Saturday, October 28, 2006

WHEN DO WE LOSE WARS

27 October 2006

WHEN DO WE LOSE WARS

I must say that this essay is being written today because I believe we are on the brink of losing the war in Iraq and potentially reversing all the early gains made on the war on Terror since 9/11. Why do I believe this you ask? Well I believe this because I see the country wavering and losing support for the war effort. As the countries morale goes so goes the soldier’s efforts to fight the war for us.

What supports my theory, well I’m only going to look at the 20th and 21st Centuries but it is my firm belief that America’s wars are won and lost at home not in the field. Let’s look back to the 20th century. We fought 4 large scale conflicts and several minor conflicts under Republican and Democratic administrations so lets leave politics out of this as both sides have wins and loses during their respective watch’s.

The 1st and 2nd World Wars were both reluctant wars for America. During the 1st World War the Europeans and all the commonwealth countries fought without America from 1914 until late in 1917. America once committed fought hard and was largely responsible for bringing the war to a close some 2 years a head of European expectations. Why did we win, first we didn’t start the war, 2nd we really didn’t want to get involved and 3rd once we did get involved we put our all into the effort and using overwhelming force (both militarily and industrially) we won quickly.

Once again we look at WW II as a definite win and you can look at the WW I model, we remained out of the fight for the first 2 yrs and only joined in the Allied effort after being directly attacked at Pearl Harbor by Japan. We then mobilized the nation like never before and within 3 yrs defeated both German and its axis partners but also Japan. If you look closely you’ll discover that once again the country didn’t just pore military manpower into Europe and the Far East but industry joined in the effort creating huge amounts of ships, planes, tanks, truck, weapons, ammunition and general war stocks. People personally sacrificed buying war bonds, donating scrap metal and rubber. Women went to work in the factories while men volunteered to fight. Once again we prevailed quickly and overwhelmingly and without America the Europeans less Britain would have remained occupied by Germany and Russia probably would have been either conquered or greatly reduced in both size and power. In the Far East Japan may have succeeded in taking over Australia and China. They would probably have then been able to turn on Russia further squeezing and weakening them. Today’s world would look very different if America had not been successful.

The next major war to come along was the Korean War. This was our first loss of the 20th century. Some historians will perhaps be generous and call it a tie but I would suggest that once America agreed to fight the North Korean invaders who had invaded South Korea, a democratic Allie and the best we could accomplish was to end up back where we started after 3 yrs of fighting and 50,000 dead Americans then I would suggest that’s called failure. Why didn’t we win, I mean our militaries leaders (both officers and Senior Non Commissioned Officers) were all veterans of WWII. They understood sacrifice and difficult terrain and tough enemies. I believe that we lost because we didn’t fully commit to the war here at home and for the first time we were under orders based on a UN resolution (which gave us the authority to fight) to only restore the borders of South Korea vice the previous two wars when our military were directed to destroy the enemy and capture and hold their territory. So, on the field of battle while America soldiers were winning numerous battles the country didn’t mobilize, industry didn’t mobilize and the civilian population perhaps tired of sacrifice from WW II refused to provide the support the troops had just 5 yrs earlier. Governments are adept at reading the voters and the government of the day worked hard to minimize the hardship on the civilian population recognizing that another all out effort would cost them dearly at the polls. The lack of effort at home resulted in a seasoned hard fighting and well led army to only be able to achieve a stalemate. Without a win there were no parades and as soon as possible everybody went back to enjoying this new American life where everybody had a car, a telephone and this new gadget called a TV.

