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August 7, 2006

The What-Me-Worry President
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:48 PM * 128 comments

We’ve been talking about possible civil war in Iraq for years. Many of us recognized, when death squads started roaming the land and the Golden Mosque in Samarra was blown up, that civil war was in fact in progress.

Now the serving generals are saying “civil war” in public:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Under tough questioning from U.S. senators, the head of U.S. Central Command acknowledged Thursday that Iraq could descend into civil war.

“I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war,” Gen. John Abizaid testified at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Ain’t no “could” about it, John. Try “has” for a better fit.

Let’s look across the Atantic:

LONDON, England (CNN) — The UK’s outgoing ambassador to Baghdad has warned government ministers that a civil war in Iraq is more likely than a successful transition to democracy, according to a news report.

William Patey also predicted the division of Iraq along ethnic lines, in a confidential memo addressed to the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Defense Secretary and senior military leaders.

Patey’s warning was contained in his final diplomatic cable, leaked to the BBC, before leaving office last week, the BBC reported.

“The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy,” Patey wrote.

So, civil war, not only predicted by us scruffy hippies who only happened to be right about everything so far (when you have to match words against reality), but by top guys in America and Britain.

What’s George Bush say about that?

You know, I hear people say, Well, civil war this, civil war that. The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box.

Comforting to know that, because we “went to the ballot box” in 1860 and 1864, there was no American Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

Comments on The What-Me-Worry President:
#1 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 05:57 PM:

*CLAP CLAP*

I do believe in sudden democracy through military intervention in the Middle East! I do believe we were greeted as liberators! I do believe the insurgency is on it's last legs! I do believe there were WMDs!

*CLAP CLAP*

Clap HARDER, everyone! CONDI, KARL, DONNY, CLAP HARDER!!!

#2 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 06:11 PM:

Well, now we know how much a Yale bachelor's in History is worth.

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 06:19 PM:

[dazed, delusional, watching the FOX news zipper waiting for the terror alert level to go up]

You people always ignore the good things, like freshly painted schools and ordinary iraqis walking up to soldiers to proclaim "Me love America! Thank you for getting rid of Saddaam!" and women smiling at cameras and holding up their purple fingers.

And freshly diapered billy goats.

[/dazed, delusional, watching the FOX news zipper waiting for the terror alert level to go up]

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 06:37 PM:

Jon H: We know what a 'gentleman's C' is worth.

#5 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 06:38 PM:

One question: What is George smoking?

#6 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 07:27 PM:

Josh Jasper — and yet, I have a sinking feeling that not too far in the future, the "I believe" our leaders are intoning will be more along the lines of "I do believe in spooks! I do, I do, I DO believe in spooks!"

Only for "spooks", substitute "civil war".

#7 ::: Davd Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 07:47 PM:

I heard that supporters of the war admit that it looks increasingly like their side may be losing, and that even sudden good news in Iraw is unlikely to stop it. The wish they could stop this horrible, undemocratic thing from happening. In Connecticut. But it looks like Leiberman is going to lose anyways.

#8 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 08:12 PM:

It looks as if the US has decided to take a side in the Iraqi civil war that officially isn't happening.

#9 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 08:30 PM:

Civil war in Iraq has three probable outcomes, none of them mutually exclusive in any particular place:


  1. Hobbesian collapse

  2. A successful strongman asserts authority

  3. Iranian occupation

In none of these cases are you assured of getting your army back out of there. One and two have identical, extremely bloody, initial phases, roughly conforming to a comprehensive spontaneous insurrection (everything blows up at once, as distinct from starting some particular place and spreading aka localized spontaneous insurrection); three plausibly starts with a targetted shi'a uprising, leading to deliberate logistical strangulation of the American forces, rather than the incidental logistical strangulation (you can't move soft-skinned transport vehicles through miles and miles of firefight, burning urban landscape, etc.) of the first two.

I am completely unable to make up my mind whether the US national command authority is so staggeringly incompetent that it isn't worried about this, or if it wants an opportunity to replace the US Army with something else.

#10 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 09:20 PM:

When I first heard about an Iraqi civil war, my initial reaction was "don't both sides need to have armies?" Then I realized that I was using the US civil war as a model and that was probably a little out of date.

OK, things are a lot blurrier these days. How do you decide that there's a civil war rather than a distressing number of hate crimes in an otherwise stable society?

Graydon, I vote for incompetence, but I admit I'm guessing. What could they possibly have available to replace the US army with?

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 09:29 PM:

OK, things are a lot blurrier these days. How do you decide that there's a civil war rather than a distressing number of hate crimes in an otherwise stable society?

When you have armed bands fighting each other, and targeting civilians affiliated in some way with their rivals.

A civil war is simply armed conflict within a society, and may take a variety of forms. In Iraq, we see armed militias, associated with political parties, fighting each other and attacking the civilian populace.

#12 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 09:33 PM:

Nancy --

Well, going by current conduct, the replacement would be mercenaries.

As a way of getting around the American public's distaste for casualties, mercenary armies recruited from the poor of Mexico and Central America would be a plausible solution. (Also parts of Eastern Europe.) Mercenaries are much easier to give the kind of war-crime committing orders that the current National Command Authority wants to give, potentially less expensive -- also apparently a high priority -- and, presumably, an expendable asset on the old imperial models where surviving your thirty years of service is extremely unlikely.

The flip side is that such an army could be much more readily used against citizens of the United States, whether to quell dissent or maintain authority in the absence of the traditional forms of legitimacy.

Which is not to say that it isn't also incompetence; bad as such a plan would be, executed competently, executing it incompetently would be rather worse.

#13 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 09:53 PM:

Graydon, since this is the Gang that can't even find the fscking gun to shoot themselves in the foot (much less shoot anywhere straight), I'll hope your scenario will remain imaginary.

I would think if that scenario happened, our military men, when sent home, would rebel and pitch a fit if they tried to use mercenaries to maintain peace (supress opposition) here.

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 10:19 PM:

Graydon: That is one hell of a scary idea. It makes me think of condottiere in 15th century Italy, solving the problems of urban aristocracies (uppity workers and peasants) and then shoving said aristocracies aside and taking control themselves.

#15 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 10:31 PM:

Juan Cole wrote a column for Salon citing a threshold for "civil war":

"Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain." (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.) '

By this measure, Iraq is already in civil war and has been for some time.

#16 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 10:37 PM:

There were two forms of dodge ball (or dodge 'em) that I remember playing in grade school. Neither was spontaneous; both were imposed by the gym teacher.

One version had two teams, each playing from one end of the gym. If you hit someone on the other side, he was out until someone on his side caught a ball that was thrown at him, and then the first one in line was back in the game.

The other form, which I only remember playing once, was a free-for-all. Everybody just threw at everybody else, and once you were out, you were out, until there was just one person left.

I'm guessing that this civil war will look more like the latter game.

Fckng Bush.

#17 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 10:44 PM:

Paula --

It's very, very clear that Rummy wants a different army; the re-organization of the mech brigades makes that very obvious, if nothing else -- such as purging the ranks of the general officers, or (mostly successfully) attempting to inculcate millennialist Christianity at the Air Force academy (presumably so they'll have pilots who will obey nuclear first strike against a non-nuclear power orders) -- has managed to do that.

To my mind, the question is whether or not Rummy's willing to expend the army he has deployed in Iraq to get the pretext he needs to run roughshod over the objections -- the generally very sensible objections -- of the professional military on the way to getting the army he wants.

Put in those terms, well, of course he is; such a plan would differ only in rate of expenditure of troops from what is being done now, so it's clear that SecDef Rumsfeld possesses no fundamental objections to achieving his ends by such means.

The current professional Army, in such a scenario, would mostly be dead; the forty percent or so gone when the army on the ground in Iraq was destroyed, and then the other forty percent of maneuver units gone in the counter-attack out of Kuwait or otherwise into Iran before the mercenary army could come in behind them. Much of the remainder would go when used as cadre for elements of the mercenary army, which will probably not be officially called that.

Note that the current mercenary forces are by no means themselves adequate in numbers to provide meaningful maneuver elements for a field army; they are, however, heavily drawn from former US army special forces personnel, and are heavy with people whose separation ranks were from the junior end of senior NCOs. They'd be entirely capable of training a mercenary army, should the recruits be provided to them. (Though they themselves are likely to be independently retained on grounds of greater reliability and whiteness.)

At that point, not less than two years in the future, you're dealing with scattered veterans of the professional army, not in formed units and not provided with heavy weapons, being the only remaining elements of the professional army available to oppose the use of a mercenary army to quash dissent.

Those veterans of the professional army would, in that scenario, lack a snowball's chance under any circumstances short of a committed general uprising.

I would judge a general uprising impossible in the United States; too much of the population is generally pro-authoritarian for that to occur.

It is also worth noting that the areas most likely to rise in defense of their traditional liberties are those areas being systematically stripped of military materiel and infrastructure by the current National Command Authority.

#18 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 11:15 PM:

Graydon - you may already know this, but between five to seven percent of the US military is already made up of noncitizens. I've heard about this as part of the ongoing problems with recruitment.

On a not unrelated note, part of the stalled immigration legislation is the DREAM act, which would grant US citizenship to children of illegal aliens who complete two years of college. Or two years of military service, whichever comes first.

If Max Boot has his way, an army of non-citizen mercenaries promised US citizenship in exchange for service would be called the "Freedom Legion".

#19 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2006, 11:40 PM:

The current professional Army, in such a scenario, would mostly be dead; the forty percent or so gone when the army on the ground in Iraq was destroyed, and then the other forty percent of maneuver units gone in the counter-attack out of Kuwait or otherwise into Iran before the mercenary army could come in behind them. Much of the remainder would go when used as cadre for elements of the mercenary army, which will probably not be officially called that.

Graydon, you are fucking terrifying me. But I cannot believe that the American military would allow itself to be slaughtered in the numbers you are talking about to allow a mercenary army to take its place, and I don't believe the American people would stand for that level of casualties -- it would be their sons and daughters dying.

Nancy, with regard to your question -- How do you decide that there's a civil war rather than a distressing number of hate crimes in an otherwise stable society? -- where in Iraq do you see a stable society?

#20 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:01 AM:

Fungi, I think of mercenaries as soldiers who have no loyalty to the society which is paying them to fight. If they've signed up in order to get citizenship, they presumably have loyalty.

Lizzy, Iraq is obviously in very bad shape. This doesn't mean I know it's ready to tear itself apart.

#21 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:03 AM:

Well, you know what Rummy said: it's not a classic civil war.

Whatever "classic" is supposed to mean.

Does he mean a war in which a country is divided into two geographic parts, splitting over an issue of some sort, and one part of the nation try to secede from the nation as a whole, as in the American civil war?

Or is he referring to two groups of different religious persuasions, as in the English civil war?

Or perhaps a conflict of ideologies and the distribution of power, such as the French Revolution?

Is it not classic because the two sides didn't put on blue or gray uniforms, fire cannons and muskets, and shout, "Fix bayonets! Charge!" as they pelted across fields at one another?

Please, Rummy, do tell us what a "classic" civil war consists of.

#22 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:10 AM:

A take on the Iraq situation for the US Army.

#23 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:52 AM:

Good link, Keir.

This is something I have been worried about since before the offensive started in 2003. Nothing exceptionally technical about it, all you have to do is be able to read a map. When we deployed our forces into Iraq, we deployed then through a metaphorical keyhole, Kuwait. We were not able to get all the troops we wanted in place in time, and we had problems supplying them once they entered combat. Almost all the supplies for our units there feed in through a small number of roads connecting central Iraq to Kuwait, mostly through one or two main border crossings. It is those same limited and very obvious routes that we and the British would have to use for an evacuation.

There are only so many ways in and out of Iraq, and most of those ways were closed to us in 2003, and remain closed to us now. We can't expect transit through Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or, of course, Iran. And Turkey remains a concern, especially the border between Iraq and Turkey is mountainous and Turkey remains jittery over our relationship with the Iraqi Kurds. We could very easily face a Shia revolt in the south, right across our only road home with no alternative other than load everybody on planes and leave all the materiel behind. Sort of like Saigon in 1975 without the Seventh Fleet handy close by. And none of this should be a surprise at all.

I wonder, is the Anabasis required reading these days at the War College?

#24 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:09 AM:

Mosby and Quantrill fought a civil war, as did numerous other irregular forces in the Border States during the American Civil War. Imagine their forces instead as fighters loyal to Shia and Sunni clerics and you've got a civil war, near as I can tell.

#25 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:09 AM:

The Irish Civil War in the early 20s (post-independence, between the anti-treaty and pro-treaty forces) is a good model of how a civil war need not involve standing armies. Only about three thousand people were killed, but it scarred the nation for years. It was a matter of guerrilla bands and assassinations - much like Iraq today.

#26 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:44 AM:

Cole Younger, in his autobiography, counts the American Civil War as beginning in 1857. From his point of view, living in Missouri, it probably did.

#27 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:56 AM:

The other plausible outcome of civil war is partition. Again, this is not mutually exclusive with any of Graydon's three options.

I auppose that if I were to guess, I would suspect that the most likely scenario for Iraq a few years from now would be: an independent or semi-independent Kurdistan (relatively stable except for border skirmishes with Turkey), an Iranian occupied zone, a small zone ruled by force surrounding the permanent US military bases, and elsewhere a Hobbsian war of all against all. I could imagine a situation like that lasting for many years.

#28 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 07:43 AM:

Am I imagining things, or there an assumption here that a civil will in Iraq will remain confined to Iraq? What with the situation in the region, that doesn't seem likely to me.

