The Small War, Part I

I’m splitting this into two parts; once I started writing, I just couldn’t stop. I have a few things to establish before I get into my post proper.

———-

Statement: Administration 2, Demcrats/media 1.

We’ll come back to that.

———-

For those of you who think I never pay the Demcrats a complement, stand by to have your preconceptions gutted like fish: they got one (and only one) thing right about the Iraq war. I think we are getting to the point where we can fight the war with a much smaller commitment of troops in Iraq. Indeed, we might even be to the point where it might be beneficial to the conduct of the war itself.

Oh, of course the Democrats are wrong about the reasons, meaning and execution of this idea.

But again, we’ll come back to that.

———-

There’s an old saw among those who follow military history…

…and even moreso among those who casually watch people who follow military history: that nations and their militaries always prepare for the last war.

So, it seems, do social movements.

Reading Imperial Grunts by Robert Kaplan a few months back – about the time some Democrats were pushing for a reinstatement of the draft – I saw an interesting parallel.

Kaplan chronicled the complaints of US Special Forces and Marines in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia and the Philippines that the “Big Army” (and Big Navy and Big Air Force to boot) had taken over control of operations in these countries. The problem, they told Kaplan, was that the generals who run the “Big Army” cut their leadership teeth “fighting” America’s last, least-ambiguously successful war – the Cold War (and more ambiguous successes like Grenada and Desert Storm) – who were led in their militarily formative years by men whose main mission was to avoid costly debacles like Vietnam or Mogadishu. The Cold War, of course, was a throwback to the great mass industrial wars of the 20th Century, WWI and WWII; high-tech, involving mass armies maneuvering in mass formations on a global scale, with the survival of entire nations, societies, systems, even the world itself at stake. The US military built at huge expense during that period became unstoppable in its major mission; to decimate phalanxes of tanks bulldozing across the East German border with high-tech tanks, helicopters, jets and artillery that could fight 24/7 in all weather; to interdict fleets of Soviet submarines intent on gutting sea communications with Europe reminiscent of the U-boat wolfpacks with a fleet of over a hundred impossibly-complex hunter-killer submarines; to secure the air over Europe against skies dark with MiGs with technological marvels like the F-15, the Stealth fighter and the AMRAAM missile. It might be fairly argued that just as the US military fought Vietnam wrongly – trying to treat a counterinsurgency war as a mass national crusade – that the Pentagon spent a few years fighting Afghanistan and Iraq the wrong way; trying to bring a Cold-War-era mass army to places more suited to…something else.

On the other hand, the left is also fighting its last wars. Plural.

Vietnam, of course, was the last war of the part of the left led by the likes of Kos and Air America – the reflexive “America Last” crowd. But as powerful and influential as they are in the Democrat party (and moreso in Minnesota’s DFL), they’re not really the most interesting current to examine.

The last unambiguously successful war of the Left was World War II. Led by FDR and Truman, it was the last truly national war; the last one that involved our entire society. More importantly, it was the last (and, in a sense, the first) war in our history to be morally unambiguous. For the first, and probably last, time in history, the good guys (if you leave out that whole “Stalin” thing) wore white (or olive-drab) hats, while the bad guys wore black coal-scuttle helmets. It was a war that paralleled the New Deal and much of how statist liberalism operates; registering and inducting entire swathes of society; imposing an all-encompassing order on the nation’s life; a war in which the individual was subsumed to the national will, in war as in the economy. And of course, like the lefty ideal for so many things (which is realized in so few things), it was…well, not exactly “clean”, but certainly well-defined. It had a definite end; troops marching thirty-abreast down the Champs D’Elysees, Hitler dead in a bunker, a surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, done deal, no sticky entanglements.

Which, of course, is one of the reasons they are chanting “this war has lasted longer than World War II”. It’s the only model of success they have, when it comes to defending this nation.

