Steven Weinberg: Why the Pentagon Failed to Prepare for Postwar Iraq





Steven Weinberg, professor of science at the University of Texas and winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, writing in the NY Review of Books (Nov. 6, 2003):

Though there always will be soldiers and sailors"seeking the bubble reputation, even in the cannon's mouth," it seems that the vainglory of individual commanders has lately become less dangerous in war, as improvements in the technology of communications and surveillance have increased the ability of commanders to control subordinates. But there is a continuing danger from an institutionalized vainglory. Sometimes a branch of the military may try to maximize its opportunity for glory, turning its back on other less glamorous tasks that are really needed....

Just as the Royal Navy preferred "hunting" to convoy duty in World War I, and the Allied air forces preferred strategic bombing to ground support in World War II, and the cavalry preferred independent action to the support of infantry in the Civil War, so in recent years the United States Army has preferred to plan for fighting battles without worrying about how to govern conquered territory. The Army in World War II had an effective Division of Military Government. It was established in the Office of the Provost Marshall in July 1942, long before there were any captured Axis territories to govern. It was this division and the personnel whom it trained at the Charlottesville School of Military Government that made it possible for the United States later to govern Japan and parts of Germany and Italy in an orderly way, without encountering widespread looting, rioting, or guerrilla attacks.

In the years after the war, responsibility for military government was relocated in the Civil Affairs branch of the Army. Support for this branch was allowed to dwindle, and Civil Affairs survived several attempts to disband it as a separate unit, until in 1987 it finally found a home in the Special Operations Command. There it had to fight off attempts to divert its remaining funds and personnel slots to Special Forces. At the end of the 1980s, an Army-commissioned report, in a chapter called "Pruning Non-Essentials," asked the questions "Should 7,000 reservists continue to be trained to govern occupied nations? Is there a need for those trained in the administration of art, archives, and monuments to preserve the culture of occupied territories?"[3] Civil Affairs became known as a dead end for career officers.

There is now just one active-duty Civil Affairs unit, the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), headquartered at Fort Bragg; the remaining 95 percent of Civil Affairs personnel are reservists. In Afghanistan there are now only about two hundred Civil Affairs personnel, as compared with about 15,000 military government soldiers in the American Zone of Germany soon after the German surrender in World War II. A colonel (not in Civil Affairs) who is just back from Iraq tells me that there are about two thousand Civil Affairs officers there (not all in military government), leaving few anywhere else, and that although they are doing good work, there are not nearly enough of them. Unfortunately the Defense Department's priorities do not seem to have changed. Later this year it plans to close the ten-year-old Peacekeeping Institute of the Army War College


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