Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wishful Thinking

The strongest argument against the invasion of Iraq has always been that our leaders have always overestimated our capabilities, underestimated the enemy and prepared well only for events that will never occur. I certainly agree with this assessment. It's a sad fact of life that the political leadership can never seem to process the analytical aspects of warfare. I recently stumbled across a profound summary of this phenomenon as discerned from the last century of warfare.

The article, spotlighted by the US Army, is entitled: "Over By Christmas": Campaigning, Delusions and Force Requirements by Major General Jonathan B. A. Bailey, CB, MBE, PhD, retired from the British Army. I'm guessing that the article is considered controversial. It certainly makes Bush, Cheney, Rumfeld look foolish. The opening salvo implies that they can't help themselves:

… [T]he evidence of the past hundred years seems to be that we have an incorrigible reluctance and/or inability to make accurate assessments as to the likely length, meaning and outcome of military operations and what is or has been required to succeed in them. We have been poor judges of time and its patterns when it comes to military matters, or more specifically to campaigning, erring on the side of lethal optimism and wishful thinking in the face of the readily available facts. This suspension of critical faculties has led to serious distortions in preparing armed forces for the challenges that face them. It seems that Clausewitz's urging-"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war upon which they are embarking"[2]-has been in vain.

He makes the point that professional soldiers may doubt the mission, but usually aim to implement it in the best possible way. It is the job of the "political masters" to make the value judgments:

... [S]hould national aid programs in a theater of operations be directed primarily to secure campaign success, or to achieve some more general moral imperative such as the alleviation of global poverty? Such distinctions will be very real and controversial when ordering priorities of expenditure.

... Military establishments and their political masters have often colluded in their self- deceptions and the fantasy of short, decisive and cheap wars. Armies have been constructed to succeed in the wars of a character which their masters would wish to fight; and not for the wars which the evidence tells them are nonetheless likely.

He concludes with an astounding and fatalistic remark.

We are after all but actors in a long-running "human comedy."

I suppose we have to credit the General for his insight and forgive him for his hopelessness. The US/Coalition military is an amazingly effective human organization. Within the scope of its responsibilities it functions as a single mind. The political structure is not so integrated. In a number of countries the military is actually the most coherent social structure, sometimes stepping in to save the country from itself. Turkey and Pakistan come to mind. I certainly wouldn't want that to happen here, but one can envy the kind of organization that produces such clear thinking, so different from the political posturing we hear from our leaders.

Does the article convince me to change my position? Not in the least. Everybody and their brother can tell you that we have made mistakes, but that doesn't begin to address the issue of whether we need to fight the war. In my estimation this is truly a global war being fought on every possible front simultaneously. Since we have chosen to stay our swords, for the most part, we have opted for a cold war that must be fought everywhere all the time. Judging from the recent price attack by Russia on European gas supplies, by its recent intelligence betrayal, and by its support for Iran and Belarus, we have to assume we are also still fighting the Soviet Empire. Daniel Pipes has pointed out repeatedly that we are fighting fifth-columns in the form of Islamist organizations and leftist sympathizers at home in the US, not to mention Europe, and we still don't act as if we know who the enemy is. We are being undermined constantly by propagandists of every stripe. Of course, our biggest opponent is ourselves. We weary of war too easily, even when it is cheap and necessary.

There is some encouraging news in Iraq, however (encouraging to me anyway). Wretchard at Belmont Club has posted a number of long analysis pieces recently, quoting Iraq the Model, Bill Roggio and Austin Bay, which seem to indicate that we are eliminating the extremes in a serial fashion, tempting, provoking and then attacking. First we work on the Sunni extremists with the aid of the Shia. Then we work on the foreign Al Qaeda element with the help of disgruntled Sunnis. Next we'll work on the Sadrists, with the help of the Sunnis and the rest of the Shia, perhaps. It will be called "Operation Fallujah in Baghdad" and it will be a mess. At the end of this iterative process, we expect the moderates to be the only ones left standing.

4/4/2006 2:06 AM

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