« First You Toss A Grenade Into The Pottery Barn, Then You Cut And Run | Main | Wages Of Sin Watch »

August 07, 2006

Comments

Andrew: thanks. -- I'm really glad that Billmon overestimated the chances of losing the army. On the other hand, I'm really sorry he didn't overestimate the other bad stuff.

There's a family of mistakes I think people sometimes make in thinking about military stuff. One is thinking that soldiers can do anything: forgetting that they are very well-trained human beings with very good technology, but human beings nonetheless, not superheroes with superpowers. Another is thinking that because we have the best military force in the world, there is no need to contemplate the possibility that we will lose, since that could never happen. (A particularly bad mistake for the people in charge of policy to make.) Whereas it seems to me that of course we could lose, given idiotic enough policies and/or command, and that a failure to take this possibility seriously and take steps to avoid it, on the part of civilian (or military) commanders, is a form of dereliction of duty.

I really think that the civilian leadership in DoD, in particular, has made both of these mistakes from the outset.

I should have said: not that I really have much claim to be saying what constitutes a mistake in thinking about military stuff, since all I really have going for me is some knowledge of history, a bit of curiosity, and a certain amount of reflection on a couple of wars that interested me.

Excellent post, Andrew.

Hellishly depressing, but excellent.

(I would see either outcome as appalling - whether the US lost the army, or whether the army got safely out at the cost of so many Iraqi lives. And I have no optimism about the US being able to avoid a Shi'ite uprising except by good luck - or by being gone before it happens.)

Made me think of the Plaid Adder's journal entry from 25th March 2003.

Andrew:
Despite your modest disclaimers, it is a good bet that you still have a great deal more familiarity with military affairs than we mere civilian bloghounds - so I have a couple of questions re your post:

1. What is the real likelihood that al-Sadr would, or would even be able to, send "assistance" to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon? I know that Iraq's borders, US presence notwithstanding, are less-than-hermetically-tight, but is there a credible chance that he would be able to dispatch a real fighting force (even if clandestinely)? Or is this just rhetoric for the "Street"?

2. In your fifth paragraph, wouldn't "enemy forces", in the scenario you outline, pretty much be the same as "Any Iraqi"?

3. "Whatever mistakes this administration has made thus far, they simply must find a way to avoid inciting the Shiites against the U.S. "

Basically, hasn't this "incitement" already occurred? - AFAICT, it is just a matter of degree - the degree to which Shiites (whether in Iraq or elesewhere) feel motivated to DO something about it.

Not Stalingrad, and not Saratoga either. Or Dien Bien Phu. But if/when force protection becomes the primary goal, the purpose for the presence -- and the justifiability of any further death, injury, broken soldiers, broken families -- just goes away.

It's not Stalingrad, but we're already past Tet.

Excellent, Andrew. Now, the only flaw I can see in this analysis is that the C-130s and fighters depend, I believe, on base support out of country, but still in the region. If somehow there was a coordinated attack on those bases simultaneous with an attack on the supply lines, bad things could happen.

That said, I think the result would be similar, with more carnage. We'd be able to fight for a while unresupplied, and by then we'd have a couple of carrier air groups in the region for air support. We've got one right now, and we could probably get another one or two there in just over a week's time.

There's a family of mistakes I think people sometimes make in thinking about military stuff. One is thinking that soldiers can do anything: forgetting that they are very well-trained human beings with very good technology, but human beings nonetheless, not superheroes with superpowers.

Yes, absolutely. People tend to think that because we have these magic weapons, we'll absolutely kill all of the bad guys without killing a whole lot of bystanders. Nope, sorry; doesn't work that way. What I'm even more leery of is if our own troops start thinking of themselves this way.

Another is thinking that because we have the best military force in the world, there is no need to contemplate the possibility that we will lose, since that could never happen.

Well, I think that all depends on what your concept of "lose" is. In any armed conflict, we're going to win. It's all the other things that I (and, obviously, you) worry about: our military cannot "win" an Iraq civil war. Our military cannot "win", using battlefield tactics, against an insurgency. There's a whole lot of other kinds of unpleasantries that our military cannot "win". I know you know this; this is to simply underscore that our military IS the most powerful in the world, but that's not necessarily going to buy us what we want, anymore than Australia's having the best swimming in the world is going to accomplish anything other than winning a lot of Olympic medals.

Jay C,

1) I have read that al Sadr is having some difficulties with members of the Mahdi Army who disagree with how he is running things. He might want to try and send those troublemakers to Lebanon to get them out of his hair.

2) It would be any Iraqi attempting to prevent the movement of U.S. forces, but I suspect that definition would be applied very liberally were U.S. forces actually threatened with being cut off.

3) Given that the current degree of incitement has not yet been sufficient to unleash the Shiites against us, I'm positing that if we ratchet things down in Lebanon (or at least make it clear we're doing what we can to do so), perhaps we can avoid reaching the tipping point with the Shiites.

Andrew, this was another fascinating post. I really appreciate you helping those of us who need some clues understand more of the context.

Well, I guess we all have to start contemplating the unthinkable then. As far as I can tell, every single time someone knowledgeable who has said "we must do X, Y or Z" or "we must find a way to prevent A, B, and C" this administration has found a way to do something even worse. Every step along the way they have managed to do precisely the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time in precisely the wrong way. One would have thought all those negatives would have cancelled themselves out...

But really. It's all well and good to look at this and shudder. It's quite another to look at this, see the trajectory of the past performance vector, and look at the most probable future. Since the military is a hierarchical organization, when the head is insane, the body just follows. Short of a military uprising, I don't see how anyone can possibly think things are going to change.

So, again, thanks for the "too terrible to contemplate", but I thinks we better start thinking about the "too terrible to contemplate". Because just 2 Friedmans ago, civil war was "too terrible to contemplate". 4 Friedmans ago, the insurgency was "too terrible to contemplate".

I have this feeling that in a Friedman or two we're going to be having yet another conversation about other things "too terrible to contemplate".

"AFAICT, it is just a matter of degree - the degree to which Shiites (whether in Iraq or elesewhere) feel motivated to DO something about it."

There is not a monolithic Shia in Iraq, and may not ever be unless Sistani decides a temporary unification, to the degree even he could create one, is in order. He has been restrained, for the sake of his people. Were Andrew's scenario looking imminent, however, Sistani might intervene again, as he did in Najaf, and ask the the civilian population of Iraq surround the target sites.