And there’s a clarity – to the left – in looking back at Vietnam (from their perspective, at least); to the left, Vietnam was unambiguously wrong, inarguably unwinnable, never anything but wrong for any reason, from any perspective (easier to believe when one filters out that whole “Killing Fields” bit). In a sense, it was the anti-World War II.

The left’s dalliances with running the nation since Vietnam have been much less clear, both positively and negatively, than WWII and Vietnam. Carter’s impotent flailings at the Iranians, Clinton interventions to support humanitarian goals in Haiti, Kosovo and the Balkans, Rwanda and Somalia (although he inherited that involvement from George HW Bush) which tried to paint humanitarian happy thoughts on top of centuries-old ethnic animosities; they wound up treating unsavory people pretty much like other unsavory people without bothering to judge their differences, to very little real long-term effect (to say nothing of at least one famous, if historically minor, disaster in Mogadishu).

So there are, really, four different world views (certainly more than that, really, but I’m going to limit things to the big four) duking it out over the War on Terror right now:

  1. The fringe (and ascendant) far left, which sees all war as unambiguously wrong.
  2. The “mainstream” left, which waxes nostalgic for its own finest hour, the unambiguous moral correctness of wars like WWII, down to the level of even replicating their methods.
  3. The Administration, which after 9/11 embraced a Wilsonian, almost utopian view of the vitality of exporting democracy, seeing this as an unambiguously good thing.
  4. The Pentagon, caught between its pre-1991 status quo as a force designed to fight a huge, high-tech conventional war, its 1992-to-9/10/2001 imperative to “transform” into…something (after 2000, into a force to back up the “neocon” Wilsonian doctrine; before that, to get small fast so Clinton could cash the “Peace Dividend”), and finally after 9/11 the leader in the War on Terror

And of course, the fifth force, the one whose present Kaplan chronicles and whose history Max Boot explored; our “Unconventional Warfare” community, visible in the news today in the guise of General Petraeus and his return to nuts ‘n bolts counterinsurgency warfare, but which has been tinkering with the means to fight exactly this kind of war for half a century, frequently against bitter opposition from the “Cold War” “Big” military.

We’ll come back to that tomorrow.

31 thoughts on “The Small War, Part I

  1. You are correct about WWII, but you forget about the extremely strong peace movement in the US between 1938 and 12/08/41. I think it was Henry Ford that said “if Roosevelt gets us involved in this war, it will be due to Chruchill and the Jews”. Shades of Cindy Sheehan. Read newspapers from the first week of Sept, 1939. There were massives calls to cancel the armistice day parades because they were considered too militaristic. Leftist Wisc Governor Philip LaFollette said in the fall of 1941 that Roosevelt’s huge military buildup will get us involved in an unneccesary war. There was the Bund (sp) and Lindbergh and other sympathizers of the Nazi regieme, just was we have CAIR, Ward Churchill and Garrison Keillor today.

  2. Mitch blundered: “Which, of course, is one of the reasons they are chanting “this war has lasted longer than World War II”. It’s the only model of success they have, when it comes to defending this nation.”

    Actually, the point is that the allies, led by the U.S., managed to clear fascism from the European continent and evict Imperial Japan from it’s hold over much of Asia and the Pacific.

    Your guy, in marked contrast, has only managed to make things progressively worse in Iraq, all the while pleading for more time. If he’d been successful – or at least improved the situation – there would be little opposition to the war. Americans are generally not opposed to war. What they won’t tolerate for very long is a loser. Ask Patton.

  3. Mitch scored: “Administration 2, Demcrats/media 1”

    Iraqi insurgency 3, Al Qaeda 50. A lot of errors and unearned runs.

    For you fans scoring at home, Bush is apparently counting on Petraeus to hit a 49-run homer.

  4. Mitch:

    The number of U.S. troops in Iraq will decrease next for the simple reason that the U.S. has to bring the current troops home after 15 months and does not have the troops available to replace them.

    AC:
    “What they won’t tolerate for very long is a loser”
    If only. Other than Janis Karpinsky, not a single general officer has been relived of command during the entire course of this disaster.

