02 March 2015

Stalingrad on the Tigress II

Did the MILCRATs Head Off a Disaster?
My earlier posting on this subject argued that CENTCOM’s planned attack on the Mosul was ‘a bridge too far’ because (1) the long distance to be traversed through hostile Sunni territory by 25,000 untested Shi’a troops would leave the Iraqi army increasingly vulnerable to a welter of flank attacks in an offensive that would necessarily stretch into the debilitating heat of the summer; (2) the movement would expose Baghdad and elsewhere to spoiling attacks by ISIS; and (3) the Kobani model of fixing ISIS troops with a ground attack on a symbolic city and then using airpower to bomb ISIS to smithereens simply did not apply to the far larger urban sprawl of Mosul. 
Nancy Youssef now reports that saner heads have prevailed and this mad plan is now on indefinite hold.
There may be more to this bizarre episode that meets the eye, however.  
Everyone knows the American military is obsessed with secrecy.  That suggests an obvious question: Why would planners in CENTCOM’s headquarters  violate the principle of “loose lips sink ships”?
Youssef’s original report suggested that CENTCOM sources told her they were trying to ”psych out”  ISIS.  Youssef  is one of the better reporters covering the Middle East, so there is no reason to question her characterization of this “leak.”  But the rationale rings hollow.  ISIS’s shocking mix of blitzkrieg and psy-ops over last summer makes it difficult to believe that CENTCOM planners could be so naive as to believe that a bombastic threat would out psych ISIS.  
What gives?
Only time will answer this question.  But there is one obvious hypothesis that bears thinking about: Namely, the bureaucratic hypothesis that loose lips are sometimes intended to sink the ship.  
Such a hypothesis might go something like this:  Perhaps the military was being pressured to retake Mosul by civilian political operatives in the US national security apparat — operatives who were eager to deflect partisan criticism for the heretofore lackluster conduct in Obama’s war to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS.  Retaking Mosul would undo one of the crown jewels of ISIS’s blitzkrieg.  That would hand the Obama administration a spectacular victory.  
But rather than taking the high road of threatening to resign in protest over such an amateurish plan, the seasoned MILCRATs in the office of the Joint Chiefs and/or CENTOM did what they are really good at doing: that is to say, they decided to increase their political leverage by leaking the plan to the press, knowing that the leak would cause the plan to self destruct.  The military would be off the hook, the civilian pol-mil hacks put in their place, and the Pentagon’s allies on Capitol Hill given an issue to exploit in the looming policy war over the defense budget.
No doubt, there are other legitimate hypotheses to explain this weird episode, but the preceding speculation is certainly consistent with the kind of antics and bureaucratic gamesmanship I saw repeatedly in the Pentagon during my 25 years in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  
There is one litmus test for this hypothesis: Will CENTCOM go on witch hunt to find the ‘leaker’?  After all, in a military culture where A-10 pilots can be accused of treason for leaking the merits of their own plane, a leak of this magnitude — if not ‘authorized’ — would certainly qualify as treason.