The Command Post
April 15, 2003
My 2 cents for the Next War

A Pro-War Blogger's List of US Errors in the War

Please don't take this as Monday morning quarterbacking, folks. These are errors that annoyed me the very moment they happened and were not deduced as errors with the benefit of hindsight. They are not so much military errors as they are PR errors with regards to playing the "expectations game".

    1) The term "Shock and Awe" should never have been used by any US official to describe the air campaign. When used, the term set the expectation bar so high that anything less than immediate capitulation on the part of Saddam's regime would look like a defeat for the US campaign. "Shock and Awe" was always too flippant to be used in any serious discussion of the military strategy and use of the term worked to our disadvantage.

    2) "Nasiriya (or Umm Qasr or Basra or Najaf) is now in control". Each time such a thing was said during the first week of the war, I cringed, knowing it was just a matter of hours before a US casualty came from that city and the pundits would have a field day. If I could see the cheap shots coming, why couldn't the Pentagon. It was always better to say that the situation in a particular city remained serious, rather than trying to nuance that city's particular level of safety.

    3) "Water and electricity will be turned on soon." Don't say it unless it is absolutely true. Cripes, my cable goes out for 15 minutes and I go nuts. Why are we expending large amounts of our "goodwill capital" and credibility with fanciful predictions on when basic services will return. If it is going to be two weeks, say two weeks and explain why.

    4) "Syria has chemical weapons". Can we PLEASE find the one's in Iraq first? Once we do, our credibility will be sky high and we'll be able to convince folks that the Pope has WMD. However, until we find the WMD in Iraq, let's keeping the finger pointing to a minimum.

Posted By PoliticaObscura at April 15, 2003 03:39 PM | TrackBack

I think we think that Sadaam hid his chemichal weapons in Syria.

Posted by: anon at April 15, 2003 03:54 PM

Just wanted to quickly respond to your post.

1. I'm beginning to think more and more that the term shock and awe is one of the biggest feints in military history. The problem with waging a military campaign against Iraq is the complete lack of surprise. The Pentagon built up the expectations of the air war up so high that it rope a doped the Iraqi's by starting the groud war BEFORE air war. "Shock and Awe" had the Iraqi military hunkered down. US blitzkreigs to the heart of Iraq while the Iraq's are waiting for the Shock and Awe " that never really comes. By the time US tanks are at the gates of Baghdad the Iraq's are too stunned to really do anything about it.
Anyway just a thought.

Posted by: John at April 15, 2003 04:33 PM

John, I think you're right. That and the fact that all other recent campaigns have been waged almost exclusively from the air gave the US military a definite surprise advantage.

Posted by: Malik23 at April 15, 2003 04:39 PM

Great points, PO. I agree completely.

I would add another: We needed a better vetting and PR process for WMD "finds." While I am of the school that Iraq's possession of WMDs was not a necessity for the prosecution of the war, public expectations were such that the military should have had a better plan in place to manage spurious reports of WMD finds. We will probably hear in the days ahead that some of the reports were false and some genuine -- I just think the issue could have been handled better.

Posted by: tim at April 15, 2003 04:39 PM

On the WMD "finds" - the official military spokesmen have always been very careful to point out "just the facts" - that we have preliminary positives, definitive testing in process, etc. It is the media that go off like a crack baby whose Ritalin prescription just ran out, and I don't think there is any way to "vet" what a free media says.

Posted by: T. Hartin at April 15, 2003 04:47 PM

PoliticaObscura, I agree with your points.

A couple of caveats, though. :)

On #2, I think part of the problem is that to the military "in control" has a rather precise and technical meaning that doesn't fit well with your average person's understanding. It certainly does not mean "the war is over hereabouts".

On #4, I'll agree with those that lay the blame for most of this on the media. The military has been very circumspect in what they have claimed. The Pentagon has always held that finding the WMD may well require much time, and active cooperation of insiders.

Upshot? Yeah, the Pentagon isn't that great at PR. Well, duh. :) In counterbalance, the overwhelmingly cynical and hypocritical attitude of the media means that, no matter what the military does, it will be very, very wrong. So I think the overall blame is at least as much on the media as the military.

It's not just the Europeans and the Arabs that need to do a lot of soul-searching. So does the media. Sadly, I don't think any of these groups are likely to do it. They're too happy with their delusions.

Posted by: DSmith at April 15, 2003 04:56 PM

John is right. There was quite a bit of the ol' psyops going on at the beginning. Even to the point of making a big show out of the test of the new MOAB mere weeks before the invasion. The film of the test and the not so subtle name (one borrowed from Saddam himself) was the mother of all PR stunts. And if I may say so, quite effective.

Posted by: BAM at April 15, 2003 05:00 PM

"Shock and Awe" is by its very nature something that comes *unexpectedly*. The PR buildup was necessary to try and intimidate Saddam into leaving. I think that was one of the cards that the Pentagon was playing. That's OK, but I agree that 'Shock and Awe' should have been set aside and some other descriptive phrase used.

Lastly, they should have taken Saddam out years ago. Too much blood was wasted on something that could have been done way back when - if not at the end of Gulf War I, then before or after, with stealth. I just don't believe that in the case of people like Saddam Hussein, that this should not be considered "Option #1" if they don't listen to reason. The same should have happened to Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and others like them, *before* things got out of control.

btw, I've been told that to 'take people out' like this amounts to state sponsored terrorism. Poppycock. Look at waht waiting and so-called diplomacy gets us with people like Saddam, *every time*. We need to wake up and do away with international outlaws, because that's just what they are, outlaws, working outside the boundaries of acceptable (though not yet fully formed) international boundaries. They violate the 'spirit' of international law (not to mention human decency), and should be eliminated.

