From Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report:
The Mail Memo: A Glimpse into U.S. Strategic Thinking
By George Friedman
The Mail on Sunday, a British newspaper, recently published a memo that editors claimed had been leaked by a British official. The document, titled "Options for future UK force posture in Iraq" is dated 9 July 2005 and is marked "Secret-UK Eyes Only." The document was a working paper prepared for the Cabinet. What makes the memo extraordinarily important is that it contains a discussion of a substantial drawdown of British and American troops in Iraq, beginning in early 2006. Given the July 7 bombings in London, the memo has not attracted as much notice as normally would be expected. That is unfortunate because, if genuine, it provides a glimpse into U.S. strategic thinking and indicates a break point in the war.
It is always difficult to know whether documents such as this are genuine. In Britain, a steady trickle of classified documents has been leaked to the press during the past month, all of which appear to have been validated as authentic. That means that the idea of a classified document on this subject being leaked to the press is far from unprecedented. There has been ample time for Prime Minister Tony Blair or his government to deny the story, but they haven't. Finally, the document coheres with our analysis of the current situation on the ground in Iraq and the thinking in Washington. It makes sense. That's certainly the most dangerous way to validate a document; nevertheless, with the other indicators, we are comfortable with its authenticity.The document printed by the Mail contains the following lines:
Emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall MNF-I from 176,000 down to 66,000.
There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers, and MNF-I whose approach is more cautious.
The next MNF-I review of campaign progress due in late June may help clarify thinking and provide an agreed framework for the way ahead. According to this document, the strategic view of the United States is that the insurrection in Iraq either never existed or has been brought under control in most of the country. Therefore, security in these areas can be turned over to Iraqis -- and, in some cases, already has been turned over. The memo states that the insurrection has not been brought under control in four provinces -- obviously, the hard-core Sunni provinces in central Iraq. Given this strategic reality, the MNF-I (Multinational Force-Iraq) could be reduced from 176,000 to 66,000. The implication here is that the reductions would begin in early 2006 and proceed through the year.
The memo also says there is a debate going on between the Pentagon and Central Command on the one side, and the command in Iraq on the other. The Iraq command feels that withdrawal would be premature. They logically want more boots on the ground for a longer period of time, because they are responsible for the reality in Iraq. The Pentagon, CENTCOM and, by implication, the White House, see, from a distance, a more hopeful situation. Therefore, a debate has broken out between the most senior command and the theater command. The report appears to have been written in the spring, as it speaks of a review by MNF-I in June.
Certainly, no fundamental shift in the reality has taken place since then, and it would be reasonable to assume that the same intentions hold -- and that the command in Iraq still has serious reservations but that the president and secretary of defense probably have a good chance of prevailing.
It has been our view that the White House is not kidding when officials say they are optimistic about the situation in Iraq. What they see is a containment of the insurgency to a relatively small area of Iraq. They also see the guerrillas as split by inducements to the Sunni leadership to join the political process. The White House does not believe it has the situation under control in the four provinces, and the memo is quite frank in saying that Iraqi forces will not be able to take over security there. Nevertheless, the total number of troops needed to attempt to control the insurrection in those provinces is a small subset of the total number of forces deployed right now.
Behind this optimistic forecast, which appears reasonable to us, there lurks a more gloomy reality. The United States simply doesn't have the troops to maintain this level of commitment. The United States is rotating divisions in on a one-year-on, one-year-off basis. The ranks of the National Guard and reserves -- which, by the way, make up an increasingly large proportion of the active force -- are particularly thin, as commitments run out and older men and women with families choose not to re-enlist. Another couple of years of this, and the ranks of the regular forces would start emptying out.
Even more serious, the United States does not have the ability to deal with other crises. Within the geopolitical system, Washington reacts to crises. But should another theater of operations open up, the country would not have forces needed to deploy. Washington has acknowledged this by dropping the two-war doctrine, which argues that the United States should be able to fight two Iraq-size wars simultaneously. That doctrine has been fiction for a long time, but this is more than just a Pentagon debate over the obvious. No one would have imagined in the summer of 2001 that U.S. forces would be fighting a war in Afghanistan, and be deployed in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. The United States fights not only with the army it has, but in the theaters that geopolitics gives it. The fact is that the United States bit off more than it could chew militarily in Iraq. The administration did not anticipate the length and size of the deployment and took no steps to expand the force. That means that at the current level of commitment, the United States would be wide open elsewhere if a major war were to break out.
The problem is not only troops -- although that isn't a trivial problem. The problem is the logistical support system, which has been strained to the limits supporting forces in Iraq. Many of the anecdotal failures, such as the lack of armoring for Hummers, happen in all wars. But the frequency of the problems and the length of time it took to fix them point out the fact that the pipe from the factory to the battlefield in Iraq was not sufficiently robust. Supporting two widely separated, large-scale operations would have been beyond U.S. ability.
That fact is of overriding concern to the United States. U.S. grand strategy assumes that the United States is capable of projecting force into Eurasia, as a deterrent to regional hegemons. At this point, that capability simply doesn't exist. The United States can sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe squeeze out a few brigades for operations elsewhere -- but that's all she wrote. That puts the United States in the most dangerous position it has been in since before World War II. During Korea and Vietnam, the United States was able to deploy a substantial force in Europe as well as capabilities in the continental United States. Iraq, a smaller war than Vietnam, has, along with Afghanistan, essentially absorbed U.S. force projection capability. It cannot deploy a multi-divisional force elsewhere should it be needed. Should the unexpected happen in Asia or Europe, the United States would lack military and therefore diplomatic options.
The reason for this is not solely the Bush administration. The forces created during the 1990s were predicated on assumptions that proved not to be true. It was assumed that operations other than war, or peacekeeping operations, would be the dominant type of action. Multi-divisional, multi-theater operations were not anticipated. The force was shaped to reflect this belief.
The manner in which Bush chose to fight the war against the jihadists involved the invasion of Iraq using a conventional, multi-divisional thrust. The Bush administration took a calculated risk that this concentration of force could deal with the Iraq situation before another theater opened up. So far, the administration has been lucky. Despite having miscalculated the length of time of the war, no other theater except Afghanistan has become active enough to require forces to deploy.
But a lucky gambler should not stay at the table indefinitely. What the Mail memo is saying is that the administration is going to take some chips off the table in 2006 -- more than 100,000 chips. The importance of the drawdown is that it will allow the force some rest. But it still assumes that there will be no threats in Eurasia that the United States would have to respond to until 2007 at the earliest, and ideally not before 2008. That may be true, but given the history of the second half of the twentieth century, it is pushing the odds.
The strategic analysis about Iraq may well be sound. However, the MNF-I is fighting the drawdowns because it knows how fragile the political situation behind this analysis is. The debate will be framed in terms of the conditions in Iraq. But that is not, in our view, the primary driver behind plans for withdrawal. The driver is this: The United States simply cannot sustain the level of commitment it has made in Iraq without stripping itself of force-projection capabilities.
Given the fact that it is now obvious that the Bush administration is not going to undertake a substantial military buildup, it really has only two choices: Maintain its current posture and hope for the best, or draw down the forces in Iraq and hope for the best. The Iraq command, viewing Iraq, has chosen the first course. The Pentagon, looking at the world, is looking at the second. There are dangers inherent in both, but at this point, Iraq is becoming the lesser threat.