Streetwise Professor

January 10, 2010

Amateurs Talk Tactics, Professionals Talk Logistics

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:34 am

The NYT reports that “senior administration officials” are angry at the military for its alleged slowness in deploying for the Afghanistan “surge”:

Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon’s slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday.

Tensions over the deployment schedule have been growing in recent weeks between senior White House officials — among them Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gen.James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff — and top commanders, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan.

A rapid deployment is central to President Obama’s strategy, to have a jolt of American forces pound the Taliban enough for Afghan security forces to take over the fight. Administration officials said that part of the White House frustration stemmed from the view that the longer the American military presence in Afghanistan continued, the more of a political liability it would become for Mr. Obama. But beyond the politics, the speeded up deployment — which Mr. Obama paired with a promise to begin troop withdrawals by July 2011 — is part of Mr. Obama’s so-called “bell curve” Afghanistan strategy, whereby American troops would increase their force in Afghanistan and step up attacks meant to quickly take out insurgents.

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said.

So, is Obama a latter-day Lincoln, and McChrystal a 21st century McClellan, with the former justifiably frustrated by the latter’s case of the “slows”?

I seriously doubt it.  The italicized portion above suggests that political considerations are paramount here.  What’s more, previous reporting on Obama’s decision making quite clearly suggests that these political considerations completely overshadowed any rational consideration of military realities:

“If people are having trouble swallowing 40, let’s see if we can make this smaller and easier to swallow and still give the commander what he needs,” a senior Defense official said, summarizing the secretary’s thinking.

The plan, called Option 2A, was presented to the president on Nov. 11. Mr. Obama complained that the bell curve would take 18 months to get all the troops in place.

He turned to General Petraeus and asked him how long it took to get the so-called surge troops he commanded in Iraq in 2007. That was six months.

“What I’m looking for is a surge,” Mr. Obama said. “This has to be a surge.”

So, since the Iraq surge was able to get everything in place in six months, it must be so in Afghanistan, right?

Let’s see.

Iraq: relatively developed country; accessible by sea; moderately modern infrastructure; not mountainous; no major seasonal weather problems; near large US logistical bases in Kuwait.

Afghanistan: arguably the world’s least-developed country; landlocked; no infrastructure to speak of; mountainous; daunting winters; completely isolated from any major US support bases.

Sound pretty much the same to me!  If six months is good for one, it must be good for the other!  Six months it is then!

The post title is a well-worn military aphorism.  Campaigns succeed or fail more often than not on logistical considerations.  The examples are too numerous to list.  Moreover, logistical realities cannot be wished away, and these realities are probably more daunting in Afghanistan than in anywhere in the world.  Regardless of whether Obama’s need for speed derived from a laudable desire to take the initiative, or from a crass political calculation (more likely in my view), it is foolish in the extreme to ignore the fundamental logistical constraints.  And the NYT articles lend strong support to the view that Obama did just that.

The administration might also get more sympathy about the time factor if Obama had himself acted expeditiously and decisively in deciding on his course in Afghanistan, instead of playing Hamlet for months.

The military seems to be playing it cynically.  McChyrstal and Petraeus are aggressive commanders, and there is no reason to believe that they were taking an unnecessarily leisurely course when they planned for an 18 month deployment period.  Instead, it is highly likely that they chose that schedule based on a professional, realistic understanding of the logistical constraints.  Faced with the stark choice of Obama pulling the plug on Afghanistan altogether if they stuck to their timeline, or getting his (grudging) acquiescence to an accelerated deployment, they chose the latter.  They probably figured that the iron laws of logistics would eventually rule, and that the “bell curve” would be pushed back beyond what Obama desired, but that since the president had committed, he could not bail.

This cannot end well.  There was never much chance that the Pentagon and Obama and his minions would ever be comfortable with one another.  They inhabit different mental universes.  But a military convinced that the president is a military neophyte who lets domestic political needs override fundamental military considerations, and a president and administration who are convinced that the military is defying the president’s will is an extremely poisonous combination.

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  1. At least Obama is light skinned and has no negro dialect. He asked, not axed for my support

    Comment by Harry Reid — January 10, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  2. […] Streetwise Professor writes that Afghanistan is causing conflict between the Obami and the Pentagon. The NYT reports […]

    Pingback by Pickerhead :: Pickings from the Webvine ::January 14, 2010 — December 4, 2011 @ 6:12 am

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