The secretary of defense got the war in Iraq terribly wrong, and he did not set the conditions for success. He rejected the existence of the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty, and sent America to war with insufficient resources to accomplish the mission. Remember that he alone is responsible for what happens or fails to happen in the Department of Defense. The news of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's demise is certainly good news, but we must remember the Zarqawi was but a cog in a very complex insurgency that the secretary of defense's plan allowed to take root, grow, and expand to what it is today. This is all about competency and accountability. This is all about what is good for our country.
I am a two-time combat veteran in Iraq with many years of experience in peace enforcement operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. My only motivation in speaking out is our great country, our incredible military and their terrific families. I left the military after 31 years of service despite a promising career and promotion in order to speak out, to turn the lights on in a very dark room. I am honor bound to continue to do so. I have been a lifelong Republican.
America went to war in Iraq with the secretary of defense's plan. He ignored the U.S. Central Command's deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build his plan, which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency.
Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and grow to where it is today. Our great military lost a critical window of opportunity to secure Iraq because of inadequate troop levels and the decision to stand down the Iraqi security forces.
In the early days of the campaign, we needed at least 380,000 coalition forces in addition to the Iraqi security forces to impose security and prevent the insurgency. We were undermanned by a factor of at least three and could not secure the country during a very crucial period.
To compensate for the shortage of troops, commanders were routinely forced to manage shortages and shift coalition and Iraqi security forces from other contentious areas to counter growing threats in places like An Najaf, Tal Afar, Samarra, Ramadi, Fallujah and others.
We were certainly successful in the short term, but the minute we completed the mission and redeployed forces back to where they came from, insurgents reoccupied the vacuum and the cycle repeated itself. In addition, forces returning to familiar territory found themselves fighting to reoccupy ground that had once been secure. I am reminded of the myth of Sisyphus.
This is no way to fight a counter-insurgency. The secretary of defense's plan did not set our military up for success. He squandered an opportunity early on to nip the insurgency in the bud. Haditha should not be a surprise to any of us. Our Army and Marine Corps remain under-resourced and overcommitted.
The secretary of defense's plan did not anticipate nor account for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty and fully addressed in the U.S. Central Command's deliberate planning. Remember the Pentagon news conference in late October 2003. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chose to use the word "insurgent" to describe the enemy in Iraq. The secretary of defense quickly corrected him and went out of his way to dismiss the word insurgent. Sadly, this was already seven months into the campaign and beyond the point of no return. The so-called "speed bumps on the way to Baghdad" would become our focus of main effort for years.
The secretary of defense's decision to stand down the Iraqi military resulted in uncontrollable chaos and the dismantling of the extensive Iraqi security force infrastructure that we are still working to rebuild today. This decision gave the insurgency an unlimited supply of manpower, weapons and ammunition.
Further, when Saddam's well-appointed military garrisons were abandoned, the Iraqi people looted them and carried away every brick, door and piece of glass. There was nothing left but concrete slabs all over Iraq. Chaos reigned.
The work to rebuild the Iraqi army and police became that much harder, and we have yet to recover. We are now into our fourth year with continued chaos, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, 2,477 dead and 17,869 wounded Americans, and up to $9 billion spent every month. We continue to bleed our national treasure in blood and dollars. It did not need to be this way. What should have been a deliberate victory is now a protracted challenge.
The secretary of defense does not understand the human dimension of warfare. The mission in Iraq is all about breaking the cycle of violence, building relationships and the hard work to change attitudes and give the Iraqi people alternatives to the insurgency. This requires boots on the ground in sufficient quantity to establish security, intimidate the insurgent, protect lines of communication and the oil infrastructure, train the Iraqi security forces, and control the borders. You cannot do this with precision bombs from 30,000 feet. This is tough, dangerous, and very personal work. Numbers count.
Based upon all the above, the secretary of defense is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare.
I wonder how many times in the last five years the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was permitted to give the president his unvarnished opinion, one on one, with no one else in the room? The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act mandates that the chairman be, among other things, the "principal military adviser to the president." How can he render advice when overshadowed by a secretary of defense who knows everything and dominates all that he touches?
The American people deserve accountability and it is time for change. Without accountability, we cannot move forward. Move forward we must to win the war on terrorism. Our leaders are dodging their responsibilities. Our congressional oversight committees need to get engaged and start asking the tough questions. We all deserve a secretary of defense whose instinct and judgment we trust. Victory hangs in the balance.
Maj. Gen. John Batiste (retired) commanded the Army's First Infantry Division, both in Iraq and in Kosovo. Before that, he was the senior military assistant to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. He's now president of Klein Steel Services in Rochester, N.Y.