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Thread: My review of Dale Herspring's Rumsfeld's Wars: The Arrogance of Power

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    Council Member ipopescu's Avatar
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    Default My review of Dale Herspring's Rumsfeld's Wars: The Arrogance of Power

    I just finished drafting a review of this book. It deals with some issues of great interest to the SWC community, but all in all I don't really recommend buying it, as the text below probably makes clear. Your comments are much
    appreciated.


    Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense since the end of World War II. This is the conclusion reached by Dale Herspring, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, in a new book suggestively titled Rumsfeld's Wars: The Arrogance of Power. Without much effort to give the former secretary any benefit of the doubt, Herspring blames him directly for causing our military to become "demoralized" and "broken." Rumsfeld's errors are numerous, and their grave consequences would take years to remediate. He greatly harmed civil-military relations by treating our senior military officers with disrespect, by not listening to their advice, and by interfering with the traditional merit-based promotion system in order to surround himself with malleable uniformed officers while pushing out those with strong personalities like former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. He forced the military to go through an excruciating process of military transformation that meant reliance on high-tech weapons systems at the expense of cuts in personnel, and he involved himself directly in influencing the conduct of the war in Iraq in order to prove his transformational theories with disastrous results for that mission and consequently for our national security. And, Herspring adds, as if turning military structure, tactics, operations, and weapons systems upside down were not enough, Rumsfeld and his supporters successfully lobbied the administration and manipulated data to send the American armed forces off to fight a war that many generals considered unnecessary. This list of complaints represents more or less the conventional wisdom in Washington in the aftermath of Rumsfeld's troubled tenure at the Pentagon, and there is surely a lot of truth in these accusations. However, Herspring ultimately appears so willing to vilify Rumsfeld that he misses some important nuances of the two issues addressed at length in this book: military transformation and the mismanagement of the Iraq War.

    It is fashionable nowadays, and largely accurate, to criticize the Rumsfeld Pentagon for its alleged infatuation with advanced technologies and futuristic weapon systems at the expense of preparing for the kinds of low-tech insurgencies faced in Afghanistan and Iraq. Herspring draws extensively on the excellent work of critics of the military transformation process, such as Col. H.R. McMaster or Dr. Frederick W. Kagan, in arguing that the heavy reliance on the technological advances made possible by the information revolution has led to a profound misunderstanding of the "political, ethnic, economic, and religious aspects of war." However, he is wrong in blaming solely the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense for being too technophile: the military leaders of at least the past couple of decades have by and large favored the same narrow techno-centric approach to the study of warfare, as Kagan eloquently argues in Finding The Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy. Herspring's own hero and the person to whom this book is dedicated, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, is quoted in the book as stating, in 1999, that "we intend to transform the Army, all its components, into a standard design with internetted C4ISR[1] packages that allow us to put a combat capable brigade anywhere in the world in 96 hours." However, this desire to create lighter and more mobile brigades in order to achieve high operational speed is the same thing that animated Rumsfeld and the proponents of "Network-Centric Warfare" sharply criticized by Herspring only a few pages earlier. It is far too simplistic too imply, as the author does, that Shinseki's vision of future conflict was the correct one and that it was rejected by Rumsfeld due to the latter's preference for high-tech weapons. In truth, Rumsfeld's most cherished ideas about defense transformation really had more to do with investing in missile defense and space-based systems than in the intricacies of land warfare. In short, the US military's inadequate force structure and doctrine in approaching the War in Iraq should not be blamed solely, or even primarily, on Rumsfeld's push for transformation per-se. The strong preference for preparing for short, conventional (i.e. force-on-force combat), high-tech wars has been shared by most civilian and military leaders throughout 1990s the period when talk of the Revolution in Military Affairs was the fad-du-jour inside the defense establishment.

    To be sure, the former Secretary of Defense has made his share of grave mistakes when it comes to the invasion of Iraq. And this book does a much better job in its critique of the Secretary's performance on this issue than it does on his role in the transformation process. Making extensive use of the journalistic reports of Bob Woodward, Thomas Ricks, Michael Gordon, and others, Herspring taps into the large amounts of information now available to substantiate his critique of Rumsfeld. He is most persuasive in pointing out the deleterious effects of the former Secretary's micromanagement of operational and tactical issues such as limiting the number of troops or altering the TPFDDs[2] in the wake of the Iraq War decisions which normally are the prerogatives of military rather than of civilian leaders. Interference in such matters rightly earned Rumsfeld his reputation for arrogance, and his many critics in and out of uniform are more than justified in deploring such conduct especially during wartime when such decisions can literally affect matters of life and death.