Does anyone remember Sistani saving Moqtada Sadr, at the cost of the lives of many civilians? I really appreciate Andrew's honesty, I had not considered the brutality with which the American military would protect itself, but I really think Sistani would intervene when the US started bombing up women and children to simply ensure its safe getaway, and Andrew's tens of thousands could approach a million civilians.

God bless our boys in uniform.

Of course, Sistani's hope would be to save the lives of his own people, and that Bush, rather than killing a million Iraqi civilians, would abandon his Army. Andrew tells me Sistani would be in error.

Not much to say except: Thanks, Andrew. Great post. Glad you're here.

Bob,

I cannot speak to what President Bush will do. My record on predicting his actions is sufficiently poor that I wouldn't presume to try, in fact. My point was merely that the chances of the Army being wiped out in Iraq are slim.

Slarti: " In any armed conflict, we're going to win. It's all the other things that I (and, obviously, you) worry about: our military cannot "win" an Iraq civil war."

I think we're in agreement, probably. What I really wanted to say was something like this: first, just having the best military in no way guarantees victory. You need to use it correctly. To use a ludicrous example: if we sent the best army in the world into battle without their weapons, and told them to just stand in the midst of attackers and do nothing, we would lose.

I think that it's easy for us (outside government and the army) to think: oh, but our leadership would never do something that dumb. Which is probably true, given the example I used. But we should (imho) never assume that those in command (especially civilian leadership) couldn't possibly do something dumb enough to make the best military in the world lose. -- I mean, we take for granted some minimal competence in our leaders, the sort that makes us think: well, surely no one would ever do anything that stupid. We should never, I think, assume anything of the kind (where 'assume' does not mean: conclude, on the basis of experience, that some specific person will not do something truly stupid.)

It's partly, I think, some assumption that there are limits to how badly a President could screw up the country and thee world that led the electorate, in 2000, to disregard the evidence that Bush was just not competent. Sure, we think, he may not know who the leader of Pakistan is, but there will be grownups around him, and he won't be able to do anything too awful.

Wrong.

Likewise, I think that people who are actually in command can just fail to take into account the idea that they might actually lose, and thus fail to recognize that competent command is a precondition of winning (absent luck.) If people in command fail to recognize that they need not just to rely on the thought that they can't possibly lose, but to make it the case that they don't lose, then (I would think) serious trouble can follow.

In philosophy, there's something we call fatalism, and (normally) regard as a mistake. An instance of fatalism goes like this: either X will happen or it won't. If it will, why waste effort trying to make it happen? If it won't, why waste effort trying to bring about something that won't happen anyways?

You can see the flaw by giving X a value like: my coffee getting made. Either it's going to get made or it won't. If it's going to get made anyways, why should I bother making it? If not, why struggle against the inevitable? Fatalism leaves out the fact that it is often by my efforts that things happen; that if I want the coffee to get made, normally I have to make it.

The mistake I'm thinking of is, I think, like this. If our military is going to prevail anyways, why bother making sure that it does? Why bother trying to think of things that could go wrong and preventing them? Why, for that matter, bother to have a serious plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, since after all our military will be there, prevailing?

I think this is irresponsible towards our troops, our nation, and the world; and honestly, I think that on some level people like Rumsfeld, and certainly Bush, never seriously entertained the thought that we might lose, and that it was important to prevent that from happening.

If our military is going to prevail anyways, why bother making sure that it does? Why bother trying to think of things that could go wrong and preventing them? Why, for that matter, bother to have a serious plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, since after all our military will be there, prevailing?

I'd guess that the answer to your first three questions is something like "because that's what far more qualified folks are doing in the Pentagon, day in and day out". The answer to your last question would be nice, though.

"My point was merely that the chances of the Army being wiped out in Iraq are slim."

I am still not certain. In my scenario above, I suspect a negotiated withdrawal would be attempted, but both Bush and Sistani would be under a pure hell in pressure, and possibly not in complete control of the situation and followers.

Would the US military trust Sistani to merely minimize the damage? A few thousand American casualties on the way out? Or would that just be unacceptable, and all measures of force protection be demanded?

Hell, I guess Sistani better be well hidden. This is just a nightmare.

How likely is this scenario?

I commented in the thread below on the logistic problem, and would have given a credit and link to Billmon, but Steve Gilliard has been talking about this for years.

Andrew, you are I suspect imagining less than a hundred thousand enemies on the way out, but if Sistani gets pissed enough, the Americans could be facing ten million Iraqis with guns. Are you really so certain the Army could be saved?

If it can happen, and it'd be our worst nightmare, I'd assign it a probability of 1.0.

But that's how I am about most things. It's how I keep myself from making mistakes.

Where are Iraqis going to get 10 million guns, bob, and hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition?

But, what to do? To paraphrase Mal Johnson: We don't want to kill you, and you don't want to be dead.

We don't want to kill you, and you don't want to be dead.

That may work on the road to Silverado, but I'm not sure it applies to a significant number of people in Iraq.

Slarti, as I understand it, Iraqis are about as bad - er, as good - as Americans are about believing that they need guns around. Wasn't there an article in the NY Times back in 2003 noting that most Iraqi households own at least one gun? And didn't the attempt to get Iraqis to turn in banned weapons really not work very well?

Actually, maybe that was after they got to Silverado.

Slarti: don't forget the enormous munitions depots that were apparently scattered across the country, and that we left unguarded because we didn't have enough troops...

Iraqis are about as bad - er, as good - as Americans are about believing that they need guns around

Hey, you never know when you may have to defend your home from the British. ;)

but I'm not sure it applies to a significant number of people in Iraq

So...you're saying we do want them to be dead? I have no idea what you're saying, here.

Jesurgislac, it's not as if we'd want to pursue them into their cities and towns and take their guns away. If what bob's envisioning (and I'm not even sure what that is, yet) comes to pass, we absolutely do not engage in urban warfare. Out in the open, it's a different ballgame.

Andrew, my opinion of guns has been permanently warped by years of watching the Doctor defend the Earth against alien invaders, invariably with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's despairing cry of "Just once, I wish we would encounter an alien menace that wasn't immune to bullets" as a trope.