#29 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 07:47 AM:

Lizzy --

But I cannot believe that the American military would allow itself to be slaughtered in the numbers you are talking about to allow a mercenary army to take its place, and I don't believe the American people would stand for that level of casualties -- it would be their sons and daughters dying.

The US military is subject to civilian authority, and this is a deeply ingrained principle in the entire military, from top to bottom. (a vital one, if one wishes to avoid military coups from time to time.) They don't get to tell the SecDef that his orders are too stupid to obey.

Rummy has been systematically purging any general officer -- he's well past half of those who held flag rank when he took office as SecDef -- who gives him any back talk for any reason whatsoever. He started doing this as soon as he took office as SecDef, an office he has held for substantially longer than any other man in the history of the Republic.

The first 40% of the Army go when Iraq goes; that's not any more "allowed" than they already are with that terrible logistical situation on the ground.

If you think there was a lot of panic when 9/11 happened, wait until there's a major strategic defeat along with the loss of a field army more or less entire.

Since that loss will significantly be, and will certainly be able to be spun as being, at the hands of Iran, and since the majority of the troops in the maneuver units are already candidates for treatment for thousand yard stare, there isn't going to be much difficulty involved in whipping up a national frenzy for revenge that includes enough of the Army, and certainly enough of the Army's junior and field-grade leadership. (Presumably a form of revenge involving nuking Iran and then occupying the wreckage. Remember that Cheney's objective is the Iranian oil and gas fields, and that from his point of view denying them to China and India is almost as good as having them himself.)

#30 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 08:05 AM:

If you think there was a lot of panic when 9/11 happened, wait until there's a major strategic defeat along with the loss of a field army more or less entire.

Another possible outcome: that's when George (or Jeb, if it's after 2008) Bush gets impeached.

#31 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 08:32 AM:

James --

I would of course greatly prefer that outcome, but don't consider it to be a likely scenario so far as neocon planning goes.

Hopefully it's a whole lot more likely than they think it is, and doesn't take quite that scale of disaster to enact.

#32 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 09:22 AM:

Sorry, the "we'll lose 40% of the army" comments are just so much hoo-hah to me. If the supply lines begin getting opposition and harassment, then the 101st and Marine units will begin escorting the convoys, just like they did during the initial offensive to Baghdad.

Back then there were actual bypassed, intact Iraqi army units attempting to break those supply lines, and they failed to do so. Throw in dedicated helicopter escort units for the convoys, and there's simply no way the Iraqis have enough force to threaten a complete cut of the supply lines.

Yes, that means the units now protecting convoys are no longer patrolling parts of Iraq. Yes, the roads might not be completely controlled, but the convoys would be secure and supplies would get through. Yes, the troops might actually have to subsist on MRE's instead of dining in air conditioned mess halls and fast food restaurants purpose-built for their use. You know what? Troops have been doing this for years. It's only lately that US troops have begun bringing their culture with them in the form of stores, restaurants, and the other amenities of home in their logistic calculations.

You're making these Iraqi irregulars to sound as if they are as good as the Soviet army units that isolated the Germans at Stalingrad. They aren't, even with direct Iranian assistance. The best they could do is force a modification of the US mission in Iraq, but lose 40% of the army?

No way in hell.

#33 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 09:58 AM:

I too am dubious about the Army suffering a significant slaughter at the hands of an Iraqi uprising. The link Keir posted a bit upthread makes a strong argument to that effect.

However the green zone isn't all that big geographically. What about a nuke?*

I'm thinking something along the lines of "small but well-financed faction leader manages to purchase, say, a 10 kiloton device on the black market. Knowing it's political suicide to nuke your own country, he tricks his dumb cousin Bob into actually doing the deed. The green zone is devastated with significant loss of life. American public opinion turns to a degree that it is no longer possible to effectively prosecute the war. U.S. pulls out.

Bob the dumb cousin is tried and executed for his horrific crime against his own people & lands. The smart, well-financed cousin who set the whole mess in motion steps into fill the power vacuum left by the US departure, (or tries to anyway.)

Here's why I think it's at least semi-plausible.

Just a thought.

#34 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 10:41 AM:

Graydon, while the military is subservient to the civilian government, it doesn't mean it will follow any order it's given. I would google magic a few articles about what the Delta Force did after the screw-up of the Mullah Omar summer palace invasion. They went to the then CentCom commander Tommy Franks and told him in no uncertain terms they would never be used so stupidly again. It is also not only the right, but the duty of any soldier to actively resist (ainít that a lovely term) any illegal order given them (that is, an order in contradiction to the Constitution, laws and treaties). We could have a discussion about the breakdown of that concept on a brigade level during this current conflict, but overall itís still entrenched.

John, I think you missed the chance that it would be a popular uprising, catching the army where itís deployed. Or a successful Tet Offensive, if you like.

#35 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 10:49 AM:

John --

The supply lines have opposition and harassment now, quite a lot of it. There has, as yet, been no comprehensive general uprising nor widespread targeted effort on the logistical tail.

In Iraq, in the summer, it is entirely possible to light long stretches of tarmacadam highway on fire. Secondary roads travel through built-up areas; getting fuel bowsers through built-up areas while subject to IEDs and RPG fire is not going to happen quickly if it happens at all.

Logistics is intensely rate-limited. There have already been periods -- there were periods during the initial advance -- when units outran supplies of fuel and water; there isn't any too much slack in the system as it stands.

A comprehensive general uprising would cut off essentially the entirety of the American force in Iraq, and they do not have substantial reserves in place of any of fuel, water, or ammo.

Once they're out of fuel and water, they're dead. Three days with no water is all it takes even in the absence of other hostile action, and the ability to purify water is a function of having the fuel.

#36 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 11:25 AM:

It's being said lately that the Israelis have effectively destroyed all land routes into or out of Lebanon. Couldn't someone do the same in Iraq, or is the terrain too different? If it could happen, that brings on the "evacuate by plane and leave everything else behind" scenario.

#37 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 11:31 AM:

A general uprising doesn't mean that every Iraqi citizen suddenly turns into a trained fighting soldier, though. A large amount of those supply roads south of Baghdad run through...nothing.

No villages, no towns, just desert. Heavily escorted convoys would still get through. If they had to cut the supply down to basics (food, water, ammo, fuel), they would. Water and food would not be the first items in the convoys either; both can be gained from the land that is occupied (two rivers run through Baghdad).

You're still giving this theoretical Iraqi general uprising abilities beyond that of either the Confederate army during the Atlanta Campaign (when Sherman operated at the end of a VERY long and tenuous supply line) or the Soviets in 1942. I don't buy it.

Like I said, the US mission in Iraq would change, probably to one of self defense and resupply, which would be equivalent to being defeated. But this idea of them losing that large a force is nowhere close to reality. At worse they'd end up in a fortified position in or near Baghdad (the airport would be my choice) with a pullout coming shortly afterwards.

#38 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 11:50 AM:

This is nonsense. The only way for the US military to suffer a 40% dead casualty rate is if someone on the other side suddenly produces those phantom WMD's and does it in a single strike.

Every other option has a large, unexpected attack, with a lot of causualties that still amounts to a small percent of the total force, and the US population drops all support for the war and calls for a pull out. (See Marine barracks in Beruit some years back.) In the meantime, the military evacuates the cities, camps out in the desert where you can't sneak up on anything, circles the M-1's, and waits for the order to withdraw.

At that point, the only way to inflict significant causualties is a direct fight, and Khe Sahn showed that if you've got enough space that you can completely bomb the land around you, then whoever is on the ground will get 24-hour bombimg support against anyone stupid enough to come out in the open.

If we lose 40%, it'll be because we allow our military to slowly bleed to death one IED at a time.


#39 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 11:51 AM:

Steve --

Yes, the Army gets to complain, and yes, flag officers get to resign rather than carry out stupid orders, but fundamentally, they're still in an untenable position and they got that way by following the National Command Authority's orders.

The Army appears to have hit every political lever it can reach with really minimal effect, too.

#40 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:14 PM:

John and Greg London, there are currently several armies in the general population. Two Shiíite clerics run armies, the disbanded Iraqi army units, the former Sunni Fetayeen, the Kurdish Self Defense Force (actually 3 forces rolled into one), Al-Qaeda sponsored foreign fighters (Zarkawiís troops), and several militia factions made up of parts of all the above. This is nothing to say of the Iraqi police and army weíve been training which have already had defections on the squad level (as in whole squads defecting and then attacking US ďinterestsĒ). Not one of these could stand up to a frontal assault from the US. Neither could the Viet Cong. And they wouldnít have to. They wouldnít even have to have close cooperation to deliver a sustained devastating campaign against the US Forces.

Rolling into the desert and setting up a perimeter is a sure course to defeat, even if you can ďsee where they are.Ē

Greg, even though we bombed the heck out of the North Vietnam and parts of Cambodia, we still lost the damn war. We had technically superior forces, we had air support, we won every engagement we fought, and we still lost the war. This is a lesson we should never forget.

Graydon, all those officers still have an affect within the active troops. Hell, even Storminí Norman still has pull. There has been open grumbling about his silence during this war.

#41 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:23 PM:

Relevant link, via the Whiskey Bar, by an ex-Army int officer:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0721/p09s01-coop.html
Summary: air transport could only lift 25% of total requirements, and the insurgents could cut the roads.

An Army division (circa 10,000 soldiers) in WW2 needed 6-700 tons (fuel, ammo, food, etc) per day. Nowadays it's closer to 1000 tons per day, though the divisions are larger - and that figure's for mobile operations, not occupation duty. Think how many troops there are in Iraq - the total logistics burden must be in the region of 10,000 tons a day. Not possible with airlift - not at all. Not even possible into airstrips that aren't under attack.

On the bright side, it's unlikely that the insurgents will wipe them out - or that the US troops will fight to the last man. In the event, there would more probably be a negotiated surrender and withdrawal - thus saving the lives of most if not all the besieged troops. I can see Iran getting involved as the honest broker.

And, you know, that might not be a bad thing. After the last similar humiliation (and the RVN defeat in 1975 was far, far less humiliating than the surrender of an entire US corps would be) the US kept its neck wound in for almost a decade, give or take Desert One, before starting on the whole invading-people business again in Grenada. Assuming the administration didn't get started on a REVENGE! kick, that is.

"Once all the Germans were warlike and mean
But that couldn't happen again;
We taught them a lesson in 1918
And they've hardly bothered us since then..."

#42 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:37 PM:

Steve, I know we lost the war. That wasn't the point. The point that these hypothetical situation where we lose 40% of our military is not reality based. Worse case, we get a massive attack against us, like the marine barracks in Beruit, and we pull out of Iraq. But we won't lose 40% of our troops.

#43 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:48 PM:

an army, in the middle of teh desert, with the wagons in a circle, and a 10 mile flat-desert perimeter around it, doesn't need fuel or ammo airlifted to it. They would need three MRE's and 8 quarts of water per person, per day. The only other thing they'd need is batteries for the radios to call in B52 airstrikes to dig a moat around them.

#44 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:50 PM:

Greg --

You've got about 40% of your army deployed in Iraq.

They are extensively forward deployed well away from their base of supply; their lines of supply are not secure and can't be made secure with the troops available. Those troops are, for the most part, pre-surrounded.

They're also operating out of a degree of local supply that's good for, maybe, a week of normal operations; there have been press reports since the conflict started of US forces being forced to reduce their operational tempo due to being in poor supply. Since the operational tempo has been ramping up, not down, and the supply security situation has not substantially improved, the likelyhood of local reserves of supply having been established is very low.

Warfare went from discrete battles to a continuous front with the Great War; in Hitler's War mechanization produced a continuous front that moves.

Fourth generation warfare involves a contested volume; there is no front, and there generally isn't a stable or predictable volume of contact.

The potential volume of contact is a whole lot larger than the US troops on the ground can manage. (If they could manage it, the place wouldn't be melting down into civil war.)

Just because the line units can reliably beat the pluperfect holy helya out of whoever happens to be in front of them doesn't mean there are enough of them to get to all the places that someone could get in front of them, and if they can't do that, they can't secure their lines of supply.

If they can't secure their lines of supply, they can be destroyed.

A negotiated surrender requires someone in overall control of the opposition; there is no such person.

#45 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:53 PM:

I'm with Greg on this. The majority of the US divisions in Iraq did not bring their heavy weaponry or vehicles with them; they were tasked for foot patrols and sent in as infantry, with a force of heavy armor (Bradleys and M1's) as backup. Most of the fuel requirements is for Humvees, trucks, helicopters and resupply.

The divisions aren't maneuvering; that 1000 tons/day is for mobile combat, not patrolling towns or taking a defensive stand. A lot of that tonnage is also what would have been considered "luxuries" back as recently as 1991. I know; an 82nd Airborne soldier worked with me during the 90's and even after they were in garrison he said it was Spartan living quarters. Now they've got email, air conditioning, Quonset huts (or their equivalent), fresh fruit and vegetables, internet access, PX's, Pizza Hut, Dominos, McDonalds, etc, etc.

I suspect that 1000 tons/day could get pared down quite a bit if necessary.

And given that the Republican Guard couldn't stop the supplies from travelling on those roads despite their best efforts, I somehow doubt that militia would be able to do it to any effective level either. Not enough to force a wholesale surrender of the forces at the end of that supply line in any event.

#46 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 12:58 PM:

John and Greg --

You are overlooking something. While the US *may* be able to kick Iraqi butt, it isn't just the Iraqis they'll be fighting. (Mr. Brust, I think you and I may have reached the following conclusion.)

