Bush, Rumsfeld, and Franks, Oh My!

I’m trying to make sense of a trio of articles I just read from Sunday’s Washington Post. The first one I read, from page A29, describes the pissed-offed-ness among military brass at civilian overseer Rumsfeld for screwing up their war plan: Rumsfeld targetted for troop dilution. (Update: See also the earlier Reuters article: Rumsfeld ignored Pentagon advice on Iraq.) The Post article goes into lots of interesting detail, including the following:

Responding to criticism, Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference Friday that U.S. forces were following a war plan that was developed by Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of Central Command, and agreed to by leaders of all the military services. Myers called it “brilliant.”

Aides close to Rumsfeld said any changes made were for the better. “The original war plan for Iraq was really awful,” a senior official said yesterday. “It was basically Cold War planning, and we’re not in the Cold War anymore. Rumsfeld, like a lot of people, asked a lot of questions designed to produce the best, most flexible plan.”

An analysis from the same issue’s front page puts this in context: War’s military, political goals begin to diverge. There’s some cheerleading for the awesome advance that has been made in the first week of the war (including from Paul Van Riper, the retired Marine general who blew the whistle on the bogus war games), but also this:

Top Army officers in Iraq say they now believe that they effectively need to restart the war. Before launching a major ground attack on Iraq’s Republican Guard, they want to secure their supply lines and build up their own combat power. Some timelines for the likely duration of the war now extend well into the summer, they say.

So far so good. But then there comes this mishmash of conflicting information, also from Sunday’s front page: Push toward Baghdad is reaffirmed. It talks about the teleconference Bush did with his “war council” from Camp David today:

In that session, as one senior official described it, Bush supported Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s desire to press ahead with the plans embraced by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of the Iraq effort. These plans call for continuing to prepare for a ground offensive against the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein’s most fearsome troops, while awaiting the arrival of additional forces — some of which are weeks, even months, from being ready to fight.

This is where I get confused. It sounds like they’re saying yes, we’re going to need to pause while we build up our forces. But then we have administration officials denying that:

Field commanders this past week have spoken openly of a “pause” in the allied campaign to rest, regroup and reinforce, while securing supply lines by pacifying southern Iraq. But yesterday’s session of the War Council reaffirmed a battle plan that was crafted in Washington, and reminded any dissenters what the commander in chief wants.

“When we say we’re on the plan, we’re on the plan,” an administration official said. “There is no pause.”

Someone’s not on the same page here. If there isn’t going to be a pause, someone needs to tell the field commanders. I think it’s pretty obvious there is going to be a pause, which means this probably is just about giving Rumsfeld (and by extension, Bush) political cover by pretending that there isn’t actually any difference between “proceeding quickly to Baghdad” and “pausing to restart the war.” In other words, it’s just spin doctoring over the use or non-use of the word “pause” to describe what’s going to happen, about which there actually isn’t any lack of clarity between the civilian and military planners and the people in the field.

I’m not surprised that the administration would lie to put the best face possible on the events of the past week. But I’m scared that it might not just be a lie. That is, I’m scared that the differences in what people are saying at different levels of the civilian/military command-and-control structure might reflect actual fuzzy thinking and miscommunication — which don’t sound like the kinds of things you want when so many lives are at stake.

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