Plus, guns didn't save the US people from an unelected dictator. :-)

I thought every house in Iraq had several weapons. It was Saddam's policy to help keep the internecine fighting under control.

OK, not the Kurds. Lots of women and children. Iran makes bullets, and supposedly s caches hanging around. I haven't seen any shortage of ammo so far. Maybe 5 million? 1 million? Ain't easy to withdraw under fire, there is a force multiplier. Every Iraqi stud will want to be the dude to shoot the last American out the door, considering that we weren't invited and what we are going to leave behind. Of course, a lot of people have already left. But those aren't the shooting types.

Who knows what Sistani will do? AFAIK, he has never spoken to a single official American since the invasion. I sure was surprised when he rushed back from heart surgery and surrounded the mosque with civilians. By his calculation, ten American lives for every Shia civilian he could save would be a fair exchange. We haven't really targeted his constituency much, and he wouldn't be popular if he let the bloodbath happen without at least attempting a bluff.

Slarti: Jesurgislac, it's not as if we'd want to pursue them into their cities and towns and take their guns away.

Nope. But you asked where the Iraqis would get 10 million guns, and I fear the answer is - they've already got them. (Also, as Hilzoy pointed out, the munitions dumps, the securing/destroying of which were somehow not a military objective in the invasion...)

Hilzoy, assuming that every bit of the quarter of a million tons of ordnance reported unaccounted for is AK-47 ammo, I calculate that would be enough to give each of the mythical ten million Iraqis just under 30 clips of ammo.

So, quite a lot, but it leaves nothing for distance fighting.

Jes,

I always preferred MacGyver. A little duct tape, a Swiss Army knife, and a tube sock and, voila, he's got whatever he needs to escape this week's dilemma.

On a more serious note, should the Iraqi populace arise en masse and attempt to overrun our forces, we would certainly take significant losses. However, I think people fail to understand just how devastating modern weaponry is. In such a scenario, unless there was simply no way to get air support involved, we could easily see the Air Force utilizing fuel-air explosives to clear out the paths the Army needed to take.

As Jes noted above, the scenario is a horrifying one regardless of whether or not the Army actually gets out. Therefore, avoiding it is the preferred course of action.

Therefore, avoiding it is the preferred course of action.

Exactly. Which is where the Mal Johnson quote comes in. It's something both sides should know to avoid.

Was it before or after Mal Johnson said that that he ended up killing someone who reached for a gun? I think it was after.

So...you're saying we do want them to be dead? I have no idea what you're saying, here.

I was more focused on the fact that there seems to be a lot of people who would like nothing more than to die fighting U.S. forces in Iraq; though they seem more focused on killing each other lately.

Um, just to clarify:

None of my comments upthread should be construed as "bring 'em on!" I'm just saying that if there is some wild Iraqi impulse to hurl themselves on our swords, our soldiers aren't going to decide the noble thing to do is just let themselves be killed. Or that, in order to preserve proportionality of response, that we can only kill as many of them as they kill of us (which, really, amounts to the same thing as suicide). No, we'd fight back. Anyone would.

I don't think it will really happen. Sistani has very carefully threatened three times, and the US has partially blinked three times. Sistani is not Mookie.
1)He demanded elections, and put 100k in the street w/o breaking a sweat. We had elections.
2) He saved Mookie in Najaf. Mookie remain free and well, and I presume there are many Americans unhappy about that.
3)He contributed to a postponement of the first attack on Fallujah. Anybody remember the Shia human train of supplies to Fallujah?
Just enough delay to get more civilians out.

4) ? Sistani rarely speaks, but he spoke this week about Lebanon. Condemning those who would would not help stop the violence, or something I should go link. But we are working hard on a UN Resolution, and Hezbollah looks like it will survive with a political victory. Nothing to do with Sistani making a rare pronouncement, of course.

So Americans will just avoid upsetting Sistani, and there will be no Shia uprising. He is not in control, but he is as close as it gets. He doesn't ask for more than we can deliver.

We probably are not attacking Iran.

Mostly OT - anyone read Time's cover story this week? It's depressing.

and there will be no Shia uprising

Hopefully not....but...

In Baghdad, sounds of heavy gunfire and explosions rattled the Sadr City district starting about 1 a.m. Monday and persisted for more than an hour. Iraqi government television and aides to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said U.S. aircraft were attacking buildings in the area.

``Several aerial and ground raids began in central Sadr City,'' al-Sadr aide Jaleel al-Nouri said by telephone as detonations could be heard in the background. ``We can see several houses on fire.''

Thanks, Andrew, for a thoughtful post, and thank you, Hilzoy, for bringing it up.

Within the purview of speculating what might happen if the U.S. Armed Forces must fight their way out of Iraq, (I have no opinion on the degree of damage that would be done to either our troops or the Iraqis), I wonder about the domestic political situation during and after such a debacle.

It seems to me that the rhetoric has been primed to its maximum extent, and the various media avenues secured, and the government infrastructure put in place, to begin the rooting out and punishing of domestic enemies.

I'm sure the troops are smart people. But they've been saturated with a steady diet of Rush Limbaugh and ilk while in the battle zone.

Will they still be smart when they get home?

Will they hate Rush or will they hate me?

John,

Trying to predict what any one soldier will think is as difficult as predicting what any one Republican/Democrat/liberal/conservative/etc. will think. While there is some tilt to the right in the Army, I don't think it's so pronounced to make such predictions likely. I think some of the soldiers will be unhappy with the left because, well, that's the way they think; others will feel the same way about the right, for similar reasons. We all have a tendency to pin blame on familiar goblins.

But John: who could possibly hate you?

Can I use you as a sort of human shield against dislike?

Can I use you as a sort of human shield against dislike?

That would constitute a war crime, hil.

"We would likely see AC-130 gunships utilized to clear corridors for American troops to move along in order to extract our forces."

I'd suggest people take a look at, by way of comparison and analogy, just how many Somalis we killed getting just a comparative few handfuls of troops out of Mogadishu during the "Blackhawk Down" incident, without the aid of AC-130s, or armor, or significant air support.

