NPS war strategists differ on tactics, but agree on getting out fast.
Thursday, April 3, 2003
Photos by Randy Tunnell: In and Out: NPS military analyst John Arquilla has long argued for a new high-tech and lower- impact form of warfare. At Donald Rumsfeld''s urging, the Department of Defense appears to have adopted only half of this idea. (left) No Pain, No Gain: Hy Rothstein believes the United States risk-averse strategy might desensitize people to what war really is about. A long siege of Baghdad could fix that. (right)
When it comes to fighting wars, defense analysts John Arquilla and Hy Rothstein don''t agree about everything. Arquilla opposes a siege that would cut off water to Baghdad; Rothstein does not. Arquilla draws a line in the proverbial sand against inflicting pain on civilians; Rothstein believes that during wartime civilians might need to understand a little of what pain is.
But one major thing they do agree on is that should the US prevail, our forces should get the hell out of Iraq as soon as possible.
Both are professors at Monterey''s Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in the Department of Defense Analysis, which is overseen by the U.S. Special Operations Command. They have different backgrounds and divergent opinions but adjacent offices. Their students are young officers from special warfare units like the Green Berets and Navy SEALs. (In July 2002, Coast Weekly interviewed both and published a cover story on their views of the strange new world war America found itself in following Sept. 11, 2001.)
Rothstein is a retired special forces colonel who spent a part of the ''80s and ''90s in counterinsurgency operations in Latin America. He teaches various special warfare courses at NPS. Arquilla spent the first Gulf War working in Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf''s Central Command. A widely published academic, he''s been an advocate for bringing new forms of warfare to bear on America''s enemies.
When he was interviewed almost a year ago, Arquilla pushed for using a new "swarm" strategy in the event of an Iraq invasion, a doctrine of lighting-fast strikes by nimble and lethal forces hitting targets from many directions at once.
Arquilla believes the U.S. needs to get away from the sort of heavy attack strategy-the Powell Doctrine-used in the first Gulf War, whether the enemy is Iraq or a dispersed network of terror cells like al Qaeda. He argues for "Desert Swarm" instead of Desert Storm.
In the year before the invasion, some argued for a lighter force of less than 100,000 troops who would swarm and attack nimbly-much as special forces were used together with pinpoint air strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The uniformed old-timers wanted a force of half a million to knock out Iraq with an iron fist.
"The revolutionaries like me wanted an ''Afghanistan Plus.'' The traditionalists wanted a ''Desert Storm Minus,'' with a very small minus," Arquilla says. "What happened instead was a bureaucratic compromise between the two."
Even if the current campaign is neither swarm nor storm, similar reform initiatives have been embraced by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld-to the chagrin of military brass. As a result, what''s in place in Iraq is a hybrid strategy of a light-and-fast swarm offense and the more ponderous conventional armor-and-air attack.
As Arquilla notes, it''s "neither fish nor fowl." And the vulnerabilities of doing neither completely are coming clear.
Recent news articles quote field officers in Iraq criticizing Rumsfeld for wanting to "fight this war on the cheap." Other reports charge that the "rolling start" offense has crippled forward movement, creating unprotected supply lines behind fast moving attack forces that have bypassed large enemy forces.
With the fighting already heavily underway it''s too late to stop now, leaving Rothstein and Arquilla to watch the combat like the rest of us. Both share a keen interest in how it will play out at the end.
Despite the topsy-turvy reports from the front that might lead people to believe that the campaign is faltering, both are already thinking about how to handle the outcome and what history will record. They see signs of success now, but a brutal fight for Baghdad if resistance holds up.
Siege warfare-in which coalition forces cut off water, electricity and food-would inflict pain on Baghdad''s people worse than the targeted bombing underway. This would be made worse by Iraqi or foreign volunteer suicide bombers, slaughters of civilians and of course, use of chemical and/or biological weapons.
"It''s not going to be a pretty sight," Rothstein warns. "Fighting in a city is a bloody business."
However, he adds, an overly cautious approach could prolong the war.
Both point out that there has been fast progress. Western Iraq has been seized and secured against Scud missile launches, presumably into Israel. The ratio of Iraqi military losses remains exponentially high against "coalition" losses; the southern oil fields are intact and invasion forces are within an hour''s highway drive of Baghdad after over a week of fighting.
"Our campaign has gone startlingly well in most ways," Arquilla says.
For the strategy to succeed, Arquilla and Rothstein both believe that Saddam Hussein must be removed from power and his regime destroyed. After that, inspections for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) must resume and the UN must monitor free and fair elections.
Rothstein believes that the "coalition" is creating the conditions that will allow the Iraqi people to determine their own destiny.
Among his theories about the future of war, Arquilla talks about winning "the battle of the story." This requires that the stated aim of the campaign must be identified at the outset and followed through. In this case, if the stated goal is liberation of the Iraqi people, then it must be accomplished.
"If that happens we can engage in the battle of the story with some hope of success," Arquilla says. "We don''t want to kill them in order to liberate them."
Rothstein believes firmly that the war is about taking out the regime and neutralizing the potential threat of WMDs.
"I think our motivations and reasons are not for oil. The regime is the type of regime that just should not be there anymore. [The invasion] does skirt international law but things are changing. Maybe international law has to mature a little bit because of this thing called WMD."