Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The brain behind Petraeus speaks

You’ve got to be pretty good at strategy if you are the person Gen. David Petraeus turns to for advice on the subject. That’s just one reason Col. H.R. McMaster’s solid piece in the new issue of World Affairs is so interesting. Reviewing aspects of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, McMaster demolishes the view that ...

589607_090113_HRMcMaster2.jpg
589607_090113_HRMcMaster2.jpg

You've got to be pretty good at strategy if you are the person Gen. David Petraeus turns to for advice on the subject. That's just one reason Col. H.R. McMaster's solid piece in the new issue of World Affairs is so interesting. Reviewing aspects of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, McMaster demolishes the view that the U.S. military had a great plan for invading Iraq but that bad old L. Paul Bremer III and other civilians subsequently blew it. In particular, McMaster spanks former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his partner in the invasion planning, Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks.

In Iraq, as in Vietnam, observes McMaster, "the way the United States went to war influenced everything that followed. A fixation on American technological superiority and an associated neglect of the human, psychological and political dimensions of war doomed one effort and very nearly the other."

The original war plan assumed that the United States could start pulling out shortly after the invasion. "Five years later, it is clear that the initial planning for the war misunderstood the nature of the conflict, underestimated the enemy, and underappreciated the difficulty of the mission."

You’ve got to be pretty good at strategy if you are the person Gen. David Petraeus turns to for advice on the subject. That’s just one reason Col. H.R. McMaster’s solid piece in the new issue of World Affairs is so interesting. Reviewing aspects of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, McMaster demolishes the view that the U.S. military had a great plan for invading Iraq but that bad old L. Paul Bremer III and other civilians subsequently blew it. In particular, McMaster spanks former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his partner in the invasion planning, Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks.

In Iraq, as in Vietnam, observes McMaster, “the way the United States went to war influenced everything that followed. A fixation on American technological superiority and an associated neglect of the human, psychological and political dimensions of war doomed one effort and very nearly the other.”

The original war plan assumed that the United States could start pulling out shortly after the invasion. “Five years later, it is clear that the initial planning for the war misunderstood the nature of the conflict, underestimated the enemy, and underappreciated the difficulty of the mission.”

McMaster hits it out of the park in discussing how inadequate troop levels undercut the war effort. Despite its overly Latinate style, this is one of the most insightful comments I have ever seen on Rumsfeld’s botched oversight of the Iraq war from 2003 to the end of 2006:

Decisions against deploying coalition forces in numbers sufficient to secure populations left many commanders with no other option than to adopt a raiding approach to counterinsurgency operations — an approach that tended to reinforce the perception of coalition forces as aggressors and conflated tactical successes with actual measures of strategic effectiveness. Inadequate troop strength and the approach it impelled created opportunities for the enemy.”

The article is especially interesting because word around the Pentagon is that McMaster is running a comprehensive review of U.S. strategy in Middle Eastern for Petraeus, who recently took over as chief of Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for that troubled part of the world. McMaster played a similar role when Petraeus took command in Iraq in early 2007 and presided over a radically new approach to the war. In addition, he commanded the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment when it conducted the first successful large-scale counterinsurgency operation in the Iraq war, in 2005-2006. And he wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of North Carolina on the Vietnam War.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: EU

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