a not completely unsafe country. And unfortunately for the Iraqi people, we will fail at even that.

I'm convinced that WMDs had nothing to do with the American goals in Iraq. Wolfie is on record as saying that was just what the principals could agree on, and of course the war plan itself made securing prospective WMD sites during the invasion a decidedly secondary priority. (With the result that, as reported in the 5/11/03 WaPo, many such sites were looted to the ground after our troops had been there, but before anyone on our side had the chance to search them for signs of WMD. IOW, if WMDs had existed, we would have failed to secure them.)

Posted by: RT at January 19, 2005 05:19 PM

I just read Seymour Hersh's article "The Coming Wars" in this week's New Yorker. The plans to launch attacks on sites in Iran are very well developed. Be afraid, be very very afraid.

Posted by: evap at January 19, 2005 06:13 PM

So, Bush won't stop until he completely destroys the country? I read Hersh's piece and I thought "with what army?" How many more army resources are out there?

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at January 19, 2005 06:40 PM

My sympathy for the officer corp is adulterated by the fact they have become overwhelmingly Republican. One of the unforeseen fruits of the all volunteer army. Well, they voted for the chimp because of their delusions and grandiosity. Now they are slogging in the slough of despond (or should I say, 'reality') -- which is just where they deserve to be. The unfortunates in this case are the Iraqis.

Posted by: camille roy at January 19, 2005 07:41 PM

Well, as someone up top speculated, maybe the Necons believe, and have or will try to convince Bush that Iran's military can be "taken out" by naval and air power alone. More Shock and Greater Awe, maybe. But of course they will trump the Iraq failure with an Iran catastrophe. If we strike Iran then what do you think will prevent Iran from sending its entire
army into Iraq and trapping and destroying our Army on their way to Jerusalem? It will be a race between U.S. troops evacuating Iraq before Israel starts nuking Iraq and Iran (we'll be lucky if Israel does wait for us to get completely out) and Iranian troops clashing with the IDF in Jordan. If Iran's forces meet Israels I give Israel a 50% chace of survial.

Posted by: stoy at January 19, 2005 07:46 PM

Yeah, the ethical dimensions of this war really *should* boil down to how the outcome affects our military's sense of self-esteem...


Posted by: John Moose at January 19, 2005 10:44 PM

The ultimate:

"Jonathan Clarke, a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute and co-author of 'America Alone,' has offered a clue to understanding Bush's rhetorical inconsistencies.

'This whole thing about WMDs and connection with al Qaeda...were [just] the rhetorical tools he was using to persuade the American people,' Clarke said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. 'He knew if he got up and said 'I have this ambitious project for changing the face of the Middle East,' people wouldn't have bought into that. So you had these immediate rationales being rolled out, but no great attachment to them.'"

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post, January 19, 2005

Posted by: Ken at January 20, 2005 04:05 AM

Stoy's comment leads pretty logically to one big question - What would be the justification for war with Iran? Saying that Iran has been much more active in terrorism and has a much more advanced nuke program that Iraq would have a certain black comical element to it, but what beyond that? Smacking Iran with big explosives might seem like "doing something" but unless Iran's more developed weapons program has less developed efforts at camoflage and protection, what's the point? Right-wingers ridiculed Clinton for sending cruise missiles instead of troops, for daily bombing of Iraqi air defense facilities instead of invasion. I know they'd excuse similar behavior from Bush against Iraq, but I just don't know what we'd gain by doing it.

Posted by: kharris at January 20, 2005 07:38 AM

Make that "similar behavior by Bush against IRAN..."

Posted by: kharris at January 20, 2005 07:44 AM

And it could get a lot worse. The North Vietnamese were willing to grant us a face-saving exit. How do we conduct a retreat from Iraq under fire from these people? Could be very ugly.

