Thursday, September 18, 2003
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Missing the Wesley Clark boat
I've had no time to write anything substantial about Wesley Clark's decision to run for president. Ryan Booth has done an excellent job collecting reactions here and here. He did miss one important take -- Josh Marshall's mixed assessment of Clark's post-announcement performance on CNN.
One random thought I do have -- there was a lot of noise during Operation Iraqi Freedom about whether Clark was doing a good job as a military analyst for CNN. Some of the criticism of his criticism was absurd, but there is one line of argument that would not be absurd. (Caveat: my recall of the substance of Clark's critique is not perfect, so I'll be happy to be corrected in the comments section.) I'm pretty sure Clark argued that the U.S. had not deployed enough troops to decisively win the war. In retrospect, this was flat-out wrong.
Before critics get bent all out of shape, let me be perfectly clear what Clark got wrong. It is true that the administration has delpoyed too few troops for the occupation of Iraq. That's different from what I'm saying Clark screwed up in his analysis. He thought the U.S. did not have enough troops to defeat the Iraqi military while still being able to maintain logistical supply chains and control over captured territory. On this point, I'm pretty sure Clark was wrong.
Given that security matters are his strong suit, isn't this a big vulnerability if he gets nominated? In part, this depends on what Iraq looks like a year from now. If it's still a mess, then it won't matter. But if things have improved significantly, then Bush can look at Clark and say, "We both screwed up. You were wrong on how to fight the war, and my administration was wrong in it's initial postwar planning."
Just a thought.
For more on Clark, go check out this Joshua Green profile in The Atlantic Monthly. There's a priceless anecdote:
Link via Milt Rosenberg.posted by Dan on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM
I think he looked at the order of battle for the Iraqis, and thought they'd fight in Baghdad. Then, you multiply that by 2 or 3 to guarantee a win.posted by: snore on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
The bottom line is he is an awful strategist. The Kosovo campaign was a masterpiece of trying one thing and immediatly running out of ideas if it wasnt working. Luckilly for us all, Milo and co cracked, because if you study the campaign, Clark had nothing else in his bag of tricks. I remember quite a bit about his analysis for CNN (which I found distateful to say the least for an army commander to be critiquing a former colleague real time. And badly). Basically it just revealed what students of military history already knew. Clark had no strategic vision, no stomach for daring, and understood CYA a lot better than anything else.posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
Perhaps Clark was taking for granted the need for an immediately effective occupation of Iraq as the culmination of the invasion, one that could roll inland while leaving occupation forces behind as it moved forward, in sufficient numbers to stifle resistance, factional fighting, and street crime. In that case, he would be right about the needed forces, especially of infantry. Note the differences in effectiveness between the Marine occupation zone and the Army one, where there are lots of tanks but not enough infantry for the right kind of operations.
Your criticisms of the Kosovo campaign are better directed at Clinton, Berger, and Albright. Clark knew early on that Milosevic would not cave in to air power alone, and agitated early and often -- going outside the chain of command, which is why he got fired later -- to lobby for Apaches and ground troops.
It was the threat of a ground invasion that got Milosevic to acquiesce, so Clark's strategic vision was pretty sharp. Furthermore, he deserves a great deal of credit for overseeing an air campaign that had thousands of sorties but no casualties, even though French military officials at NATO informed the Serbs in advance of intended bombing runs.posted by: Dan on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
To be fair, I don't think anyone in the public sphere predicted a easy three-week win. Ken Pollack, to cite one whose prediction I remember, said six months and a thousand casualties.
On the other hand, there was that British general who said Clark was trying to start World War III in Kosovo ...posted by: Hei Lun Chan on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
I don't remember Clark's analysis being particularly wrong, it was mostly pretty bland and empty. The real idiot analysis was by former drug czar and general Barry McCaffrey. McCaffrey (and other old school army types) were the ones moaning about lack of troops. On CNN Clark always took care to talk without saying much of anything. It wasn't even clear that he was opposed to war before hand. As to who got the battlefield analysis right... well there's Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Franks, Bush, most ex-air force guys, most marines.posted by: MiguelS on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
Take a look at Clark's testimony to Congress in March -- it was so spot on that it is scary. (I'm too lazy to find a link but its all over the web) He said we'd win the war easily, but that he was not aware of any planning that had been done to secure Iraq after the war. He also predicted that if we didn't secure the peace quickly, foreign terrorists would pour into Iraq to attack our troops.
As for his analysis of the combat, it is hard to say he was wrong -- he didn't count on being lucky, like Bush did. The Powell doctrine, don't go to war assuming your enemy is weak and will cave, used to be a republican talking poitn. Now, instead of going to war to win with overwhelming force, we just assume the best case scenario will take place.
As for Kosovo being a disaster -- yeah right. If only Iraq was a "disaster" like Kosovo -- all objectives obtained, no American lives lost, and four years of peace.posted by: pj on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
"I'm pretty sure Clark argued that the U.S. had not deployed enough troops to decisively win the war. In retrospect, this was flat-out wrong. "
Oh, the war has been decisively won? Well, that's good news! Judging by the way that convoy got shot up yesterday, it must be the police action that hasn't been won yet.posted by: Robuzo on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
Well Andrew Sullivan has a link to an essay Clark wrote and it makes one wonder if you would have gone to war in Iraq.posted by: Barry on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
Well Andrew Sullivan has a link to an essay Clark wrote and it makes one wonder if you would have gone to war in Iraq.
JGF: "Note the differences in effectiveness between the Marine occupation zone and the Army one, where there are lots of tanks but not enough infantry for the right kind of operations."
Not to take anything away from the Marines, but if they were in the Sunni Triangle, and the Army were in the Shiite south, both casualty rates and overall "effectiveness" would be reversed, no matter what the force structure.posted by: Joel on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
“Given that security matters are his strong suit, isn't this a big vulnerability…?”
No. Two immediate counters leap to mind –
1) The considered weight of comments above seems to paint a fairly decent picture of Clark's pre-Iraq assessment.
2) It's unfair to judge Clark's merits in security assessment without giving him the full benefit of intelligence collected at the time. Though he seems to have nailed the gist of it well, reasoning from experience, expertise and public info.
Now judging Bush…
I find the assumption that more troops are the answer to the Iraq occupation based on nothing but hand-waving.posted by: Robin Roberts on 09.18.03 at 03:21 PM [permalink]
I had a good laugh over Clark when he sat on CNN one night and said that tanks could not fire on the move. Exactly what tanks is he talking about? Even more funny was when an embed followed right up with a story containing film of tanks firing while on the move.
I witnessed Clark make numerous mistakes about things he should have been well informed on as a General.
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