Specifically, while the numbers are unknown, several thousand Somalis are believed to have died. In a full-blown Shia uprising (likely with Sunni insurgents also joining in the fun to some extent), and having to make a full withdrawal under fire (which I think remains a relatively far-fetched scenario for now, though certainly not one that shouldn't be planned for, nor that is at all impossible), it would indeed result in tens of thousands of Iraqi dead, although given what we can do with unleashed air power, both from fixed-wing bombing and use of incendiaries, as well as the amazing killing rate of AC-130s, I think there might be some limit to would-be martyrs willing to charge into that kind of fire after witnessing it.

And, of course, were we in a full-retreat situation, most of the troops would be airlifted out.

Hilzoy: "and a certain amount of reflection on a couple of wars that interested me."

Which ones?

"What is the real likelihood that al-Sadr would, or would even be able to, send 'assistance' to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon? I know that Iraq's borders, US presence notwithstanding, are less-than-hermetically-tight, but is there a credible chance that he would be able to dispatch a real fighting force (even if clandestinely)?"

One doesn't have to be an expert to note that the Iraqi-Syrian border has some porosity, though less than it used to. I don't think huge numbers at a time could come through just now, but if we had to pull troops and attention away from that border, where our efforts are quite limited in any case, more could come through, and even for now, a strong trickle could get through, I should think. And then, of course, they just have to transit Syria, which I'm sure the government could supply busses for, or trucks, if they're willing to be seen doing it, and then the Syrian/Lebanese border is hardly sealed up, to put it mildly, so, sure he could. Although Sadr's "fighting forces" are more of a mob than a trained force like Hezbollah has. But cannon fodder has its uses.

But Hezbollah doesn't seem to have any shortage of highly trained fighters for now. I also commend this article to folks.

I view Moqtada Sadr as kinda like Sistani's "Little Me" He goes the same direction as Sistani, much farther than Sistani would go, but never so far that he is outside of Sistani's reach. Whe Sadr was talking about the Shia in Northern Saudi Arabia, I kinda knew who Sistani was angry at. Sadr is the bark to Sistani's bite.

OTOH, when Hakim asked for US air support against the Sunni in Anbar, I payed very little attention. Apparently most others ignored Hakim also. That doesn't mean Hakim isn't a player, but it does mean his constituency is on the small side, and he doesn't have real backup.

Gary: the ones that played an especially large role: Vietnam, the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Kosovo, now of course Iraq and to a lesser degree Afghanistan. (An especially large role because I watched them unfold in real time, and so got a lot more information, plus the opportunity to see where I was right and wrong as that became clear. Easier than stopping in the middle of a book and saying: OK, let me predict where this is going, especially when (as in WW2) you have to pretend not to know already.)

Andrew: As Jes noted above, the scenario is a horrifying one regardless of whether or not the Army actually gets out. Therefore, avoiding it is the preferred course of action.

Yeah. But, as others have already pointed out, if the current administration can choose a non-damaging course of action or an outrageously-damaging course of action, the latter is the one they go for. There appears to be no limit to their stupidity.

Also, you know, it is possible to cut down on the number of bribes that politicians take by reforming the electoral system. You've been using the beta version of democracy for over two hundred years now: it's past time you upgraded.

Eh? Since when did UK become a pure democracy?

Hilzoy: "Can I use you as a sort of human shield against dislike."

Well, sure, but I sure hope McManus is a big guy, because you'll find me directly behind him.

Andrew: "That would constitute a war crime, Hil."

I'm glad to see that my choice of kilt, pumps and babushka make for a good disguise.

In the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir, we (and the weather) inflicted almost 40,000 casualties on an attacking Chinese force of approximately 70,000. And as Gary noted above, we killed a lot of Somalis in the Battle of Mogadishu. Undoubtedly the civilian and insurgent casualties caused by an American fighting retreat from Iraq would be tremendous, not to mention the political damage to our interests in the region. But how likely is a generalized uprising? That's what I'd like to know.

But how likely is a generalized uprising? That's what I'd like to know.

I just think, based on no special knowledge but just reading the papers, that the Iraqis are too demoralized for a "general uprising." Particularly given that the environment has been selecting heavily against spirited Iraqis for some time now.

Slarti: Since when did the UK become a pure democracy?

I did say "cut down", not "eliminate entirely".

Gary wrote:

And, of course, were we in a full-retreat situation, most of the troops would be airlifted out.

And leave all the equipment behind?
Not to mention, airlifting more than 120,000+ troops out? Or "most of them"?
That´s an awful lot of flights. Several hundred of them in a best case scenario.

Hopefully that scenario is far-fetched. And right now, I´d agree with you.

But assuming that it would happen...
(And adding that I´m not an expert!)
The most important feature of Iraq are the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Many of the population centers are along those two rivers. And I´d suspect most highways and good roads follow those two rivers too. Connecting the population centers.

Which means that any retreat would have to follow a limited number of roads unless you make an off-road retreat. :)

So bridges, maybe even cities and towns might be "natural" choke-points for any retreat.

Not to mention that if there were huge Iraqi Shia casualties during this retreat...
How would the Shia minorities in Kuwait (25% of the population according to the CIA factbook), Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf states react? Would they stay quiet?

And how much warning would you have?
I mean if the US civil and military authorities would concentrate the US forces at the first hint of problems, most of them would get out. No question.
But if those authorities would hesitate the US army might loose a lot of "outposts" at first. Companies, battalions deployed throughout the country.
Remember, even with the reinforcements right now they´re less than 20,000 American troops in Bagdad according to American media.

Jesurgislac, I'm not sure how the minor tweak you're proposing is going to have any effect at all. Care to elaborate?

At least, it looks minor to me. Maybe there's more to it.

Slarti, I don't think that changing the US electoral system so that if voters decide that they don't like someone they voted in, they can vote them the hell out, is a "minor tweak": I think it's the first step in electoral reform which the US so sorely needs. Bear in mind that the beta version of democracy which the US still uses was devised at a time when it was assumed that the great danger was the plebian masses being permitted to decide who ruled the country...

Out of curiosity, what would a 'full-fledged' version of democracy look like, as opposed to an alpha or beta version? And how would one know?

Out of curiosity, what would a 'full-fledged' version of democracy look like, as opposed to an alpha or beta version?

It bears the powerful legend: 1.0.

Slarti, I don't think that changing the US electoral system so that if voters decide that they don't like someone they voted in, they can vote them the hell out, is a "minor tweak": I think it's the first step in electoral reform which the US so sorely needs.