    Of similar gravity is Rumsfeld's complete lack of serious concern for post-war planning. Herspring is devastating in exposing the crass incompetence of the Secretary and his staff (especially former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, the only person to come out in this book worse than Rumsfeld) in dealing with post-conflict operations. Among the multitude of unfortunate decisions on this matter detailed in Herspring's book, one could note OSD's[3] willful disregard of the State Dept.-sponsored Future of Iraq Project, its opposition to an Army plan to have a three-star general in charge of post-combat operations, and maybe most tragically the lack of any sort of real-world politico-military operational plan for stabilizing Iraq in the wake of Saddam's fall. Just one month before the invasion, Feith, the person Rumsfeld put in charge of the post-combat operations, "assured" the Senate Foreign Relations that "when we talk about all of the key functions that are going to need to be performed in post-war Iraq, we have thought about them across the range from worst case to very good case." Statements such as these make it especially difficult to disagree with the central theme of this book the "arrogance of power" that characterized Rumsfeld and his acolytes.

    Having said all these, it is also worth noting two important caveats. First, even with a much more professional national security team in place, the task of rebuilding Iraq into a peaceful democratic state was an exceedingly difficult one whose chances of success at a reasonable price were fairly modest to begin with. And second, to the extent that many of the problems of the invasion have their origins in a flawed understanding of the nature of modern warfare influenced by an infatuation with technology, it is far from clear how much of the blame should go to Rumsfeld versus the top military commander, US Army General Tommy Franks. Herspring describes Franks as a sort of victim of Rumsfeld's overpowering demeanor; Rumsfeld allegedly "tamed" Franks and "isolated" him from the rest of the military, thus assuring that the war will be fought according to the Secretary's "transformational" approach. However, this narrative is rather questionable if one considers the general's own recollection of events in his memoir American Soldier. Franks appeared just as enthused with the opportunities of network-centric warfare as Rumsfeld, and at least as likely to dismiss the advice of the more cautious older military officers as that of people from a bygone era who don't understand the impact of the digital revolution on the modern battlefield. It is not at all improbable that the Iraq War would have been fought in roughly the same manner even if Franks had a far less interfering boss than Don Rumsfeld.

    Professor Herspring's previous book, The Pentagon and the Presidency, is a well-regarded history of American civil-military relations. Despite some pointed observations on Rumsfeld's errors during his second tenure at the Pentagon, this book is overall a poor companion to its predecessor - mainly due to its passionate anti-Rumsfeld bias. This is unfortunate, as civil-military relations in his tenure have clearly been in great turmoil. Both civilian and military leaders would surely benefit from an extensive and objective study of these tumultuous times, one which could provide some valuable "lessons learned" for them and their successors. Properly understood, the nature of modern warfare, as witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan, requires a symbiotic relation between the military and the political instruments of national power and effective civil-military cooperation is at the crux of achieving that. The timing could not have been better for providing scholars and practitioners a careful study of the errors of recent past. It is a shame Herspring's effort falls short of this worthy goal.
    Ionut C. Popescu
    Doctoral Student, Duke University - Political Science Department

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    Council Member Danny's Avatar
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    Default Thanks

    Thank you for the review of the book, and I certainly won't buy it. On a serious note, I see Rumsfeld / Wolfowitz as the worst team to ever inhabit the Pentagon. Abu Muqawama had a post recently on Wolfowitz saying that they "didn't anticipate the insurgency." He is a liar, viz. Shinseki and Zinni.

    Let's bifurcate Iraq into two wars, the war to overthrow the regime (weeks), and the subsequent insurgency. I could go a while discussing what I feel regarding the initial invasion, and perhaps will later. But many Soldiers and Marines perished while Rumsfeld cracked one-liners in press briefings to show how quick he was with a word.