Posted by: Bob H at January 20, 2005 09:42 AM

To the extent possible, the burden of an America at war should be shared roughly equally by all adult Americans. Unfortunately, this has not been true of the American experience. Without such sharing of the burden, military solutions to the problems facing America will continue to grow in popularity, as they have since WWII. Unfortunately, such solutions are rarely of a lasting nature. Yet, since many more Americans benefit than lose when war is the tool used to deal with the problems facing our nation,
I would not be suprised to see war increasingly used as the means for resolving our problems with other nations and for expanding American values around the world.

Posted by: bncthor at January 20, 2005 01:40 PM

WMDs were a lie Blair needed not Bush. The British Labour party were about to rebel & certainly insisted on making an attempt to get the UN signed up. WMDs were the only justification for UN involvement.

Bush on the other hand had a written get into war free card from Congress right from the start.

For soldiers to fight in an illegal war is not itself illegal if the orders were issued legally did not order them personally to engage in atrocities. The war crime is "Planing an Aggressive War" which makes the criminal the C-in-C. Otherwise every German officer would have faced trial at Nuremberg. Mind you the Kosovo war was considerably more obviously illegal & nobody minded.

Posted by: Neil Craig at January 20, 2005 02:15 PM


We may, from the outside, think that Bush and company did not need the illicit weapons excuse. However, as is noted above, insiders are on the record saying that the weapons argument was the only one the entire war cabinet was comfortable selling to the public. We needed conclude that since Blair needed the weapons argument, Bush did not.

Posted by: kharris at January 20, 2005 07:29 PM

...needn't conclude... sheesh, I gotta lern to spel.

Posted by: kharris at January 20, 2005 07:33 PM

"To the extent possible, the burden of an America at war should be shared roughly equally by all adult Americans. Unfortunately, this has not been true of the American experience."

Whadya mean? I see "support our troops" ribbons stuck on the ass end of vehicles everywhere.

kharris, typing a comment in an email or word document, running spel chek on it and then doing a cut/paste into the comment field is a lot easier than learning to spel. ;)

Posted by: Dubblblind at January 20, 2005 08:05 PM

A sane exit strategy for you Yanks:

Say you are increasing troop capacity to maintain security after the elections.

Fly in one C-17 after another, 1/4 full.
March everyone around and back again and
put a lot of chatter on the comm, with a
lot of skirmishes to give the illusion.

Withdraw max-loaded C-17's at night, while feinting drives in different directions from Baghdad to also communicate face-to-face the pullout strategy to outlying field units.

Lie like a dog to the US-trained nationals.
They were dead the moment they signed on.
Send them on a two-day patrol or send them
home for a two-day holiday before they die.

Announce a major battle in the south,
bomb the living hell out of Basra, then
roll for Kuwait in the dead of night
with anything that can move, blowing
up anything that can't on the way out.

Northern units book for Turkey US bases.

Air-vac any stragglers beneath air cover,
then commence full-scale night bombing
until everything left is bouncing dust.

Like an invasion in reverse. The
insurgents are, after all, militias.
They have no armor and no air force.
All they can do is run behind as you
Yanks pull out, throwing rocks and
firing their Kalisnakovs in the air.

Then go find someone your own size
to pick on. China. Or North Korea.
Hey, I'll tell you OCS guys, ribbons
from a North Korean campaign will get
you promoted a lot faster than police
duty in the Green Zone.

Posted by: tante aime at January 21, 2005 12:05 AM

tante aime
The US exit strategy is to let the Shiites and Kurds massacre the Sunni, providing only artillary and air support, and then leave. The Shiites would scatter rose petals on our troops on the way out, afterwards.
Of course, the rest of the Arab world is run by Sunni and they would embargo world oil for a few years in revenge, but since the US is too broke to buy oil, in what way is that our problem?

Posted by: walter willis at January 21, 2005 12:22 PM

I'm afraid that post hoc pleas by unnamed folk of "not my fault gov I really believed in WMDs - blame the guy who told me" are unconvincing.

May I also say that Congress' abdication of it's constitutional duty to decide on war was disgraceful.

Posted by: Neil Craig at January 21, 2005 03:14 PM

[comment spam]

Posted by: at February 7, 2005 05:57 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?