  5. Other than Janis Karpinsky, not a single general officer has been relived of command during the entire course of this disaster.

    Relieved, no. But Rummy, Casey, Pace, etc… are no longer in their former jobs for a reason. it was clear things had to change, and they did.

  6. AC shows his utter ignorance of world history- “Actually, the point is that the allies, led by the U.S.,” Russia was led by U.S.? Is this what they taught you in school?

  7. justplainstupid said: Some damn thing. That’s small fry. I’m throwing it back.

    ry again later, jpa. And smarter.

  8. Jeff:
    Rummy was a civilian. Casey finished his tour at CENTCOM and was promoted to Army Chief of Staff, hardly a disciplinary action. Everyone else pretty much retired, with no disciplinary action taken against them.

  9. There’s a difference between military victory over standing armies wearing uniforms versus the elimination of terrorists hiding among civilians.

    The US involvement in WWII did not end with the surrender, that just ended the war against the standing armies. Pacifying the population and rebuilding its political institutions took years as McArthur ran Japan while we fought German werewolves . . . hell, we STILL have troops in Germany and Japan.

    Bush’s carrier landing photo op was the rough equivalent of the surrender aboard the Missouri – the end of standing army fighting. Then we moved into the pacification phase and are still fighting it, same as other wars.

    Comparing the pacification effort of the War in Iraq to the end of standing army fighting in WWII lets you claim this war has gone on longer than that one, but since you’re comparing apples to oranges, it’s still a silly thing to say.

    .
    .

  10. “we fought German werewolves”

    No. Operation Werwolf was a total fiasco, it existed mainly in the deluded mind on Hitler and Himmler. “According to a study by former Ambassador James Dobbins and a team of RAND researchers, the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties in Germany was zero”
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werwolf

    Secondly, our troops are in Germany and Japan, actually Okinawa, not to fight German and Japanese insurgents, but to keep the Russians (and Chinese) out.

  11. More quotes from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werwolf:

    “This article appears to contradict itself. Please see the discussion on the talk page.”

    “This section needs additional references or sources to facilitate its verification.
    Please help improve this article by adding reliable references
    Unverifiable material may be challenged and removed.
    This article has been tagged since July 2007.”

  12. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq will decrease next for the simple reason that the U.S. has to bring the current troops home after 15 months and does not have the troops available to replace them.

    Wrong, and irrelevant.

    The point is that once the US begins to fight like it understands counterinsurgency warfare (rather than being utterly beholden to post-Beirut/Mogadishu “force protection” mania, to paraphrase Kaplan), we will eventually not need as many troops; indeed, to cite some of the troops Kaplan interviewed, it’d be best not to have them.

    And it’d seem – to the amateur but fairly-well-read observer – that Petraeus is doing just that.

  13. Right:
    “The Army’s 38 available combat units are deployed, just returning home or already tapped to go to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, leaving no fresh troops to replace five extra brigades that Bush sent to Baghdad this year, according to interviews and military documents reviewed by The Associated Press. . . .

    “The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply,” the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, said last week.”
    http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/08/20/america/NA-GEN-US-Iraq-Out-of-Troops.php

    And very relevant. Leaving a much smaller residual force scattered in small outposts is a recipe for disaster.

  14. Actually, the point is that the allies, led by the U.S., managed to clear fascism from the European continent and evict Imperial Japan from it’s hold over much of Asia and the Pacific.

    Duly noted, as it supports my point in every particular.

    Your guy, in marked contrast, has only managed to make things progressively worse in Iraq, all the while pleading for more time.

    But for the past few months – with its emphasis on fighting a counter-insurgency rather than a conventional war – this post essentially agrees with this.

    If he’d been successful – or at least improved the situation – there would be little opposition to the war.

    Speculation, and I suspect mistaken speculation at that. The left – at least the fringe left that is a major part of the current Dem party – most certainly would oppose the war; they opposed invading Afghanistan, for Stu’d sake, and were declaring its impossibility up until the point where the Green Berets rode into Kandahar.

