May 26, 2008
General Sanchez speaksBy Greg Richards
In the narrative on Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, our military commander in Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004 -- i.e., the first year of the occupation and the period that overlaps with Paul Bremer's tenure as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) -- is generally regarded as "part of the problem:" a military commander in the mold of William Westmoreland, meaning that he did not understand the nature of the problem he faced and consequently implemented an inadequate strategy.
Now we have General Sanchez' story in the form of his new book Wiser in Battle. And it is quite a story. Most illuminating. The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in his excellent book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, calls attention to the friction between Sanchez and Bremer. Sanchez expands on this, not denying it, but noting that it was related to two critical issues - Bremer's de-Baathification order and his order disbanding the Iraqi Army and all its ancillary command structures including the Ministry of Defense. These two orders dissolved the governing structures of Iraq. Sanchez, as the senior military official, disagreed with both of these actions as they upset programs the military was implementing to reintegrate the Iraqi Army and to work through the existing local government organizations, including teachers, engineers and so forth.
What is, to this reader, most interesting about General Sanchez' story is his discussion of the very peculiar command structure that we utilized for this national effort in the first year of the occupation. If former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld writes his memoirs, perhaps we will find out what the theory of command was that he used in Iraq.
To understand the situation, one has to know a bit of vocabulary:
The combat phase of the war ends in April 2003. In May 2003, something very peculiar happens -- the Pentagon transfers all the experienced leadership out of the theater! General Franks, after issuing an order to draw down the force in Iraq to 30,000 from 150,000 by August 2003, retires. Centcom is packed up in Kuwait and goes back to Tampa. So General Franks and Centcom are gone.
General McKiernan and his CFLCC headquarters "dream team" of Middle East experts, including specialists in strategy and politics, are transferred out of theater.
General Wallace is transferred out of theater.
So, the war-winning team and our best Middle East expertise are all transferred out of theater in May 2003!
General Sanchez receives two promotions in quick succession. He is promoted to three-star rank and takes over 5th Corps from General Wallace. Within the same month - May 2003 - he is promoted to command the newly named Coalition Joint Task Force 7 (CJTF7), the successor to CFLCC, while retaining his new three-star rank.
CJTF7 under Sanchez is a three-star billet - important in the military because a three-star general has fewer people in the chain of command with whom he can communicate than a does a four-star general - and it is commanded by the most junior three-star general in the Army, and one with virtually no experience in Iraq!
What, one wonders, was the theory behind these changes when Iraq was such a critical part - "the central front" in the words of President Bush - in the War on Terror? If Teddy Roosevelt had built the Panama Canal this way, we would still be digging. Perhaps the managers in Washington simply had no clue as to the magnitude of the job they had undertaken. But if so, that would suggest that they took a lax attitude to their duties, given (a) the stakes for the country, (b) the sacrifices of the troops and (c) the collapse of Iraqi society - four million(!) refugees, nearly 15% of the population flees after the insurgency takes hold.
It is hard to understand, given the magnitude of the defense budget, how Secretary Rumsfeld could have thought it was effective to be so parsimonious with leadership resources on the greatest project then being undertaken by the military. What were the leadership resources being saved for if not a shooting war?
During the same period, on the civilian side, which was also under the command of the Secretary of Defense by a Presidential Directive signed in January 2003, Jay Garner, our first civilian chief, is replaced after a month by Jerry Bremer. This is a significant change because Garner was executing an Iraqi-participatory / quick election strategy - what could be called a "light footprint strategy" - while Bremer implemented an occupation strategy where the U.S. took over responsibility for the functions of the Iraqi government and military by virtue of dissolving both. This could be called a "heavy footprint strategy," but no additional forces were assigned to the theater as a concomitant of it!
And we have one more very startling thing that General Sanchez discusses -- CJTF7, under General Sanchez, is extremely understaffed! According to Sanchez and subsequent investigations, during his tenure -- i.e., for our first year in Iraq -- CJTF7 headquarters was never more than 50% staffed, meaning that it was short about 600 officers. This meant that General Sanchez was assigned the entire military command in Iraq, our most important active theater, with a grotesquely understaffed headquarters! And this during a time when there was no emergency in the United States. What were the officers not assigned to CJTF7 being saved for?
We have the questions from General Sanchez -- why was the experienced leadership transferred out of Iraq in May 2003, leaving him with an understaffed headquarters lacking strategic and political expertise at just the time when Garner's light footprint strategy was discarded for Bremer's heavy footprint strategy? We will have to await the memoirs of Secretary Rumsfeld to find out the answer. However, it is pretty clear that if our major national ventures of the last century - the Panama Canal, World War I, the Manhattan Project (the atomic bomb), World War II, the Interstate Highway System - had been managed in the same manner as the Iraq War, we would not be the country we are today.
Wiser in Battle is a very important book, a game changer.