Max Boot: I Was Wrong About Easy Victory

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Until recently, former Wall Street Journal editorial page editor, now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and neoconservative fellow traveler was predicting easy victory in Iraq.
He’s now writing “In Our Enemies Aren’t Drinking Lattes” that the Pentagon’s concern with logistics is overwhelming its ability to fight and win:

‘Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” That well-worn saying, sometimes attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley, contains an obvious element of wisdom. Modern militaries cannot fight without a lengthy supply chain, and the success or failure of major operations can turn on the work of anonymous logisticians.
Yet there is a danger of professional soldiers becoming so focused on supply lines that they lose sight of larger strategic imperatives. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we may already have crossed that threshold.
In the past few months, I have traveled across U.S. Central Command’s area of operations — a vast domain stretching from the deserts of Arabia to the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Everywhere, I have found massive bases fortified with endless rows of concrete barriers and stocked with every convenience known to 21st century Americans.
Some front-line units continue to operate out of spartan outposts where a hot meal is a luxury and flush toilets unknown. But growing numbers of troops live on giant installations complete with Wal-Mart-style post exchanges, movie theaters, swimming pools, gyms, fast-food eateries (Subway, Burger King, Cinnabon) and vast chow halls offering fresh-baked pies and multiple flavors of ice cream. Troops increasingly live in dorm-style quarters (called “chews,” for “containerized housing units”) complete with TVs, mini-refrigerators, air conditioning/heating units and other luxuries unimaginable to previous generations of GIs.

Boot is in as indirect a way as possible admitting he was wrong. He was one of many neocons who egged on the war in Iraq and who failed to question whether our post-Cold War military machine was ready to handle the challgenge of an occupied Iraq — and who saw no downside to America running off into what some perceived to be a crusade with no specified engame.
Now, he’s blaming the logisticians — not those who failed to consider the reality of America’s force structure today. Nothing in Boot’s analysis was not obvious several years ago.
Perhaps he is just on the verge of waking up. Then again. . .
— Steve Clemons

Comments

34 comments on “Max Boot: I Was Wrong About Easy Victory

  1. online community says:

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    Reply

  2. Michael Turner says:

    Yeah, a buck’s a buck. More important, it’s a buck that stops back in the U.S, in most cases.
    A foreign-adventures war has many virtues in propping up the legitimacy of a weak polity, but not least among them is economic stimulus. All the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over how much is being spent comes from ignoring the fact that most Iraq/Afghanistan war spending boomerangs straight back into the U.S. — it’s Keynesian stimulus. Of course, no politician with a sense of political self-preservation will cite figures about how many U.S. civilian jobs it takes to support one U.S. GI in the war zones, and what a great thing that is for sputtering economy like ours. That would make it too nakedly obvious: pampering our troops keeps the recruitment rates from plummeting, and maintaining recruitment rates generates umpteen jobs for each recruit, and everybody in Congress gets their share. You can’t say that over a coffin, can you? War is politics by violent means, all politics is local, and each generated job is in some local district. “Spoils of war” isn’t always about looting and pillaging. Sometimes it’s about the unsaid.
    I don’t know where Max Boot is coming from in all this wanking about how pampered our troops are. But who really cares? His line of thinking is destined to echo from within a dumpster in a back alley: “If you’d only done it MY way …” It’s the naive notion that war can be nobler than politics, when in fact war is just a special case of politics, at every level.

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  3. Jon Stopa says:

    “Those permanent bases are part and parcel to the scheme being played out. Does anyone think we’re going to pour a few hundred thousand yards of concrete in the desert and walk away from it?”
    Why not? As long as contractors are paid, what does it matter? I mean, a buck’s a buck.

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  4. Steve Clemons says:

    Folks — I hope you realize that my headline on the Max Boot post is tongue in cheek. Boot does not express in his oped that he was wrong. There is just an implication that he was wrong as he did not anticipate one of the strutural realities of America’s modern military — and it was obvious as strongly on September 10, 2001 — as any time since. So, I’m not pardoning Max Boot; I’m highlighting that he was in fact incorrect on the war — and thought that his oped on logistics was worthy of some study.
    Best regards,
    Steve Clemons

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  5. Carroll says:

    Boot gets no pardon.
    A card laid is a card played.
    Hang all the neo’s.