    But while this humor was going on, boys died and lost limbs, and the war went South in a COIN campaign that they were told about beforehand. They both have blood on their hands. May we ever speak of their names with scorn and derision. And may their last memories be of Fathers and Mothers weeping for their lost children, and wives weeping for their lost husbands. As to the one of the points that you mention, John Noonan at OpFor had what I believe to be the most succinct and hardest hitting analyses of the Rumsfeld era that I have seen.

    http://op-for.com/2006/11/the_opport...f_failure.html

    To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld's baby. The Pentagon's "bridge to the 21st century." And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.

    In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.

    And that's when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army's Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.

    Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation's real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.

    And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld's bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvess and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.

    Transformation has failed us in fighting the Iraqi insurgency. It takes troops to sustain an occupation. When you are trying to win hearts and minds, heartless and mindless technological gadgets can't win the day. Victory takes boots on the ground. It takes Soldiers and it takes Marines. And, as Iraq has proven, it takes a hell of alot of them.

    And that may be the deep dark place that this Long War is forcing us to visit. Terrorists only stop terrorizing when they are dead ...

    So there you go. I could go for hours discussing my disdain for him, but I will sign off now and revisit later.

    Best,

    HPS

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ipopescu View Post
    "we intend to transform the Army, all its components, into a standard design with internetted C4ISR[1] packages that allow us to put a combat capable brigade anywhere in the world in 96 hours." However, this desire to create lighter and more mobile brigades in order to achieve high operational speed is the same thing that animated Rumsfeld and the proponents of "Network-Centric Warfare" sharply criticized by Herspring only a few pages earlier.
    It has always amazed me that this "wisdom" of 96 hours was never challenged. It's an arbitrary number with absolute consequences, and thus meaningless.
    If the leadership cannot get the basics right, then its hardly surprising that the rest goes to rats fairly early on.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny View Post
    Thank you for the review of the book, and I certainly won't buy it. On a serious note, I see Rumsfeld / Wolfowitz as the worst team to ever inhabit the Pentagon. Abu Muqawama had a post recently on Wolfowitz saying that they "didn't anticipate the insurgency." He is a liar, viz. Shinseki and Zinni.
    Shinseki didn't predict or anticipate an insurgency.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    I've already bought the book but haven't read it yet. That said, I personally see Rumsfeld as a tragic figure in the sense that word was used in classical Greek drama: a man of immense talent and dedication, undone by an unability to understand his own shortcomings. A King Lear type figure dragged low by hubris.

    That said, I think he was one of the very rare defense secretaries who at least attempted to think in broad strategic terms. The problem was that in my personal opinion, his understanding of strategy was flawed. That raises an interesting point: as a nation we perhaps better when policymakers don't even attempt to craft and implement broad strategy than when they do it badly.

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    Default No fan of Rumsfeld, but

    I would like to echo some of the caveats posted regards criticism of Rumsfeld. Firstly, transformation predates his arrival as Secretary of Defense by 2-4 years, depending on when you consider the process started. Secondly, Rumsfeld's disdain for senior military leadership was, at least in part, richly deserved.

    The effort to transform the Army was mired in intramural politics and a sclerotic bureaucracy. Even Shinseki recognized that institutional inertia was the largest obstacle to change, to the extent that the Chief of Staff had almost completely bypassed those organizations nominally responsible for writing doctrine, building new organizations, and acquiring material. He set up ad hoc organizations to do the work of transformation in paralell with (and sometimes in opposition to) TRADOC, AMC, and other entities that had failed to truly buy into the concept. So, Rumsfeld concluded - rightly, in my opinion - that he needed to wield a flaming sword to clear out some of the deadwood and get the non-believers on board.

    Many of us staff peons who had banged our head against the Pentagon wall over transformation issues cheered when Rumsfeld treated some of his generals with the same arrogance and disdain that they had levelled at us. He pricked a lot of inflated egos that needed popping. In return, some of our generals proceeded to undermine and oppose the Secretary - not out of sincere disagreement with his policies but because their feelings had been hurt.

    So, not to excuse Rumsfeld and his many and manifest failings, but the services deserve some of the blame for the sour relationship. His first year in office had apparently convinced him that real change could only be brought about by micromanagement, force of personality, and tongue-lashings. In my opinion, this colored his perceptions and predisposed him to mistrust professional military judgment during the crises that followed.

    Parenthetically, I recall Rumsfeld publishing his "Leadership Principles" when he became SecDef, but haven't been able to find them. Anybody have a copy of them handy?

