Shinseki’s Army

“Beware the twelve-division strategy for a ten-division Army.” The man who spoke those words is probably the only person in America who actually suffered for being right on the Iraq War from the very start: Gen. Eric Shinseki. It’s worth remembering Shinseki’s maxim, especially in any attempt to re-vision American foreign policy in the post-Iraq War era. Because eventually we’ll leave Iraq, but unless we address the temptations that led us to invade that country in the first place, we’re likely to give in to them again.

According to Dissent magazine’s tribute to Gen. Shinseki, the dispute between him and Donald Rumsfeld that preceded Shinseki’s famous Congressional testimony centered around Shinseki’s opposition to:

. . .Rumsfeld’s desire to transform the Army from a fighting force that could be a significant, boots-on-the ground presence to an elite, high-tech strike force primarily equipped to carry out rapid, surgical missions.

What jumped out at me is that in some ways both men were right. The kind of Army Rumsfeld envisioned was indeed capable of the lightning-fast victory of the initial invasion of Iraq, probably in a way that Shinseki’s might not have been. Of course, the fatal flaw was the failure to heed the warnings of a long and difficult occupation, for which Shinseki’s Army was obviously the better suited.

But beyond that, it’s easy to see how Rumsfeld’s Army almost breeds intervention. Like a hot rod in the back of the garage, it almost begs to be taken out for a spin, cavalierly, with no thought for what happens once the highway trails off into a stretch of off-road trail. The question is, whose Army does the strategic landscape, post-Iraq, favor? Shinseki’s or Rumsfeld’s? Is is possible to achieve our strategic goals with quick strikes? And if not, what purpose does Rumsfeld’s Army serve, other than to tempt us into unwise uses of it?

Shinseki’s warning remains relevant, because although Gen. Petraeus has now adapted our Iraq tactics to an intelligent, lean COIN posture, he’s still fighting with Rumsfeld’s Army. It will be interesting to see if anyone raises it with Gen. Petraeus during his Congressional testimony.