Fiasco

Following Richard’s recommendation in comments below, I got myself a copy of Thomas E. Ricks’s Fiasco, and am now halfway through. It’s alright, though it’s a bit heavy-handed, and I still prefer the reporter George Packer’s book (The Assassins’ Gate) to the stay-at-home-and-swap-emails-with-the-troops approach of Ricks.

Anyway: my favourite detail so far concerns the role of PowerPoint in the run-up to the war:

[Army Lt Gen David] McKiernan had another, smaller but nagging, issue. He couldn’t get [Tommy] Franks to issue clear orders that stated explicitly what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it, and why. Rather, Franks passed along PowerPoint briefing slides that he had shown to Rumsfeld. “It’s quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD [Office of Strategic Defense] and Secretary of Defense… In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary] order, or plan, you get a set of PowerPoint slides… [T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides.”

That reliance on slides rather than formal written orders seemed to some military professionals to capture the essence of Rumsfeld’s amateurish approach to war planning. “Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD’s contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology – above all information technology – has rendered obsolete the conventions traditionally governing the preparation and conduct of war,” commented retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a former commander of an armored cavalry regiment. “To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness.” It was like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer’s glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine.

[Thomas E Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Allen Lane, 2006, pp.75-6.]

And while we’re on the subject of Iraq…

… Can anyone recommend any good recent books?

I enjoyed Rory’s book (UK title: Occupational Hazards; US title: The Prince of the Marshes), and recently read through George Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate, but haven’t really been paying a great deal of attention to what’s been coming out over the last couple of years. Is Patrick Cockburn’s book good?

Plug

If you missed it last night — and it’s just conceivable that you weren’t watching BBC News24 at 11.30pm — you can watch my friend Rory Stewart being interviewed on the HARDtalk show about Iraq. (I don’t know why it calls itself HARDtalk, which is a silly name for a show.) About half an hour. His books are both excellent, too, in case you’re looking for something to spend your Christmas book tokens on.

Iraqi Public Opinion

On the eve of the elections, I thought I’d read the reports from the February 2004 and November 2005 National Survey of Iraq polls side by side, to see what the changes have been over time on the questions that were asked both times around, as I’ve found a number of presentations of the numbers on different blogs and in various media reports a bit annoying.

There’s a little bit of a shift in the “how are things going in your life” figures — more people are plumping for “very good” as opposed to “quite good” and more are choosing “quite bad” rather than “very bad”, but the overall numbers in the two main camps – good and bad – remain the about the same, with about 70% of people saying “good” and a little under 30% saying “bad”. But there’s certainly a small movement towards the people who are content with their lot over the last two years.

On the other hand, ask the same people how their lives compare with the way they were before the war, and another small shift is discernible, but this time towards people who think things are going less well for them. Numbers reporting things as being “much better” and “somewhat better” are down by 1.3% and 3.7% at 20.6% and 30.9% respectively; numbers saying things are “somewhat worse” or “much worse” are up by 6.4% and 4.3%, and now stand at 19.1% and 10.2%.

And people are slightly less optimistic about their prospects over the next 12 months than they were in February 2004, though the optimistis still heavily outnumber the pessimists. 34.9% think things will be “much better” (down 1.8%); 29.3% think they will be “somewhat better” (down 5%); 7.3% think things will be “somewhat worse” (up 4.1%); and 5.2% think things will be “much worse” (up 1.8%).

Support for a unitary Iraq remains high, but is falling. 79% of respondents opted for a “unified Iraq with central government in Baghdad” in February 2004; that’s now down to 70%, with support for a federal government up from 14% to 17.6% and support for partition rising from 3.8% to 9.1%.

In February 2004, 15.1% of those polled thought the coalition forces should “leave now”; that’s now up to 25.5%, which seems a pretty big shift. In the earlier poll 18.3% thought they should stay “until security is restored”; that’s now up to 30.9% — though I think the data here isn’t comparable, as respondents faced a different set of choices each time the poll was conducted.

The occupying forces aren’t especially popular. In February 2004 13.2% of Iraqis “strongly supported” the presence of coalition forces, now only 12.8% do, which is a trivial shift, as is the shift from 19.6% to 20.8% among those who “somewhat oppose” the presence of the troops. Less trivial, though, are the other two shifts in opinion: those who “somewhat support” their presence have fallen from 26.3% to 19.4%; those who “strongly oppose” the presence of occupying forces has risen from 31.3% to a substantial 43.7%.

The question about whether the occupying forces have done a good job or not wasn’t asked last time around, which was a shame, although I’d hazard a guess that there hasn’t been much change here: the answers to a different question from February 2004, about how much confidence Iraqis had in the occupying forces has a very similar profile. Thus in 2004 7.9% reported “a great deal of confidence”, 17.4% reported “quite a lot”, 23.5% reported “not very much” and 42.8% reported “none at all”. And these look pretty similar to the answers this time around to the “have done a good job” question, where 9.6% said “a very good job”, 26.6% said “quite a good job”, 18.8 said “quite a bad job” and 39.8% said “a very bad job”. But these weren’t the same questions, so comparisons are hazardous.

UPDATE [15.12.2004]: I forgot to include the stats on the “was the coalition right to invade in 2003” question, though I think you know how this one goes by now. Here there’s a shift away from the thought that it was the right thing to do at all levels, which takes the belief that the invasion was wrong above the 50% level: 18.6% think it was “absolutely right” (down 1%); 27.8% think it “somewhat right” (down 1%); 17.2% think it “somewhat wrong” (up 4.3%); 33.1% think it “absolutely wrong” (up 6.9%), with the 12.7% of people who found it “difficult to say” in 2004 now making up a mere 3.5% of the population.

Cameron on Iraq

Curious about the vintage of David Cameron’s recent hawkish rhetoric when it comes to the struggle formerly known as the GWoT, I played with Google for a few minutes.

Writing in tehgrauniad on 18 February 2003 about the forthcoming vote in the House of Commons, Cameron remarked that his party’s then leader, Iain Duncan Smith had been “statesmanlike, rather than opportunistic, and given staunch support to the prime minister”. But he went on to say that while “most Tories back his view”, he described four groups who didn’t, and he aligned himself squarely with the last of these, whom he called “the confused and uncertain”.

The confused and uncertain weren’t peaceniks, Cameron stressed, but they were only “prepared to vote for war in the right circumstances”. Four circumstances were specifically mentioned in what followed. First, “there may be links between President Saddam and terrorist organisations, including al-Qaida”, although apparently the affair of the dodgy dossier was persuading some of the C and the U that there might not be. On the other hand, second, the C and the U had no doubt that “Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical warheads, and a growing arsenal of missiles with which to deliver them.” And in the third and fourth places, he thought that “many of us will not support preemptive war unless Blair can produce either compelling evidence of the direct threat to the UK, or a UN resolution giving it specific backing” but that “The signs are that he hasn’t got the first and won’t get the second”.

Roughly speaking, then, we’ve got a man who didn’t agree with everything that Iain Duncan Smith was saying (otherwise he would surely have aligned himself with his leader in this article), and who presumably (I’m guessing a bit here) largely voted for the war because he believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Cameron’s more recent rhetoric on the SFKatGWoT is now utterly different.

So the question is, what changed? This seems to make Cameron one of the very small number of people who has got much more hawkish on SFKatGWoT programme-related activities over the last 48 months, moving from being “confused and uncertain” to, well, sounding a lot like Tony Blair. I can guess at any number of explanations, but if anyone thinks they know what the answer might be, do please write something in the Comments.