July 02, 2003


Phil Carter comments on the recent Rumsfeld trial balloon of a multinational force led by the United States. He wonders why the U.S. army doesn't just do this itself. Which kind of misses the point. (Paul Knox had a piece on this in the Globe today, still not online, which is even farther off the mark.)

Rumsfeld is clearly musing about the constabulary forces needed to sustain hegemony long-term. Already Iraqi occupation is dulling the edge of a fine military and tying it up so it's less a threat to others. It seems a necessary corollary of the "Rumsfeld doctrine" is rapid disentanglement of the combat elements after any war... that way there's still a threat in being for the next opponent.

Okay, so there has to be an occupation force for the Iraqs of the future. Well, the UN comes with political baggage, and is combat-ineffective. NATO is, if nothing else, regionally confined, and there's apparently no guarantee the interests of its group will always mesh any longer. America is seeing in stark terms the limits of its own reservists for long-term foreign occupation, and expansion of the professional force is anathemic and cost-ineffective. You could not have, for instance, two classes of American infantry soldier, those trained for the fighting divisions and those for the security divisions, and so presumably less trained, or more lightly armed... it would be, if nothing else, seen as deeply inegalitarian. And expanding the army by the 25 per cent required, and purchasing them the equipment and training to be ALL up to modern networked mechwar standards would be an absurdly expensive solution for the actual problem.

So it's not going to be Americans then, but it will be American-led. So what are the options?

1) Locally raised forces in the occupied countries. Obviously this would be ideal, but hard to do. Weeding out the war criminals and the disloyal and bringing the rest up to American standards is a process of years, as Afghanistan and Iraq are showing. Because wars are promising to be faster (see below) more forces are needed sooner than American trainers working with local volunteers can reasonably expect to generate.
2) Private contractors. There's no better way to get your local antiwar activists to a boil, likely, than to turn over aspects of the governance of a subject domain to a mercenary corporation. Plus mercenaries, if anything, are better paid than soldiers from your own country. No cost savings there. Mercenaries and PMCs still have a place in the world, in niche jobs, but they're unlikely to replace armies any time soon.
3) "Coalitions of the willing." This seems to be what's being tried out in Iraq and Afghanistan now, with international coalitions taking up part of the burden. In Afghanistan it's a coalition free of US command; in Iraq, the increase of Allied troops from one division to two announced this week is all under American command. While it holds promise, two problems with basing occupation armies on this model are the same that have bedevilled the UN for years: the forces inevitably have their own national sovereignty issues, and the force structure is inevitably based on whatever conglomeration of often non-interoperable equipment is made available. Basically, you're recreating a UN peacekeeping force, but without the UN as its overall commander. It can be assumed combat-effectiveness will not be a strong suit. And worst of all, because it has to be ad hoc by definition (how could you plan for it ahead of time), you've got about as much institutional memory as UN military operations have, if even that.
4) Auxiliaries. This is basically where Rumsfeld seems to be going, where Colby Cosh once memorably said he'd be going*, and what every historical megapower has ended up doing sooner or later... a parallel military structure, involving non-citizens and reserved for the dirty work of occupations. Hessians. The Foreign Legion. The Sepoys. The Roman Auxiliaries. It can be made up of the forces of nations who are happy to give up some of their sovereignty (a la the Gurkhas), or via individual recruitment. But it has the virtues, when done right, of an inexhaustible force pool, of a force-in-being as soon as the main force combat ends, tremendous economy, interoperability, and unified national (imperial?) command.

Inevitably, this seems to be where the logic of occupation is taking the U.S. No doubt there will be components of all the above options in any solution. But a return to some kind of American auxilia seems almost inevitable. Phil Carter asks, "why can't these be Americans?" The point is, obviously, because Americans, voting Americans with voting families back home, are exactly what you don't want in Baghdad right now, any more than you can absolutely avoid.

*can't find the link, Colb. L'il help?

UPDATE: Michael O'Hanlon writes on the same topic. So does Fareed Zakaria. So does Greg Buete.

