Either I’m losing it, or the law of averages has finally caught up with California Senator Barbara Boxer. Mizz Boxer has made a congressional career out of opposing anything good for our military, often sponsoring the most noxious “reforms” to impose feminism or stylish business practices on the Pentagon. When I found myself agreeing with her twice in ten days, I went back to figure out where I’d gone wrong.
I think I’m okay on the first issue. I have long supported arming commercial pilots, and now Sen. Boxer — not exactly a Second Amendment stalwart — has come out in favor of it. Congress may finally be coming to the conclusion that it would be better for a pilot to shoot a hijacker than to have an F-16 shoot down the airliner. Last week, Mrs. Boxer demanded the resignation of Army Secretary Thomas White. White and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Shinseki have been the most stubborn opponents of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s plan to modernize our armed services. Rumors of one or the other being fired surface about twice a month. When I first heard Boxer call for him to go, I thought he and Boxer had conspired to save his job. Anyone Boxer wanted to fire obviously had to be saved.
Mrs. Boxer demands that White resign because he was a senior Enron executive at the time Enron was involved in energy trading deals that California governor Gray Davis blames for California’s energy crisis. This is pretty rich coming from a lady who, while a member of the House of Representatives, kited about 140 checks worth over $41,000. Please, Babs, no more lectures on business ethics.
Nevertheless, Mizz Boxer is right that White should go. Not because of Enron, but because the Army is fighting tooth and nail against Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s transformation of the military. Because the Army’s resistance now threatens to affect the war against Iraq, it is time for White and Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki to go before their intransigence leaves our forces stranded on the banks of the Euphrates River.
Months ago, the White House leaked the so-called Downing Plan, named for now-former presidential adviser Gen. Wayne Downing. It called for a quick and exceptionally violent campaign that used pretty much all the special forces we have, plus air power, Marine and Army ground troops, and capitalized on Iraqi expatriates to seize the oil fields intact while we took out Saddam’s few real loyalists. This approach, which is very much the right one, makes it a war of liberation, not conquest. It minimizes both the number of American troops on the ground and damage to Iraq’s people and economy.
Then came the leaks of Gen. Tommy Franks’s plan that calls for massive, heavy ground forces to invade Iraq from Kuwait. In early July, the New York Times published the contents of a classified “concept of operations” paper that showed a combination of the Downing and Franks plans. The story surrounding it said that some of the Joint Chiefs were opposing the whole idea of taking Saddam out. Just this past weekend, there were more reports of senior generals opposing the war and advocating a “containment” strategy that plainly ignores the reality of the situation. My sources tell me that much of this heavy opposition is coming from the Army.
There are two fatal flaws in the Franks war plan. First, you can’t gather an army of 250,000 men, together with all their tanks, helicopters and other tools of war, without someone noticing. This gives Saddam time to launch missiles at Israel. The war timetable then is his, not ours. Second, Saddam may be a terrorist and despot, but he ain’t stupid. And he can read a map. To get Gen. Franks’s quarter of a million men and tanks from Kuwait to Baghdad, you have to cross the Euphrates River, which is bridged at about six points. Saddam’s forces have already rigged those bridges to be destroyed at a moment’s notice, and if they are destroyed before the tanks get there, Gen. Franks and his army will be stalled on the west bank of the river indefinitely. The whole war could be stalled for weeks or months until someone figures out how to get those tanks across. The last time we tried to build a big bridge like that, in Bosnia, it took six weeks to build one bridge.
Mr. Rumsfeld knows all this. He also knows that the Franks plan depends on having three to six months to form, train and deploy the army divisions that would make up most of the force. The dirty little secret is that the Army can’t do it faster, because it’s not organized into combat groups that can be deployed rapidly. Gen. Shinseki and Mr. White preside over a force that is designed to sit in garrison, not move and fight.
The president has apparently decided to delay the Iraq campaign until after the November elections, to avoid being accused of “wagging the dog.” That may be a good decision for no other reason than it gives Mr. Rumsfeld time to straighten out the White/Shinseki mess. This is the biggest problem facing Mr. Rumsfeld right now, and he seems strangely unwilling to deal with it. I’ll bet a bottle of scotch that the president doesn’t even know the seriousness of the problem. Mr. Rumsfeld needs to tell his boss about it, and then go fix it.
If the Army isn’t ready when Dubya says go, Mr. Rumsfeld will have failed the president. Messrs. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are two of the best we’ve ever had in Fort Fumble. But if they don’t fix the Army problem now, while there’s time, Dubya will have to fire both of them. That occasion should never arise. White and Shinseki should be given thirty days to change their act, and fired promptly if they don’t. When they are fired, the White replacement should be a political who has Rumsfeld’s confidence, and is committed to convert the army to modern warfare. Shinseki’s replacement should be chosen from among the one-star and two-star generals. Someone who is a real warfighter, and is probably regarded as a heretic. A guy who doesn’t want this Army to sit in garrison, and who wants it to fight. Find that guy and put him in charge, or when the Boss says “go,” be ready to clean out your desk.