Ah, see, I thought you were having at the electoral college once again. Well, we'll take it under advisement. In the meantime, let us grown-up democracies talk, willya?

8p

Gary wrote:

And, of course, were we in a full-retreat situation, most of the troops would be airlifted out.

And leave all the equipment behind?

If it came to it, absolutely. Wouldn't be a choice. See also, Fall of Saigon.

"That´s an awful lot of flights. Several hundred of them in a best case scenario."

Hell of a lot easier than fighting down the highway to Kuwait, although, as I said, I'm pretty sure we could hold that highway for plenty of ground evacuation, so long as we're willing to slaughter from the air -- and as Andrew points out, if it comes to choosing between U.S. personnel, and Iraqis, the U.S. will pick U.S.

But obviously, there would be, in such a situation, a weighing of options and timing; undoubtedly they'd try to take the M1s out by land, given that a C-5 can only carry one at a time last I looked, and C-5s need an awfully big runway. And as much else of the big mobile equipment as possible. It would, of course, depend on the situation.

On the other hand, when you're making a long run, you stick the M1 on a truck/carrier.

But I'm fairly dubious that we're going to see such a scenario play out. I'd just say that it's certainly not impossible. Merely low-probability. But I think pretty low-proability. I think the more probable worst-case situation would be retreating to the large bases, and, if necessary, managing a major pull-out with only relatively minor skirmishes.

And I don't think that's yet the most probable scenario, either, although it's also, of course, possible.

"Ah, see, I thought you were having at the electoral college once again. Well, we'll take it under advisement."

I seem to be missing something: what, specifically, is the "minor tweak" Jes is proposing? I see her recommending "changing the US electoral system so that if voters decide that they don't like someone they voted in, they can vote them the hell out," but what that means, in practice, I have no idea.

I think our system is deeply broken, but I'm not following what Jes' recommended fix is.

While I generally agree that Bagdhad != Stalingrad, I don't think it is true for all values of Stalingrad. The notion arose because of the reality denying pronouncements of the top brass and the admin (which have increasingly denied what is happening as any juxtapositions of quotes will reveal) and by extending the metaphor to its conclusion, it might make people reconsider any support they have. In a sense, it is fear mongering, (as any stark discussion of the worst case scenario would be) but when faced with notions that Saddam and AQ were linked or that WMD remain undiscovered, I wondering if it not fighting fire with fire.

Any kind of withdrawal that was not organized and relatively peaceful would be taken, as Andrew notes, as a confirmation of America's 'loss' in this, and would probably lead to any number of bad results. Talking of gunships clearing out a path for American troops seems to assume that Kuwait and (Saudi Arabia) are going to hold the exit doors open, whereas I think if things got as bad as all this, there might be a realpolitik sense in Kuwait that if things were not made as smooth as possible, it might be preventing Iraq from ever threatening in the medium term. This may sound horrifying, but I see no reason why Kuwait would be more sensitive to the mass deaths of Shi'a than the US has been to the civilian death toll. I'd be happy to be proved wrong, but that's what I'm thinking at the moment.

"I just think, based on no special knowledge but just reading the papers, that the Iraqis are too demoralized for a "general uprising.""

Me too. Sistani is the only one who could re-moralize the Iraqis, and I honestly don't think Sistani really wants us gone, if he can avoid it. That might be controversial, but my impression is that we & Sistani share enemies, and he and his people need protection. Which reminds me, doesn't Sistani have a Shia constituency or ally in Southern Lebanon independent of Hizbollah?

But the situation is fluid and crazy: Bush League ...This about nascent discussions among Chavez, Ahmedinejad, and Vladimir Putin toward forming an oil cartel competitive to OPEC. There are days when, for all the bitterness, I am not sure Sistani doesn't feel more sympatico to the country to his south than the one to his east. The alliances, open and hidden, are shifting.

This may belong in the open thread.

And I don't think that's yet the most probable scenario, either, although it's also, of course, possible.

Heh, I agree! Not to mention that I really hope that we won´t see that "scenario" at all. It would be a nightmare!

Having said that...
Hell of a lot easier than fighting down the highway to Kuwait, although, as I said, I'm pretty sure we could hold that highway for plenty of ground evacuation, so long as we're willing to slaughter from the air -- and as Andrew points out, if it comes to choosing between U.S. personnel, and Iraqis, the U.S. will pick U.S.

There will only be a limited amount of highways. Some of them will force you to drive to cities. Not to mention that most of these highways have to cross rivers. Assuming that someone blows up the very limited amount of bridges those highways will be useless.

You want to secure the bridges? You´ll have to secure them BEFORE the Shias revolt. Which reminds me, do you right now have army units deployed to secure these bridges?

Heh, an army of 120,000+ soldiers plus their equipment can´t retreat along ONE highway. It´s physically impossible. You´ll need several routes.

But obviously, there would be, in such a situation, a weighing of options and timing; undoubtedly they'd try to take the M1s out by land, given that a C-5 can only carry one at a time last I looked, and C-5s need an awfully big runway. And as much else of the big mobile equipment as possible. It would, of course, depend on the situation.

M1s need a large bridge. They can´t cross a river on a wooden bridge, so to speak. After all, they´re heavy tanks.

If I were a Shia militia commander in that situation, I´d destroy the bridges. Sure, a lot of M1s and Bradleys might escape. But lots of them probably would also break down -without enough maintainance - during their off-road escape.

I had never, until this thread, thought about the possibility of abandoning thousands or tens of thousands of troops in a withdrawal from Iraq. But because it sounds even more ghastly than the alternatives, I'm now going to be unsurprised if it happens.

Snarky question: Why is equating Stalingrad and Bagdhad different from Cheney's notion of a 1% chance?

I really like this sentence: "While I generally agree that Bagdhad != Stalingrad, I don't think it is true for all values of Stalingrad."

It's not true for Stalingrad equal to Baghdad, for instance ;)

I seem to be missing something: what, specifically, is the "minor tweak" Jes is proposing?

Dunno. I assumed (wrongly, it turned out) that Jesurgislac was denigrating the electoral college yet again, which didn't seem to me to do much to address the problem of corruption. Now it appears that perhaps she's referring to a vote of no confidence, or some such, but we're not likely to find out if it's only you posing the question.