Posted by BruceR at 07:22 PM


*Decades from now, even if the military occupation of Iraq had seemed a total failure to us at the time (country fractured, new strongman taking over, what have you) it will still be seen by history as a success. In the end, this IS an attempt to stop terrorism against the continental U.S; Baghdad's just the current stop on the train, after all. And by putting tens of thousands of American service people in harm's way in Iraq, if nothing else the Bush administration has provided a far easier-to-reach target for the global terrorist than any target in the U.S. would be. Bush's accomplishment, if nothing else, is to take the war out of Manhattan, and back to Afghanistan and Iraq... where it can simmer, with a steady drip drip of military casualties, for several years, if need be. Speaking in the most ruthless terms for the moment, that still counts as a success. Lots of leaders through history would have loved wars that promised to confine their fatal effects just to their willing military volunteers, and some foreigners. (And there have been other, more marginal upsides... the Kurds are freer from fear, and some of the funding for the Palestinian terrorist resistance has certainly dried up.)

*The question now is not whether WMDs will be found... the evidence, if it ever turns up, is almost certain to be open to wide interpretation, to put it at the most optimistic. The question is not even whether not finding WMDs will compromise American credibility and hence international freedom of action for further intervention. It won't... there really is no one much left to alienate outside the U.S., and Bush's core constituency would still stay with him if "hot pursuit" took the Americans into Iran or Syria right now.

No, the question is how much the run-up to the first pre-emptive war in American history, with all its curious side paths, etc., has and will contribute to Iraqis' future prospects. It's a tough one. If you take as your initial assumption that war was necessary to purge Hussein from power, was there another path to war that held a higher prospect of post-war success? I'm not certain that case can be made. (More divisions? Lighter divisions? Quibbles.) The best second-guess I can come up with on that assumption would have been timing a wider Guard/reservist callup for the war itself -- when there was some patriotic fervour out there -- it would have been easier to use the manning flexibility that introduced into the system to help ease into this initial period. My biggest concern if I was an American now would be that the administration's political fears associated with a Guard call-up, now after the war has been declared to be over, may be what's really overstretching soldiers in the field and limiting whatever prospects for successful reconstruction may exist.

*In a way, the war was almost "too quick." The whole transition period was so jarringly short that all the infinite ways a society readjusts to a total change to their entire circumstance are happening now. Some have faulted the Americans for failing to plan the postwar Iraq before the war started... if they had, of course, that would have been criticised by the same people as the height of hubris. The time for planning a postwar phase is surely only once the favourable resolution is within sight... by then there were only a few days to figure out what came next. Certainly any kind of national debate on the question was essentially impossible before May. The sketchiness of everything was a necessary byproduct of a fast war.

*Notice how the Americans are not hot to find the Hussein family, by the way. Finding them now only increases the pressure to start handing off to the Iraqis, who, to be fair, do not have an extant political apparatus to take up any of the slack yet. Far better for the moment to add them to the big list of question marks. As opposed to Bin Laden, who retains a cult of personality effect, and whom Bush would no doubt dearly like paraded in chains, ideally during primary season, no one's going to ever be telling Swamp Fox-like folktales about the wily Saddam Hussein. No, the Americans' main problems are now what the basically secular Hussein's were when he was in power... separatist Kurds, heretic Shiites, and extremist Muslims among the Sunni population. That, and a whole lot of new resentment and humiliation at the U.S. humbling of the Iraqi national myth. It's hard to say who would have the higher chance of assassination walking alone among the population right now, Saddam or a highly ranked American official... but it'd be a closer call than you might think.

*What that means, of course, is that any realistic prospect of crimes-against-humanity tribunals in Iraq is going to be vigorously resisted by the U.S. The enemy of the enemy is your friend... instead, expect some McCloy-style pardons, rehabilitations, etc., for anyone short of Hussein and his immediate family alone. (This, of course, only undermines the "we invaded Iraq for the Iraqis" argument, but that's just how this plays out. In the final analysis, not too many Nazis saw harsh justice, either.)

Posted by BruceR at 06:24 PM


"Whiskey... mumble mumble... sexy?"

In other news, someone needs to send Staff Sgt. Pollard home. Right now.

Posted by BruceR at 04:47 PM


The lesson from this week's ludicrous French war museum flag fracas has to be: "If you're determined to make a fool of yourself online, at least step back a few paces and get the whole scene in your disposable camera viewfinder so we can see what a dope you are immediately and stop wasting our valuable time."

Or you could always read the freaking plaque, I suppose.

Posted by BruceR at 04:02 PM


Unlike other bloggers, apparently I don't announce these in advance. Back soon.

Posted by BruceR at 10:06 AM