Gates Crasher (REUEL MARC GERECHT, November 10, 2006, Wall Street Journal)
If Mr. Gates is to be a success as secretary of defense, he will have to show senior military officers, particularly within the Pentagon’s Central Command (Centcom), which is responsible for Iraq, the attitude he once displayed toward operatives. Although Donald Rumsfeld has received the lion’s share of the criticism for what’s gone wrong in Iraq, senior U.S. military officers, most importantly Gen. John Abizaid, the lord of Centcom, are nearly as responsible for the mess.
The press has preferred to dwell on Mr. Rumsfeld — as a force of nature, he is a compelling character. Also, former generals who loathe Mr. Rumsfeld have, intentionally or not, pre-empted criticism of active-duty generals by being so public in their denouncements of the secretary. And Gen. Abizaid, who has been since the summer of 2003 the grand military architect of America’s counterinsurgency, is a highly intelligent, Harvard-educated, Arabic-speaking Arab-American — in theory, just the person you would want to command U.S. forces in the Middle East.
Yet Gen. Abizaid’s “light footprint” strategy — the idea that a forceful American presence provokes more violence than it brings security — was not foisted on him by Mr. Rumsfeld. The successful and it seems almost accidental battle at Tal Afar, where the U.S. deployed classical counterinsurgency techniques, and Gen. Abizaid’s efforts to reduce the street presence of U.S. forces have clearly shown that security for Iraqis is directly proportional to the number of U.S. soldiers you put on contested ground.
The primary problem in Iraq since May 2003 has not been that Mr. Rumsfeld has been at war with his generals, whose advice he’s supposedly refused to listen to. It’s been that he and his generals, for sometimes differing reasons, have been in accord. Will Mr. Gates be inclined to reverse the strategy and tactics of Messrs. Rumsfeld and Abizaid? In other words, can he be a general-defying anti-establishmentarian? Mr. Gates’s past — his meteoric rise in the CIA and the National Security Council, his profound loyalty to his bosses, his presidency of the National Eagle Scout Association — suggests that he doesn’t like making waves.
Mr. Rumsfeld has rightly been criticized for his lack of interest in postwar planning. He brought to this war and to the conflict in Afghanistan, which also isn’t going well, a mania for transformational warfare that at its core says you can do more with less.
Mr. Rumsfeld was undoubtedly right, and his Cold War-educated generals were wrong, about the forces necessary to vanquish Saddam’s armed forces. But occupying foreign countries and counterinsurgencies, which both demand large numbers of not particularly sophisticated foot soldiers, are cruel to the secretary’s transformational creed — which seems perfectly sensible if America only aspires to blow things up overseas. Mr. Rumsfeld also brought to our post-9/11 battlefields a particularly conservative notion that nanny-state welfare-ism is bad for people, and that America’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, if it were to be protracted or profound, would keep both countries from growing up. When applied to Iraq, however, with its enormous potential for sectarian rage, where U.S. military power was essential to keeping order and the thickly intertwined but stressed bonds between the Shiite and Sunni Arab communities intact, this attitude helped produce the conflagration now destroying the country.
Mr. Gerecht still has this exactly backwards–the problem is that Rummy didn’t win the argument so we’ve had too many troops there for too long. You don’t occupy people you’ve liberated. You occupy an enemy.