    Americans are generally not opposed to war. What they won’t tolerate for very long is a loser. Ask Patton.

    Which Petraeus, it’d seem, just might have, at least figuratively.

    But we’ll come back to that.

  15. And very relevant. Leaving a much smaller residual force scattered in small outposts is a recipe for disaster.

    Hardly.

    It – getting out into the countryside, even in small numbers, backed up by overwhelming firepower when it is needed – is one of the keys to effective counterinsurgency warfare.

    Read Kaplan, Boot and Nagl.

    And you are using the term “residual” incredibly imprecisely.

  16. Mitch said:

    >”Speculation, and I suspect mistaken speculation at that. The left – at least the fringe left that is a major part of the current Dem party – most certainly would oppose the war; they opposed invading Afghanistan, for Stu’d sake”

    Mitch is underestimating the enormity of Speaker of the House and Senate Majority leader Barbara Lee’s evil. Her single vote against the war in Afghanistan seized all voting power away from the rest of her Democrat co-conspirartors who voted for the war. She’s now using her Kalifornia congressional district as a safe haven for illegal terrorist aliens storming over the Pakistani border into the United States.

    Damn you, Barbara Lee!
    /jc

  17. All,

    There was no significant violence against US/Brit forces after WWII, either in Germany or Japan (barring the occasional unit that didn’t get the word that the war was over, and for that matter I’m not sure if any of THOSE occurrences resulted in violence as much as individuals and small groups evading Allied troops for months, years, sometimes decades).

    Which, again, was part of my point. The left looks back at WWII, with its’ absolute moral clarity and clear black and white moral and chronological (if not social) lines as the model for how to fight a war the right way. Justifiably so!

    Except for the fact that only VERY few wars in all of history behave like that. And that’s only going to become more true over time.

  18. No, no, Mitch, you’re on to something. Barbara Lee’s vote was a transformative moment in the Democrat Party. That’s why Chillary and Jeanne Edwards jumped all over Newbie Bin Obama for saying he’d invade Pakistan.

    They’re ALL Barbara Lee Democrats now. No major Democrat wants to go into Pakistan, much less Iran or Syria. They’re weak.

    My man Rudy knows the way to win a war is to spread the field.
    /jc

  19. Mitch asserted: “But for the past few months – with its emphasis on fighting a counter-insurgency rather than a conventional war – this post essentially agrees with this.”

    Moving the goal posts closer isn’t the same thing as winning, my friend.

  20. No, no, Mitch, you’re on to something.

    Slow down, John Stewart. Read the Daily Kos lately? Seen what they advocate?

    Oh, wait – you’re NOT John Stewart? You’re my old pal Slash? Wow. I expected better than “facile and trite” from you…

    Clown:

    Moving the goal posts closer isn’t the same thing as winning, my friend.

    You call it moving the goal posts. I call it reading the situation and adapting.

    Something the left might want to try out, if the surge continues to work.

  21. “It – getting out into the countryside, even in small numbers, backed up by overwhelming firepower when it is needed – is one of the keys to effective counterinsurgency warfare.”

    Sure, but it is still a recipe for disaster if you lack reliable local allies and the bulk of the population is firmly against you.

  22. The problem with the Democrats is that they’ve all got pre-3/03 thinking. Before 3/03, we could relax and think it was just about capturing the people who attacked us. But everything changed on 3/03.

    In March 2003, when Saddam suddenly failed to turn over his WMD, we were no longer in a little war against Bin Laden, we were in a big war against every Islamist who wanted to bring about a new globe-spanning Caliphate, imposing Sharia law right in our own homeland, putting our daughters in burkas, censoring our culture, and imposing their own brand of fundamentalism.

    The Democrats still think it’s about capturing Al Qaeda. Rudy and the GOP know it’s not about Al Qaeda anymore. Sunni, Shia, Arab, or Persian, it’s all one big creeping bacteria.

    Either you’re against the necrotizing Islamo-fasciitis or you’re with ’em.
    /jc

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