If the current situation in the Middle East goes pear-shaped the entire region goes up in smoke. At the very least, Iran and Syria will join the game, and not on the US/UK side.

Last time I looked, all of the countries in that region have armies. Any one of them is able to cut our supply lines and/or prevent any evacuation of troops.

Claude Muncy, if the Anabasis is the text I know as "The Retreat Up-country," I believe you will find it in the library of all of the US military colleges. Whether it is still being actively taught, I do not know. (If it isn't, it should be.)

#47 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:24 PM:

And imagine the mess all those American weapons could do to the Middle East if Saudi Arabia decides to get involved?

Iraq has been in a civil war since November 2004. It's been small, but growing. Iraqi elections mostly haven't mattered. The focus of the insurgency for the first year and a half or so was against the Americans, but it's more against other Iraqis these days.

It's sick and our govenment continues to be in complete denial over how bleak the situation in Iraq really is.

I think Iraq will wind up partitioned. The areas the Kurds control have been pretty quiet over the last year or so. That implies local government/security is working in those areas. So as the rest of Iraq is torn asunder, the Kurds will wind up with what they've wanted for years - their own homeland.

#48 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:35 PM:
an army, in the middle of teh desert, with the wagons in a circle, and a 10 mile flat-desert perimeter around it, doesn't need fuel or ammo airlifted to it. They would need three MRE's and 8 quarts of water per person, per day. The only other thing they'd need is batteries for the radios to call in B52 airstrikes to dig a moat around them.

Greg, that's not tactics, that's military fantasy. Not even particularly good military fantasy. Besides being infeasible in terms of both ground logistics (you need a lot more than batteries, bottled water and MRE's to maintain multi-brigade force in being, especially in a hasty position) and in terms of the overall availability and allowable optempo of BUFFs these days (we only base one to two dozen in Diego these days -- you would need a lot more than that), it means you aren't thinking more than 8 hours ahead in an environment where a commander has to think months and years out.

OK, you have your 17-18 brigades (that's US only of course -- or do you include the British and other coalition forces spread all over the country?) in a hasty position in the desert, and you have bombed the crap out of some surrounding territory. Now what are you going to do? You have committed one of the truly classic errors in this kind of a conflict, you have put all your forces in one easily observable spot, and granted you opponents complete freedom of action everywhere else. You should start taking low level casualties from a variety of small attacks within 24 hours. At best you have 2-3 days of water, MRE's and POL when it will take longer than that to get everybody out of the country from a location like Baghdad if you try to move out. And if you don't, you will run dry quickly in place. Unlike the earlier example of Sherman, mechanized forces can't live off the land, especially this land.

Greg, I suggest coming up with a better idea, perhaps something that sounds less like a recipie for Dienbienphu on the Euphrates.

#49 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:36 PM:

The problem is not whether the Anabasis is still being taught to officer cadets and to serving officers who are students at the Command and Staff colleges. The problem is that the civilian authorities responsible for coming up with the objectives and grand strategy these officers must make plans to achieve are blind and deaf to these issues. Their appreciation of military history may be described as Gingrichian at best. If they think about Xenophon and the Ten Thousand at all, it is in terms of the civilized Greeks' triumph over the treacherous Persian wogs, without considering that these were mercemary soldiers signed on for into Cyrus the Younger's wild goose chase purely for personal gain--the same mindset that makes Dunkirk look to some like a military triumph rather than a desperate, disorganized evacuation that was so unanticipated that voluntary civilian assistance was needed to pull it off.

Much of the training that produces military planners revolves around the question "What if?"--because "What ifs" can ruin you. Rumsfeld and the neocons have read the exciting, quotable bits of writers like Clausewitz--not the dull parts where the old Prussian explains what forced marches do to your troops in terms of fighting effectiveness, and all the other grim details about actual management of armed forces so that they are fighting forces. Their school of military thinking seems to me to be the Jiminy Cricket school, with the theme song "When You Wish Upon a Star".

Greg, John, please consider the military term "defeat in detail". I'm not saying Graydon is right, but his scenario is a picture that must be considered--if only to make sure that it can't happen. Which is part of what responsible leaders (have we got any?) must do.

#50 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:39 PM:

Those troops are, for the most part, pre-surrounded.

The only way that will make a dent in the US military force in Iraq is if there's some sort of coordinated nationwide Iraqi militia uprising where everyone stocks up and plans to strike at dawn, everywhere, at once. And even then, that will get the guys patroling the streets at that moment, not the guys sleeping back at base, waiting to go on night patrol. And the idea of such a buildup occurring without anyone noticing seems a bit far fetched.

This is Pearl Harbor (or 9-11) surprise attack paranoia.

If they can't secure their lines of supply, they can be destroyed.

No. You can't destroy something if you cannot get close enough to attack it. You could be completely unarmed but have guardian angels flying B52's and spooky gunships and remain un-destroyed, assuming you have a bombable perimeter around you.

Assuming that somehow your surprise attack went off without a hitch, you still have a massive US military presence back at the base, and to take that on, you've got to switch from guerrilla warfare to a standup fight. And once you switch to third gen war, call in the spooky gunships and the B52s and mow down everything near the bases that moves.

#51 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:43 PM:

John, those quarters youíre discussing with all the amenities are in very few places, Camp Disney/Halliburton/Victory for instance. Most deployment in Iraq is in country with very Spartan conditions (including places with no running water or toilets). If things get as bad as they could with a general uprising that crystallizes the opposition, the army is going to get very mobile, very fast and it will chew through that 1000 tons/day quickly. Cut supply, and mobilization will end just as quickly (Patton, WWII). The RP at the beginning of the war was demoralized and had been stripped of their command during Saddam's purges after Gulf 1. Most of the attacks were from the Fetayeen, which hadn't coalesced yet. We still have to run security patrols around the trucks to keep them from suffering form too high a loss. As for most of the troops being deployed without their heavy equipment, thatís because we cut costs by leaving unit equipment in place and reassigning it to incoming troops.

#52 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:48 PM:

I think this post I made some time ago here is relevant:

http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006442.html

#53 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:52 PM:

Sherman didn't live off the land in his Atlanta Campaign. He couldn't; moving 100,000 men through northern Georgia's rugged terrain, where there was little farmland and less food, required he stay near the railroad running between Chattanooga and Atlanta. He didn't try to live off the land until he left Atlanta and struck out for Savannah, and he did that with a lot less than the 100,000 men he advanced on Atlanta with.

Johnston's Confederate cavalry and guerillas tried repeatedly to break that supply line, but Sherman kept peeling units off his main force to guard the line, especially at vulnerable bridges and tunnels. The rest of the line could be repaired very rapidly by trained engineers with stockpiles of timbers and rails.

I don't fear Syria doing anything to mess with the US in Iraq; their army is in the wrong place to interfere and isn't very strong either; there's a large and empty desert between them and Baghdad. Iran doesn't exactly have a large border with Iraq, and the British are between them and the supply lines.

If the entire Iraqi population erupted in revolt (doubtful since the Kurds wouldn't IMO) and began torching and blowing up everything in site, the US forces would probably conduct a withdrawal southward back towards Kuwait. The supply lines and firebases would rely heavily on massive airstrikes and helicopter patrols to keep them clear, but the combat equipment and troops would get out. All the junk that the military seems to currently think is necessary, though, would be abandoned at the start.

#54 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 01:58 PM:

perhaps something that sounds less like a recipie for Dienbienphu on the Euphrates.

ohfergawdssake. Dienbienphu happened in 1954. Airpower has changed the battlefield since then. Also, at Dienbienphu, the Vietnamese were able to pull artillery through the jungle and set them up on mountain peeks overlooking the french position. And the french couldn't do anything about it. That significantly changed the battle.

You can't sneek artillery through the desert the same way, and if you did get a couple salvos off, the f-16's and A-10's would have you chewed up into little pieces of iron before you could swab your breech a third time. Vietnamese artillery operated unmolested because of a lack of airpower to neutralize it. It completely changed the battlefield. The french and vietnamese ended up fighting trench warfare because of it. That won't happen in Iraq.

It wouldn't be Diembienphu, it would be Khe Sahn. 6,000 americans held off 20,000 vietnamese for three solid months. 200 americans killed. 9000 vietnamese killed.

There is no militia in Iraq that can operate long range artillary for any length of time. The only option would be if they got rockets like Hezbollah has been shooting at Israel. And the likelyhood of several thousand of these rockets suddenly appearing in Iraq without some warning is pretty slim.

If there is any warning of these types of rockets coming into Iraq, you'll likely see US military bases changing their configurations to deal with it. If they can't move, they'd likely push their perimeter's further back, and set up some phalanx gun systems and patriot missile systems.

#55 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:10 PM:

John, I suggest you check that map again. One, the Kurds are very upset about some towns that control the oil flow that the US hasnít kicked the Sunni out (Saddam took these towns when he pushed the main Kurdish population into the mountains). There have been many incidents, none as big as Baghdad, so they havenít been reported widely. Comparatively it is as settled as things get, just like Basra is ďsettled.Ē Syria is too interested in gaining power from the Israel and Hezbollah conflict, trying to be the party of negotiation. That would change if Iran would take a direct and open part in the Iraq civil war. That would also draw in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, then game over and weíve got a Congo in the Middle East with the US Forces playing sucker in the middle.

Iran and Iraq has large enough border to have had several wars over it. Also, Iran could come across the Gulf and take Kuwait in a flanking maneuver, cutting of our southern routes. Again, SA would have to come in on our side, which would inflame their own populace throwing that country into open rebellion. And that big desert between Syria and Baghdad, thatís where the oil is. It isnít as empty as you might think.

And conducting a withdraw to the south means taking the bulk of our force through very narrow channels and in hostile country. Thatís Shia dominated land, and they donít like us very much. If Iran is involved, thatís where theyíll be, BTW. Actually withdrawing North through Turkey would be better, although the political cost would be high, and we would leave a lot of equipment on the ground. Not a good idea.

#56 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:27 PM:

That would change if Iran would take a direct and open part in the Iraq civil war. That would also draw in Jordan and Saudi Arabia,

what planet do you live on?

The US military is getting slowly bled by guerrilla war because we seem to be clueless as to how to fight 4th gen war. But if you bring in an outside nation, you're talking 3rd gen war, and we're really, really, really good at that. When we pushed the Iraqi military out of kuwait, they were something like the third biggest army on the friggen planet. Russia was wondering if we had lost our mind, that's how big they were.

Guerrilla war won't kill 40% of our military in one strike because it is by definition diffuse, it is ill defined, gaseous, with no solid borders to attack. That's why it works so well. See Sun Tzu. When the enemy outnumbers you 10 to 1, harry them and dissappear.

Other countries won't get involved because state warfare between them and us is their loss will little chance to win and little to gain. Iran might go after Iraq if we pulled out, but they aren't going after us while we're there. Iran might start funneling rockets to Iraqi militia to launch against us, but I highly doubt they'd want us to find Iranian shrapnel in a US base. We'd bomb hell out of wahtever their nuclear power/weapon plant would be and flatten any hardware that's out in teh open. And if we didn't, we'd call Israel and have them do it for us, and give them the bombs and fuel and planes to do it with.

We're fighting against a guerilla opponent for a reason. because if we were fighting a state, we'd bulldoze them.

#57 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:28 PM:

Greg --

You're effectively taking the position that the US cannot be militarily defeated.

Rather than criticize the details of your position -- which should not be understood as being unable to do so -- I'm going to point out to you that the attitude you're espousing is one every military authority from Sun Tzu onward describes in unkind terms.

There is, presumably, a reason for that.

#58 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:53 PM:

If one quarter of the US trained and equipped Iraqi army mutinied in one third of the country, we would face hard times, and a massive propaganda defeat.

The battlefield isn't the only place you can lose a war.

#59 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:58 PM:

Greg, in Gulf One the Iraqi forces were bugging out for almost 5 days before we entered Kuwait and the Iraqi Desert. No casualties until we flanked the Republican Guard. We mostly rolled over their positions, but they started to respond in force just as we called off the war. Saddam felt it was better to have his forces intact and ordered them to continue to withdraw without engaging. We (for the most part) let them pass into Iraq.

Iran has already supplied al Sahdir and Iranian scrapnel and ordinance has already been found in the Green Zone (last year I believe). Iran could enter the fray in force and still only present a moving target, not a solid front line. We would have their assets in Iran to bomb. However Iran has already started into the war by releasing one of Osama's sons from "home arrest." Much of the list of Al Qaeda our President likes to promoted about being "captured or killed" are in house arrest in eastern Iran. They could do a great deal of damage just by letting them all go.

Iran entering Iraq openly has been a concern since the beginning so I think I'm on pretty solid ground by thinking that they might actually do it at the behest of their Shia friends in the south, who, BTW, also are the majority of the elected government in Iraq. They are also being picked off by the Sunni/Al Qaeda and are fed up by our inability to stop it.

And I don't think that 40% lost was ever stated as being a "one strike" deal. It would take weeks or months. But it could happen. Our military is already over-stretched and exhausted (personnel and equipment). We are still constantly harassed. Three years into this battle and we haven't won the ground, yet.

#60 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 02:58 PM:

Greg, good military planning means that one has considered the possibilities, no matter how unlikely, unattractive, unappealing,or unflattering--or even unthinkable, and given some thought to the question of "What if this happens?"

One reason we are in the spot we are in now is because the men giving the orders prefered not to do this.

There is no militia in Iraq that can operate long range artillary for any length of time. The only option would be if they got rockets like Hezbollah has been shooting at Israel. And the likelyhood of several thousand of these rockets suddenly appearing in Iraq without some warning is pretty slim.

