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Bush Eats Barbecue... Soldiers Starve
August 13, 2003
By Barbara O'Brien

As our soldiers suffer in Iraq with inadequate water, food, sanitation, and shelter, President George W. "Bring 'em On" Bush treated his top fundraisers to a private barbecue near his ranch.

The Bush re-election campaign shuttled about 350 top fund-raisers to Crawford, Texas, for the event. The favored few had collected $50,000 each for the privilege of chowing down with the President and his advisor, Karl Rove.

But even as he enjoyed the best of Texas cuisine during his month-long vacation, the President assured the nation he is focused on Iraq.

On Friday, the President stood in the driveway of his ranch home with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and declared there had been "good progress. Iraq is more secure."

Mr. Bush would not say whether he shared the assessment of the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who said Thursday that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq at least two years.

Mr. Bush would only say "I will do what's necessary to win the war on terror." Mr. Bush said Americans have "got to understand I will not forget the lessons of Sept. 11," when America was hit with its worst ever terrorist attack.

The president also would not say whether he had an estimate on how many more soldiers would die. Nor did he answer a question on future costs of the American presence in Iraq. ["Bush Sees Iraq Progress," CBS News, August 8, 2003 ]

It's a good thing he's focused on Iraq. If he were less focused he might forget the war entirely.

To be fair, one reason the President can't estimate cost is that logistics in Iraq became the Mother of All Snafus. Soldiers have lived for months in primitive shelters without windows or air conditioning. Some are without fresh food and showers and telephones and toilets. For a time they weren't even getting their mail. Although news stories say conditions have improved, soldiers continue to write to Stars and Stripes and David Hackworth's web site with tales of deprivation.

This soldier wrote to Hackworth in mid-June that troops were so desperate for water they had to purchase water of dubious quality from Iraqis. They also have been short of food. "Soldiers are trying, in vain, to keep mosquitoes from consuming them nightly, and using hoses from an Iraqi latrine stall to get water enough to maintain their hygienic needs," he writes. "There are soldiers, to this day, that live in squalor."

Another soldier wrote,

While the Army did a great in winning the war, what is not being covered is how broke the Army logistics system is and the damage it is doing to the long term readiness and moral of the Army. The Army seems to have this NTC rotation mentality, which consists of fuck it live in the dirt and filth you only have to be here for a month. That works at NTC, but it seems no one has thought of how to sustain an Army in the field for weeks and months at a time.

... Our supply lines are clear. There is no excuse why basic health and safety issues and moral issues like mail cannot be addressed. They are not being addressed because the army doesn't know how anymore. Units spend their lives preparing for 2 week warfighters and one month NTC rotations and never think, "okay, how are we going to live out here for six months or a year." Its just not part of the Army's thinking anymore and it s a shame. ["Everything Is Just Peachy Keen in Iraq," Soldiers for the Truth, June 11, 2003]

This letter from Stars and Stripes is dated July 27:
During the day the temperature reaches 127 degrees in the shade.... Due to a lack of bottled water, each soldier has been limited to two 1.5 liter bottles a day. We’ve had two soldiers drop out due to heat-related injuries. A person with common sense knows that a normal person can’t survive on three liters of water a day."

- Pfc. John Bendetti, stationed in Tallil, Iraq, letter in Stars and Stripes.

There's No Business Like War Business

Behind the logistical breakdown in Iraq is a Pentagon team with no personal experience on a battlefield and only a theoretical view of battle. Throughout American military history, most of the work of supplying troops in the field was performed by the military itself. But, beginning in the Clinton Administration, supply and support personnel were shifted into combat jobs and defense contractors were hired to take their place. And, writes David Wood of Newhouse News Service, "This shift has accelerated under relentless pressure from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to make the force lighter and more agile."

"When you turn these services over to the private market, you lose a measure of control over them," said [Peter] Singer, a foreign policy researcher at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. ...

Thanks to overlapping contracts and multiple contracting offices, nobody in the Pentagon seems to know precisely how many contractors are responsible for which jobs - or how much it all costs. That's one reason the Bush administration can only estimate that it is spending about $4 billion a month on troops in Iraq. White House Budget Director Joshua Bolten said this week he could not even estimate the cost of keeping troops in Iraq in fiscal 2004, which begins Oct. 1. [David Wood, "Some of Army's Civilian Contractors Are No-Shows in Iraq," Newhouse News Service, July 31, 2003]

Can we say, "this is the fault of management?" I think we can.