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  6. The Confidence Man says:

    Some folks say — and I don’t agree with ’em — but some folks say that the Middle East ain’t ready for Cinnabon. That you can’t just impose Cinnabon on a country. But those folks are wrong. ‘Cuz Cinnabon is on the march!

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  7. Den Valdron says:

    Seven things that the lord hates even more!!!
    1) Heisenberg’s fourth equation regarding distributed randomness.
    2) Combovers
    3) People constantly bothering him with their orgasms, okay, he gets it, enough already. Enjoy them in privacy, dammit!
    4) False witnesses who speak truth, because they confuse everything dammit.
    5) The Olsen twins.
    6) That guy who keyed his car last thursday.
    7) Waffles, there’s just something unnatural about them.

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  8. elementary teacher says:

    Jennifer, I can’t let you bring God into this without a proper citation. Start here to liquidate any further notions of privatized piety:
    There are seven things the Lord hates. Yes, these are an abomination to God:
    1. A proud look
    2. A lying tongue
    3. Hands that shed innocent blood
    4. A heart that devises wicked plans
    5. Feet that are swift in running to evil
    6. A false witness who speaks lies
    7. One who sows dischord among brethren
    Proverbs 6: 16-19

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  9. Pissed Off American says:

    You all make it WAAAAAY too complicated. The simple truth is that we were lied into a war that had as its ultimate goal the THEFT of the Iraqi assets through their privatization, facilitated by the installment of a puppet government with Ahmed Chalabi at its helm. The mistake, if you choose to call it that, was sending someone as woefully inept as Bremer to institute the policies, and to install the correct “provisions” in the the interim consititution that would make our thefts binding and irreversable. If there is any one factor or entity that derailed the Neo-con’s design for a privatized Iraq, whose assets were to be sold off to the highest bidders on the international auction block, it was Sistani’s shrewd perusal of the first draft of the interim constitution. Simply put, he caught us with our fingers in the cookie jar. THATS when it fell apart. There was no contingency plan, and chaos has ensued.
    But is it a “failure” from the standpoint of the neo-cons goals? Not yet, by a long shot. The chaos in Iraq could well work in the FAVOR of us eventually ripping them off. As long as the so called “insurgency” is tearing Iraq apart the Shiite majority cannot establish the foundation for stable governance, nor can Iran excert the influence it wishes to in forming a Shiite theocracy founded under Sharia law. Under the smoke screen of the insurgency, assasinations become camoflauged as “sectarian” attacks, and back alley machinations and manipulations go un-noticed and unchecked. You can bet that both the CIA and the Mossad are slithering and slimeing throughout this apparent mess, trying to channel and steer events and alliances in a direction that closely resembles their original design for Iraq.

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  10. fayth 'ope says:

    Nihilists! Nihilists! All Nihilists!

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  11. ES says:

    I feel that I was a little too hard on Mr. Boot in my earlier comment. Though I think he is totally off base, he does strike a chord in which I think he is correct about – he just makes a generalization and blames the wrong people. Instead of making comments to why AAFES and the cost-plus contract the LSA services are provided under, he sets the blame at the feet of the military’s logisticians. AAFES (Always And Forever Exploiting Soldiers), also known as the military mafia, has and will continue to use their capitalistic endeavors to make a buck off the servicemen and women through the post/base exchanges and the fast food eateries. LSA contractors, by the way KBR is the big one providing these services for the US military right now, is also trying to make a buck off the servicemen and women; but they do so through the services that they provide – dining halls, MWR, housing, and so forth. The military is not directly per se is not in charge of these items, regardless on how Boot tries to paint the picture. I am disappointed that these other shareholders are not held as accountable as the military logisticians are.
    May be today’s servicemen are given too many luxuries in the field, but to ask the same men and women to sacrifice more for this conflict is just too much. It is estimated that 0.1% of the population in the US is directly supporting GWOT. After three and four years into the war, the servicemen and women are now on their second, third, and fourth deployments from their home and families. The really unsung heroes in this war are the reserve and guard units who are pulled from their civilian lives to exist in some third-rate hole-in-the-wall place. We ask a lot of our servicemen and women, but even more so to sacrifice some comforts when both politicians and civilian folk back home get to put yellow ribbon magnets on the backs of their cars and give verbal affirmations on how they ‘support’ the troops. I wonder how many of these men and women back home would like to live in a hostile situation when he/she would have to find ways of hiding from 100 – 120 degree days, surviving on a diet of MRE and T-RATs, and living without comforts such as a bed and a warm/cool shower? To top it off, today’s soldiers are not asked to do the same thing as the soldiers from WW1, WW2, and Korean Conflict. If Mr. Boot could for a moment think about it, today’s soldiers are in a phase IV situation which is different than actually trying to remove enemy soldiers from battlespace these other wars were about.
    Criticism is good to help find identify where short-comings are and address those failings, but it is something different to start to lay a foundation the military is at fault for the lack of strategic victories because the soldiers have it so much better than the soldiers in previous generations. It is also too much to ask our servicemen to live the light infantry way of life ALL THE TIME – living in shit conditions is neither masculine nor particularly heroic. To be blunt, it sucks, and it sucks big time. One does what he must do to complete his mission – it is a short-term sacrifice. It is another to ask to live in miserable situations all the time.
    Mr. Boot’s time would be better spent figuring out blame by looking at the strategic points of the war, especially those before the march into Baghdad began.