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eden View Post
    Parenthetically, I recall Rumsfeld publishing his "Leadership Principles" when he became SecDef, but haven't been able to find them. Anybody have a copy of them handy?

    You could probably find them in the Krames book.

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    Council Member Danny's Avatar
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    Default Before OIF

    Shinseki said that we would need 150 000 more troops than we took into Iraq in order to keep the peace. Seems pretty clear to me.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny View Post
    Shinseki said that we would need 150 000 more troops than we took into Iraq in order to keep the peace. Seems pretty clear to me.
    Not really. First of all, when pressed by Congress, it provided a rough estimate based on his experience with stabilization missions in the Balkans. His number didn't reflect any actual troop-to-task analysis. Second of all, he did not imply or suggest that an insurgency was likely or possible.

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    Council Member ipopescu's Avatar
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    Default What about Bob Gates...

    That said, I think he was one of the very rare defense secretaries who at least attempted to think in broad strategic terms. The problem was that in my personal opinion, his understanding of strategy was flawed. That raises an interesting point: as a nation we perhaps better when policymakers don't even attempt to craft and implement broad strategy than when they do it badly.
    I guess I also have very mixed feelings about Rumsfeld. Much higher grades for effort than results. I think his thinking on strategy came too much from a business perspective - focused on efficiency and process- rather than from the study of history or world politics. However, I believe Gates is doing a rather excellent job, so if the switch had been done sooner we would've probably been far better off.
    Ionut C. Popescu
    Doctoral Student, Duke University - Political Science Department

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    Council Member Danny's Avatar
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    Default Parsing words

    Quote:

    SEN. LEVIN: General Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?

    GEN. SHINSEKI: In specific numbers, I would have to rely on combatant commanders' exact requirements. But I think --

    SEN. LEVIN: How about a range?

    GEN. SHINSEKI: I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence.

    To which Wolfowitz went public and declared the numbers "far off of the mark." Really? Indeed. How would Wolfowitz know? Did he bring all of his infinite wisdom and war experience to bear on this assessment?

    And later:

    SEN. Lindsay GRAHAM (Republican, S. C.): Was General Shinseki correct when you look backward that we needed more troops to secure the country, General Abizaid? GEN. ABIZAID: General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, U.S. force contribution, and Iraqi force contribution should have been available immediately after major combat operations

    We can parse words a hundred ways from Sunday. It doesn't really matter. If I yell at my child that a car is speeding down the road and that he should get out of the way, it doesn't really matter if I mistake a pickup truck for a car. The fact that it is a truck that is about to run over my child doesn't obviate the danger. I see the danger, yell to the child, and the child moves thus saving his life. In this case, the yelling was ignored by the much smarter Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld.

    I see this whole thing fairly simply. If anyone with any degree of authority or respect whatsoever who was around Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz brought up any problems with post-invasion Iraq or made any recommendations for caution or forethought, it was required of this team to consider with the utmost gravity their decision and all of its implications in the light of their general's concerns - and, to amend the plans accordingly. If considering the counsel of my colleagues is a moral requirement of me in my daily decisions when I cannot possibly kill 4000 men, then a fortiori, it is much more so for this team. Quod erat demonstrandum.

    They failed, not just strategically, but morally.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I agree with Eden. Rumsfeld wasn't the worst

    SecDef, that goes unreservedly to Louis Johnson with Charlie Wilson and Thomas Gates being close behind. MacNamara did more harm than Rumsfeld -- everyone in DoD is still suffering from some of his ideas.

    The really good SecDefs, Melvin Laird and Schlesinger were exceptions to a string of mediocrity. Frank Carlucci, Cap Weinberger and Perry also did pretty well.

    Rumsfeld is in the middle of the pack; he micro managed and interfered excessively initially in Afghanistan and Iraq but then settled down, backed off the micro management and did his DoD management job and did it pretty well. He traveled to the theater, he talked to troops unscripted. He was saddled with some sorry Deputies -- politically imposed by Cheney -- but finally managed to corral them.

    As Eden said, he did not trust the senior officers, particularly of the Army and I reluctantly and regrettably say that lack of trust was deserved.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny View Post
    They failed, not just strategically, but morally.
    That's not what I'm contending but rather the assertion that Shinseki warned of or predicted the emergence of an insurgency.

