A war with echoes of past campaigns
With war just days old, criticism grows. It isn't the first time that has happened.
General George Patton outran his supply lines in his race for the Rhine. In Korea and Vietnam, America risked involvement with other countries in the region. The invasion of Panama included a buildup of forces whose attack was preceded by airpower. The first Gulf War saw an intensive air campaign against Republican Guard units before significant ground engagements.Skip to next paragraph
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Wars rarely turn out exactly as planned. But not yet two weeks into the war with Iraq, comparisons and contrasts are being made with strategy and tactics from Normandy beaches to the caves of Tora Bora in Afghanistan.
One similarity with the war in Afghanistan has been political and military criticism during the early weeks by those advocating larger ground forces. There was also the personalizing of the enemy leadership target (Osama Bin Laden) who then escaped from Tora Bora - an approach now being avoided in favor of talking about "regime change" rather than Saddam Hussein.
Like other analysts, retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner finds similarities between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Robert McNamara, his Pentagon predecessor during the Vietnam War.
"We have a secretary of Defense who finds technology very interesting and looks to technology as almost a dominating dimension of the way he understands combat," says Colonel Gardiner, who describes Mr. Rumsfeld as "a micromanager."
Like Vietnam, he says, "We see the press briefing from [command headquarters] where it seems impossible for the briefer to give it to us straight despite the different images we get from the field and field commanders."
But the major difference today, Colonel Gardiner says, is that "we have field commanders and officers in the Pentagon who want the press to know how it really is."
This may be a very important point in this war.
While official briefers are very much "on message," some commanders in the field have not hesitated to talk about being surprised by the level of Iraqi resistance and the unplanned need to detach some forces to secure southern cities.
They've also disclosed that troops have been pausing for several days in some locations, and they've spoken about a growing need for resupplies of food, water, and fuel.
There's no indication - publicly at least - that Pentagon civilians and the most senior officers are upset by this apparent openness.
Besides, many of those field-grade officers, unit commanders, and younger generals took to heart the lessons of Vietnam here - particularly as detailed in "Dereliction of Duty," the 1997 book by West Point graduate H.R. McMaster.
Studying the historical papers of the Johnson administration as well as the archives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel McMaster concluded that it wasn't just the civilians in the White House and at the Pentagon who failed to adequately address the strength and determination of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. Senior officers were just as culpable for not speaking up, McMaster concluded.