So, J, what in the world are you talking about?

I have always considered this apocalypse to be on the table, in the deck, part of the equation. I am not sure if the Americans are hostages, or have taken the Iraqis hostage, but brinkmanship has been the game from the start. Weird to say that the "too few troops" puts the Iraqis in the position of having to protect the Americans, but it is the case. That is part of the logic of empire, you put the small Roman garrison in the town, and the locals must protect and support it, because they don't want the Legions to come. Judea and Britannia found out what happens when the Legions come.

Bush and Sistani on the surface pretend they don't know of each other's existence. It may be true for Bush. When Sistani was asking for the Americans to "just leave" early in the occupation, I suspect he understood that he would have to make compromises later on in order to prevent the apocalypse.

The Sixth Army wasn't lost at Stalingrad because it couldn't break out; it was lost because Hitler ordered it not to do so.

Others have had great comments upon the main point of Andrew's post, so I thought tht I'd idulge the pedant in me. This is wrong. Sixth Army, and half of Fourth Panzer Army, were doomed the moment the Red Army launched Operation Uranus. There was nothing in the way that could conceivably have prevented the two wings of the offensive linking up and cutting them off. Once they were cut off, there was no way that the surrounded Germans were breaking out.

Most of Sixth Army's combat power was still fighting in the city, and were completely exhausted. To mount a serious breakout attempt, they would have had to disengage where they were, and move to the other end of the pocket. Even without taking time to rest and refit before a new offensive, they would have been attacking into the teeth of Red Army defenses of at least equal numbers of fresh troops.

This attack would have gone nowhere, and would have resulted in the quick elimination of the pocket. This would have been a disaster for the Germans beyond what it already was, because it would have freed up enormous numbers of troops that were in reality used to surround those cut off. As it was, The follow up operation, Operation Saturn, caused the Germans enormous problems, though von Manstein conducted a brilliant defense to defeat it. If they hadn't had to cover the pocket, von Manstein might easily have been overwhelmed.

Ordering Sixth Army to hold its position was exactly the right call, and was one of the instances where Hitler had better sense than his generals. Those troops were already lost, and did the rest of the Wehrmacht far more good staying put than they would have trying to break out.

"If I were a Shia militia commander in that situation, I´d destroy the bridges."

If it came to it, the Army has bridge-laying equipment, and practice since WWII.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Here is Billmon's latest on the ceasefire negotiations:

"But every word spoken by the respective sides since Sunday indicates that the Israelis and the Americans have reached a point where they both want a cease fire more badly than Hizbullah does."

Now Billmon seems to think it is because of Hizbullah capabilities and Israel is taking unexpected and unacceptable losses. Andrew hints that the Sistani threat of Shia insurrection in Iraq may be real. I thought Sistani was playing to his base, sending a message to Americans, and actually making a threat simultaneously, and that the third meaning was the least significant.

I sure hope Billmon is right.

The comparison seems remote and Billman's analysis is needlessly alarmist.

I doubt even hardened Iraqis would stand and expose themselves to concentrated US firepower. It does not matter that there are huge numbers -- they would resort to sniping and hit and run against weaker points rather than line up for slaughter. The real problem is that it becomes impossible to support the many smaller outposts and COIN. At a cost, supply lines could be kept open to a few large bases, but what would be the point? To continue to man the few isolated bases in a hostile country?

There are a lot of references to Somalia as a template for discussion, but its not analogous. Remember that the initial firefights were by a very small number of Rangers and Delta forces, without heavy weapons. They were making a raid and got caught and pinned down trying to rescue the downed Blackhawks.

The subsequent relief force rolled in with the heavy weapons and armored vehicles without much ado. There was no need for a desperate retreat once the firepower arrived -- the Somalis did throw themselves at the APCs.

Slarti: Dunno. I assumed (wrongly, it turned out) that Jesurgislac was denigrating the electoral college yet again, which didn't seem to me to do much to address the problem of corruption.

The problem that if you're an incumbent candidate in American politics, you can pretty much count on being re-elected - regardless of what you've actually done or not done. Why not take a bribe to vote against the interests of the people you supposedly represent, if you know that, once in, you can't be got out again?

Non-responsive.

So, again: what are you proposing? A mechanism for removing politicians from office? What mechanism? A recall election, perhaps, or a VNC? Or are you talking about instituting an impartial redistricting? Or both? Or something else entirely?

A mechanism for removing politicians from office?

Yes. You might have heard of it, some countries already make use of it: elections.

It's an odd concept for an American to think about, but there are countries where a politician who was discovered to have been taking bribes would be - at least - voted out of office at the next election, if not told by their party that they had better the hell resign now... rather than a system where an incumbent once in office can be certain of staying in office until s/he either dies or decides to go.

Now if you want a real nightmare scenario just imagine if Iran went full tilt in support of the uprising, sending its trained army (not to mention a few million tons of supplies) over the border and simultaneously closing the Straits of Hommuz.

You Americans had better keep those Sunnis and Shias fighting each other because if they ever decide to get together to get rid of you ...

You might have heard of it, some countries already make use of it: elections.

We have those. Any other ideas? Or is this going to be one of those conversations where I try to figure out what you mean and you respond with snark?

Slarti, you surely can't have failed to notice that the US system is designed to let the incumbent stay in. In part this is because when the beta version of democracy you guys have was put together, the idea that the masses should get to oust their rulers was considered new and dangerous: checks were installed to prevent "mob rule" - ie, large numbers of people deciding they wanted a change in government and getting it. Other countries with less ancient and cumbersome versions of democracy have long since gone past that 18th century notion that the US is still stuck with.

In part it's because you have (as far as I can see) no tradition that an independent, non-partisan body runs elections and determines electoral districts: if Republicans control a state, Republicans redistrict and run elections, and curiously enough, the result is generally that Republicans are then elected: and, while Democrats appear not to have fallen to the same level of sheer naked rig-the-election that Republicans certainly have in recent years, a similiar principle applies in states where Democratic politicians are in control.

There may be other reasons: certainly, a swift google tells me that the problem of incumbents in US politics is one that Americans have been chewing on for some time.

An additional problem is of course that the US is so absolutely locked into two parties, one extreme-right, one right-of-center, without any real representation for people left-of-center, and an electoral system that doesn't permit new parties to be formed and candidates elected to Congress or the Senate or reach the Presidency.