It's as simple - and complicated - as that.

I trust that once a coordinated series of 'offings' were led by a coalition of the willing against thugs who run countries, they (the thugs) would think twice before starting actions that threaten the international community.

Posted by: opine at April 15, 2003 05:04 PM

In re "2)", this is a media problem. For example, the British announced they had control of the airport at Basra, the media pronounced that Basra was under our control and then spent days bitterly claiming the Brits had lied. Think of your local airport - is it located downtown? Logan Airport of Boston is "in" Boston - but across the harbor from downtown and many residential areas. Here in Providence, TFGreen airport is at least twenty miles from City Hall.

The media messed up, and then made it worse.

One thing has disturbed me, admittedly not until a cleric near Um Qasr asked about it but then I am not as smart or involved as the people in charge: local police. Things moved faster than expected, but even granting that I have seen no sign that there was an actual plan to get the police up and running: not even armbands to distribute from Kuwait, let alone vats of blue dye for the uniforms or how to contact our troops to get clearance to work.

Posted by: John Anderson at April 15, 2003 05:25 PM

The local police are a very mixed bag - some significant fraction of them are Baathist thugs. We need to be very careful reinstalling these people in positions of power.

Posted by: T. Hartin at April 15, 2003 07:01 PM

5. American troops should have been told not to fly the American flag in Iraq. It looks bad to to other Arabs, and the rest of the world. Lots of people would say they don't care, but it's important to understand that PR is a huge part of this war.

Posted by: Skeptical Steve at April 15, 2003 08:36 PM

The generals should have REQUIRED that the American flag be flown. The fact that we are still acting all namby-pamby about the war -- excuse us, we're so so so sorry we blew up some of your buildings and citizens, please forgive us, we really didn't mean it, etc. -- is NOT helping us win the REAL war, which is a battle against radical Islam, and the irrational elements in Arab culture. We should be being utterly ruthless. We should be crushing them completely. Instead, we are fostering more disrespect for the West by acting like we are sorry that they are so fucked up that we had to come in there and clean things up to protect ourselves.

Bring back WWII style mass bombings of cities and civilians, please. These people need to understand, like the Japanese and the Germans did, that the US is drawing a divinding line in history. They MUST now modernize their culture, or we WILL take them over completely and force them to do it.

Fly the flag and let the Arabs know, their era of irrationalism is over. America is here, and it is going to defend itself whatever it takes.

Posted by: Steve in BDA at April 15, 2003 08:48 PM

There are some other aspects to consider with
the benefit of hindsight.

The american technique of urban warfare needs
to be improved. The sheer weight of firepower method is very good when confronting a willing
army in the open. However much of the conflict was about liberation (not conquest), urban warfare and winning over the Iraqi people's minds.

The US military need to learn new techniques to avoid taking a sledgehammer to a nail and screwing up any PR initiatives with local Iraqis.

The real life example that springs to mind
was when US forces shelled a Bagdad building to get rid of a threat (and then advised their regrets of any loss of civilian life). In an almost identical situation in Basra, British paratroopers used stealth to enter the building and arrested everyone inside without
any loss of life (and therefore didn't have to regret any civilian losses).
Admittedly the Brits are the experts at this because of the experience in Northern Ireland but perhaps some of their techniques can be taught.

Check this out for the facts:

Posted by: Paul P at April 16, 2003 08:00 AM

T Hardin:

I agree that you can't "vet" what a free media says. That was not my point. The military has been careful to say nothing about the WMD "finds." That is part of the problem. If we know that it takes 2 weeks, 4 weeks, whatever to confirm a WMD find, we should be clear and state that for the press. Otherwise, you get rank speculation. If the military can't provide an answer immediately (which it can't) then we need to at least describe more of the process and timing for that process to be completed - otherwise you have a vacuum that the 4th estate will be glad to fill with material that sells newspapers.

Posted by: tim at April 16, 2003 08:24 AM

The WMD false reports as well as the PR for when we considered something in "control" are a media problem. Countless times you will see the media air a comment directly from the source and then within minutes it is changed to be a more general statement or portions of what is said are dropped which changes the meaning. I think they call this 'summing up'.

That is why the old saying applies, "take everything with a grain of salt"

Posted by: miss pepper at April 16, 2003 10:38 AM


Great link to interesting story. I hope the American military is paying attention to the British example in Basra and incorporating the lessons into urban combat training.

I'm reminded of Sun Tzu's saying:
" Know your enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle."

The American military should either get better at this kind of thing or learn to avoid it.

Posted by: Skeptical Steve at April 16, 2003 10:42 AM

Paul P at April 16, 2003 08:00 AM - A recent story says that the US and UK will meet to learn about each other's tactics. Sounds like someone heard you!

Posted by: John Anderson at April 16, 2003 06:34 PM

Among other things WMDs are suppose to be a deterrent to attack. Why would Saddam produce WMDs and the spirit them away to Syria?

If we independently find WMDs in Iraq what will that prove?

Why is the US against letting the UN inspectors find the WMDs?

Posted by: Anthony at April 16, 2003 07:43 PM
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