If there is any warning of these types of rockets coming into Iraq...

You clearly have greater faith in the effectiveness of our intelligence operations in a non-friendly country where we do not have enough translators and interpreters than I can muster. Israel's current experiences with Hezbollah, if not our own in Iraq prior to today's date, should suggest the unwisdom of assuming we know everything that's happening everywhere.

It wouldn't be Diembienphu, it would be Khe Sahn... The fact that we'd prefer the latter to the former should not blind us to the possibility that it might be the former. Because denying the possibility and failing to consider it as a possibility (which is what Bushco has been doing) is a good way to turn it from a possibility into a probability.

As for the other states in the area--plan for the worst, and hope for the best. Adopting the technique of planning for the best and denying the worst is what has gotten us where we are today.

#61 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 03:00 PM:

You're effectively taking the position that the US cannot be militarily defeated.

No, I'm taking on the position that military action doesn't happen in a vacuum. It seems to be a popular US myth, that we can march in and bomb the shit out of stuff and then leave without any repurcussions, but being a superpower has lulled some americans into that myth. Yeah, sure, Iran could march into Iraq and kill a lot of American service personel in a surprise attack, maybe even kill every single american there.

Japan did something like that to us in Pearl Harbor. Their admiral seemed to understand the shortsightedness of it. rule the seas for six months, or something like that.

The scenarios needed to have our entire military presence in Iraq wiped out is a Pearl Harbor attack. Except this time around, we've got a fleet of Enola Gay's ready to roll. And I don't think anyone is really that stupid. At least no one who isn't a superpower.

Iran can't entertain myths of exercising power in a vacuum, of waging state level war without repercussions. And the fact that they aren't a superpower means they likely haven't been seduced by that sort of nonsense either.


#62 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 03:08 PM:

rule the seas for six months, or something like that.

"For the first six months I shall run wild. After that I can give no guarantees."

#63 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 03:14 PM:

If there is any warning of these types of rockets coming into Iraq...

You clearly have greater faith in the effectiveness of our intelligence operations

No, I don't. But I do know that the number of rockets needed to wipe out teh US military in Iraq is a lot of gawddamn rockets. Hezbollah's rockets appear to be about as effective as Hitler's V2's. Scary. Loud booms. But the number of casualties inflicted are not the levels needed to actually have any real effect on teh war, otehr than psychological.

If we get to the point of switching from Khe Sahn to Diembienphu, we'll know about it long before it happens, because the attackers will need tens of thousands of rockets.

B52's will still be able to operate and bomb the perimeter so a ground assault won't work. Which means they'll need enough rockets to kill everyone. That's a lot fo rockets. You ain't sneaking that many into Iraq without someone running into one somewhere in a raid.

And then it'll have Iranian markings on it, and we'll greenlight Israel to bomb Iran's nuke plant and ay other targets of opportunity, and Iran gains nothing and loses a lot.

Which in teh end, is why Iran will never supply enough rockets to wipe out the US military, because they'll be worse off then they were before.

Before we invaded Iraq, I kept saying that they didn't have WMD's because they didn't need WMD's and Saddam didn't CARE about anyone other than himself to risk having WMD's. Having WMD's would guarantee his destruction and he had no reason to have them. And this is basically the idea that war doesn't happen in a vacuum. War happens because someone gets a material benefit. At least on a state level.

Guerrilla war happens for other reasons and has other formulas, but it won't escalate into state war unless someone materially benefits. See Israel invading Lebanon to go after guerrillas. Israel uses someoen else's land as a buffer zone. Israel benefits. And Israel is backed by teh US, so Israel's thinking is generally the thinking of a superpower, that war can be waged without repercussions.

Iran won't tip their hand against us. They are much better off watching the insurgents bleed us to death slowly, one IED at a time, and to keep their hands clean.

#64 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 03:15 PM:

Thanks for the quote, Jim. My brain is frazzled today.

#65 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 03:32 PM:

Anyone thinking the Iranians can cross the Persian Gulf in force and take Kuwait in a "flanking attack" needs to take a reality pill.

The Iran/Iraq border is mostly marsh and is fairly constricted on both sides. That's why their war was so bloody; no maneuver room and it turned into a WWI engagement with modern weapons.

The desert between Syria and Baghdad is open and prime airpower target land. No way would Syria risk their army across it when the USAF would have a field day on them.

As long as the Army is led by competent men (and by this I mean the ones in uniform), I see no way they would suffer a military defeat in Iraq on the scale mentioned earlier. A strategic/political defeat certainly, but not on the field of battle.

#66 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 03:49 PM:

Just to liven things up a bit....

Are we feeling reasonably confident that the Bush-Cheney crew wouldn't just write off thousands or tens of thousands of soldiers? It would, after all, be the thing to do for the sort of CEO they like being - the units failed, the units are no longer of interest, anyone who makes a fuss about the units which are no longer of interest is distracting the management, distracting the management is unpatriotic, unpatriotic people exist in peace and quiet only at the management's discretion.

Before Katrina I would never have imagined such a thing.

#67 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 03:55 PM:

Are we feeling reasonably confident that the Bush-Cheney crew wouldn't just write off thousands or tens of thousands of soldiers?

This is sort of a unrelated tangent, since it has nothing to do with whether or not anyone could attack the US military in Iraq and inflict those levels of casualties. No one can and no one would.

But were the war to continue as it is, especially with a clueless administration abusing power in the vacuum of the White House, I would not be surprised if Bush would not keep us in Iraq as tens of thousands of US personell are killed slowly over many years.

Vietnam was 60,000 personell in 20 years? It would seem we're not too far off that graph.

#68 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 04:00 PM:

John, that open desert is where the "foreign fighters" are coming through. If it was easy to control via air power, we wouldn't have that problem. Granted, an open army on the march is different than groups of 10 to 20, but I'll remind you that the Syrian Army also has developed great anti-aircraft technology for use against the Israelis (who have similar equipment to our air forces). We would also be facing advances on other fronts. Those other fronts may distract us. Again, it also has a lot of oil equipment, so indiscriminate bombing would be out of the question. Syria may also just move to restrict flow of oil through Jordan.

Is Iran coming across the gulf improbable? Yes. It isnít impossible, however. And if our command structure believes as you do, thatís how they will come.

Their border actually has a lot of different environments from swampy in the south to mountainous in the north. Also, it wasnít trench warfare, it was WWIII-Europe tactics, which was why we were supporting Saddam at the time. For being no maneuver room, the front certainly went back and forth into both countries a lot.

Plus you make it sound like itís easy to redeploy troops. It took over a month to choose and move the striker force into Baghdad. It also required extending that forcesí deployment in Iraq. War isnít as easy as itís being made to sound here (on both sides of the discussion).

#69 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 04:06 PM:

Speaking as one of those soldiers Graydon is talking about being both replaced, and outflanked, I think him wrong.

First, the actual use of such troops to impose order would be more widely resisted than most people think (there are a lot of non-authoritarian types who have guns, and training; which is less important than usually supposed).

Second, the scope the National Guard (which does have access to medium, as well as heavy weapons... some of us even know where the ammo for said heavy weapons is).

Third, I think a less than small scale uprising would be the result of the use of such troops to suppress a minor one. I don't think the populace would see it as they saw Shay's and the Whiskey rebellions.

Heavy weapons (tanks, helicopters, artillery) are overrated. A semi-skilled force can make their lives difficult. A moderately trained force can neutralise them.

The general level of morale (at least in the units I have been able to spend time with, which is more than most Guardsmen get because I get to more widescale excercises than most) is iffy.

More to the point, Mercenaries have a weakness, they fight for pay. To be more specific, they kill for pay. They are usually less than willing to die for it.

A real resistance (one which is widespread, or deep, or skilled) tends to make it harder to recruit new mercenaries, even if the captain is willing to try and keep the contract. What more often happens (or did, in the age of the condittieri) was mutiny when faced with a campaign of poor odds (individual battles were different, and some groups made a reputation of fighting with utter devotion; thought it is to be noted this was something done with parts, not the whole; see the Scots Guards of the King of France, or the, still extant, Swiss at the Vatican).

No, what I see as more likely (and more terrifying) is that a slow erosion of the liberties of the people continues, until they forget what it was to be free.

At which point the Army can be used to keep order.

#70 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 04:14 PM:

Are we feeling reasonably confident that the Bush-Cheney crew wouldn't just write off thousands or tens of thousands of soldiers? It would, after all, be the thing to do for the sort of CEO they like being - the units failed, the units are no longer of interest, anyone who makes a fuss about the units which are no longer of interest is distracting the management, distracting the management is unpatriotic, unpatriotic people exist in peace and quiet only at the management's discretion.

I could believe that Bush & Cheney might personally be capable of writing them off (Cheney more than Bush). But losing tens of thousands of troops without achieving a clear victory -- or losing wars in general -- is one of the very best ways to get voted out of office. (And while neither Bush nor Cheney is concerned with re-election, the Republicans in general certainly are.)

#71 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 04:26 PM:

I find it somewhat curious that no one has offered a plausible reason for Syria (or even more outlandishly, Jordan) to intervene, other than a kind of "they'll get dragged in" hand-waving. I'd assume the Syrian government is very leery about stirring things up that might rebound on them (e.g., ending up either fighting against or promoting the sorts of Islamist radicals who have tried to bring down the Syrian government.)

(Not to mention the fact that Syria is rather vulnerable to air attack from the Mediterranean.)

#72 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 04:47 PM:

Syria is already involved providing passage for foreign fighters. They could also feel it's in their best interests to attack before the US attacks them directly, contribute to a defeat of US forces in the middle east, demoralizing the US populace ending with only minor retalatory strikes by the US (the Administration talking about Syria being a possible depository of of Saddam's WMDs, Bathists in Syria, all the sabre rattling which has diminished since Syria left Lebanon, and the example of the Marines barracks in Beriut). If Iran took a larger role in the war, they might also force Syria into action.

Right now Syria is trying to leverage the Israeli-Hezbolla conflict into a greater role and power in the region. If they felt the US was going to by-pass them, they would loose their major reason for not getting involved to a greater degree in Iraq.

They might also feel a need to support their Sunni brothers (need to check to make sure Syria is majority Sunni, I think so but it's been awhile since I looked), who are woefully outnumbered in Iraq.

Jordan gets a lot of money by trucking into Iraq (food, medicine, etc) and exporting Iraqi oil. A destabilization might force the young king into a rash act to secure his own rule.

#73 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 05:45 PM:

Syria is already involved providing passage for foreign fighters. They could also feel it's in their best interests to attack before the US attacks them directly, contribute to a defeat of US forces in the middle east, demoralizing the US populace ending with only minor retalatory strikes by the US (the Administration talking about Syria being a possible depository of of Saddam's WMDs, Bathists in Syria, all the sabre rattling which has diminished since Syria left Lebanon, and the example of the Marines barracks in Beriut). If Iran took a larger role in the war, they might also force Syria into action.

There's kind of a difference between "providing passage for foreign fighters" (which can be as simple as not policing your borders as hard as you possibly could) and "sending in your army."

Right now Syria is trying to leverage the Israeli-Hezbolla conflict into a greater role and power in the region. If they felt the US was going to by-pass them, they would loose their major reason for not getting involved to a greater degree in Iraq.

No, they're trying to recover lost ground and influence in Lebanon, which is where they've traditionally had power, and where they can plausibly have power. (Lebanon is much smaller than Syria and has one-fifth the population; Iraq is much larger and has more people than Syria.) And they're worried about what the Israelis might do next. (Another reason for Syria not to intervene in Iraq: any armies sent into Iraq are being sent away from the border with Israel.)

They might also feel a need to support their Sunni brothers (need to check to make sure Syria is majority Sunni, I think so but it's been awhile since I looked), who are woefully outnumbered in Iraq.

Yes, Syria is majority Sunni (about 75%, I think). But the regime is secular -- Ba'ath Party, remember? -- and moreover is dominated by Alawites, who are viewed as not being real Muslims by many Sunnis (and Shi'ites), and the regime has twice been threatened by fundamentalist Sunnis (in the early 1980s and again right now). One of the last things the Syrian government wants to do is promote Sunni fundamentalists right next door. Consider this quote from an article in a Cairo newspaper:

The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 played an important role in reviving Syrian militant Islam. True, Syria did turn a blind eye to those who crossed the border to fight in Iraq in 2003, but it soon corrected this policy, seeing that when fighters were defeated or deported back to Syria, a combination of frustration, anger and despair took over in them. Unable to strike at the Americans in Iraq, or the Israelis in Palestine, they unleashed their anger on their fellow Syrians.

#74 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 05:47 PM:

John, Greg: Honestly, if a popular uprising were to be sustained, the troops are fucked.

The, "simple" act of pulling the troops into a defensive lager would be expensive materiel. Fact, the 3ID stop in place, during the drive on Baghdad, was planned. The time it spent in place was not. The reason? They were out of supply.

Besieged, in the desert, with no fuel... it's just a matter of time. SAMs will take out some of the supplies. Those supplies have a long way to go.

And holding that perimeter (ignoring the difficulties in building a berm, the idea that ArcLights can dig a moat is far-fetched, at the least), is going to be exhausting. The frontage is vast (even assuming it's ten-miles around you are talking, not ten miles across) and covering it is going to be thin.

Which is going to wear out the troops.

As will the squalor of be besieged. No water, field sanitation will be limited, disease is likely. Add heat (assuming a summer attack, though in the winter we have the thrill of mud) and the fatality rate for wounds will go up (because absent fuel, there will be damn all heat for AC, and that means shelter will be at a premium).

Do I think all of 130,000 troops will be killed? No.