All of this results in a system where there is absolutely no reason why a politician shouldn't take a bribe, even a bribe to act against the interests of his/her constituents, because there'll be no penalty for doing so.

I have consistently overestimated the intelligence and good sense of the Bush administration. And therefore, I am of the opinion, that if worse comes to worst, Bush and Rumsfeld will let it get even worse. They will ignore all the warnings of the professional military and as the Army slowly starves, and most importantly, runs out of fuel, they will insist every thing is just fine, until it is too late.

Remember, the most important and essential thing for the Army is its fuel supplies. All its fuel is trucked from Kuwait. The obvious way to really fuck the Army up north is to start blowing up the fuel convoys heading north. The fuel (JP-8--basically diesel) is trucked up north in tanker trucks just like the ones you see on the road here every day. The ones operated by the Army are painted green or desert sand, other than that they are completely unarmored. However, the vast majority are operated by contractors and driven by foreign nationals (Pakistanis, Somalis, Indians, Turks). The insurgents don't even have to blow up all the fuel trucks to stop the shipments. They just need to blow up enough of them to convince the contract drivers that whatever they are getting paid it is not worth it and they quit and go home.

The M1 tank gets about 3 gallons per mile (not mpg), the Bradleys do a bit better. They were designed to fight a defensive war in western Europe with an extensive road network and short supply lines. Actually, our whole supply and logistics system was designed to fight a war in Europe. That is why we are destroying our equipment in Iraq.

Our soldiers will end up walking and riding camels back to Kuwait, and that will not be a pretty sight. Sure we will be able to provide them with air support. But our most deadly close air support assets are extremely vulnerable to shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, which of course there are plenty of floating around Iraq. We don't have many AC-130s in the inventory and if the Iraqis demonstrate that they can shoot a couple down, they would probably quickly be pulled.

Ah, you are talking about redistricting. Probably saying so when asked might have been a good move, and saved you many words. Yes, we've been wrestling with the problem for a while, but evidently people don't want it badly enough to make it happen. That's the flipside of democracy, isn't it?

without any real representation for people left-of-center, and an electoral system that doesn't permit new parties to be formed and candidates elected to Congress or the Senate or reach the Presidency

Wrong. A new party can be formed and representatives elected anytime enough people decide to do so. So these purported unrepresented left-of-center people who are going unrepresented have no one to blame but themselves. Unless it's your point that representatives oughtn't be associated with geographical districts, which...well, I'm open to better suggestions.

If the point is we need to loosen up on ballot access laws, I agree completely. I think if you can get, for instance, a percent or two of people in a district to petition for a given candidate, that ought to be sufficient. And the "fee" to get ballot access is much too high. Much, much too high.

All of this results in a system where there is absolutely no reason why a politician shouldn't take a bribe, even a bribe to act against the interests of his/her constituents, because there'll be no penalty for doing so.

Other than going to jail and the accompanying loss of office, true.

It should be noted, though, that many states do have ballot measures that can directly amend their state constitution. If people were concerned enough about the lack of access, there's a way around the state legislature.

Ah, you are talking about redistricting. Probably saying so when asked might have been a good move, and saved you many words.

No, I'm not talking about redistricting, and perhaps if you read what I actually wrote - though I did use many words to say it - you would see that I am not.

The fact that the party in power in a state can gerrymander electoral districts at will to ensure they retain power in the state is one of the familiar symptoms of the real problem: the lack of a neutral body to police elections and ensure they remain fair and free.

Other than going to jail and the accompanying loss of office, true.

*grin* This is a joke, yes? Just as a for-example, how many years was Abramoff bribing Republicans without a single Republican politician going to jail? How many of the Republicans who accepted Abramoff's bribes will go to jail? Specifically, do you seriously think that Tom Delay will go to jail for taking Abramoff's bribes? I don't: I expect to see him back in Congress in 2006. With Diebold, how can he lose?

How many Brits have gone to jail because of the trading-donations/loans-for-honours/peerages scandal? I've not paid fanatic attention. Why, that's been going on since Disraeli, and yet, here we are, with Blair's bunch still being found to have named donors and loaners to the House of Lords.

And the Blair crew has been ever so free of scandal, whether it be non-citizen criminals not being kept track of and deported when released (Charles Clarke remains beloved), to politicians getting in a little boffing on the side (John Prescott), to Prescott playing croquet while he's supposed to be running the country. Patricia Hewitt is adored by nurses and health workers for her sackings at NHS! Dr. Kelly's suicide? Triumph of democracy. Cabinet rule vs. Parliament as master? Democracy at its best. And who can forget the many -- near endless! -- contributions of Peter Mandelson to lessons on how democracy works? And why did Robin Cook resign? Ah, yes, his ex-wife's book detailing allegations that he was a bitter drunk having an affair with his secretary. Only a in a better democracy!

Britain has been so free of political scandal that the Cabinet has been unchanged throughout Blair's tenure! No shuffles have been necessitated!

And Jes must surely be happy with how the Government has reflected the anti-war sentiment of the British people. Who could doubt it?

Then there's the ID Cards Bill; only a very special, Improved, democracy, could pass that!

This just barely scratches the surface of discussing the perfection British democracy has reached.

And, of course, all this is an innovation of the current Labour government; there were no such scandals under John Major. Nothing endemic to the system about it.

Yes, we have much to learn. Much. If only our democracy were so wonderful and advanced as that of Britain's.

Alas. It is to weep. Oh, the pain, the pain of it all.
How wonderful that Britain has perfected Democracy 2.0!

No, I'm not talking about redistricting, and perhaps if you read what I actually wrote - though I did use many words to say it - you would see that I am not.

Ok, fair enough. But I thought you were saying something like this:

The fact that the party in power in a state can gerrymander electoral districts at will to ensure they retain power in the state is one of the familiar symptoms of the real problem: the lack of a neutral body to police elections and ensure they remain fair and free.

But this is redistricting, Jesurgislac. Gerrymandering is redistricting with an agenda.

how many years was Abramoff bribing Republicans without a single Republican politician going to jail?

How many years after he got caught? This is a joke, right? Who knew Abramoff was paying off anyone, outside of those being paid off, before this was exposed?

to defend Jes a little, the fact that states were admitted with grossly different populations gives the low-population rural Western states disproportionate power in the Senate.

