Rumsfeld's Folly

Since coming into office, the Bush administration has radically altered national-security and military doctrines that had successfully safeguarded American interests for more than 50 years. The changes, as the current crisis in Iraq demonstrates, have actually undermined U.S. security.

George W. Bush's new national-security doctrine, officially promulgated on Sept. 17, 2001, discards the long-standing American policy of using American military and economic power, in conjunction with international support, to create a stable international order by deterring and containing those who would challenge this order.

The Bush strategy, by contrast, is to make the United States the world's dominant military power and to use that power -- unbound by the need for allies or United Nations approval -- to take unilateral, preemptive military action against tyrants who support terrorists or who seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the president contends that in order to deal with the root causes of terrorism, American power must be used to create free-market democracies to replace these rogue regimes. The Bush plan, in other words, is not just to make the world safe for democracy but to make it democratic.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has just as radically altered the nation's military strategy. Ever since the Vietnam debacle, the Pentagon's civilian and military leaders have argued, in what has been known as the "Powell doctrine," that before this nation commits its troops to battle, it must be willing to deploy overwhelming force to the theater of operations and have a clearly defined exit strategy. Under Rumsfeld, Pentagon policy is to use advanced new technologies to reduce the military's need for large numbers of forces to wage military campaigns. Moreover, Rumsfeld is introducing these changes dramatically rather than gradually, with an abrupt reversal of the Powell doctrine. This, in effect, throws out the baby with the bath water.

The Bush administration claims that the terrorist attacks of September 11 necessitated the new doctrines, but, in fact, many of the people the president appointed to high positions on his national-security team came into office with these agendas. As early as September 1999, in a speech at the Citadel, then-Texas Gov. Bush criticized President Clinton for grossly underfunding the military, overusing it for such social enterprises as nation building and allowing it to become obsolete. Clinton, Bush said, had failed to take advantage of the revolution in technology to develop a network of space, sea, air and ground sensors capable of pinpointing enemy forces, and then had failed to build a network of precision-guided munitions that could destroy the enemy from long range.

These criticisms resonated with many Americans because Clinton was perceived to be weak on defense, but, in fact, none of Bush's claims was true. Clinton had actually increased the size of the defense budget over and above the program he inherited from the outgoing administration of George Bush Senior, and he had never deployed more than 40,000 troops (out of an active duty force of more than 1.4 million) on peacekeeping activities. Moreover, during the Clinton years, the military was gradually building precisely the systems Bush named. Between 1993 and 2000, the Pentagon increased its stock of smart bombs ninefold, developed lighter, more agile tanks and armored personnel carriers, and began producing unmanned aircraft like the Predator.

After September 11, however, the strategy changes that the administration wanted were matched to increasingly hyped notions of the threat America faced. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Bush declared war on terrorists with a global reach. By late fall, after prodding by some nations whose support Bush needed to wage the war in Afghanistan, the enemy had become terrorism around the globe. And in his January 2002 State of the Union address -- the "axis of evil" speech -- the threat was all evil.

The U.S. military campaign against Iraq shows just how foolish it was for the country to embrace the Bush and Rumsfeld doctrines and such a grandiose concept of the threat we faced. This can be demonstrated in at least eight ways.

First, the Iraq campaign has set a new and dangerous standard for the use of force in the international arena. To have any shred of legitimacy, preemptive military action should be based on accurate, precise intelligence. The Bush administration and its British allies claimed, based upon their intelligence, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that we knew where they were and that they could be launched against us with as little as 45 minutes warning. These claims have proved to be empty, as have those about cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Even if we give Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt and say that they were acting in good faith, the experience demonstrates how difficult it is to obtain the intelligence necessary to legitimately invade another country under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which permits the use of force only in self-defense. But how can we now tell India that it is illegal to take preemptive action against Pakistan?

Second, before the attack there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein, with or without weapons of mass destruction, was not being contained. In fact, the sanctions and inspections that were part of the containment regime since 1991 had proven remarkably effective. They prevented Iraq from rebuilding its conventional military forces or reconstructing its program for developing weapons of mass destruction. But even if Hussein had developed the ultimate weapon, a nuclear bomb, the United States could have deterred him from using it. As Condoleezza Rice pointed out in a Foreign Affairs article in early 2000, before Bush became president and appointed her national-security adviser, even if Hussein had managed to obtain nuclear weapons, any attempt to use them would have brought national obliteration.

Third, while the United States can militarily defeat just about any state in the world, without ongoing international cooperation we do not have the capacity to turn military victory into a stable peace or to fully remove the threat of terrorism. As the current phase of the Iraq War has demonstrated, the United States, despite spending almost as much as the rest of the world combined on its military, does not have sufficient forces to stabilize the situation on the ground without upsetting its standard rotation practices for active and reserve forces or drawing down its forces in other areas of potential conflict, such as the Korean peninsula. The U.S. Army now has two-thirds of its 33 combat brigades deployed -- 16 in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, two in South Korea and one in the Balkans. In order to maintain a reasonable rotation policy, it should be deploying no more than half of its brigades at any one time.

The "Rumsfeld doctrine" is only exacerbating this situation. In order to pay for more sophisticated gear more quickly without increasing the defense budget more than projected, Rumsfeld would like to reduce the number of ground troops in the force. Never mind that the U.S. military is already the most technologically advanced in the world and doesn't need to undertake a crash program to upgrade further at the expense of its ground forces. Moreover, to avoid enlarging the active military, Rumsfeld has resisted calls to move peacekeeping forces such as military police and civil-affairs specialists from the reserves to the active force, even though the need for them, under the "Bush doctrine," is active and long-term.

