Why Didn't The U.S. Capture and Disarm the Iraqi Army?

As U.S. troops are even still periodically attacked and killed, the question that needs to be asked is “Why didn’t the U.S. capture and disarm the Iraqi army?” Arguably, the Secretary of Defense’s fascination with an intellectual theory, Neo Conservatism, caused our military to pursue a war plan which ignored perhaps the two most basic rules of invasion: first you capture the other side’s army, then you take away their weapons. U.S. troops are dying because of the intellectual arrogance of our Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld.

When our country first began debating the possible invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff predicted that several hundred thousand troops would be required for the invasion and occupation, and that we should expect a significant number of troops to remain in Iraq for an extended period of time.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and several civilian political appointees to the Pentagon are proponents of a school of thought referred to as “Neo Conservatism”. The Neo Conservatives maintain that the United States’ vast superiority in military technology had changed the rules of warfare, and that the U.S. Military’s assumptions and policies were outdated. The Neo Conservatives believed that we could use advanced technologies and strategic air power to quickly and overwhelmingly bring an enemy to its knees. Our military power would so shock and awe the other side that we could achieve a fast and resounding victory, substantially lessening the number of U.S. troops necessary and at risk.

The Neo Conservatives believed that the traditional military had substantially overestimated the number of U.S. troops which would be needed for Iraq, based on the old rules and old way of thinking, and that our technology would allow us to achieve our goals with far fewer U.S. soldiers. Further, the Neo Cons believed that the Army’s extreme conservatism could derail the war altogether. If the war plan was based on an assumption that several hundred thousand troops would be needed, and would have to be in Iraq for years, then the actual cost of the invasion would be hundreds of billions of dollars, not tens of billions. The Neo Conservatives were rightly concerned that at this price tag the U.S. public would be substantially less willing to support the invasion.

In formulating the Iraq war plan, Rumsfeld was faced with a choice. Should he listen to the traditional Military or to the Neo Conservative intellectuals? The intellectuals won – the Chief of Staff was fired. Rumsfeld chose to take the advice of people who in most cases had never even put on a military uniform over the advice of the U.S. Military, the army which has been defending our nation for over 200 years.

Technology has certainly changed warfare over the centuries. When the longbow was first introduced, it gave the side with longbows a decided advantage, and changed strategies. Cruise missiles and smart bombs substantially improve our ability to target and kill our enemies, and have also impacted strategy. Historically each advance in technology has created a force imbalance, making it easier for the first side with the technology to win in battle.

But ultimately no technology can change the physical reality of war. War is still fought by two or more sides for control of a region or country. The side that currently controls the region or country will do everything it can to maintain that control. It is not too much of a stretch to say that this physical reality has remained unchanged for thousands of years; military strategists still read and learn from “The Art of War”, written over 2,000 years ago.

It is these physical realities that control what is possible and what is necessary when a country decides to invade another country, that still define the rules of war. And the two most basic rules, unchanged throughout history, are: first you capture the other side’s army, then you take away their weapons. Because if you don’t, the other side will keep on trying to kill you. It is hard to overstate how universal these two rules have been in almost every successful invasion throughout history.

When the U.S. Army Chief of Staff made his projections, he was assuming that the U.S. would want to capture and disarm the Iraq army. He was assuming that the U.S. military would follow the same rules of war that it had used in every other conflict we had fought, and were the historic norm.

When Secretary Rumsfeld and his civilian advisors developed a war plan based on a much lower number of troops, these were the rules they thought would be invalidated by our technology. They did not believe it would be necessary to capture and disarm the Iraq army, and so our war plan did not include enough troops to do so. Even today, there are hundreds if not thousands of munitions dumps unguarded in Iraq. Every day U.S. troops are attacked on average more than 20 times, with many of the attacks by Iraqi troops we didn’t bother to capture using Iraqi arms we didn’t bother to seize. Think about that. Imagine if we had invaded Nazi Germany, but didn’t bother to take the weapons away from the Nazis.

We still don’t have enough troops in Iraq to guard the weapons dumps we have identified – the Secretary of Defense still has not adjusted. And since we aren’t bothering to take these weapons away from them, it is safe to assume that Iraqis will continue to use them to attack and kill U.S. troops. This is the tragedy of Neo Conservatism. The Iraqi war will cost us hundreds of billions more than the Neo Conservatives estimated, for sure. But proving Neo Conservatism wrong isn’t just costing money. It is also costing the lives of U.S. soldiers. U.S. troops are dying to prove an intellectual concept wrong.

Posted by at March 1, 2004 11:20 PM