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Iraq War Lessons Learned? Keep Rumsfeld Away From All Things Defense

The roots of how the military ended up with this expensive but broken logistics disaster can be placed directly on Rumsfeld and his build up before the war.

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Last week, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld strolled into town to advise the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on how to prevent more cuts in the Department of Defense (DoD). The members of the committee lapped it up because they, according to the National Journal, “are on a crusade to protect the military’s accounts from further budget cuts.”

There have been numerous other writers who have gone into great detail about the damage Rumsfeld did to our country in selling the Iraq war and in allowing torture and other outrages in the war, but many don’t know how badly he messed up the invasion of Iraq and the logistics of the war. He had a grossly unworkable plan for the Iraq war which overrode much of the planned logistics. And personnel gave us the debacle of KBR’s $45 billion and still growing logistics contract and a new war service industry whose excesses will plague the military and suck the US Treasury dry every time we have troops overseas in the future.

I saw much of the damage done by Rumsfeld’s theories and plans when I was researching my book, “Betraying Our Troops,” on how the private contractors were used in the Iraq war in a way and number that was never done before. Profiles of troops and contractor employees showed how the troops suffered and the military mission was compromised. Many of these contractors, especially KBR, which was, at the time, a division of Halliburton, did not have the same urgency to keep the troops supplied on the edge of the battlefield and later in fighting the insurgency, while running up costs and charging for work not done. This resulted in troops away from the safe bases without the basics of food and water and vital parts to keep their equipment going.

This was not a short-term problem. One unit that was parked at the border between Iraq and Iran was so isolated because KBR would not go out and supply them that they didn’t even know that President George W. Bush had landed on an aircraft carrier and declared, “mission accomplished” until three months after the event. They were living on scarce food and water, and part of their daily routine was to try to keep their trucks working so they could go out and scrounge food from the local villages while many of their general officers were being treated by KBR to desserts made by expensive pastry chiefs at the major bases, including former palaces of Saddam Hussein.

The roots of how the military ended up with this expensive but broken logistics disaster can be placed directly on Rumsfeld and his build up before the war. For my book, I interviewed the two generals, Gen. Paul Kern and Gen. Wade McManus, who were responsible for the logistics during the build up of the Iraq war. Logistics is not as exciting as strategy, planes and tanks in war, but can be the most decisive and important to our troops for their mission and their lives. Rumsfeld’s actions during the build up of the invasion guaranteed that there would not be enough logistical supplies and would set a politically connected company loose in the battlefield to run up costs and drain the money for the war effort, no matter how much money the Congress threw at the war.

Rumsfeld did two things that laid the groundwork for this debacle. First, he decided to limit the number of troops that could be used in the invasion to a level that was 200,000 troops fewer than the military asked for and relieved the commander who said that we needed more. This didn’t just mean that we had to have fewer troops who were actually fighting, but also meant that there were not enough troops to do the heavy laden logistics of our modern Army. When Gen. Paul Kern was presented with the fact that he did not have enough troops for the logistics in the war, he, in desperation, pulled out a small contract the Army had with KBR to supply bases around the world and exploded it. KBR’s contract, called LOGCAP, was around $60 million a year to take care of the logistical needs of 25,000-50,000 troops in a non-combat setting around the world. General Kern was forced to explode the contract to cover over 200,000 troops in dangerous warfront areas in just a few months before the invasion. The Army also didn’t have the personnel to do oversight on this new contingency contract with open-ended funding, and KBR moved in and took advantage of the situation to run up costs as fast as they could while not delivering the necessary logistic to the troops in dangerous areas.

They did that because they didn’t have to produce. In past wars, when the Army controlled its own logistics with its own people, troops would be put in jail if they refused to run supplies to the troops near the front line. Because KBR was a civilian company with civilian workers, they could refuse to do the work if they thought it was dangerous, and their workers could quit anytime and go home. The commanders, who never had to deal with so many contractors in a danger zone didn’t know what to do because they had little power over this contractor other than filing breach of contract in an administrative action back in the US. KBR was in the driver’s seat and they took full advantage of it.

When the insurgents began to blow up large KBR truck convoys and kidnapped an American truck driver who was seen captured on television, many of the KBR civilian truck drivers just quit and went home. The supplies piled up on the Kuwaiti border to such an extent that even the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that was set up by the US to try to govern chaotic Iraq were forced to ration their food in Baghdad, while the Army desperately tried to find troops who had driven trucks in civilian life to replace the missing KBR drivers. That was just one example of how using a contractor this close to a war area was one of Rumsfeld’s big failures in the war. My book outlines many more.

