Saturday, January 06, 2007

Rules of War

When reading history books about the Vietnam war, I always read that there were two sides to American public opinion: doves, who wanted peace; and hawks, who were for the war. These days, it seems very similar, but I'd think those definitions are quite simplistic. Yeah, we will always have the 5% of the population who thinks that war is never the answer to anything and all our enemies need is a hug. We will also always have that 5% of the population that thinks we could just solve all our problems by nuking whoever disagrees with us, starting with France.

And I bet mostly those 10% are going to be the ones on TV...but I digress.

Chalk me up as one of the other 90%, who have more complex views on how America should apply force in the world. I think that we should never engage our troops in war lightly, and I think we should apply a strict litmus test when doing so.

I'm not talking about this war, because our leadership has apparently not yet decided whether or not we actually are at war (much to the disservice of our men and women in uniform, who, when we do win this thing, will be the only reason, and the first US troops to do so since the War of 1812 without leadership from Washington), I'm talking about the next war. Hopefully we won't have so many problems if we do it right.

1. Overwhelming Force/Powell Doctrine. If we're not willing to put enough troops on the ground to win the thing, at the onset of hostilities, we are not ready to go to war. We may go to war with the Army we have, but we usually go on the understanding that reinforcements will be along d'rectly, with more guns and better planes.

2. Total War. If the American public is not ready to watch us destroy enemy cities from the sky, shell enemy cities into rubble and burn an enemy nation's entire infrastructure to the ground, we may not be ready for war. Because that's war. That's what the enemy would do to us if we give them the chance. FDR was totally against carpet bombing enemy cities, right up until Japan attacked us and Germany declared war on us. Facing the two greatest military-industrial machines the world had yet seen, FDR then decided, screw 'it, bomb the @#$! out of 'em. That way, when we take over enemy nations with our overwhelming force, the population is cowed and defeated and they know they are beaten.

The corollary to this, of course, is that once we break it, we do have to fix it, a la Marshall Plan, once we've won and they've surrendered.

3. National Service. A national service program would permanently swell the ranks of all Armed Forces and the reserves.

4. Peacekeepers. We need to bolster, seriously, our Peacekeeper divisions in order to keep order once the vanguards have destroyed enemy cities.

5. Collective Security. In 1991, the world sent over 500,000 troops into Iraq to liberate Kuwait, comprising the largest armored force the world had seen since WWII and backed up by the greatest air campaign evar. That war took 100 hours to complete.

6. Clear Strategic Objectives/Declarations of War. In WWII we knew we were fighting for the 'unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan and the Third Reich.' In 1991, we were fighting to 'drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait.' Everyone, including our enemies, knew these were our goals. The psychological and strategic importance of such clarity cannot be ignored.


RoseCovered Glasses said...

There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the new Sec. Def.Mr. Gates, understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

David Nowlin said...

The truth is, in the present war, we weren't ready to destroy enemy cities from the sky. At least I wasn't. I can remember standing in the law library at SMU and watching the execution of the shockingly callously named "shock and awe" strike and hating my country, or at least my president. And even that wasn't really the destruction of Baghdad. It was (supposed to be) a vast array of surgical strikes designed to cripple the Iraqi military in preparation for a (we hoped) quick land war to conquer the country, cut off it's head, and make it a better place.

We went to war, that day, not with Iraq, but with Saddam Hussein, and there is a huge difference. What we were in that for was not warfare, but assassination. It was elaborate and perhaps poorly conceived, but it was assassination nevertheless. Our goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein and I think we all sort of thought that, after that, things would be better. Call that short-sighted, complain about the need for better planning, better intelligence, better diplomacy, more patience, whatever, but the truth is we expected the rest of the country to fall in line and so we didn't want to destroy it in the process of cutting the cancer out.


Patrick Armstrong said...

Thanks for the link.

The thing is, in a realpolitik sense, we have broken Iraq and now we own it. Even if the war was just a glorified assassination attempt as you describe (I didn't think it was, but that's another discussion), we did just enough damage to the place as to allow it to disentegrate.

Leaving Iraq will be far more complex than leaving Vietnam, for so many reasons. The kicker is, none of the solutions to the Iraq conflict are palpable to the body politic back home.

We can

1. Leave now, watch the country disentegrate further, possibly becoming a greater enemy in the future than ever it was in the past. We retrench and come up with new methods of containment.

2. Re-invade, admit that this has gotten out of hand, get together a coalition of 1 million troops and get those boots on the ground, and really pacify that country (because it can be pacified, as Japan and Germany were pacified, it is only a matter of materiel, willpower, and political determination.)

3. Stay the course, 'surge' troop levels temorarily, and hope things get better.

Problems with the above: Number 1 does not solve our problem, and we will have to revisit the Iraqi question again in 5 or 6 years. Number 3 is the same thing we've been doing that isn't working, that is a political result of people trying to sell a war of choice to the American body politic.

Number 2 will solve our problems, but it will cost huge in blood and treasure and prestige around the globe. It is also the least politically viable of any of the solutions: and it proves that the neo-cons on the Iraq war are only using the 'clash of civilizations' 'this is our WWII' 'global war on terror' rhetoric for political benefit. They weren't willing to do what was necessary at the onset, and they are not willing to do what is necessary now.

That makes # 1 the most likely scenario, brought about because the folks who got us (politically) into this war in the first place weren't willing to do what needed to be done to win it.

GP said...

Excellent points. We have probably the greatest fighting force in world history right now. Unfortunately, when our military has to play the different roles of peacekeepers, policemen, and social workers, they are not equiped to do so. We need to either take a new look at what roles we want our military to play in the world, and rethink our training strategy accordingly, or allow our military to do what it does best, beat the crap out of the enemy. Just my humble, unqualified opinion.