Bug, or feature?

That aside, Jes didn't mention that at all, that I could tell.

Who knew Abramoff was paying off anyone, outside of those being paid off, before this was exposed?

Anyone who was paying attention, apparently.

Ok, fair enough. But I thought you were saying something like this:

I was. But evidently, you didn't want to read it, even while you were copying/pasting it.

I'm a little confused too, Jes. I think you're talking about gerrymandering, like Slarti says, and your solution is that congressional districts should be drawn by a truly nonpartisan independent group, and that elections in general should be run by that same nonpartisan independent group. It sounds like a good idea to me, but I've never given it any thought.

But evidently, you didn't want to read it, even while you were copying/pasting it.
I think you're talking about gerrymandering, like Slarti says

One of us isn't reading well, that's for certain.

Anyone who was paying attention, apparently.

Earliest entry on that Wiki is January of this year. Got anything that actually supports your point?

I don't think this nightmare scenario is as likely as some may fear, and thankfully it has nothing to do with the competence (or supreme lack of same) of the Bush administration. Basically, as soon as the Iraqis think we are leaving, their incentives to attack us go down dramatically. Every one of Sadr's (or any faction's troops) that gets killed attacking a departing US soldier is one less that is available to help Sadr (or any other faction) gain power. Why shoot at the American's when they are leaving? It is a waste of time, troops, and ammunition that will soon be needed to crush their Iraqi opponents.

I can imagine factions egging each other on to attack the Americans, but each will be hoping the others waste their resources.

As for why I really think of it as a nightmare scenario is that I can imagine all too vividly what could happen if the Iraqis tried a massive onslaught. AC-130s would be useful, but hardly necessary. Why worry about whether an AC 130 can engage a target protected by shoulder fired SAMs when you are killing everything within 5 km of the highway with B-52s carpet-bombing with cluster bombs from 40,000 feet?

Donald

Shoulder-fired SAMS have ranges of only a couple of miles and if the guy holding it was very, very lucky, it might hit an engine and take it out. Probably not, though, because the AC-130 has countermeasures that that sort of weapon would almost undoubtedly be suckered in by.

And the notion that B-52s would be brought in to carpet-bomb with dumb bombs before AC-130s, which can target down to a single person, were used, is, with all due respect, Donald, ridiculous.

On the contrary, Gary, remember the situation. The stated scenario was for a massive attack by up to 10 million Iraqis. This is not counterinsurgency anymore, with its emphasis on precision and minimizing collateral damage. Instead this is a conventional warfare situation in which the US would be trying to kill as many of the attackers as it could, without worrying about collateral damage. The notion that the US would rely on a weapon that can kill one at a time in that situation is ludicrous. Its like expecting US soldiers in the Korean war to use sniper rifles instead of machine guns and artillery to repel a Chinese human wave attack. The AC-130 is a rapier, and a very good one. It is not the first choice when you need a bludgeon.

The task is to clear the withdrawal route down the specified highway by eliminating hostile forces that are trying to close to AK 47 range. Killing one insurgent at a time when there are 100,000 plus out there is idiotic. Instead, you seek to clear either side by dropping cluster bombs parallel to your route. If we still have them, we would also use scatterable mines.
This lets the US forces continue to use the road without serious worries about its being cut. Remember, if 10 million Iraqis decide to attack they are all now legitimate targets and collateral damage is now an advantage, rather than being a problem.

I did say this was a nightmare scenario, and everyone involved would probably have nightmares for years. I didn't say this was the most moral thing to do. I just think that people are vastly underestimating how many Iraqis would wind up dead if they thought they could do to the Americans what the Afghans did to the British in the First Afghan war.

Donald

"The stated scenario was for a massive attack by up to 10 million Iraqis."

Not really. And at any given place and time, the most that would be charging anywhere are some thousands of people, or maybe ten thousand or so at once.

More importantly, without launching into an exegesis on the dramatic killing power capabilities of the C-130's weapons systems, characterizing it as "a weapon that can kill one at a time" is, back at ya, ludicrous. The fact that it can doesn't obviate that it can kill thousands in a minute or two.

See here, for instance.

On the other hand, there's not much use for a B-52 anywhere near your own troops.

"Killing one insurgent at a time when there are 100,000 plus out there is idiotic."

Indeed, it would be, and that you're talking about it leads me to conclude that you have no familiarity with the AC-130.

Specifically, the 25mm 1,800 rounds per minute Gatling gun, as well as the larger cannon.

"Not really. And at any given place and time, the most that would be charging anywhere are some thousands of people, or maybe ten thousand or so at once."

True, and I grant you that an AC 130 could probably deal with one such attack, before its ammunition ran out. Just how many bursts of 25mm do you think an AC 130 carries? At 1,800 rounds per minute, they don't last long. That is why although it can have an area effect, the aircraft is optimized for point targets. Again, it is an excellent rapier and I grant you it does have some capability as a bludgeon, but a real bludgeon is better. See

http://72.14.209.104/search?q=cache:PZJMDDfO5WYJ:www.spectre-association.org/library/documents/2004Spotlight.pdf+AC+130+ammunition+load&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=10

http://www.globalspecialoperations.com/ac130.html

However, if we are assuming the enemy has 100,000-500,00 Iraqis, a few km down the road will be another 1,000-10,000 person attack and another. A B-52 with cluster bombs is removing grid squares at a time.
It will deal with several such attacks while the AC-130 flies back to rearm.

As for its accuracy, which aircraft do you think were providing a lot of the CAS in Afghanistan? B-52s and B-1s,due to their weapon load and range. Also, if you are eliminating the opposition before it gets within a km of your own troops, you are outside the safe distance for even a B-52. GPS guided munitions also help.

Donald

P.S. Aside from having read the specs online, what experience do you have with AC-130 operations? Just curious.

P.P.S. Its about 0530 here in Iraq and its been a long night. Good night.


Now that, ladies and gentleman, is a punchline.

"P.S. Aside from having read the specs online, what experience do you have with AC-130 operations? Just curious."

Oh, none at all. I'm purely arm-chair.

And actually, I was mistakenly thinking you were Donald Johnson, who was previously commenting upthread. My apologies.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad