Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fundamentals of Micro-Management - Or, How to Lose the War by Not Really Trying

Next week, the House will begin debate on an emergency war spending bill. Some in the Congress are using this bill as an opportunity to micro-manage our military commanders, or to force a precipitous withdrawal in Iraq, or threaten vital funding for Iraqi security forces, and fund projects that have nothing to do with the war on terror. I believe the members of Congress are sincere when they support our troops. And now is the time for them to show that support. Our men and women in uniform are risking their lives and they need the firm support of the United States Congress.
George W Bush

Where to begin? Perhaps that the Iraq War is a project that has nothing to do with the war on terror? Too easy.

I think instead we should start with the new talking point about "micro-managing" the war and what it says about the Bush administration. It says that the Bush administration thinks of the troops like they do tanks or bombs, as tools in a global game of Risk.

Let's take time to review. After a disastrous execution of a poorly conceived war, President Bush was finally forced to admit that "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable". A new plan is needed. So he proposed last January a "surge" of approximately 20,000 more troops in a plan nearly identical to the one that just failed the previous summer. And the fall of the year before that. And really a bunch more times. Faced with the fact that Bush has correctly noted that "the consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable", yet he preparing to follow a plan almost certain to deepen that failure, Congress decided to rediscover their Constitutional authority "to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces".

But the efforts were rather disingenuous. While Senate Democrats criticized their Republican counterparts for filibustering the debate on the debate on a non-binding resolution, Bush went ahead with the surge as planned.

Surprisingly, no one has really called Bush on this immoral game of Chicken. Knowing, of course, that the Democrats would never deny funding for troops already there, Bush decided to send them anyway - or at least start to - without first securing the equipment or funds they need.

Few people noted that the troops wouldn't be adequately equipped.
The thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use, military officers said.

Vehicles such as the Cougar and the M1117 Armored Security Vehicle have proven ability to save lives, but production started late and relatively small numbers are in use in Iraq, mostly because of money shortages, industry officials said.
Under a $125 million contract, the Marines are buying 100 Cougar and 44 Buffalo armored trucks, known collectively as MRAP, for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, made by Force Protection Inc., a small company in Ladson, S.C. The firm is producing 40 vehicles a month, said its vice president, Mike Aldrich, a retired Army officer educated at West Point.
The military services said last month that they need 4,060 of the MRAP vehicles, with 2,500 for the Army, 538 for the Navy and 1,022 for the Marines. The delivery schedule is uncertain. Meanwhile, a permanent replacement for the Humvee, incorporating the latest design and armor improvements, is years away, Pentagon officials said, and mired in technical and cost disputes.

This is hardly surprising though considering that more than two years after Rumsfeld was called on the carpet by a soldier for lack of adequate armor, it's still the case that the troops already in Iraq face persistant equipment shortages.

Excepting that belatedly, thanks to Jack Murtha, the Democrats finally decided to stand up well enough for the troops to insist that they be rested, trained and equipped before we send them over to risk their lives.

The President is not pleased. And he has threatened to, for the second time, veto an emergency spending bill with money for the war (and the troops) if it had any "strings". This is essentially saying that Bush himself would rather cut off funds for the troops rather than accept any check on his authority.

Considering that the 109th Congress held exactly five hearings in the House and the Senate held three, and considering the results, I will go out on a limb and say that a 'hands off' approach by Congress has not been a great success. The Republican controlled Congress gave Bush all the rope he needed - and he hung himself with it. Whether he knows it or not, the Democrats are doing Bush a solid.

Nonetheless, the Republicans and their anointed noise makers are making plenty of noise about the dangers of "micro-managing" the war. "How would you like it if Congress made a decision that you really only needed one destroyer in your task force, or you get along without the submarine or maybe you only needed half the supplies on your supply ship?" - Steve King (R-IA)

King's remarks are typical of the strawman arguments being used by the Republicans. No Democratic proposal gets into the fine granularity of the determining the specific number of destroyers or submarines. (Although I'm not sure how many subs are being used in the Iraq war.) But these strawman arguments aren't meant to be persuasive - or even heard. The idea is to label any sort of management by Congress of the war as "micromanagement" and to leave a rhetorical trail of plausible deniability if anyone ever called upon them to say why demanding adequate equipment is Congressional overreach.

Not that they need to worry about that much. There seems to be no signs at the moment that anyone in the press will be pressing them on that question any time soon.

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