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  12. bakho says:

    “Foreign-policy experts have never been in so much agreement about an administration’s performance abroad,” says Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and an index participant. “The reason is that it’s clear to nearly all that Bush and his team have had a totally unrealistic view of what they can accomplish with military force and threats of force.”
    http://web1.foreignpolicy.com/issue_julyaug_2006/TI-index/index.html

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  13. Jennifer says:

    jetsam, you are totally wrong. I’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds of movies where the good guys always win, we being the good guys, when fighting for the highest ideals, like Freedom. All that is needed is to be fighting for high ideals and the righteous goodness of those ideals will make it inevitable that they overcome all obstacles in their way through Providence. Deus ex machina. America is the vehicle for God’s will being done on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is what the president sees and the neocons just pressed the right buttons as pre-ordained by God’s plan for this mission. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

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  14. jetsam says:

    Right. Blaming anything for this debacle except the sheer stupidity of the idea avoids the truth of the matter and fails to place the blame squarely at the feet of the neocons who are ideologically responsible for seducing a mentally deficient president in these matters. Fantasy met reality in Iraq.

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  15. yvette says:

    The war was lost with the first fuckin’ genius who had the idea that the Americans were going to occupy Bahgdad/Iraq. Not one of the billion+ Muslims worldwide want them there and hope for them to be well bloodied before and during their departure. Add to this the billion non-Muslims hoping for the same just rewards for an unnecessary, illegal and immoral attack that was based on lies.
    There is no word strong enough for the stupidity of the American government and its people unless it’s called evil. This is evidently a case where stupidity was so extreme that it morphs into evil.

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  16. Con George-Kotzabasis says:

    All the post-mortems of what went wrong with the war, whether misplaced logistics or force structures were the cause, are completely inadequate and miss the mark, because they carelessly omit from their analyses the main cause of the fault lines, i.e., the failure of US stategy to SEIZE THE MOMENT, that is lucidly expressed in the latin maxim, carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. The cardinal errors in indiscriminately disbanding Saddam’s army, in delaying the formation of an interim government, and the legitimacy and consolidation of the latter by the immediate historic announcement to the Iraqi people that they would be the major equity holders of the oil assets of the country. And that it is not a promise for the future but a present benefit, would have been shown by the immediate advanced payment of dividends to each Iraqi household, calculated from the future year’s profits accruing from its sales. This advanced payment would have been financed either by the IMF or The World Bank. Such a strategy would have had three important outcomes. First, it would unassailably had consolidated the legitimacy of the interim government among Iraqis, secondly, it would effectively had prevented the rise of the insurgency, and thirdly, it would had placed Iraq on the track of a peaceful political and economic development. ( These proposals were sent by the author of this post, to President Bush, and to The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on August, 2003.)
    The US should not have feared, that by keeping Saddam’s defeated army intact-with only minor dismissals of the hardline supporters of the regime-there could arise like a phoenix from the ashes of Saddam, a new dictator that could threaten the US occupation. The Iraqi military had too much respect for, and were in awe by, US power to have considered another confrontation with the US in the aftermath of Saddam’s devastating defeat. On the contrary, Iraq’s military would have been proud to have served as EQUAL “partners” with the US occupying power, in the building of their country.
    It was this failure of US strategy to seize the moment, that brought in its wake all the subsequent difficulties and reverses. But, notwithstanding these errors of judgment and reverses, the war will be won if the American leadership and its people stand firm in the face of these reverses while correcting the mistakes. But, regrettably and tragically, at a higher cost in lives and matériel.