Do I think it might get to as high as 20-30,000? Yes. That will have some effect on the way the army is built, trained, and (in future) used.

When the troops pull into those cantons, they will have damn all for artillery ammo, and not much more than the basic load for the tanks. Small arms might be a bit better, if they think to sacrifice all comfort items for bullets and grenades, but even that is going to be expended pretty damned fast, should there be any real probing of the lines, much less a real attempt to break them.

The problem of defending such a laager, is twofold; the location is known, and the commander has to defend every point along the line. A breach, no matter how small, is fatal.

It would be battles of attrition. If the Iraqis wan't to make it so, the only option would be surrender. Nothing requires them to attack all of them at once, and wiping one out would show how it could be done.

But the more likely attack would be to just mass a group of hostiles in some city, and co-ordinate an attack. Ambush a patrol, then ambush the relief, then attack the rest of the Americans in the area where they hunker down to ride it out.

The assault on the Governor's Palace which led to the questions of the writer's authenticity here, what two years ago, show how those battle would play out. Just make it citywide, and thus reduce the ability to ressuply the troops. By all reports they were down to last mags, at least once.

It could get that ugly on a wider scale.

#75 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 06:11 PM:

Honestly, if a popular uprising were to be sustained, the troops are fucked. ... Do I think all of 130,000 troops will be killed? No. Do I think it might get to as high as 20-30,000? Yes.

I agree with the fked-ness of such a situation. I believe, however, that the discussion was total annhilation of all American troops in Iraq.

And the moat comment, well, I didn't possess a literary license for that metaphor, so I apologize.

Whether a popular uprising as you describe could happen, I'm not sure. Certainly Steven Green incidents don't help. The Boston massacre wasn't nearly as barbaric, but it became the cause celebre for the revolution. I think if things go from bad to worse, it likely won't be a planned widespread attack, it will be something oportunistic, like Black Hawk Down times ten. A lot of our guys get killed, and the american public demands we pull out.

Then it's Nixon's secret plan: Iraqification
followed by a Christmas Bombing,
and helicopters evacuating the embassy.

That seems like a not-improbable end to this nightmare. Which is depressing enough as it is.

#76 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 07:09 PM:

Well, I'm not ignoring Iran crossing the Persian Gulf to invade Kuwait; I recognize that the USN would make bloody hash of the few capable warships the Iranian Navy has shortly after they left their harbors.

Now, if Syria improbably decided to counterinvade Iraq to help drive out the US invaders, unless they just send in men on foot there will be vehicles in that desert. Lots of them, meaning lots of targets for air strikes. Not only they too will have logistic problems, compounded by the USAF and USN planes flying at will over their columns. They'll quickly find out what happens when your side doesn't control the airspace.

Same with Iran. If they want to try and advance into Iraq, they'd better do it pretty damn quickly, because their supply lines are even more vulnerable than Syria's given the proximity of air and naval bases to them.

I don't see either nation sticking their noses into this fight, even if Iraq turns into a bloody civil war (which it appears they are on the way to).

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 08:03 PM:

What has happened to the 'nuke Tehran' option that was being mooted earlier this summer by Krauthammer et al? I have the feeling that it might be taken up by the Shrub administration in the hope that this would dry up Iranian support for Hizballah and Iraqi Shi'a. Someone please tell me I'm wrong.

#78 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 08:04 PM:

I wonder, is the Anabasis required reading these days at the War College?

Claude Muncy, if the Anabasis is the text I know as "The Retreat Up-country," I believe you will find it in the library of all of the US military colleges. Whether it is still being actively taught, I do not know. (If it isn't, it should be.)

Just to be picky to the best of my knowledge the version at Carlisle is:
The Persian expedition / Translated by Rex Warner. With an introd. and notes by George Cawkwell.

I don't think it's taught, though it may be. Rather I suppose, I may be wrong, that Xenophon is assumed. Related reading includes:

Anderson, John Kinloch. Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

aand many others -

The US Army War College seems to emphasize more recent works in the current curriculum at the War College. Books the students may not be familiar with.

I think, I may be completely wrong, that the various reading lists for the various services are intended to pick up the classics outside formal classrooms. Of course there are different reading lists for different interests -
every Marine will have read The Defense of Dufferís Drift by E.D. Swinton but only Gunnery Sergeants are required to read Breakout [Chosin] by Martin Russ. One Marine division, lots of opposition. Korea, not Vietnam, was the last time U.S. forces were not only beaten but mauled (NOT decimated) in standup combat.

Curiously enough the Marines are ordered to read a book that details how the Army got the Marines into a mess at Chosin and how the Marines got themselves out. The Army is tasked to read how the unheralded sacrifices of an Army Regimental Combat Team saved the Marines.

Dr. Pournelle has some interesting references on the sacrifices of the artillery in Korea generally as well.

Given View from A Broad and her experience, combined with everything else reported, I suppose that, rather like the Indian Mutiny, anybody outside the wire and without heavy weapons support might be killed in one night+/-. Notice the large number of folks in a police role and without training and equipment, and especially permission from the Air Force, to call for air support. I don't know what heavy weapons are available and I'm sure nobody has fired settling shots and such. Notice though the night vision devices and optical gun sights now so common among American troops - can't run out of batteries. Even the M2 - 50 Browning commonly have Eotech or some sort of optical sight and blinding flashlights attached.

Just the same I'd suggest if anybody wants a Vietnam analogy - and it was the U.S. who lost in 1975 but it wasn't the U.S. forces - I'd pick Hue - early success followed by massive casualties among any uprising. In the circumstances of 5 digit casualty reports I'd expect things like the current Pacific Rim to be available for surge to Iraq. We saw 30 days + to simply move a few Apache from Germany to the former Yugoslavia and I'm sure a great many American weaknesses would be exposed. Whatever miracle might be required for supply I'd expect enough material to move to keep the American forces fighting.

I'm sure today's National Command Authority in the United States would react with all the accustomed ignorance and stupidity. Perhaps neither quickly nor wisely but I'd suggest there are enough emergency options - pull commercial 747's, load them with water and ammunition and fly them one way - plenty of planes in the Mojave to keep that up for a long time - short strips followed by runaway truck ramps work just fine if you don't plan to reuse the airplane.

For an analogy of the effect on the military and on the United States of America I'd look at France after Vietnam and Algeria and Portugal after Angola - governments were remade.

Taking a more pessimistic longterm than I really believe possible - I'd expect the, maybe former E3-E6, mercenary trainers mentioned above to be the leaders of the resistance - at least the ones I knew - think Randy Weaver not Mitch Werbel as corporate tool.

#79 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 08:46 PM:

So what's the solution? What's the best possible outcome in Iraq at this point, and what, if anything, can the U.S. do to make that happen?

Seems to me that there are four options available:

1. Pull out. Now. That's the option the Republicans are ridiculing as "cut and run." Declare victory and go home. Forget promises to have the troops home by Christmas--get 'em home by Labor Day.

1a. Keep the bases in Iraq, but forget about stabilizing the country. We're using Iraq as a platform for possible future military operations in the region, we have no hopes of stabilizing the country.

2. The current, stated strategy: We stand down as the Iraqi army stands up.

3. Full, all-out commitment to fulfilling the initial, stated mission of bringing a free, peaceful democratic society to Iraq, and we do whatever it takes to bring that about. How many troops do we currently have there, 135,000? How many will it take to bring about the desired outcome? 270,000? 500,000? 1 million? We commit whatever it takes.

So which of those options--or what other options--should we proceed with?

I suspect, cynically, is that the most likely option at this point is that we'll find some likely strongman, back him up with the troops and materiel he needs to conquer the country, and then we declare that option #3 has been achieved and go home. Our chosen strongman will be a brutal thug, just like Saddam, but he'll be our brutal thug, and we'll claim he's actually the country's freedom-loving democratic leader. Thus we'll manage to postpone facing the problem for 30 years or so.

#80 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 09:15 PM:

What has happened to the 'nuke Tehran' option that was being mooted earlier this summer by Krauthammer et al? I have the feeling that it might be taken up by the Shrub administration in the hope that this would dry up Iranian support for Hizballah and Iraqi Shi'a. Someone please tell me I'm wrong.

I think that was overruled when The Senator From Standard Oil's heirs objected. End Times or no, Bush knows who's buttering his bread.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 09:26 PM:

Josh Jasper: I sure as hell hope it has been overruled.

#82 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 09:33 PM:

Our chosen strongman will be a brutal thug, just like Saddam, but he'll be our brutal thug....

Let's not forget that at one time Saddam was "our brutal thug."

I don't think that you can install democracy on the point of a bayonet, so however many troops it takes to fulfill our stated goals is exactly equal the number of troops it would take to teach cows to fly. Option 3 is an order to do the impossible.

1 and 1a work out to "Declare victory and get out" or "Wait ten years and 50,000 dead, then declare victory and get out." In either case what stays behind is an Islamic Republic that hates us, hates Israel, and funds international terrorism aimed at the West.

Option 2, we stand down as they stand up, gives us the worst deal. As we stand down, at some point comes the 21st century combination of the Indian Mutiny and the Retreat to Gandamak; we pull our survivors out leaving behind the Islamic Republic of Iraq (that hates us, hates Israel, etc.) or we go back in, hard and fast, pick up our 50,000 casualties through ten years of sniper attacks and car bombs, and create an Islamic Republic that hates us, etc. etc.

#83 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 09:53 PM:

John, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,787018,00.html
On the wargame "Millennium Challenge." The small OpFor Navy and missile batteries left a Marine Expeditionary Force and Carrier Group tattered and bleeding. That floatilla was larger than what we have there now. Iran has more Silkworms and other missiles, and at least one diesel sub (maybe old, but a torpedo in the right place will still ruin your day). Iran does a lot of shipping in the gulf, including really big oil tankers. Imagine one of those driven into a carrier. Not much would stop it. Cripple and set it ablaze early, yes. Once it would be at flank, other than sinking it to the bottom (it's own hazard in that region) not much is going to stop it. Best bet would be to board and take control, once you realized you were under attack.

#84 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 10:00 PM:

Seems to me there are more options entirely depending on granularity. Seems to me also that:

3. Full, all-out commitment to fulfilling the initial, stated mission of bringing a free, peaceful democratic society to Iraq, and we do whatever it takes to bring that about. How many troops do we currently have there, 135,000? How many will it take to bring about the desired outcome? 270,000? 500,000? 1 million? We commit whatever it takes.

This is not IMHO an option. Little here is an original thought of mine (many here will recognize some of my sources) but I join others in suggesting the United States of American can't change human nature, can't remake the world, can't do lots of things.

First Aside - In my view the cold war enemy, be it called communism or the USSR, has been every bit as evil as Hitler with the Axis and the USSR was much more dangerous to the United States and to the world. The United States sacrificed much of its best to win the cold war just as Great Britain and the Commonwealth sacrificed so much in other wars - as Churchill said England met every challenge rose to every occasion and yet in the end was not saved to continue as it had been (he was a Conservative in the end). Sacrificing the American Republic in the interests of a settled world order might be noble - something might then be done about Darfur and Robert Mugabe and global warming and Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and all the rest. Pax Romana had something to offer many who were citizens of Rome without being residents. A world in which the United States of America is a competent empire won't include a free, peaceful democratic society in Iraq - maybe in parts of Switzerland.

(aside for another forum I think Marxism always leads to Stalinism - Maoism always leads to the Cultural Revolution because Marxism has some truth to it at the level of the firm but not enough truth for a world view - but the best we can do however much better than Marxism is still very much incomplete)

That taking this admission of powerlessness as a first step we should then look at things we can do.

We can perhaps become a competent world straddling empire - we can impose peace on the Middle East and some trappings of democracy abroad at the expense of democracy at home. This might even be a noble thing to do.

Similarly I don't think 1a. Keep the bases in Iraq, but forget about stabilizing the country. We're using Iraq as a platform for possible future military operations in the region, we have no hopes of stabilizing the country.

is possible without stabilizing Iraq. See above thread on all the issues of supply in hostile territory. Given the rise of sea-basing and littoral combat ships and all the rest the utility of bases in a hostile Iraq is far exceeded by the cost.

I have problems with
1. Pull out. Now. That's the option the Republicans are ridiculing as "cut and run." Declare victory and go home. Forget promises to have the troops home by Christmas--get 'em home by Labor Day.

because I think cut and run will impose significant human costs - see thread above on the downside risk of a general insurgency with strong outside aid. Perceived American weakness might trigger such a general uprising. There is a tension between being to sacrifice American lives - as in bombing telephone poles so as to appear strong - the Vlad the Impaler theory of kill enough of your own people and any enemy will be deterred and between being perceived as weak. I'd forecast extra deaths for both American forces and decent indigenous forces - future boat people types following a cut and run. Notice that currently not only the marsh Arabs but the marshes are coming back - (obs literary reference Peter Dickinson The Poison Oracle a stretch but there are those who like him). John Kerry notably said about Vietnam that a Communist victory would hurt only about 4,000 South Vietnamese who would in some sense deserve their punishment. I'd suggest we have some obligation to minimize the consequences of an American cut and run. The price of buying some little time is bearable.

So in the end I come Mr. Wagner's number 2.
The suggested phrasing is:
2. The current, stated strategy: We stand down as the Iraqi army stands up. Although the Iraqi army does, I think, have a stronger sense of national (as opposed to some version of tribal/local) identity than other forces in Iraq I don't think the Iraqi army is going to stand up any more than the Lebanese army was able to operate unchallenged in southern Lebanon.

