Undergraduate Research Assistant Program
Forecasting Oil Prices

"A Hell of a Parenthesis"

Matthew Yglesias reads a report on Iraq from Barry McCaffrey, and his head explodes:

TPMCafe || A Hell of a Parenthesis: I heard General McCaffrey speak one time shortly after he stepped down as Drug Czar and he said many eminently sensible things about that particular quagmire. Unfortunately, it was hard not to notice that those things were pretty sharply at odds with the line he'd been towing in his previous job. Such are the dilemmas facing political appointees, especially those who don't serve at the very highest levels of government. So sometimes it's a bit hard to know what to make of these kinds of official reports.

On that note, this report seems to me to have put an upbeat gloss on an assessment that is, in fact, pretty relentlessly pessimissimistic. Take this, for example, from page three listing the number one CENTCOM vulnerability:

Premature drawdown of U.S. ground forces driven by dwindling U.S. domestic political support and the progressive deterioration of Army and Marine manpower. (In particular, the expected melt-down of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in the coming 36 months)

If you ask me, an expected melt-down of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve seems like the sort of thing that's worth more than a parenthetic mention. Some would say this is kind of a big deal. Indeed, it raises in my mind some serious questions about this conclusion:

We face some very difficult days in the coming 2-5 years. In my judgment, if we retain the support of the American people --we can achieve our objectives of creating a law-based Iraqi state which will be an influencing example on the entire region.

How is it, exactly, that we're supposed to prevail over a five year timeline if the Reserve and Guard components of the Army "melt-down" over the next 36 months? That seems like a kind of basic issue that needs to be addressed here...

It is a weird report. It says that the U.S. has the finest troops in the world, with the finest equipment in the world, with the highest morale in the world, with a senior command team that is the best possible senior command team. On the other hand the report says, the previous senior command team--Bremer and Sanchez--aren't to be trusted to dig latrines. There is a disconnect from reality here.

In my experience, the lower ranks of the American officer corps--Lieutenants, Captains, Majors, Lt. Colonels--are very impressive people: highly competent, extremely energetic, well-trained, brutally realistic, and loyal to their troops to the death.

But then something seems to happe. The winnowing to pick the ones who will get their stars proceeds, and the results do not look pretty. You get people--well, like Colin Powell's chief-of-staff, Colonel Wilkerson, who says that putting together the speech at which Colin Powell pretended to have access to solid intelligence of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs was "Wilkerson says, 'the lowest point of my life.' The unsourced materials the administration gave to Powell to present... 'were anything but an intelligence document'; rather, they were 'sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose'. You've got to treat statements by ex-General Powell or Colonel Wilkerson or their ilk--that the paint is dry, say--as you would treat statements by "Curveball."