The second mess that Rumsfeld directly caused in the initial run up to the war was to throw out the carefully laid logistics plans of the Army to put in a better “business” model. The Army, knowing that logistics during a war can be very chaotic, had a logistics plan that would requisition supplies and parts and have redundant supply backups in what was known as “just in case” type planning. Rumsfeld thought this was wasteful and changed the system just months before the invasion. He decided to do the “just in time” style of logistics that many companies used in the US where they did not have warehouses full of products, but used Federal Express and other delivery services to get their products or parts just in time. In what seems an obvious hitch to this idea was that wars are chaotic and it is very unrealistic to believe that you could use a civilian delivery system to deliver the supplies far away from the battlefield and expect that KBR, with their civilian truck drivers, could get this vital equipment to the troops.

By changing the logistics system right before the war, Rumsfeld guaranteed more chaos because, in the rush to war, some of the commanders were not aware of how the new system worked. They were assured that everything was in control and supplies would be pushed to the troops “just in time.” It quickly became apparent that this business model that works in peacetime was a logistical nightmare during the war.

What made this a longer-term problem was that Iraq did not “welcome us as liberators” and the insurgency made most of the country unsafe to deliver supplies. So, between a new and dysfunctional logistics system and using civilian contractors to drive the trucks through fluid and dangerous areas, the situation was dire for much of the first part of the war. Rumsfeld’s “business acumen” and mantra that private contractors could do anything better than the military helped fuel the years of quagmire in Iraq. Rumsfeld, as early as 2003, wrote a memorandum to Paul Wolfowitz, Gen. Peter Pace and Doug Feith, his fellow travelers who promised a quick and efficient war, that it “is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long hard slog.” We are still in that slog, eight and ten years later because of his policies and his theories on how wars should be fought, while the troops were let down by the Pentagon and had to drink polluted water and even face electrocution because he set KBR loose with little oversight.

Besides the danger to the troops, this long slog has caused this KBR contract to explode to over $40 billion to date with unscrubbed and bloated costs promising to be the new baseline of what it takes to support our troops in the future. And the soaking of the taxpayers is not over for this KBR contract. As we transition troops out of Iraq as required by treaty with the Iraqi government at the end of this year (we hope!), KBR’s LOGCAP contract will be turned over to the State Department to supply the new Vatican-size embassy and the 5,000 private military contractors that the State Department plans to have as the troops leave. With these bloated costs becoming the base for all logistics in the future, KBR promises to continue to soak us under the State’s umbrella for years to come.

The long term consequences of these policy disasters will be seen in the future, because having as many or more contractors as troops has caused a new war service industry to get entrenched with political power. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) is happy to make weapons and let them rust because they know that we will continue to build weapons whether we have a war or not. In fact, the MIC is not particularly fond of these messy, low-technology wars because the logistics and increase in troops takes away from the weapons procurement budget.

However, this new war service industry, because they don’t manufacture anything but instead service the troops in war, need a hot war or occupation to continue to rake in the money. So, now we have a new and powerful military industry, which hires many officers and troops when they retire and has billions of dollars of contracts to help fund the lobbyists to keep them in contracts. This is an industry with an incentive to keep us in war or long-term occupation for their growth and even existence and is a scary new paradigm on our foreign policy.

The solution? It is not an easy one, but we can start by making sure that every time that Rumsfeld comes into town to advise anyone connected to the military, that the press and advocacy groups remind the public that he didn’t just fail at the foreign policy and torture aspects of the war, but that he massively failed at running the basics of the war. He has been away for a decent interval, but is trying to come back, hoping that people forget that he didn’t know what he was doing and cost us lives and money.

As for the long-term aspects of the war service industry, as we wind down in Iraq and hopefully in Afghanistan, we need to dismantle the contractors’ model of doing logistics in war zones and draw a line in the sand where contractors cannot be used. We also need to go back to the KBR and other contractor bills for these two wars and scrub the numbers so that their running up costs to justify bloated new contracts will not work and that we don’t get beholden to them in the future. This war service industry will try hard to keep their place with the US military and encourage us to police the world to keep their money flow, but they aren’t as entrenched as the MIC, so we still have a chance to do something about it.

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