So in the end I come down to home by soon but not by Labor Day and without any requirements of a success we are not going to see. I think Bush should apologize to the Stryker forces who were extended 4 months in Iraq on short notice and plan to bring all uniformed forces home on schedule with only the most limited future deployments - schedule to be determined and fighting retreat if necessary but not a last helicopter from the green zone like the Saigon embassy. Willing civilian security forces to be permitted but not required to stay.

#85 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 10:13 PM:

There is a tension between being to sacrifice American lives READ being willing to sacrifice American lives -

Airstrikes were I think ordered on known decoys - telephone poles - in Vietnam to establish American willingness to fly missions.

#86 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 10:13 PM:

Meanwhile, the tame Iraqi prime minister is proving not so tame. I get the feeling that his neck is itching.

#87 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 10:21 PM:

A few points -- we aren't moving much water in now, we purify the water in-nation and move it to smaller units.

We probably aren't moving much fuel in now. Remember when the news was full of iraqi fuel shortages when the statistics on iraqi fuel production had hardly changed? Surely that was us taking the iraqi oil so we wouldn't have to transport it in. Coals to Newcastle. We have a couple of heavily defended bases in the middle of iraqi oilfields. Why wouldn't we set up a couple of little refineries to meet our needs? There's no reason not to, and it cuts a day or more off the supply route time. So if we lose that iraqi oil (to sabotage etc) then our resupply gets a whole lot more strained than it is now. The obvious immediate palliative is to not allow any iraqis close to those oilfields. As long as the oil workers are people we can depend on it's no problem, but in a general uprising we couldn't depend on any iraqi. Better start running those oilfields and refineries entirely by ourselves, now if we haven't already. (Disclaimer: The existence of american refineries in iraq is entirely hypothetical, I haven't seen any documentation that they exist. It doesn't make sense for them not to, but we can't depend on anything there to make sense.)

Given available water, it makes more sense to treat it than to import it. Treatment takes fuel, but a little fuel can treat a lot of water. They aren't going to put a big american base somewhere there isn't water to treat. That would be stupid.

So in a general uprising that came when some event brought things to the snapping point, where we almost completely lost iraqi cooperation outside kurdistan, our forward bases would be in trouble. They depend on weekly supply runs, sometimes as small as 4 Humvees, but still weekly. We have quick-reaction forces that come in and make a mess after one of those supply runs gets a bigger-than-usual attack, and those forces would be way overworked. We'd have a bunch of guys with no backup because they'd all be getting hit at once. We'd take a few immediate casualties and lose some resupply, and if word got out to the public the public would panic.

The forward bases would need to be evacuated. Presumably some of them wouldn't get the order to pull out until their supplies were so critical they couldn't pull out. They'd need to be rescued one way or another. Some of them might be lost. We could rescue a lot by helicopter provided nobody was giving the iraqis enough anti-air weapons. I'm guessing we could handle that retreat competently -- call it 500 to 20,000 casualties in 2 weeks.

So by week 3 our bigger bases are overcrowded and undersupplied. The bases at the oilfields have plenty of fuel but everything else has a problem because to get anywhere near enough fuel it has to go by ground and fuel trucks are the easy targets that we're trying to protect. I don't know what routes they take. The old 4-day route from kuwait would be grim, it included long stretches through shia land that used to not be much of a problem and will be. As somebody pointed out there are long stretches with nobody nearby to oppose passage. We just can't avoid the stretches with the people. (And why haven't we built bypasses around those towns and cities yet? We've had 3 years to build our own road network away from most of the people, with a kill-zone around it.)

If we go into full bugout mode quick we shouldn't have too much trouble from this point. Could we do that? What would our mission be, with iraq in full revolt? It makes sense that no matter how clueless our civilian leadership is, there would be somebody high in the army who'd tell them pointblank what the options are, and who'd go on record doing that and testify later what he'd said. They couldn't ignore him unless they were ready to have him killed ala Rommel. So presumably our goal within 3 weeks or so would be to bug out. We wouldn't try to hold the bases in the oilfields like guantanamo, we'd be ready to abandon everything. And for that all we need to do is consolidate our forces into bases that are large enough to have decent airfields. Then we send supplies in and troops out, and not much problem except for the guys in the rearguard. Never mind the equipment, it's pretty much worn out anyway. So anybody who's close enough to kuwait can fight their way out or find an airbase. Anybody who's close enough to jordan can maybe fight their way out (and fight their way through jordan if necessary). And anybody who can reach kurdistan is presumably safe, unless we get them mad at us too. But we have 4 giant bases with giant airfields in them, and we can get out just fine from those if it comes to it. We'd likely lose 500 to 20,000 pulling back from the forward bases, and 1000 to 10,000 more retreating to the big bases, but unless somebody gives iraq some anti-air weapons we could get most of our people out.

I imagine we could get high casualties if the sunni and shia militias have both been stockpiling anti-air missiles. Not using them yet because the time isn't ripe. Then when they're both ready to go after us harder than they go after each other, they block the ground convoys and shoot up the air resupply at the same time. Depending on how well they did that we could lose most of our force. But that would require some serious stockpiling. The stuff would need to come from russia or china. Nobody in iraq has the money to pay for it, it would have to be a gift. Surely nobody would do that. Russia and china agreed to let us have iraq. They wouldn't dare doublecross us now, would they? And if it was happening we'd know. We'd be threatening syria and iran for allowing the weapons to move through their countries. (Come to think of it, those hezbollah missiles could be diverted from the iraq stockpile.) If it was russia we'd threaten to give better weapons to the chechens. If it was china we'd be worried sick, we don't seem to have a lot of leverage on them just now. But that's a worst case.

Other very bad cases come if the same event that gets iraqis ready to throw us out also cause us a lot of trouble in kuwait, turkey, afghanistan, uzbekistan, etc. If we start having trouble in the bases we're shipping supplies *from*, then it makes the logistics exponentially worse. But probably it would take time for problems in those places to ramp up, and by the time they got real bad the iraq evacuation would be complete.

Just pulling out would be a clear defeat. How could it be spun as anything else? It might depend partly on what event it was that got the iraqis all ready to throw us out. If it was something to do with israel we could spin it as us being too nice. We were gullible, we thought we could help them form a liberal secular democracy. But they're dirty antisemitic arab muslims. There's no way to help them. All you can do is kill them when they become too much of a threat. We've learned our lesson, we tried to be too nice to arabs and this was the result. I'm afraid that message might resonate pretty well. It wasn't our fault we lost, we never really took the gloves off, we were too nice. Next time we fight muslims we'll fight like we really mean it, no holds barred, no prisoners taken except for torture/interrogation, no civilians respected. It was the liberals who insisted that we fight with both hands tied behind our backs who were responsible for the defeat. That might likely work.

#88 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2006, 10:26 PM:

Look, I'll tell you what the plan was:

1) Kill Saddam on the first day through aerial bombardment.

2) Drive on Baghdad. Arrive no later than day 30.

3) Install Ahmed Chalabi as the new interim president.

4) Pull everyone out while the Iraqi people were still asking "Who was that masked man?"

5) "Mission Accomplished" day was scheduled well in advance. That was the date on which the last trooper was supposed to be over the border.

After that, everything's Chalabi's problem, not ours; he keeps the oil flowing, recognizes Israel, and everything is puppies, rainbows, and cinnamon buns. Bush is reelected in a landslide, and the power of America is confirmed.

Unfortunately, there was no Plan B.

-------------

(Did everyone notice that Millennium Challenge, the huge Invasion of Iraq wargame, the most expensive wargame in US history, had been in the planning stages since before 9/11?)

#89 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 04:25 AM:

Yeah, tankers are real good weapons to use against carriers. They aren't exactly real maneuverable you know. Plus, any ship that gets within a certain distance of a warship gets challenged; a tanker that "just happens" to be heading toward a CVBG would get numerous warnings long before it became a danger.

Wargames tend to screw up the rules of engagement enough to make the tested team look bad, so they can be evaluated critically. If everything goes perfectly for them, not much to work on is there?

Look, for all these doom-and-gloom scenarios to work and the army lose its "40%", we're talking about at least two countries mobilizing their armies (don't think we'd see that?) and sending them into Iraq, coordination between numerous factions and groups that borders on using mental powers, and gross incompetence on our part.

#90 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 06:10 AM:

Look, I'll tell you what the plan was:

You forgot:
2.b) Get showered by rose petals from happy grateful Iraqi populace.

But, yeah, that was pretty much the plan.

People suggesting that Rumsfeld actually wants to trash half the US Army are forgetting that plans like the Iraq invasion are the neocon goal: they want to be able to do that over and over, at the drop of a hat, whenver a "rogue nation" looks troublesome. (As well as being able to take on China, whenever that becomes necessary.) The neocons are focused on foreign policy first and foremost; they want a military that can take on and defeat other countries' militaries, not some super National Guard to patrol neighborhoods in the US.

#91 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 06:17 AM:

John said:
Yeah, tankers are real good weapons to use against carriers. They aren't exactly real maneuverable you know. Plus, any ship that gets within a certain distance of a warship gets challenged; a tanker that "just happens" to be heading toward a CVBG would get numerous warnings long before it became a danger.

Yes... maximum speed of an oil tanker would be, what -- 15 knots? 20? Maximum speed of an aircraft carrier -- at least 30 knots...


Wargames tend to screw up the rules of engagement enough to make the tested team look bad, so they can be evaluated critically. If everything goes perfectly for them, not much to work on is there?

Ideally, yes. The problem is that, historically, wargames are more often tweaked to make sure the Good Guys win, and when they don't, the lessons tend be ignored. Maybe that's no longer true in the modern US military; one can hope so.

#92 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 06:26 AM:

Arguably, the case for continuing the American occupation of Iraq is essentially that for the (fresh, new) Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Force is the only thing we respect, and we have to make them understand that.

#93 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 07:24 AM:

Peter --

That was the plan, all right.

Even Donald Rumsfeld's brain can't possibly believe that is still the plan, and given the neocons' remarkable record for generating "good training" situations, accepting responsibility for their actions, and incorporating the lessons-learned into their planning, it seems to me likely that the current plan involves a whole lot of "the professional army is incompetent", "the brass are out to get me", and "the people are idiots and won't let us Do What Must Be Done".

#94 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 09:00 AM:

Okay Peter and John, and just where are you going at flank speed? You arenít in open ocean. As your OD, Admirals, just where the hell do you want me to take your aircraft carrier? Where are you going to detail our support ships (because Iím about to run them over at flank)? And a carrier doesnít exactly turn on a dime either.

Also, you keep on persisting in handling one threat at a time. Just as youíve ordered me to flank speed and are about to detail one of our destroyers to challenge the tanker, your surface radar ops tells you that two other tankers are now out of lane (remember the shipping lanes, lots of boats in the water, not a lot of room to maneuver). Then you also get word that several of the Iranian fishing fleet have broken off and are headed toward our perimeter. Do you deploy the destroyers to handle the threat leaving your carrier open to missile attack (the destroyers are your main defense against that both for their weapon systems and as hard blocks)? The flights that are up, more than half are feet dry and carrying the wrong ordnance. If youíre maneuvering to avoid you canít launch or recover.

And them comes the news that your closest destroyer to the first tanker reports fish in the water (torpedoes). Could be from the tanker, or the sub could have been using the tanker as cover and is now engaging.

What do you do?

At flank speed youíre going to run out of water fast in the gulf. The tankers donít care if they hit ground (if they're attacking), but you better not reef that carrier. Do you run into the shipping lanes (who is friendly, who isnít, and youíre going to be playing doge Ďem with ships while youíre wondering if any of them have a Silkworm on their deck).

Oh, and your air radar now reports incoming hostiles dropping from the civilian air lanes. CentCom reports Iranian tank brigades are making a speed run for the border and will be there in force in three days.

Are there other tankers waiting to attack? Whereís that damn sub? Are the reports youíve been getting full and accurate (big if, especially with the judgement of intent)? If you open fire, and it isnít an attack, youíve just made war on a neutral nation. You donít have orders to start a war or open fire on Iranian ships, but you do have a responsibility to protect your fleet.

Still seem simple?

#95 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 09:33 AM:

Even Donald Rumsfeld's brain can't possibly believe that is still the plan....

Sure he can. A little time-table problem, that's all. As soon as the dead-enders are defeated it'll be back to rose-petals and candy, Ahmed Chalabi, pull everyone out, oil flows, recognize Israel.

If only we weren't getting stabbed in the back by those anti-war people back home who are encouraging the terrorists!

#96 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 09:36 AM:

Steve, you are assuming that the Iranians can coordinate multiple, diverse threats better than the CVBG (that trains to do exactly that every day) can. Your scenario of a 14 knot tanker chasing a 30 knot carrier into shallow, restricted waters where presumably it could get run over is laughable, but if that's what you feel is a threat, it's your fantasy. Currently, no civilian ships are allowed anywhere near the CVBG's for security reasons; I don't know what the distance is but any approach to that radius does spark a "civilian ship, you need to stay clear of us" warning, with further warnings if they persist. I suspect if it acted further hostile, it would be boarded.

As for the fighters and tanks and bears oh my!, it seems to me that you are the one ignoring that the carrier and its escorts aren't all by themselves out there either. AWACS, ground patrols, intelligence, etc, are all still out there, and would be available for support. The CVBG isn't the only force there and tasked to do everything, all the time.

#97 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 09:55 AM:

That's one heck of a line you've built there, Mr. Maginot.

#98 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 09:56 AM:

John, it's your fantasy that the Iranian tankers were targeted at your carrier, thatís what Silkworms are for. I was just giving you an example of how it's not just one thing as you wished to handle before, but several things at once. Some are spurious data, some are false reports, and some can be explained by other things. Technology never wins wars. Over confidence leads to crushing defeats.

