Plans Are Nothing…


…Planning is everything.

In the course of a typically fine installment of Reason Express, Jeff Taylor makes a shrewd and hilarious observation about the current Chicken Little-vs-Professor Pangloss debate on the progress of the war:

The biggest plus for the war plan is that it is being executed by troops that by nature and training are very good improvisers. From Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution, to machine gunners in Vietnam who used beer cans to improve the ammo feed on their M-60s, American troops have always been good at finding ways to improve their odds. They are, after all, cut from the same cloth as American civilians, who find ways to route around hundreds of dopey (if infinitely less lethal) government plans every day. Those of us who think that government routinely botches the operation of water treatment plants, schools, and skate parks are not surprised that when it puts thousands of men, vehicles, and explosives into motion, it hits some rough spots.

Not so liberal journalists, who truly believe the state can do anything. For them, any problems in the field must be traced back to a bad plan which could be replaced by a good plan. Conversely, conservative commentators seem to regard any criticism of the plan as criticism of the United States of America itself. For them, there is no such thing as a bad plan as long as it is against the right people.

Riding above it all are the technocrats who believe power is its own justification. They love war because you get to plan the hell out of it and because there is no private alternative. Whatever the outcome, they'll likely win.


NEXT: Like a Snake

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  1. Read this question in the comments section of another blog:

    What was the last major US military operation that was not compared to the Vietnam war?


  2. Jim N – you’d have to look at military operations before Vietnam to find one. They pull that one out all the time, even for larks like Panama.

  3. It is in the nature of totalitarian regimes
    that they look invincible… and then they
    crack… and dramatically collapse when the tide

    Why? Because a totalitarian regime is created/maintained by 5% of the population
    terrorizing the remaining 95% into submission.
    Iraq is a classic example of this.

    To defeat the Baathist regime… the US military
    will have to KILL approximately 50,000 people
    most loyal to Saddam… and lay siege to
    Baghdad. At some point(and Bush has the will
    to stay the course)… the regime will collapse
    in a matter of days to everyone’s relief.

  4. Conflicts are compared to Vietnam not simply to call them a quagmire (though that is the most prominent analogy used), but also to either point out their futility, to say that they’re wars that need fighting (but not by us), or to question the justification for action in general.

    Clearly, in this case, critics are using the quagmire route, but perhaps largely because even anti-war folks assumed Hussein would fall quickly.

  5. Vietnam compare and contrast.
    We will surely take Baghdad – We never took Hanoi

    It is unwinnable, we will be attacked by suicide bombers and other terrorist tactics until we are driven out, just like Lebanon, just like every foreign occupation in the mid-east for all of human history.

    The war is crossing national boarders in Syria and Iran, but sending troops into these countries would be politically difficult. Perhaps we’ll use the CIA to do our killing like we did in Cambodia.

    There is no exit strategy – What the f*ck are we going to do after we identify the remains we dig out from the bunker as Saddam Husain’s? Can we just pack up and leave? What if we don’t find the body?

    A generation to undo the damage – This war has destroyed the prestige of the United States on the world stage. It will cost hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars. The recovery will be delayed for years by the political backlash when the Dems retake Congress and some far left winger with ‘clean hands’ (ala Jimmy Carter) enters the white house in.

  6. Now I know.

    If the Nazis had been a little less militarily aggressive, there would be masses who would have oppose a war againt them. Never mind a few dead religious/ethnic minorities.

  7. Matthew Cromer,

    There were masses. Why do you think the Soviets lost 100,000 soldiers taking Berlin? The Germans put up a tremendous amount of resistance in defending their nation against the allies, especially against the Soviets. They were fucking tenacious.


    When the Germans invaded the USSR there was an expectation that the Soviet leadership would quickly collapse. It in fact didn’t, despite whatever crisis Stalin had. Totalitarian regimes can be extremely strong. We assume that the people will want to be “liberated,” but these assumptions are often flat wrong, overly naive and simplistic. In fact our assumptions are often based on a psychological and cultural standard that is often alien to the people we try to place it upon.

  8. Plan A vs. Plan B vs Plan Z. Who the Hell cares what plan it is? Within 12 days the troops are knocking on Bagdhad’s door and controlling most of Iraq. Doesn’t sound like a bad plan to me.

  9. Oops, sorry. I meant “Baghdad’s door”.

  10. So American troops are inherent improvisors, and other nations are not? Where do you think the Gerry Can came from, Cincinnati?

  11. I’m willing to bet that Vietnam also didn’t go to plan and also took some troop improvisation. This “war” is getting worse by the hour. It’s gonna be Vietnam: Part 2. The US gov’t sticking it’s ass in where it doesn’t belong, a majority of the public opposing the so called “war”, and a supposedly quick and bloodless operation becomes a protracted, bloody battle that the US can’t win. And why hasn’t Bush been impeached yet?

  12. Is the marvel of “improvisation” anything more than bottom-up “planning”?

    And if top-down “planning” is so inefficient, would the operation be any more effective if the Pentagon just shipped troops to the theatre and told them to “wing it”?

  13. Nine? Take some Prozac and tell me why the President should be impeached?

    Now to the more impotant stuff…

    Everyone knows nothing goes “according to plan”. WWII generally didn’t. Vietnam CERTAINLY didn’t and this one won’t either. So what? Anyone in business knows that the plan is the starting point. I had a plan for what I needed to do at work today. 30 minutes after I got here, my plan was for ka-ka. I got three big “do this now” jobs. I adjusted my plan. The day’s not a failure. Not even close. I adjusted, I adapted and overcame. The troops are trained to do this in the field.

    Relax. It’s ok.

  14. Gary,

    “We assume that the people will want to be “liberated,” but these assumptions are often flat wrong”

    “Often flat wrong?” Really? When? US “liberation” wars are really pretty few. I cannot think of a single one that you could describe as a liberation along the lines of Iraq, that has shown a people unwilling to be so liberated. There are also several examples of countries being better off after having their governments overthrown in spite of the fact that no one thought the people wanted it in the first place.

  15. Winning Baghdad means nothing in the context of the fallout coming over the next few years. The entire fucking world is convinced we are crazy, dangerously so, and are making contingencies. Talk to anybody who’s been overseas.

    We are creating our own West Bank. All the good intentions we may have will be lost on the world’s perception that the U.S. is an illegal occupation force and must be dealt with.

  16. Well it looks like we’re taking bulldozer training from the Israeli’s. That’s a start.,2763,927780,00.html

  17. Lefty, your hysteria is… well, hysterical.

    Baghdad isn’t the U.S.’s West Bank. Spare me.

    We aren’t in Karbala to reclaim the ancestral home of Americans, nor are we planning on staying for all time, nor is Baghdad a holy land that we cannot relinquish, now or ever. Moreover, we aren’t going to try and settle the place with people from all over the globe. Your comparison simply isn’t apt.

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