Fourth, in taking unilateral, preemptive military action against a state that does not pose an imminent threat, America has diverted its attention from more serious threats to national security. While the United States was focused on invading Iraq, it was forced to postpone dealing with the crisis in North Korea, a rogue nation that, if it does not yet have them, is much closer to obtaining nuclear weapons than Iraq was. North Korea has already exported nuclear-weapons technology and ballistic missiles. While focusing on Iraq, the United States has also let nation building in Afghanistan drift and has not been able to play its proper role in implementing the "road map" in the Middle East.

Fifth, by claiming that its goal in the Iraq War was to promote democracy in the Middle East, the Bush administration exposed itself to charges of rampant hypocrisy. In order to remove Saddam Hussein, the United States had to rely on such authoritarian regimes as Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain to provide military staging areas. Had those nations allowed a popularly elected legislature to vote on the matter, as Turkey did, there is no doubt that they, too, would have been unable to support the war.

In fact, the administration has undermined the president's goal of promoting democracy and free enterprise by giving a pass to regimes that rarely hold free elections and routinely trample on the human rights of their citizens -- for example, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and China -- in return for their support of Bush's overall war against terrorism.

Sixth, by refusing to wait either for a second resolution from the United Nations authorizing an attack or for the inspection process to proceed, the Bush administration has made it more difficult for the UN and its inspectors to help deal with North Korea and Iran, two countries that pose far greater risks to international peace and security than Iraq.

Seventh, by committing itself to making Iraq a democracy, the United States has committed itself to a long and costly engagement in an unstable part of the globe. To create a democracy in a nation without much of a history of liberal constitutionalism will require a generation of involvement, as the administration should have known. It was warned by the outgoing Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, and by the first head of the president's economic council, Lawrence Lindsey, that it would take several hundred thousand military people and hundreds of billions of dollars to win the peace in Iraq. And without much international support, the United States will have to bear most of that burden itself. But to admit this before the war, Bush might have undermined public support, and it certainly would have called into question Rumsfeld's plan to reduce the Pentagon's reliance on ground forces. Now, as casualties mount and costs rise, there is a real danger that Americans will grow unwilling to support the necessary expenditures on the military, not to mention such other components of national security as diplomacy and homeland security.

Eighth, preemption of terrorists is actually achieved much more effectively by nonmilitary means. Over the past two years, the United States and its allies have arrested more than 3,000 potential terrorists and dried up more than $125 million of their assets. By invading Iraq, the Bush administration has undone much of this progress, rallying more people and more money to the cause of global terrorism.

Indeed, we remain at war, though wedded to a strategy that can win the battle against the enemy's conventional forces but simply doesn't provide the manpower to sustain a fight for peace and stability. Under the Powell doctrine, which Rumsfeld jettisoned in his attempt to transform the military, American combat commanders would estimate how much force would be needed to accomplish an objective. The civilian and military leaders would then add more forces to provide a margin for error, to break the will of the enemy and to reduce casualties. With Rumsfeld, the opposite occurs. He takes the estimates of the combat commanders, guesses how many forces he can trim and then puts pressure on the field commanders to accept this smaller number.

The Powell doctrine worked well in the Gulf War, in Bosnia and in Kosovo. In the Gulf War, fighting Hussein's million-man army, which at the time sported very modern French and Russian equipment, the United States suffered fewer than 150 combat deaths. In the attacks on Bosnia and Kosovo, and the peace-enforcement activities in the Balkans since then, no American man or woman has died in combat. Such is not the case in Iraq. More Americans have now died in combat in Iraq than in the Gulf War, and many more have been wounded, though we faced a smaller and less well-equipped Iraqi military this time around. Moreover, with a much lower ratio of troops to population in Iraq than in Kosovo, we will continue to have difficulty bringing order and stability to the country -- or even guarding its borders to prevent foreign fighters from entering.

Astoundingly, Rumsfeld threw out even the part of the Powell doctrine that calls for an exit strategy. He and his advisers simply assumed that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators and that the Iraqi army and police forces would remain intact. American frontline troops were led to believe that they would come home as soon as Baghdad was liberated. The reservists who were mobilized to defeat Iraq's military expected to be demobilized as soon as the major combat was completed. But many of the frontline forces and reservists have now been told that they will be in Iraq for much longer. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, once called Shinseki's warning grossly exaggerated. The Bush Defense Department predicted that U.S. troop strength would decline to 30,000 by the end of the summer. It is now clear than this was more a hope than a plan.

The irony is that the military did not need to be radically shaken up to produce a technological transformation. It was actually transforming itself throughout the1990s, but in an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary way. For example, in the Gulf War, less than 10 percent of the bombs dropped on Iraq were classified as "precision" or "smart." In the Iraq War, that figure rose to almost 70 percent. And it was the supposedly underfunded and obsolete military inherited from Bill Clinton that acquired and deployed them.

By going back to the United Nations and asking for UN help, the Bush administration has essentially admitted that the Bush and Rumsfeld doctrines, at least to date, have been counterproductive. As Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) noted earlier this year, "At this precarious juncture in American history, America needs more humility than hubris in the applications of American military power, and the recognition that our interests are best served through alliances and consensus."

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