#99 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 10:16 AM:

tankers chasing aircraft carriers?

That's it. I'm done.

#100 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 10:20 AM:

The US does not need to take significant casualties in Iraq or the surrounding area in order to suffer a major strategic, political, and morale defeat.

#101 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 10:31 AM:

You don't like oil tankers chasing aircraft carriers, Greg? Neither do I.

Let's see what you think of this scenario instead:

At a mixed American/Iraqi roadblock checkpoint, an Iraqi trooper thinks that an American trooper has "looked disrespectfully" at an Iraqi woman. He shoots the American; the other Iraqis join in and shoot down the rest of the Americans at that checkpoint. Word spreads quickly and soon there are Blue-on-Blue shootouts at joint checkpoints and patrols all over Baghdad. One Iraqi battalion hangs its American trainers/advisors. The troubles are all suppressed within two days. Total casualties: 150 Americans, 2,000 Iraqis.

Okay, is that plausible?

What's the situation on the ground, and in the world, after that?

#102 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 10:41 AM:

Leaving aside the Suicide Oil Tanker Threat, it is worth noticing that:
almost no one (barring the LTTE) has tried naval guerrilla warfare;
the LTTE has had some success with it;
asymmetric warfare at sea has historically been pretty bloody frightening (the Battle of the Atlantic);
there is, based on Millennium Challenge among other things, a reasonable a priori case that naval guerrilla warfare would also be bloody frightening;
and there is no reason to suppose that the US Navy would succeed in fighting a guerrilla war at sea, given that the US Army, with considerably more experience, is currently busy losing one on land.

#103 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 11:29 AM:

Gee Steve, here's the quote from an earlier post of yours:

"Iran does a lot of shipping in the gulf, including really big oil tankers. Imagine one of those driven into a carrier. Not much would stop it."

Seems to me it's your idea that this is a workable tactic, not mine. I think it's a fantasy and I gave you reasons why. As for Silkworms, look up their range, and success rate against warships. Not that good.

I'm not saying the US military is invulnerable in Iraq; not by a long shot. But, postulating tankers ramming carriers, surprise coordinated invasions by multiple nations, and total clusterf*ck responses by our own military push that kind of scenario into the "out there" category for me.

#104 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 11:44 AM:

I think you can count on a total clusterf*ck response, regardless. I've never seen a military evolution, including long-planned exercises, that didn't have a large component of clusterf*ck in 'em. The other side will have a clusterf*ck of their own to deal with. The question is which side is best able to work through a clusterf*ck.

===========

Please look up the adventures of USS Stark, USS Samuel B. Roberts, and USS Vincennes in the Gulf.

#105 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 11:48 AM:

This isn't a question of naval guerrilla warfare, though. It's a question of a single surprise attack. They wouldn't get a second chance.

Say they try it and it doesn't particularly work. Like, that assumption that most of the planes aren't ready for it. Say they are. Then when we first see that it's a problem we make a big panic call for every civilian vessel to stop dead in the water until we get it resolved, and we sink everything that doesn't. One submarine don't stop no parade. We can block a bunch of silkworm missiles, depending on how many get sent we might get them all, otherwise we get hurt.

After things get straightened out we've got a bunch of hulks in somewhat tight quarters that will cripple navigation for the foreseeable future. We've got, say, two or more damaged ships. And we're at war with iran. It's a giant mess but we haven't lost a carrier and we still control that stretch of water. If the iranians can keep getting missiles and build them up enough to launch significant numbers at once, then we'll get a lot of test data. Can a carrier group in tight quarters knock down 50 silkworms at once in daylight? At night? In rain or other bad weather? Each time we take a hit we get another damaged vessel that will need slow expensive repairs. Our navy might start to look far too brittle. But maybe it will turn out that when we're prepared those missiles simply don't get through. That would be good.


Kind of a ticklish question negotiating about letting tankers continue to carry oil from iran. Traditionally we'd blockade them, but it's our allies and neutrals who want the oil a whole lot, and they're going to be bidding against us for the remaining oil if we don't let it flow. How much sacrifice can we expect them to agree to, for our war?

But then, if they scuttle a big ship at a chokepoint it won't be just iranian oil that will have trouble getting out. If they can't sell their oil, why should they let kuwait or saudi arabia or iraq sell either? But then that's one of the things the Navy is there for. If they try to scuttle a ship at the strait we can stop them, we can -- sink them?

Even in the best case an attack like that looks like it would leave us with a giant mess that would be hard to clean up.

But the real best-case is that they don't attack at all. In the actual best case analysis they get so intimidated by our strength and our resolve that all our enemies surrender without a fight. It doesn't have to be anything awful or even difficult.

#106 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 12:13 PM:

The Strait of Hormuz is a lot larger than you think. Sinking a supertanker in it doesn't block it to navigable traffic. Now, mining it using submarines might, but you'd have to use a lot of deepwater mines (hard to get and expensive), and even then tankers would probably roll right over them, take the damage and keep going.

Silkworms are marginally better than the old Styx missiles they were modeled after. Marginally. Essentially they are 30 year old weapons, and not effective at all vs modern warships with modern ECM and active defenses. Iran doesn't have enough to saturate a CVBG's defenses either; they were designed to stop Soviet ASM attacks where 20-30 planes each launching 2-3 ASM's at one time targeted the fleet.

As for the Stark, that was a blue on blue engagement and the element of surprise and "WTF are they doing" led to a critical delay in response. Roberts and Vincennes both hit naval mines that were discovered to be unswept, but they were in shallow water, not Gulf shipping channels. I believe the mines were Soviet and "oyster" types, sitting on the bottom and waiting for a ship's pressure to set off. Those are hard to find and disarm, but don't work well unless the water's shallow.

#107 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 12:29 PM:
That's one heck of a line you've built there, Mr. Maginot.

Continuing the theme:

In fact, the Maginot Line, the chain of fortifications on France's border with Germany, was indicative neither of despair about defeating Germany nor of thought mired in the past. It was instead evidence of faith that technology could substitute for manpower. It was a forerunner of the strategic bomber, the guided missile, and the "smart bomb".

— Ernest R. May, Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France

May's book makes the point that before the fall of France, everyone thought the French had vastly superior armed forces — including the German generals, who seriously considered staging a coup when Hitler ordered an attack they deemed foredoomed — and surviving records do in fact indicate superiority in both troops and weaponry.

So, how did the French generals manage to lose France in four weeks, with a superior army? Convinced that they had foreseen Hitler's attack plan, ignoring all evidence that he was doing something else, they sent all their crack troops to Belgium.

There is no advantage in men, materiel, or morale so great that a truly incompetent leader can't figure out how to blow it...

#108 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 12:35 PM:

This isn't a question of naval guerrilla warfare, though. It's a question of a single surprise attack. They wouldn't get a second chance.

No? Why not? Their mudfoot equivalents are getting plenty of second chances. Are you going to go straight from "naval skirmish" to "Thermonuclear War"? Blockade every port, cove and inlet on the Iranian coast? Bomb every port town flat? Sink every ship and boat? Kill everything that moves in the littoral zone? Tricky to do.

I should also point out that these point and area defences have never been tested in combat against massed missile attack. You seem awfully confident in them.

Plus, Silkworms are old, but the Iranians have been building FL-7 clones for the last decade. Supersonic. Not as easy to kill - you get about a minute, maximum, from launch detected to impact.

#109 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 01:11 PM:

The Strait of Hormuz is a lot larger than you think. Sinking a supertanker in it doesn't block it to navigable traffic. Now, mining it using submarines might, but you'd have to use a lot of deepwater mines (hard to get and expensive), and even then tankers would probably roll right over them, take the damage and keep going.

Maybe. Maybe the tanker owners will be happy to send them into a war zone with no insurance. There are a lot of ways it can go.

Iran doesn't have enough to saturate a CVBG's defenses either

I don't know how many iran has. I don't know how much improved the modern versions are. If you're sure you know the answers that's good, because I'm sure I don't. Most of this stuff hasn't been tested in battle, has it? We haven't actually faced 100 silkworms at a time?

As for the Stark, that was a blue on blue engagement and the element of surprise and "WTF are they doing" led to a critical delay in response.

It makes sense that wouldn't happen again. This time we'll know precisely what to do from the first moment and we'll do it. Glad that's straightened out.

I don't know what would actually happen, and I'm not convinced you know either. But I'll be pleased if you're right.

They wouldn't get a second chance.

No? Why not? Their mudfoot equivalents are getting plenty of second chances.

They wouldn't get a second chance to use oil tankers. Their submarines probably wouldn't get a second chance. Their airforce probably wouldn't get much of a first chance.

Blockade every port, cove and inlet on the Iranian coast? Bomb every port town flat?

No, too much trouble.

Sink every ship and boat?

Yes. Everything big enough to carry more than a few small arms. Probably leave some of them alone provided they never leave the dock.

Kill everything that moves in the littoral zone? Tricky to do.

We'd certainly try. Their first try would be a surprise attack. Fool me twice? After a first try we would be at war with iran and we wouldn't see any reason to let them put anything on or in the water, if we could help it.

The little superfast PT boat things might do something in the first attack. That would use them up and iran couldn't make more very fast. After that it would be down to attacking with things they can hide. Missiles and such. Assuming that our defenses aren't anywhere near as good as we think they are (which is par for the course with hitech weapons that haven't faced real tests) they'd still have to hit us with at least 10 or so at a time. Maybe 100 at a time. That's a lot of missiles to move within range and hide and set up, while we're bombing random civilian buildings hoping to hit them. It might be a big problem but it wouldn't be what I'd call naval guerrilla warfare.

#110 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 01:27 PM:

John, you're correct. In the second wargame thought process I changed tactics and used the tankers for a different purpose. I apologize.

Yes, using strange civilian craft against mighty warships never works out. Say like using a rubber motorboat against a destroyer. And nobody but a superpower could ever coordinate attacks. Say like bombing embassies in different countries with the blasts only 15 minutes apart.

Also, why would anybody challenge the US Army and Marines on the ground and attack armored columns with RPGs, rigged explosives, and AKs. And donít they know that lobbing mortars into armed camps is a sure suicide bet?

#111 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 01:52 PM:

Does anybody here know how many days worth of JP-4 and bunker fuel the US has on hand in the Gulf? I know they've been buying most of it in Kuwait fromm local refineries. Does anyone want to bet that Iranian intelligence doesn't know, to within +/-5 days, how long the US can sustain full combat operations with their current supplies?

Air support that's stuck on the ground may as well be on the moon.

If things go all pear-shaped in the Gulf, you can expect some of Iran's first targets to be other countries oil-export facilities, as they are nearly impossible to defend. Oil goes to $200/barrel, and the US faces insta-recession. We have three months' supply in our strategic reserve, and are 12-18 months away from bringing any new domestic wells on-line, not that they would do much to help.

Don't expect the Iranians to do stupid things. They already got someone else to take care of their biggest enemy.

#112 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 02:21 PM:

You don't like oil tankers chasing aircraft carriers, Greg? Neither do I.

I think the main rule of thumb that isn't being applied is that carrier battle groups don't need to run. From anything. Gulf of Tonkin myths are myths.

At a mixed American/Iraqi roadblock checkpoint, an Iraqi trooper thinks that an American trooper has "looked disrespectfully" at an Iraqi woman. He shoots the American; ... Total casualties: 150 Americans, 2,000 Iraqis.

Okay, is that plausible?

I suddenly realize that I don't know the exact definition of "plausible". Hold on a second.... ah, here it is:

Seemingly or apparently valid,

Yeah, I could see it happening.

likely

Not so sure about "likely".

acceptable; credible

It fails to break any rules of common sense that come to mind. Tankers ramming carriers does, in my opinion. So, I'd say the scenario is plausible.

What's the situation on the ground, and in the world, after that?

Certainly worse. And it might become the incident that signals the end of US involvement in Iraq. But will it get 14,000 US troops killed in the process? I don't think so.

I never said Iraq isn't teetering on the brink of some really big, violent, mess. I just think these hypothetical war games that are so out of whack with reality that they are not worth even entertaining.

Iraq could continue the way it is now, without any massive uprising, and the death rate could be slow enough for the public to tolerate, adn slow enough for politicians to still cling to some hope of "victory", that they continue this mess for 20 years, until we pull out like we pulled out of vietnam, and Iraq implodes. The US military is severely weakened, and a monument to a hundred thousand US troops is erected in DC.

We don't need tankers ramming carriers for that to happen. We could just keep doing exactly what we're doing now, and we're on schedule for that ceremony this very moment.

That's all I'm saying.

It isn't a military problem. It isn't a military solution. As far as I can see, religious tensions are one thing, but the fact that people in Iraq have less and less to lose, and they generally view us as the cause of that, means democracy isn't going to stick there. As long as the people are in survival mode, as long as it's every man for himself, the idea of coming together as a society will never work, will never hold. It will fall apart as soon as military force is removed. But the solution isn't to continue military force, the soluiton is to get people electricity, running water, and enough military strength to stop the death squads.

If the various factions in Iraq keep fighting like they are, if they accumulate enough "wrongs" done to them by their fellow Iraqi, then democracy will fail and vengeance and civil war will be unavoidable. The thing that US force might be able to solve is stopping the civil war long enough that people can see they'll get something more out of democracy than out of vengeance.

(descending soap box)

#113 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 02:29 PM:

But will it get (strike)14,000(strike) 140,000 US troops killed in the process? I don't think so.