Long-time CEO Rumsfeld and his civilian lackeys are running the military like a corporation. And, as in most corporations, the Suits at the top of the ladder and the worker bees in the cubicles and factories live on different planets. The Suits concern themselves with profits and growth but forget the product. Employees? Employees are cost, and employees in Asia work cheaper.

Next we'll hear the Navy is being outsourced to India.

To see clearly what went wrong with logistics in Iraq, look no further than Dick Cheney's old outfit, Kellogg Brown & Root. Last fall the Army hired the Houston-based contractor to draw up the master plan for supporting U.S. troops in Iraq with civilian contractors. But KB&R failed to deliver on its own contracts. The modular barracks, showers, bathroom facilities, and kitchens it had been paid to deliver were AWOL.

Part of the blame lies with the cost of insuring civilians in a combat zone. Rates skyrocketed by 300 and 400 last March as the contractors waited in Kuwait for the war to start. And civilians cannot be ordered to go into a combat zone. Many of them, sensibly, bailed.

'Course, you'd think the well-paid geniuses who drew up the master plan and greedily anticipated record profits from the war would have anticipated this. Guess not.

Warfare 101

Military historian Martin van Creveld defines logistics as "minutely coordinating the movements of troops...and such a way as to make everything and everybody...appear at exactly the right moment" (Supplying War, 1977). Any sensible person can see that military logistics are a little more complicated than running a McDonald's. However, we're dealing with CEOs, so "sensible" is not an operative word. "Greedy," maybe.

According to van Creveld, throughout military history logistics have been nine-tenths of the business of war. Unfortunately, there's no glory in it, and people with a CEO mindset look at logistics and think, cost. A common metaphor is the "teeth to tail" ratio. The thinking is that an effective military beast should have more teeth and less tail. Therefore, the military should focus on teeth - the ability to kill - and not waste its time with mundane support details. The problem with this metaphor is that food and water and soap and bug spray and spare parts are not "tail"; they are legs and torso as well, and the beast will die without them.

However, anyone who has done time in a factory or in a honeycomb of office cubicles will recognize the CEO philosophy at work. In business, marketing and finance are the "teeth"; products and the employees who create them are the "tail." Hi ho, hi ho, to India we go.

What happened to the professional military? Rummy and his minions have shoved them to the margins. In a recent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Karen Kwiatowski described what she observed during three years of service in the Pentagon. She described functional isolation of the professional corps, who were kept out of the loop of policy decisions; cross-agency ideological cliques who made the real decisions; and groupthink that elevated opinion into "fact."

Saddam is not yet sitting before a war crimes tribunal. Nor have the key decision-makers in the Pentagon been forced to account for the odd set of circumstances that placed us as a long-term occupying force in the world's nastiest rat's nest, without a nation-building plan, without significant international support and without an exit plan. Neither may ever be required to answer their accusers, thanks to this administration's military as well as publicity machine, and the disgraceful political compromises already made by most of the Congress. Ironically, only Saddam Hussein, buried under tons of rubble or in hiding, has a good excuse. [Karen Kwiatowski, "The Pentagon Has Some Explaining to Do," The Houston Chronicle, August 3, 2003 ]
But last Friday, the Commander in Chief and the Secretary of Defense stood together in Texas, on the other side of the world from the mess they made, and congratulated each other on how focused they were and how well their plans were turning out. And, dutifully, the news media reported this.

Fortunately for Rummy, media attention has been diverted to Ah-nold's gubernatorial campaign. The troops in Iraq couldn't get media coverage today if they chipped in and paid for it.

In times like these, I ask myself, WWTD - What Would Truman Do? Harry, I think, would have ordered Rummy to haul his butt to Iraq to straighten out the mess, now. Instead, for the next few years we will see armies of consultants who've never set foot on a battlefield make big bucks explaining how to avoid the mistakes of Iraq.

It's the American CEO way.

Please visit Barbara O'Brien at The Mahablog

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