Wednesday, October 22, 2003

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The Defense Department moves down the learning curve

Virginia Postrel links to this USA Today story about a leaked memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that paints a more sober picture of current progress in the War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The memo states:

Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with the global war on terror?

Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Postrel observes:

Probing questions are exactly what DoD needs, no matter how unpolitic they may be. The Pentagon is set up to fight not just traditional armed forces but traditional armed forces in countries with centrally planned economies and innovation-suppressing totalitalitarian governments--adversaries who make the Pentagon look nimble by comparison. But the future security of Americans depends on responding to nimble enemies with flexible tactics. Rumsfeld is asking the right questions. And, while there will certainly be a p.r. flap over the leak, it's better to have them out in public.

Postrel is completely correct [UPDATE: so does Josh Marshall], and bravo to Rumsfeld for putting it down on paper. It's the job of our leading policymakers to ask uncomfortable questions, plan for worst-case scenarios, and adapt to new facts and new situations.

That's why this week's Sy Hersh story in The New Yorker is so disturbing -- if true, it suggests that the DoD did none of these things in it's planning for postwar Iraq. Here's the part that raises alarm bells:

There was also a change in procedure at the Pentagon under Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary for Policy. In the early summer of 2001, a career official assigned to a Pentagon planning office undertook a routine evaluation of the assumption, adopted by Wolfowitz and Feith, that the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, could play a major role in a coup d’état to oust Saddam Hussein. They also assumed that Chalabi, after the coup, would be welcomed by Iraqis as a hero.

An official familiar with the evaluation described how it subjected that scenario to the principle of what planners call “branches and sequels”—that is, “plan for what you expect not to happen.” The official said, “It was a ‘what could go wrong’ study. What if it turns out that Ahmad Chalabi is not so popular? What’s Plan B if you discover that Chalabi and his boys don’t have it in them to accomplish the overthrow?”

The people in the policy offices didn’t seem to care. When the official asked about the analysis, he was told by a colleague that the new Pentagon leadership wanted to focus not on what could go wrong but on what would go right. He was told that the study’s exploration of options amounted to planning for failure. “Their methodology was analogous to tossing a coin five times and assuming that it would always come up heads,” the official told me. “You need to think about what would happen if it comes up tails.”

As I said before, bravo to Rumsfeld for raising the big, thorny questions.

You're finally moving down the learning curve on policy planning.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has a ton of links on the Rumsfeld memo.

posted by Dan on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM


Probably not best described as a "leak" -- see this site

posted by: KenB on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

oops, I meant this site

posted by: KenB on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

The problem is you can't believe anything Hersh writes. His credibility went a long time ago. Is there any support for his report from more credible sources?

posted by: DBL on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

I agree with DBL. I'm not sure if the New Yorker does itself a favor by printing Hersh if he isn't substantiated by a more credible backup.

posted by: John Bruce on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]


Maybe I'm missing something, but my understanding of the "leak" here has been that it was BY Rumsfeld (or a minion). Its purpose is pretty obvious: Condi and Colin have stolen the thunder on Iraq and Rummy is trying to bring the debate back to first principles. In other words, let's not quibble shall we, about WHO 'ad weapons of mass destruction aimed at WHOM? Iraq is only part of the puzzle and we're losing steam rapidly (and frighteningly) in efforts to derail the terrorist and proliferationist trains. Focus, he's saying, focus. But who's listening anymore?

posted by: Kelli on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Could someone explain how Hersh lost his credibility? Since you are asking for credible evidence, DBL (Dan Bin Laden?), I hope you can provide some weekly standard or fox links or something to back up your accusation of a man much more respected than yourself.

posted by: Ignoramus on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

I think you're being more than a bit condescending ... if you look at the sorts of things Rumsfeld's been saying from day one (and his work on the various commissions before that), it's fairly clear he's been asking these questions all along. He's not an idiot, and he's been around for a while. Such learning curve as the administration's undergoing is much more about how to mesh personalities and make sure information in a large structure doesn't get mishandled, than it is about the need to think intelligently on a personal level.

Hersh's article is disturbing, if it fits into a broad pattern of such behavior. However, take it with a grain of salt. In any large bureaucracy, people are constantly being told to shut up when it's not appropriate. The question at issue is not whether a particular guy bearing bad news was told to shut up. It's about whether there's a consistent pattern of not wanting to hear bad news. It could very easily have happened because the guy bearing bad news was being an uncooperative, unhelpful ass. Good decisionmaking is often at least as much about process as it is about substance, and no good decisions can be made if everybody's yelling out of turn.

posted by: Ray on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Miss Kelli-

I can not quite come up with the Pyton Skit that that's from: It is driving me Bonkers. I can see Palin... Please advise.

posted by: Art6 Wellesley on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Got it - Swamp Castle, "Grail" - nevermind - thank-you.

posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

It's good to see that Glenn Reynolds doesn't get it at all. He's somehow trying to compare this to the Plame leak. Maybe someone should point out the quite obvious differences to him?

posted by: Stu on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Well it's clear for those that have been repeating the mantra "things are getting a little better every day" and "taking out Saddam was beneficial to America" have had their hot air let out by this little pin-prick of reality. There was always more dissension than widely believed among top Republican thinkers about the wisdom of this war. However, most gave the President the benefit of the doubt and followed him like good foot-soldiers and lieutenants.

The conduct of this Administration has been always deeply against past Republican principles and strategic geo-political views. These principles of realism and limited intervention into other cultures were well-founded in a pragmatic view of the world.

Dealing with dictators is abhorrent, but it may be better than the alternative. Certainly Reagan and Bush-I thought so when they, rightfully, continued dealing with Saddam *after* he gassed the Kurds.

The current mealy-mouthed repeaters of the Admin line who constantly ask "Would you rather still have Saddam in power" fail to be able to stomach the correct answer: So long as it was better than the alternatives, then YES - atrocities and all. Better for whom you ask? Better for Americans. We ain't Martians you know.

posted by: Oldman on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Hersh is way off base. Dough Feith is anything but an optimist. He's a lawyer, he likes to debate. When I worked for the Center for Security Policy, Doug was on the board of directors. The notion that Frank Gaffney's best friend is uninterested in being challenged with bad news in beyond the pale. These guys got into this business to deal with the bad news.

The same can be said for Paul Wolfowitz. You do not walk into a meeting with Frank or Richard Perle without being challenged. I attended meetings with these guys for a year and a half and there was never one where the other side's arguments weren't addressed and taken on directly.

Having spent some time in the puzzle palace, I can guess that Hersh's confidant has a bureaucratic axe to grind, and is probably farther away from the decision making process -- and is bitter about that -- than HE would like to be.

posted by: Greg on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Chalabi, welcomed a hero?

I don't think ANYONE thought that, or was even dumb enough to entertain the idea.

Hersh is exagerating.

posted by: Ross on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

I’ve noted a number of commentaries castigating Rumsfeld for the content of this memo. This is unwarranted. His posing of these questions and establishing process and procedure to address them is the not just the right thing to do, it is the expected thing to do.

Which is why I stop short of joining the band-wagon and saying Rumsfeld should be praised.

Praising Rumsfeld for pursuing these questions and insisting on right action is like praising a cook who simply cooks your food, or a industrial carpenter for building a form, or a county judge for enforcing the law – in occupying a professional position performing the duties of that position is not praiseworthy per se, it is expected.

Praise is due for exemplary performance, not just execution of duty.

This memo shows Rumsfeld is doing his job. I take a degree of comfort from that as I do not always feel this to be true.

The play-out of the scenario around Wolfowitz is a good example of many possible as to why Rumsfeld needs to up his level of performance before receiving praise as Secretary of Defense.

I’ll praise Rumsfeld when he actions the issues stated in his memo, not just raises an intellectual framework of need. He’s made the right start. Let’s see if he can follow-through. Not his forte the last few months…

posted by: Jon on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

“The notion that Frank Gaffney's best friend is uninterested in being challenged with bad news in beyond the pale. These guys got into this business to deal with the bad news.”

This sounds right to me. It is highly unlikely that the Bush administration hadn’t thought about the inevitable surprises awaiting them in Iraq. Human beings, however, can only plan so much---and then are compelled to simply muddle through. We should never forget the failures of the Soviet’s many five years economic plans.

Also, how did the great American philosopher Doris Day put it?:

“When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother what will I be?
Will I be pretty, will I be rich?
That's what she said to me:

Que sera, sera. What ever will be will be
the future's not ours to see.
Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.”

posted by: David Thomson on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Hah, Mr. Thompson, Well said.

Also 'Spach' the Wachowski brothers:

M: "No. What happened, happened - and could not have happened any other way"

N: " How do you know?"

M: " Because we are still alive"

posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

Hersh lost all credibility because he has consistently reported "huge" scoops that he has sworn he has on the best authority that appear to be the biggest "busts" in journalism. One of the most egregious ones was his claim in the Afghan conflict that a particular raid resulted in large numbers of American casualties, especially dead. I think the numbers he tossed around were larger than the total that have been officially killed to date in Afghanistan. One has to stretch credulity to believe that the Pentagon successfully covered up a large number of combat deaths. There have been a string of such negative reports Hersh has put out there that if not demonstrably false *never* found any support in facts available to anyone other than Sy.

posted by: Ignoranmus 2 on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]


Okay it was irritating enough when Rumsfeld was going on about the "unknowable". Things aren't knowable. That is *why* you plan. "Hope for the best, plan for the worst." is the old-adage. This is Ruling the World here. "I didn't know." is an excuse you give to your parents when you wreck the family car. When you Rule the World, you better have your ducks in a row.

Not everything can be anticipated, but when you plan on everything working out exactly as you hoped it would and give yourself no margin for error / rainy day reserve - then if things turn sour well it was you who was the fool.

If Rumsfeld can figure out that maybe things could have gone better, maybe you can drop Doris Day as a guiding light on how public affairs should be run and pick up some more Machiavelli.

posted by: Oldman on 10.22.03 at 03:14 PM [permalink]

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