Emphasis on the question mark, I guess

Here’s tonight’s MSNBC.com headline image:

But if you read the story you’ll see that what’s really going on is that the military is formulating a plan for rotating units in the event of a worst case scenario. This planning needs to be done in advance in case the worst comes to pass. You can’t just snap your fingers and move an army, but the media, clueless about the military as usual, just plain doesn’t understand what they’re saying.

Remember, this is the same bunch that was all breathless a few weeks ago about how our forces were going to be cut 40% by next summer based on some plans leaked to the press. Then a few days later all the headlines were about how Bush wasn’t going to pull all those troops out after all.

Folks, this is how planning in the military works. You make a plan for all contingencies, then down the road when you know what path things are on, you choose the plan that most closely matches.

Instead, people like those who might spend ten minutes in line at Starbucks and then don’t have a clue what they want to order when it’s finally their turn are hearing a snippet of part of one of these plans and then running off like they know something. The military has to plan way ahead like this. It takes too long to get things done the way it is.

Similar to this, every once in a while someone breaks a story about how the Army had plans to invade Canada or how the 82nd Airborne was going to seize the oil fields in Saudi or something. Yes, we have those plans. Some are merely exercises for training purposes. Some are formed as preparation for the worst-case scenario. And some of them truly are put together with the real intention of possibly using them. In all cases, the plans are filed away just in case they might come in handy some day. No reason to reinvent the wheel.

So, to be perfectly clear, the military has a number of plans regarding troop levels in Iraq. They’ve got some that will bring half our guys (or maybe even more) home within a year. They’ve got some that call for a slower withdrawal. They’ve got some that call for maintaining the current levels through 2009. And you had better believe that they’ve got a number of plans to rapidly double our presence if the situation on the ground calls for it. 90% of these plans will never be used, but they’re all there just in case.

For what it’s worth, I expect troop levels to be down about 25% by this time next year, maybe more if the Iraqi army comes along as planned. I think we’ll still have at least a couple of brigades (maybe a heavy for muscle and an air mobile for rapid response) and some significant air assets in Iraq when Bush leaves office, and I think they’ll stay there for a long, long time.

Just remember that the military has to plan for every possible scenario, including the worst-case ones. Remember that just because the plans exist doesn’t mean that they’re intended to be put into action. The media doesn’t seem to understand this, so you’re going to have to fend for yourselves on this one.


  1. I think you’re slightly optimistic. Troop levels have been roughly steady for the last couple of years, I can’t see them dropping off so rapidly that only 25% are left in one year. It’s possible, but would take amazing planning, plus the reconstruction isn’t really finished yet. I’d say 75% one year from now, 50% in two years and 25% in three would be reasonable, assuming reconstruction and training continue at a reasonable pace and some of the dead-enders, well, come to a dead-end… I’m actually more worried about what Mr. Vincent was writing about – religious meddling – in the long term in Iraq, and wonder whether it will require troops to solve that (enforcing fairness?) or something else. Maybe the government will be able to take care of it by themselves. Here’s hoping. The rest of what you say in this post is pretty much on the mark. Liked the comment about people waiting in line at Starbucks. Ever had the experience, you go to some goverment department or store or whatever and stand in a long line (say 20 people)… you wait for hours… then you get to the front of the line and you hand them a bunch of stuff, they ask you some questions, you sign something, and you’ve finished in about 10 seconds? And you wonder why the other 20 people in front of you couldn’t do that? *sigh*

  2. Nicholas: I wrote ‘I expect troop levels to be down about 25% by this time next year’ meaning that they’ll be at about 75% of what they are now, not down by 75% to be at 25% of what they are now. So I think we agree.

  3. Oh, yep, sorry. For some reason I read ‘down to’. :( I should really pay more attention I suppose.

  4. I dont think the media prints stories like this by accident they are just picking the news and even distorting truths like this case here to push thier ideals and goals its called propoganda and if our leadership military and civilian dont realize this and form some type of counter weight to the mainstream media so that the good news can come out we are done this nation will never win another 4gen war again if we cant keep the morale of the street here at home going.

  5. MO, I wish the broader public had a better understanding of martial fundamentals. Planning, and by extension training, is what professional standing armies do. Warfighting is a bit of a sideline in this day and age. And you’re right- planning staffs it seems almost make shit up to think about. You wouldn’t believe some of the implausible scenarios I contributed to, in my own little way. And it should be noted that any first world military power- or aspiring first world military power- had *better* have an imaginative planning staff if it hopes to win.

  6. Four more years–The Iraq government has annouced that it needs four more years to draft a constitiution