Why generals rejected Rumsfeld

The Generals’ complaints about Rumsfeld:

Batiste: “has repeatedly made strategic mistakes.”
Eaton: “incompetent strategically.”
Newbold:     “gross errors in strategy.”
Clark: “a strategic blunder.”
Zinni: “a flawed strategy in going in.”
Riggs: “totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict.”
Van Riper:   “His idea of transformation turns on empty buzz words. There’s none of the scholarship.”

Rumsfeld vs. the Generals:

The generals complain of micromanagement, arrogance, and Abu Ghraib, but the most devastating complaint is that his strategic incompetence won the war and lost the peace. The core of his strategy was “shock and awe,” but the transformation Van Riper refers to is a change of military doctrine. Rumsfeld switched from the military doctrine of Decisive Force (aka overwhelming force) to the new untested doctrine of Rapid Dominance, of which a key part is Shock and Awe. Many in the military criticized this from the start, and Rumsfeld claims they are just stodgy bureaucrats. But was Rumsfeld’s switch to Rapid Dominance (with S&A) a great idea or a strategic blunder? Rumsfeld struck out.

To make matters worse, Rumsfeld could not admit failure when it set in, and wasted valuable months in denial. In short, the Generals are right to revolt.

  • Rumsfeld pushed a war we didn’t really need, because he thought shock and awe would make it a cheap six-week war.
  • Rapid Dominance worked at the start, but the army concluded it did not necessarily work any better against Saddam than the old doctrine.
  • Rumsfeld took no precaution in case of failure, so when the “Dominance” part failed, a disastrous quagmire developed.

Rapid Dominance vs. Decisive Force

The six-week shock-and-awe strategy that “won” the Iraq war, was developed in the 1990’s. Before 9/11, the neocons argued it was the best strategy for their proposed invasion of Iraq, and Rumsfeld then adopted it for this purpose.

Rumsfeld’s mistake was to jettison all reliance on the traditional doctrine of Decisive Force and to rely solely on Rapid Dominance and its promise that:

Total mastery achieved at extraordinary speed and across tactical, strategic, and political levels will destroy the will to resist.

When Shock and Awe failed to achieve Dominance, he did not have the Decisive Force available to compensate. At first he simply denied the failure, hoping the insurgents would fade away and democracy emerge. Since then, a patchwork of tactics have been tested in vain attempts to compensate for Rumsfeld’s initial blunder.

NotesShock & Awe—The Book

The National Defense University, published Shock & Awein 1996. As an Air Force (review) explains, it advocated a Rapid Dominance doctrine using shock and awe to “replace or complement” the strategy of overwhelming force by exploiting the “revolutionary potential” of existing and emerging technologies. Rumsfeld chose the “replace” option, but as the reviewer warned: “Shock and Awe offers a new strategy built from assertion and speculation” and the authors’ warning that it must still confront the fog of war which “casts doubt on the feasibility of the entire concept.”

The shock and awe concept relies heavily on amateur psychology as illustrated by “When the video results of these attacks are broadcast in real time worldwide on CNN, the positive impact on coalition support and negative impact on potential threat support can be decisive.”    (Book’s short explanation of its proposal.)

From Book to Battlefield

“Rumsfeld, an early convert to the idea [shock and awe], was one of four former defense chiefs to sign a letter to the Clinton administration in 1999 spelling out the strategy.” —from CS Monitor, 1/30/2003.

The shock and awe campaign for the Iraq War was only annouced with this slide on the day the war started, March 19. It barely mentions it, but one reporter asked:
Q: I see on the list of concepts there “shock and awe.” What does it represent?
Crowder: That’s probably a really good question. … the effects that we are trying to create is to make it … so overwhelming at the very outset … that there is no real alternative here other than to fight and die or to give up. … But quite frankly, we really have little clear understanding of exactly what will happen. (full answer).

Did Shock and Awe Work?

According to a report (pdf) by Dr. Biddle of the Army War College:
Central finding: synergistic interaction between advanced technology and Iraqi ineptitude was necessary and sufficient for low-cost victory.
As explained in previous slides, this means (1) Iraqi ineptitude was necessary for success, and (2) speed was not necessary. In other words Rapid Dominance worked (initially) but the “Rapid” was not very critical, and it would not have worked very well without Iraqi ineptitude. It was not a bad strategy, but not a great strategy.
But, as everyone now knows it only worked on the easy part—knocking out Saddam. Unfortunately, the assumption, which came primarily from the neocons, was that the Iraqis would take care of the rest. Consequently, Rumsfeld had no plan at all for what came next. And, without Decisive Force, he did not have the resources to stabilize the country.

Rapid Dominance vs Decisive Force in the Shock-&-Awe Book
These structural realities [accelerating technological advances] are exciting and offer a major opportunity for real revolution and change if we are able and daring enough to exploit them. This, in turn, has led us to develop the concept of Rapid Dominance and its attendant focus on “Shock and Awe.” Rapid Dominance seeks to integrate these multifaceted realities and facts and apply them to the common defense at a time when uncertainty about the future is perhaps one of the few givens. We believe the principles and ideas underlying this concept are sufficiently compelling and different enough from current American defense doctrine encapsulated by “overwhelming or decisive force,” “dominant battlefield awareness,” and “dominant maneuver” to warrant closer examination. (p. x)