    To make your metaphor more accurate, if you're going out for a drive and tell you to wear your seatbelt, then you don't and you're injuried in an accident at the intersection of Main and Maple street, it would be accurate to say you should have taken my advice, but not that I predicted that you'd be involved in an accident at the intersection of Main and Maple.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    That's not what I'm contending but rather the assertion that Shinseki warned of or predicted the emergence of an insurgency.

    To make your metaphor more accurate, if you're going out for a drive and tell you to wear your seatbelt, then you don't and you're injuried in an accident at the intersection of Main and Maple street, it would be accurate to say you should have taken my advice, but not that I predicted that you'd be involved in an accident at the intersection of Main and Maple.
    Would it be accurate to say that Danny had strongly implied that you could be severely injured if you didn't buckle up?
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rank amateur View Post
    Would it be accurate to say that Danny had strongly implied that you could be severely injured if you didn't buckle up?
    Again, I'm not contesting the tragic negligence of the administration, only the lionization of Shinseki. Perhaps we'll find out some day that he really was pounding on the table warning against the invasion but if the couple of comments to Congress is all there is, I just don't feel that constitutes a heroic stand against an impending disaster.

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    It was.

    I had a document (now lost) from the USAF that, in a nutshell, said:

    "No way in hell, it would have been nice to talk with us first before you spouted off."

    I know I sent a copy of it to a friend, I'll see if he still has it...but this was in 01-02...

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    It has always amazed me that this "wisdom" of 96 hours was never challenged. It's an arbitrary number with absolute consequences, and thus meaningless.
    If the leadership cannot get the basics right, then its hardly surprising that the rest goes to rats fairly early on.
    "Speak English! said the Eaglet. "I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and what's more, I don't believe you do either!"

    The Eaglet from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ski View Post
    It was.

    I had a document (now lost) from the USAF that, in a nutshell, said:

    "No way in hell, it would have been nice to talk with us first before you spouted off."

    I know I sent a copy of it to a friend, I'll see if he still has it...but this was in 01-02...

    I nearly fell off of my bar stool once when I read an interview with Shinseki in which he said, "Imagine how differently Somalia would have turned out if we'd been able to get a brigade there in 96 hours."

    Has I been there, my answer would have been, "Sir, not one whit different."

    Speed may kill but, as we later found out in Iraq, killing doesn't automatically bring strategic success in a stabilization campaign.
    Last edited by SteveMetz; 05-01-2008 at 05:44 PM. Reason: Cause I cant speel worth a toot

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    I nearly fell off of my bar stool once when I read an interview with Shinseki in which he said, "Imagine how differently Somalia would have turned out if we'd been able to get a brigade there in 96 hours."

    Has I been there, my answer would have been, "Sir, not one whit different."

    Speed may kill but, as we later found out in Iraq, killing doesn't automatically bring strategic success in a stabilization campaign.
    Exactly...and there is the benefit from having a delay before you cross the LD. Desert Storm took 6 months; those 6 months were used wisely. Somalia was on the other hand driven by a desire to "get there" as a demonstration that light forces can be strategic (in some quarters). They can but you have to think about where you are putting them. I "voted" for an ACR in 1992 when Somalia was under discussion. So did everyone else who had been to Somalia.

    It has never been about pure speed; it is about speed while maintaining inititiative and flexibility. In some cases airborne forces are the ticket depending on what you are doing. Other cases you need heavier. Advocating speed for speed's sake is rushing to one's own funeral.

    Tom

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Sometimes things are said for reasons that are not

    immediately clear. For example, we contended during the Reagan years that we would put ten Divisions in Europe within ten days. Most thinking people knew it couldn't be done -- we did not then have the sealift to do it. Fortunately, a lot of non-thinking people believed it.

    The 96 hours BTW isn't all that arbitrary. It's predicated on the assembly and launch of the 82d Div ready BCT (when they're home ) and flight time with existing lift. It's doable. Been done, in fact.

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    Default Not light, but medium

    Transformation was not about light forces. It was about making 'medium' weight forces deployable - 96 hours any where in the world. In fact, one of the earlier names for what became the SBCT was the Medium Brigade Combat Team. I can remember thinking when I first heard about it that no 'medium' organization in the history of warfare has ever survived for long: the logic of war inevitably drives it to become either lighter or heavier.

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