Will Pentagon Planners Learn from Iraq?

Can U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his military planners should be learning from the insurgency in Iraq as they shut down military bases? Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute offers his thoughts.

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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said this week that the war in Iraq makes his plan to close bases and realign military resources more necessary, not less, to contend with what he termed `new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving challenges in the world.' It took US-led forces three weeks to route Iraq's military back in 2003, but since then an insurgency continues to attack and evade Iraqis and American troops. Loren Thompson is chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute and joins us in our studios.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. LOREN THOMPSON (Lexington Institute): Thanks.

SIMON: And as you read the news this week, what lessons do you think Secretary Rumsfeld and others have abstracted from the war in Iraq?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, coming into Iraq, he didn't expect there would be any insurgency at all. He assumed that a strategy of speed and of high technology and of precision targeting would be sufficient to unbalance the entire Iraqi political structure and eliminate opposition. It hasn't worked out that way. The Iraqis regrouped, they had assistance from the outside, and now we're fighting a protracted guerrilla insurgency with no apparent end.

SIMON: What do you see the main threats as being, Mr. Thompson? And does your vision differ substantially from the Pentagon's as you can tell?

Mr. THOMPSON: That's an interesting question, because like most people, I've been confounded by the experience of the last four years. I personally did not anticipate the insurgency. I don't know very many people who did. We would have to assume more terrorism and insurgency for the simple reason that it has worked so well. A handful of troublemakers, poorly equipped, poorly funded, have tied down much of the most powerful military in the history of the world and that suggests a strategy for success in the future that other enemies will follow.

SIMON: There's the old aphorism that generals prepare for the last war and never the next one. Could Secretary Rumsfeld be preparing for the next war in a sagacious way?

Mr. THOMPSON: Perhaps so. The problem that Rumsfeld confronts is that he's preparing for an adversary he doesn't really know in the future. The future is not knowable, and so there's a range of potential dangers that he has to address. For example, the Army had a substantial investment a decade ago in artillery and in air defense and in armour that were very well suited to dealing with a conventional adversary in Central Europe and elsewhere. What it has found is it needs to retrain those people to be things like military police and to learn linguistics skills and to become more knowledgeable about coping with a civilian environment in the midst of war fighting, because we just were not postured with the type of skills that this enemy has presented to us.

SIMON: Mr. Thompson, what kind of advice are you giving people?

Mr. THOMPSON: I would say that we have to have a high-low mix in which we finally learn how to speak the language of our prospective enemies and friends in the future rather than acting as though translators are sufficient, that we learn more about the world than we have traditionally wanted to know, and then we think about how we match up that local expertise with the kind of technological advantage that we can hope to have if we invest adequately.

SIMON: I believe I read in The Wall Street Journal this week that there are only a couple of thousand Arabic-speaking people in the US military.

Mr. THOMPSON: Less than 3,000.

SIMON: Yeah. And, in fact, a soldier was quoted as saying they had to cut off operations at one point because they didn't have an Arabic speaker along on the unit.

Mr. THOMPSON: That's correct. You know, some of the lessons that are most obvious about this war we have been most reluctant to learn, such as the fact that if you don't speak the language, you probably aren't going to know what's going on, such as the fact that it is much easier to destroy things than it is to rebuild them. And such is the fact that we're now learning both in Iraq and America that most people don't want to volunteer for deadly duty. These are kind of obvious things we should have learned from our own domestic experience but somehow we went into Iraq not wanting to know them.

SIMON: Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a national security think tank. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. THOMPSON: A pleasure to be here.

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