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Rummy’s Failed War Plan

In October 2002, the New York Times reported that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the military’s regional commanders to rewrite all of their war plans to capitalize on precision weapons, better intelligence and speedier deployment in the event the United States decided to invade Iraq, ignoring concerns from career military officials that American military forces will suffer a huge number of casualties under Rumsfeld’s plan.

Rumsfeld denied, in an Oct. 12, 2002 interview with the New York Times, a copy of which is posted on the Department of Defense website, that he overrode requests by military brass to deploy more ground troops in Iraq. But in the interview he told the Times that the cornerstone of the war plan against Iraq was to use fewer ground troops, a move that angered some in the military who said concern for the troops requires overwhelming numerical superiority to assure victory, the Times reported in its Oct. 13, 2002 edition.

Those military officials said Rumsfeld’s approach was risky because it injected too much risk into war planning and would result in U.S. casualties that might be prevented by amassing larger forces. Nineteen months and more than 1,100 casualties later, the bulk of the Iraq war plan Rumsfeld championed may be the Bush administration’s second biggest blunder of Operation Iraqi Freedom, next to Iraq’s non-existent stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, U.S. soldiers continue to get picked off on a daily basis, due, in large part, to Rumsfeld’s failed war plan.

Despite grave concerns from top military officers, Rumsfeld refused to listen to his military commanders, Pentagon officials told the Washington Post in March 2003.

Rumsfeld said in 2002 that his war plan would allow “the military to begin combat operations on less notice and with far fewer troops than thought possible ­ or thought wise ­ before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,” the Times reported.

“Looking at what was overwhelming force a decade or two decades ago, today you can have overwhelming force, conceivably, with lesser numbers because the lethality is equal to or greater than before” Rumsfeld told the Times.

The speedier use of smaller and more agile forces also could provide the president with time to order an offensive against Iraq, Rumsfeld said.

The new approach for how the U.S. might go to war, Rumsfeld said about six months prior to the Iraq war, reflects an assessment of the need after Sept. 11 to refresh war plans continuously and to respond faster to threats from terrorists and nations possessing biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, according to the Times.

Rumsfeld first laid the groundwork for a U.S. led invasion of Iraq shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Like his well-known, “Rumsfeld’s rules,” a collection of wisdom he has compiled over three decades on how to succeed in Washington, Rumsfeld’s checklist used the same methodical approach to determining when U.S. military force should be used in the event of war against Iraq.

Rumsfeld kept the checklist tucked away in his desk drawer at the Pentagon. Since March 2002, when it became clear that the Bush administration was leaning toward using military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, Rumsfeld added what he said were important elements to the checklist to ensure the U.S. would be prepared for a full-scale war. But Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration never lived up to the promises laid out in the checklist when the U.S. military launched the war in Iraq in March 2003. For example:

Casualties. Rumsfeld says the public “should not be allowed to believe an engagement could be executed . . . with few casualties.” Yet the president and Rumsfeld didn’t prepare Americans for major casualties. Bush warned in an Oct. 7 speech in Cincinnati that “military action could be difficult” and that there is no “easy or risk-free course of action.”

Risks. Rumsfeld warns that the risks of taking action “must be carefully considered” along with the dangers of doing nothing. The administration has repeatedly made the case against inaction ­ the possibility that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons and strike the U.S. But it has not been equally candid about the dangers of action.

Honesty. Rumsfeld urges U.S. leadership to be “brutally honest with itself, Congress, the public and coalition partners.” Yet the administration has not produced compelling evidence to support its claims that Saddam is linked to al-Qaeda terrorists, is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons or intends to strike the U.S. To the contrary, the CIA has played down Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda and a possible first strike.

Rumsfeld said too many of the military plans on the shelves of the regional war-fighting commanders were freighted with outdated assumptions and military requirements, which have changed with the advent of new weapons and doctrines.

It has been a mistake, he said, to measure the quantity of forces required for a mission and “fail to look at lethality, where you end up with precision-guided munitions, which can give you 10 times the lethality that a dumb weapon might, as an example,” according to the Times report.

Through a combination of pre-deployments, faster cargo ships and a larger fleet of transport aircraft, the military would be able to deliver “fewer troops but in a faster time that would allow you to have concentrated power that would have the same effect as waiting longer with what a bigger force might have,” Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld’s critics in the military said in late 2002 there were several reasons to deploy a force of overwhelming numbers before starting any offensive with Iraq. Large numbers illustrate U.S. resolve and can intimidate Iraqi forces into laying down their arms or even turning against Hussein’s government.

Large numbers in the region also would be required should the initial offensive go badly. Also, once victory is at hand, it might require an even larger force to pacify Iraq and search for weapons of mass destruction than it took to topple Hussein.

According to defense department sources, Rumsfeld at first insisted that vast air superiority and a degraded Iraqi military would enable 75,000 U.S. troops to win the war. Gen. Tommy Franks, the theater commander-in-chief, convinced Rumsfeld to send 250,000 (augmented by 45,000 British).

While Army officers would have preferred a larger commitment, even what was finally approved for Operation Iraqi Freedom was reduced when the 4th Infantry Division was denied Turkey as a base to invade northern Iraq. The Defense and State departments point fingers. Secretary of State Colin Powell is criticized for not flying to Ankara to convince the Turkish government. The Pentagon is criticized for not immediately dispatching the division via the Red Sea, reported conservative columnist Bob Novak in late 2002.

To the critics who said before the Iraq war that Rumsfeld accepted too much risk in U.S. war planning, Rumsfeld responded by saying he had ordered rigorous reviews and was satisfied with his new war plan. “We are prepared for the worst case,” Rumsfeld told the Times.

JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com