Monday, April 25, 2005

Blood and oil

What's more humiliating, that a poorly equipped and undermanned Marine unit in Iraq had to make dummy soldiers out of cardboard cutouts, or that we are so dependent on oil that our president has to beg the leader of one of the world's most repressive regimes to lower prices?

For sheer human tragedy, I'd have to vote for the Marines, but for farce, I'd have to go with the Saudi oil story. Here's my favorite part:

``This is an important relationship,'' Bush said today in Crawford, Texas, after Abdullah's arrival at the president's ranch. ``The crown prince understands that it's very important to make sure that prices are reasonable'' and that ``high oil prices damage markets.''

Yes, one can imagine W. explaining to the Saudi prince that in order for Americans to continue to drive oversized cars to their oversized homes far from they where they work and shop, the U.S. government will continue to pretend that Saudi Arabia and its cozy relationship with the United States isn't at least indirectly responsible for the rise of radical Islam and its war on America.

"Please, please, lower oil prices, Your Royal Highness. If my approval ratings slip any further, I won't be able to continue dismantling my country's social safety net and running up record deficits."


Blogger Shawn said...

Bush comes from an oil family. What's more, his dad was rather tight with the House of Saud. We have a real opportunity to push an effective industrial policy (yeah, I said it) vis-a-vis energy-saving technologies but we're gonna throw that away becuase Wubya can't see past his own, and his own family's, interests.

9:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you expect me to defend this administration's handling of the occupation of Iraq, from the summer of 2003 to the fall of 2004, you've come to the wrong place.

But let me add some niggling details to the story filed by Moss at NYT (not a war correspondent, if I recall, he's a west coast reporter out of the LA bureau).

First, let's get the easy stuff out of the way. "Echo" Company was NOT the only unit in Ramadi. It was one unit (about 90 men) in the larger 2d Bn, 4th Mar (REIN), a point that went unmentioned until nearly the end of the piece.

A typical Marine battalion (REIN) in Iraq contains about 600 - 700 men, depending on the mission.

Unfortunately for these Marines, the NYT should have been writing about these events when they happened, about a year ago. But the problems the Marines reported were commonplace in one sense, and tragically unique in another.

First, they had the great misfortune to take over from an Amry National Guard unit. They inherited their Humvees from them. They were unarmored, lacked spare parts and had been poorly maintained.

This isn't unusual. During the early 1990s, the Clinton administration determined to spend the "peace dividend" left over from the collapse of the Soviet Union by transitioning many traditional active duty functions to reserve/National Guard units or private contractors.

Unfortunately, the best equipment, training and enough cash to maintain the aging kit didn't trickle down as much as it should have to the NG commands. Pressed into occupation duty in Iraq, the Army brass determined that the National Guard units, at best, were care taker forces, and were not used to mount aggressive offensives against insurgents.

But that's not the role of Marines. They are sent into harm's way as shock troops. Relying on NG unarmored Humvees was stupid, but this wasn't a decision brought by Marines. Obviously, it was one of those myriad "jointness" decisions undertaken by CENTCOM.

Mattis does not bear the weight of that decision cycle. He was given what he had to work with, and E Co, 2d Bn, 4th Mar had to make do with what they had.

So, we have a brewing problem: (1) NG troops that allowed an insurgency to build, becoming potentially more lethal every day, unequipped, untrained and unable to complete a mission before the Marines arrived; and (2) an administration that did not anticipate this rebellion, and foisted on the troops inherited equipment that wasn't up to snuff.

Bear in mind, however, that "E" is somewhat alone here. You don't hear the other three infantry companies in 2/4 bitching, nor the weapons plt, nor their attachments, nor the HQ company. Only Echo seemed to have these casualties and problems.


I think you might notice that the captain of said company was relieved of duty, with Marine inspectors determining he was "dictatorial" in his command, a strategy that lowered morale.

This is a small unit -- 80 men, or so. The skipper's power to shape and motivate his troops is paramount.

He seems to have failed, and was relieved for that reason.

The NYT isn't very good exploring that dynamic, because Moss doesn't really understand the military. Many units had similar problems -- imagine third and fifth Marines, who took Fallujah -- but they overcame, with little stir.

Where's Dexter Filkins or John Burns when you need them?

In the end, you have four pages of copy wherein the author rehashes what transpired more than a year ago in a battlefield he never visited or understood, and he misses the salient point: Echo completed its mission, but that mission was harder to accomplish because of poor leadership at the company level.

Why not explore that?

11:09 AM


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