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  17. Roger says:

    Nothing but the best when your credit card’s got an adjustable $9 Trillion limit, and generations to come will pay, or not.

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  18. bakho says:

    The military strategists are not in charge. The politicians are in charge. When wars go badly, the politicians always blame the military. Vietnam was not lost by the politicians. Vietnam was lost because soldiers like Max Cleland, Al Gore, John Kerry and John McCain were not good enough. They didn’t stay and die like Rambo would have.
    Look. Bush gave the order that the US is to permanently occupy Iraq. Why should permanent bases in Iraq be any different than the base in Saudi or bases in Europe or Okinawa? The war in Iraq was over in 2003. We have been in an occupation for 3 years. We will occupy Iraq for at least 3 more years until Bush leaves office in 2009. The structure of the bases has nothing to do with the political failure in Iraq.
    Bush does not want to leave Iraq. So Bush is doing nothing in terms of political talks with the insurgents or any other steps that would move US troops closer to leaving. Bush uses his lack of progress toward leaving Iraq as a reason for staying in Iraq.
    This is the Bush Catch-22. Our troops can’t leave because Iraq is not stable. Iraq is not stable because Bush is not negotiating with the insurgency to achieve a stable Iraq. Bush overestimates the ability of our military to control an occupied Iraq. Because Iraq is not stable our troops cannot leave.
    Iraq is not the fault of our military, strategically or logistically. There is NO military solution for Iraq. Iraq has only a political solution. Iraq is a political failure. Iraq is the failure of Bush and his policies. Like all good politicians, Bush and his supporters must shift the blame for Bush failures onto our military.

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  19. sona says:

    IMHO armies fight old wars and never the war that they engage in. The strategies belong to a war of the past. Any military strategist with an ounce of common sense would have known that when you militarily occupy a country illegally, you fight with the colonised and the battlefield is the occupied country. But we were so smart! We never figured that out! No good saying shit happens just ask for your tax dollar’s worth and sack the whole lot of ’em, starting with the President who seems to be going senile (assuming he had some brains in the first place). Oh boy, am I proud to be a part of the richest nation that invariably fails to analyse the predictable realities? How on earth do we nurture such intellectual underachievers?

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  20. GreenZoneCafe says:

    Yeah, I can imagine him saying “Hadji ain’t sipping lattes, he’s got no USO shows, he’s out in the desert with a little rice.”
    They should send Boot up the Euphrates River with Col. Kurtz.

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  21. eCAHNomics says:

    BTW, an e-acqaintance–anti-Iraq-war U.S. Army major–informs me that big Iraq bases are to reverse error of not providing properly for troops in Balkans.

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  22. wkmaier says:

    If I recall, I saw a Boot column in our local paper about a week ago with the title of “We need more boots on the ground”. Was my paper’s editor having a wee bit of fun? Regardless, I couldn’t read the column, for obvious reasons.

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  23. Matthew says:

    Steve: Is Boot’s logistical critique the neo-con version of “it’s the military’s fault”? Not only didn’t most of these neo-cons serve in the military, they turn on the grunts whenever reality conflicts with neo-con theory. I think we should rename neo-cons “Democratic Leninists.” They are the vanguard and we are the consumer-atariat. If they get a hold of the Department of Agriculture, we will probably start having disappointing grain harvests.

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  24. Annie says:

    I don’t think the emphasis on logistics is a new thing — or a new problem. I remember reading a book about the American military’s performance in Vietnam the opening paragraph of which talked about how many millions of men and all their necessary supplies and equipment had been transported to Vietnam — and in spite of this success we still lost the war.

