At no point in modern American history has the civilian leadership of the nation’s military establishment come under as much criticism from serving military officers as is the case now regarding the war in Iraq. The now famous comment by Lieut. Gen. William Wallace that “the enemy we’re fighting is a bit different from the one we’d war-gamed against”–implying heavier-than-expected resistance–is but the tip of the iceberg of widespread discontent among senior officers over the design and implementation of the Administration’s invasion plan.
The generals’ deep disquiet over the Administration’s war plans originally surfaced early last summer, when it first became known to senior military personnel that the President had made the decision to invade Iraq with or without international support, and that the Administration’s favored war plan emphasized unconventional tactics–heavy reliance on precision-guided missile strikes, mass “uprisings” of antigovernment Iraqi forces engineered by US Green Berets, and a lightning assault by modest-sized US ground forces in the south and north–rather than conventional, “decisive force” tactics of the sort employed by the United States during the 1991 Gulf War. A radical plan of this sort was viable, the proponents of war argued, because Saddam Hussein enjoyed negligible support at home and because the Iraqi army would surrender en masse at the first sign of American combat troops.
Upon learning of these decisions, senior commanders raised two sorts of objections. Some generals argued that a war against Iraq was unnecessary because the existing strategy of “containment,” comprising the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq plus the naval blockade in the Persian Gulf, had effectively eliminated Saddam Hussein as a significant threat to US security. Others accepted the need to attack Iraq but objected to the overly risky nature of the Administration’s attack plan, claiming that Iraqi defenses were likely to prove more robust than was suggested by the advocates of war.
Needless to say, active-duty officers did not express their doubts in public for fear of being branded as disloyal by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a hawkish zealot with little tolerance of dissent. But many retired officers, including the senior leaders of Operation Desert Storm, were less intimidated. “It’s not going to be an easy battle,” Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf observed in August. “I think we will prevail, but I think it would be much more effective if we didn’t have to do it alone.”
Any hope of dissuading the President from abandoning containment in favor of an invasion war was quickly seen as futile, when it became apparent that the White House was under the thrall of a militant prowar cabal led by Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle of the Defense Policy Board–none of whom, it might be noted, had ever served on active combat duty. But senior commanders did voice opposition to the Administration’s unconventional war plan. Of particular concern to these officers was the fact that the original plan called for an American invasion force of approximately 75,000-100,000 ground troops–about one-fifth the size of the force arrayed against Saddam Hussein in 1991. This number was considered dangerously inadequate by officers who had studied the Iraqi military and concluded that the Hussein regime was capable of mounting a stiff defense of Baghdad.