#114 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 02:43 PM:

What Greg said. About the possible scenarios, and the clusterf*ck that our troops are heading for in Iraq as well. I never said there wasn't a problem there, only in the way it might turn out.

A civil war with our troops in the middle changes their mission from "install democracy" or "hunt terrorists" or "build big fluffy bunny statues everywhere" (depending on the whims of our current government) to "get the hell out of Dodge and leave them to figure it out for themselves".

I figure they would accomplish that mission quite well, although with some casualties (referring to the incompetent civilian leadership and inevitable clusterf*cks that occur in wartime here). I don't buy the 40% value mentioned earlier though. Unless there was a serious clusterf*ck or really incompetent incompetents, casualties would probably be kept under 10k.

The civil war factions would have more than us to shoot at, after all.

#115 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 03:34 PM:

A small point: "lose" does not equal "dead". Captives are even worse than casualties; their release must be bargained for. Also, with our somewhat lackadasical view of the Geneva Conventions, we can't expect our protests at POW treatment to fall on sympathetic ears. The term "reparations" comes to mind.

Aside from all of that, I challenge you to take the survivors of such a clusterf*ck, who have had to run for their lives due to upper management's incompetence, and ever get them to follow an order again. A large percentage will wind up being traumatized enough that they can't be relied on in combat. As they will have to be replaced, they're a loss as well.

#116 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 04:43 PM:

OK, in terms of getting an acceptable outcome, we've probably already thoroughly lost this war. We just haven't completely given up yet. There are people saying we can get an acceptable outcome if we just hang in there for 10 or 20 years, and they say we will do that because we have to, because the alternative is an unacceptable outcome.

We're defeated when we see an unacceptable outcome and accept it anyway, and we aren't defeated until then -- the same way the palestinians aren't defeated. They have no hope of any military victory. Jenin showed them that even if they get a little temporary military victory the israelis will kill everybody involved, palestine gets no victory with survivors. Israel can kill them all and there's nothing they can do about it. But they aren't defeated until they give up. Same with us in iraq.

I can't see us fighting in iraq 10 years from now. Where will our aviation fuel come from? Would we buy it from kuwait for dollars? It seems unlikely. If we're going to be prujecting power around the world 10 years from now we're going to need a transformation to something that uses a lot less oil. And that isn't particularly on the horizon just yet.

Could we face some military surprise? Yes. Things like, iraqis systematically destroying their own roads and mining the detours. Iraqis with RPGs who pop up and aim at fuel trucks. They stopped doing that because we showed them it was suicide. Get enough of them mad at us and we could face hundreds or thousands of them a day doing it even though they know it's suicide. Pop out of a hole in the ground, aim and fire the RPG, die. Yeah, probably wearing a shroud. Enough of that and we won't try to do ground transport, and then all our little bases are cut off until the helicopters can evacuate them, and it's downhill from there. All it takes is enough iraqis ready to die for a shot at us.

There are various ways we could lose a lot of casualties. But the central point about that is that each of those ways would be a surprise. We can say ahead of time that it's implausible, that it won't happen. And then if it does, afterward we'll hear reasons why it happened even after everybody who knew things knew it couldn't.

For any given scenario, you can come up with reasons why it wouldn't happen. Then if it does happen the later investigation will look at why the experts were wrong and who was responsible for making the mistake.

There's no point arguing about it beforehand. The CW has to be that it won't happen, because if it was obviously predictable given what we think we know, we'd avoid it.

So, we've lost. We have no particular concept what victory would look like and we have no strategy to get there. We tried to cut our casualties by training "an iraqi army" to do the things that particularly get casualties. We haven't trained them in any of the other specialties they'd need to run their own army, so by default they fall apart without us. Theoretically they're under their Prime Minister's orders, in practice they're under our orders. There is no chance for them to stand up in our place, they can only replace US ground troops to carry out US tactics.

So our choice is either to admit defeat and pull out, or fail to admit defeat and try to muddle through, or come up with a winning strategy. I think if we want to muddle through we need to listen very carefully to iraqis who have some sort of plan, and try to do our muddling in ways that will support a plan we like. Otherwise it's pointless.

Anybody with a potential winning strategy should get it to the government just as quickly as they can get access.

#117 ::: Liz ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 04:48 PM:

I've been lurking in this thread for a while, but J Thomas has said something whose consequences I think need to be pointed out: we make a big panic call for every civilian vessel to stop dead in the water until we get it resolved, and we sink everything that doesn't, concluding that the end result of such a scenario is: And we're at war with iran.

If US ships sink anything that isn't Iranian -- and is it fair to say that all ships sunk from such a scenario would be Iranian? -- you're at war with more than just Iran, unless your government does some very fast talking. Things could become unpleasant, to say the least.

#118 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 05:31 PM:

Get enough of them mad at us and we could face hundreds or thousands of them a day doing it even though they know it's suicide.

While history shows we can no longer base civilian aircraft safety on the assumption that people won't kill themselves to kill others, and that this extends to other small scale attacks, the only case of "large scale" suicide operations I know of is Japanese pilots in WW2, and this was only proposed after teh US took Saipan and the Philipines and started bombing Japan's home islands.

There were three to four thousand kamikazi pilots who flew during the last ten months of WW2 and they could at least know that a successful hit might take out an entire aircraft carrier. The idea that hundreds or thousands of Iraqis each day would go on suicide missions just to RPG a fuel truck seems to disregard the sort of conditions needed to push that many people to that extreme measure.

War doesn't happen in a vacuum, and an entire population doesn't spontaneously convert themselves to suicide bombers. Maybe if B-52's started indiscriminately bombing Bagdad on a daily basis, you might see it happen, but otherwise, I think this is unrealistic.

#119 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 05:56 PM:

Greg, of course you do. If you didn't think it was unrealistic you'd be concerned about it.

The fedayeen did that sort of thing during the initial invasion. They were mostly sunnis. There was talk that we were breeding that out of the iraqi population.

I don't want to argue about it. Don't worry about it. There's nothing we can do anyway. If we suffer a bunch of casualties we'll get a story afterward to explain how it happened even though the experts were all sure it couldn't. If it doesn't happen then that's fine. If there was something you could do different to promote a better outcome if you saw the danger then I'd figure, OK, I'll try to persuade you. But there's just no point. Let's discuss something else.

#120 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2006, 06:18 PM:

Does anybody here know how many days worth of JP-4 and bunker fuel the US has on hand in the Gulf?

I could have sworn the US was mostly using JP8 in the Gulf? - JP5 on the carriers, I think they still allow only JP 5 below decks, the Navy avoided JP4 from the beginning. Maybe not.

See from Strategy Page e.g.:
JP-8 For Israel
July 26, 2006: With hundreds of its warplanes and helicopters in action, Israel is hustling to get jet fuel that is more suitable for combat operations. To that end, Israel has ordered $210 million of JP-8 jet fuel from the United States. This is the military version of the fuel used in commercial jets. For decades, an older formulation, JP-4 was used. But during the 1990s, the U.S. Air Force developed JP-8 and phased out JP-4. The new fuel was less likely to explode if the aircraft suffered combat damage, and had additives that reduced the wear and tear on high performance military jet engines. On the downside, JP-8 had less energy per gallon, meaning that aircraft range was reduced. JP-8 was also about ten percent more expensive than JP-4. However, for some missions, JP-4 is still preferred, like long range strikes from, say, Israel to Iran. But for the short range missions over Lebanon, JP-8 is preferred. Jet fuel is similar to kerosene, and is usually about 15 percent cheaper, per gallon, than gasoline (U.S. prices.)

JP4 is just fine for kerosene applications (household cleaning and heat), JP8 is a little nastier. JP6 was B70, JP7 was A12/SR71 and the U2 uses JP something not in the same series IIRC

On the bunker fuel I don't know how that's used - I'd guess most of the combat ships (non-nuclear - at today's oil prices or higher nuclear is the clear cost winner for the Navy) are gas turbines burning much the same fuel as the helicopters but some of the support may still be using such oldies as Bunker C?

In Vietnam hours on the helicopter rotor head was sometimes a bigger issue than available fuel and I'd expect maintenance to ground aircraft before fuel shortages but again maybe not.

#121 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 05:06 AM:

"The idea that hundreds or thousands of Iraqis each day would go on suicide missions just to RPG a fuel truck seems to disregard the sort of conditions needed to push that many people to that extreme measure."

Well, that's good to know. I'd hate to think that there were recent examples of motivated Shia Muslims. such as the Pasdaran or Basij religious militia, doing suicidal things like, say, charging unarmed across minefields to clear avenues of advance for the regular troops behind them, just in order to throw a foreign invader off their soil.

(/sarcasm)

#122 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 10:23 AM:

Clark:

Thank you for your clarification on military fuel types--I am sadly out of date. My point, however, stands: refineries and tankers are too big and have too much staff to keep many secrets. Somebody in Iran has been thinking about how long everybody in the Persian Gulf can fight a war. US strategy and tactics are expensive in terms of energy and technology and dollars too.

If the US economy crashes and there are food riots (an extreme example) how long do you think anyone outside the beltway will support a Mideast war? How expensive does oil have to get to make that happen? Does Iran have enough leverage to make that happen?

#123 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 10:34 AM:

(/sarcasm)

So, you're telling me that *thousands* of Pasdaran or Basij religious militiamen ran into minefields every day?

Every day?

I couldn't confirm or deny it since my google fu is busted. I couldn't find anything about said militia doing said missions on said scale of thousands of people a day.

But maybe its better to simply induce panic with unrealistic hypotheticals and damn anyone who points out that panic wont help or that we've got plenty enough to worry about with plain old fashioned guerrilla attacks without the need for unrealistic hypotheticals.

#124 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 12:07 PM:

Often enough, Greg. I suggest this passage from the USMC historical document FMFRP 3-203 - Lessons Learned: Iran-Iraq War (10 December 1990):

The Iranians first used the human wave attack on November 29, 1981, at Bostan. The brutality of the maneuver stunned the Iraqis. The Iranians herded hundreds of children (some no more than 12 years old) into the combat zone to detonate concealed mines. The children were followed by Basij who threw themselves on the barbed wire, cutting through the entanglements under fire of the Iraqis. Finally came the Pasdaran who attacked over the corpses of the slain Basij. Initially the human waves encountered units of Iraqís Popular Army. 10 These were militia, not regular troops, and they broke and fled under the assault.
The Iranians exploited their tactical success. They scheduled more human,wave attacks, and made them at night when the Iraqis were more liable to panic.
Or this from The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers -- The Use of Children as Soldiers in the Middle East and North Africa Region: A Country Analysis of Child Recruitment and Participation in Armed Conflict (August 2001):
Government-allied groups were known to recruit children during the Iran-Iraq war. The Hezbollahi organization for example made announcements in various newspapers inviting registration with the sole entry requirement being a ''belief in God'' and sympathy for the Hezbollahi. Age was ''unimportant'': according to the advertisement, students could range from 14 to 90 years of age. The leadership of Iran also urged youths to take an active part in fighting. In a series of rulings issued in the autumn of 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that parental permission was unnecessary for those going to the front, that volunteering for military duty was a religious obligation, and that serving in the armed forces took priority over all other forms of work or study. Various sources reported that children were indoctrinated into participating in combat. They were given "keys to paradise" and promised that they would go directly to heaven if they died as martyrs against the Iraqi enemy.

No estimates are available on the number of children who participated in the Iran-Iraq war, but Hojjatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, later president, stated in 1982 that Iran's armed forces had been supplemented by 400,000 volunteers. An exiled source claims that since military service was compulsory from the age of 18, most of these "volunteers" were likely to be younger.[18] Gulf war statistics about prisoners, casualties and their ages are unreliable, but according to the International Committee of the Red Cross at least 10 per cent of Iranian prisoners were under 18. Iranian officers captured by the Iraqis claimed that nine out of ten Iranian child soldiers were killed.
No, Greg, maybe not thousands every single day, but enough that Iranian casualties in one year were over 100,000. You don't have to shut a logistics channel completely -- just make it impractical and unrealiable.
#125 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 12:38 PM:

I give up. Again. Whoever wishes to entertain fantasies of state warfare being waged against the US through thousands of suicide militants, go for it. Have your war in a vacuum. Play GM and invoke whatever enemy you wish. Put the pieces down on a map and throw them at the players. I ain't gonna stop you.

we could simply keep doing what we're doing, no massive changes, and quite easily kill 50,000 US troops in another ten years when we watch Iraq implode and fracture into sub-nations. But if that's too boring, and you need to bring in human waves of Iranian suicide bombers, tankers chasing aircraft carriers, and another front from Syria, to spice things up a bit, knock yourself out.

#126 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 04:16 PM:

Greg, I wasn't going to argue with you but maybe just this once.

I don't think that amateurs are likely to come up with better analysis of how the US military might take large numbers of casualties, than the professional US military experts are.

If there's one way that could happen that looks very likely, I'm sure the experts have looked at it, and they're planning what they can for it, and they're being very close-mouthed about it since after all the military gains nothing by spreading the word.

I have no data about whether that's happening. If I did it would be a bad thing that I did.

But put that aside. There could be 50 ways things could go seriously wrong that each look unlikely. And any one of them might turn likely because of things we don't know.

we could simply keep doing what we're doing, no massive changes, and quite easily kill 50,000 US troops in another ten years when we watch Iraq implode and fracture into sub-nations.

I strongly doubt that we can keep this up for 10 years. We don't have the oil to burn.

#127 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 02:56 PM:

me @128: Although someone named "Ulysses Rothschild Lobachevsky" could legitimately use "URL" as a posting name.

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Another wave of spam poised to begin?

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