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  25. Dan Kervick says:

    Boot finds the emphasis on base construction and supply a mystery in need of an explanation, and finds that explanation in the hypothesis of a blinkered, professionalized institutional preference for the painterly details of logistic technique over the broad, big picture strokes of strategic goals.
    It never seems to occur to him that the phenomena he encounters suggest that the bases *are* the strategic goal. Beating the insurgency would be fine and dandy. But the Bush administration appears to be telling the world through its actions that the results on the battlefield are secondary, and that *whoever* ends up ruling Iraq, US bases will be there. They are dug in, well-supplied and well-defended – and they aren’t going anywhere. Just as we have a naval base in unfriendly Cuba, we are going to have military bases in Iraq, whether the locals are friend or foe.
    That said, Boot is right to suspect some institutional factors. The US military is a massive economic enterprise, and its internal dynamic is akin to that of all such enterprises: it exists to grow. It is an engine of commercial activity that builds bases, hires soldiers, hires contractors, purchases weapons and supplies and expands its circle of stakeholders. And since it is a government-owned and government-run enterprise, those stakeholders then take their interests to their representatives in government – even purchasing friends and representatives when necessary – and leverage their economic power in order to grow further. That’s what companies do. If the US military follows only its own internal dynamic, then what we would expect to see over the long is a base in every province of every country, and a payroll the size of the entire national budget.
    It is also the case that the success of our all-volunteer military in attracting recruits at all levels depends to some extent on those little Americas away from America that Boot encounters.

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  26. Den Valdron says:

    I’m sure that there will be a lot of scapegoating to go around. The invasion of Iraq, we will discover, did not fail. It was failed by parties who failed to understand or appreciate the brillinace of the Max Boots of the world (and that wasn’t a typo).

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  27. eCAHNomics says:

    I agree with commenters who say that Boot is not admitting mistake, but instead blaming the military for being too soft. Scapegoating the military will be a primary way for the neocons to extract themselves from the mess in Iraq. Then, like the pink diaper babies of yore, they’ll hang onto their ideas by arguing that they were never really tried.

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  28. Friendly Fire says:

    Logistics lost the war (so far) in Iraq. Expect more billions into logistics in the new political climate of staying the course “Democrats inculded”.
    More pork bellies for the AIPAC funded shits, and AIPAC interests in fucking over Iraq.

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  29. ES says:

    I do not agree that Mr. Boot is weening himself off the neo-con kool-aid. I had to read the article three times because it comes across as a soft attack on the military because of the ‘soft’ life they live in these places. He talks repeatedly about the ‘cush’ life support areas with: AAFES, movie theaters, gyms, mini-refrigerators, air-conditioning, and so forth.
    If Mr. Boot is admitting he was wrong, directly or indirectly, then he is doing it in a strange way by blaming the military (the leadership enabled the logisticians to let the military fall apart).

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  30. Farinata X says:

    Ezra Klein posted a devastating takedown of this moral cretin Boot earlier today on his blog.
    “Maybe Max Boot would better understand the rationale for luxury goods and familiar foods on army bases if he were actually a soldier, rather than an armchair pundit with a fetish for the intoxicating musk of wartime masculinity. So much as his considered analysis of the vulnerabilities of Cinnabon’s supply chain underscores his laudable commitment to spartan efficiency on the part of people who aren’t him, it’s a little rich to gravely warn the troops that their enemies aren’t drinking lattes when our 35 years olds, of which Max Boot is one, aren’t volunteering for battle.”
    That says it all, I believe.

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  31. Punchy says:

    It seems to me (an admitted non-military guy) that the more “suburban-like” you construct a military base, the less incentive one has to fight and then leave. While I don’t doubt that a majority of our soliders would bolt on a dime if given the option, it seems difficult to continue to call and consider this a “war” when our soliders can do cannonballs and backstroke or go buy a milkshake from BK on any given day.
    Of course, since they’ll be stationed there for many foreseeable years, I guess a good movie theater is the least we can provide them. But in that case, at least have the honesty to term this an occupation, not a “war”.

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  32. steve duncan says:

    Those permanent bases are part and parcel to the scheme being played out. Does anyone think we’re going to pour a few hundred thousand yards of concrete in the desert and walk away from it? Future wars over oil or whatever will depend on forward bases and those are what we’re building. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qutar, Iraq, Afghanistan and soon Iran. Administration protestations to the contrary a so much BS. We’re in the Middle East to stay and everybody needs to get used to it.

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  33. Den Valdron says:

    Nah, Boot isn’t admitting that he’s wrong. He’s just confirming that he was right by finding someone else to shoulder the blame.
    Years from now, Boot will declaim on how the obstinate and ineffective military threw the war away, and it should have been won by following his advice.

    Reply

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