Our next major conflict began only 1 yr after Korea and was a direct fallout from the stalemate there. We began to send advisors to Vietnam in 1954 to help the democratic South prevent the Communist North from overthrowing their government. If this sounds familiar you must at least agree to think like our leaders were in the 50’s when they were terribly afraid of communism and it’s movement throughout the Far East. In Vietnam we had mission creep and mission change instead of deciding we should jump in as we did in WW I and II. We began by trying to train and advise the South Vietnamese while upping the number of American military advisors in Vietnam each year until President Johnson decided to change the mission and deploy combat troops to conduct offensive operations. Once that mission change occurred you would expect an all out effort (learning from the Korean war mistakes) but we didn’t get that. Once again the government was focused on a domestic agenda and didn’t want to detract from that effort either financially or by giving their political opponents the fodder of another war. So instead of overwhelming force we had a slow and painful build up of troops over a 3 yr period. We also saw that no mobilization of industry and of the civilian population occurred. There were no sacrifices to be made at home, no war bonds, no Hollywood propaganda machine to turn out patriotic films (except the Green Berets with John Wayne) and no overwhelming sense of doing the right thing by standing up to a threat in a far off land and making sure like minded democracies weren’t being overrun by fascists (ala WW II) or in this case communists. In fact we saw the media turn against the war with beloved anchor Walter Cronkite declaring the war un-winnable after the Tet office of 68 ( a huge military loss for North Vietnam). That was followed by a popular uprising throughout major US cities which resulted in a sitting President refusing to run for a second term. I’m not a great political historian but I do believe this was the first case of a healthy President refusing to run for a second term. Again I believe we lost this war through lack of commitment at home not on the field of battle.

As the 20th century came to a close we once again got involved in a pretty large fight and once again it was with reluctance and only after we saw our allies occupied and threatened. What was different about the 1st Gulf War you ask? Well for some reason we as a country decided it was the right thing to do. Congress was split on the issue and President HW Bush barely got congressional permission to go to war, once he got that permission he used it well by committing overwhelming military might and then not launching that might until it was all in place and was ready to go. When he finally agreed to unleash the largest build up of American military might since WW II they moved quickly did what they’d be allowed to do (once again a UN resolution only allowed the restoration of Kuwait’s border) and with such force of violence that it occurred with minimal casualties and then came home as quickly as possible. Again for reasons unknown the public mobilized and supported the troops beyond anything seen since WW II and the soldiers were not only surprised but were stunned with that support. The short duration of the war doesn’t allow for any real assessment of the civilian populations willingness to mobilize and sacrifice for the cause but their support was undoubtedly a morale boast and a powerful incentive for the troops to succeed.

Afghanistan was not really a big war but it was again a popular war as America was once again and for the first time responding to a direct attack against the homeland. With minimal casualties and a small commitment we overthrew a horrific regime and began to move quickly down the path of stability and democracy. This limited use of military might in the form of boots on the ground was a huge departure from the 1st Gulf War but it worked so really nobody questioned it or even noticed. Some 5 yrs after we invaded we’re seeing the result of that policy in a resurgent Taliban in Southern Afghanistan and more frequent IED attacks in the capitol of Kabul. In the case of Afghanistan the administration was smart and quick to turn over the toughest locations in the South to NATO thus ensuring it wasn’t an American problem that their political enemies could point to. Afghanistan is more stable than its been in almost 40 yrs and after a spring, summer and fall of clashes between Canadian and British troops and the Taliban we find the Taliban reduced in both manpower and capability but moving towards individual suicide attacks and IED’s which keep the appearance of instability alive in the media. This one is a heavily leaning towards a victory but unlike WW I and II it won’t be an obvious VA day.

So here we are today looking at Iraq and wondering if we are winning or losing. I believe we are winning on the battlefield and losing at home, which I’m sure sounds very familiar to my readers. If it doesn’t ring any bells yet please refer to the paragraph on Vietnam.

So how did we get here now? Remember when I mentioned that in Afghanistan the American military used a new tactic which only put the minimum required troops on the ground? Well after the success in Afghanistan the same strategy was used in Iraq. The build up time was shorter than in Gulf I allowing the invasion to begin earlier thus ensuring the hard combat operations would be wrapped up before the summer temperatures hit ridiculous numbers and that reductions in troop levels could occur in the Thanksgiving to Christmas timeframe. I know you’re saying it cynical to think people think politically during the planning of military operations but unfortunately it’s true. The administration spoke a great deal with Iraqi expatriates who told them over and over again not to use to much force and not to destroy the infrastructure unless absolutely necessary so as to ensure the Iraqi people would see them as liberators. The administration bought into this idea maybe because it sounded familiar. Please keep in mind they were coming off a big win in Afghanistan using the exact same strategies and tactics. Using the most modern weapons ever invented they were able to pinpoint bomb like never before truly limiting the damage in the cities to a minimum and they swept aside the Iraqi military easily with no real fights along the way. American casualties were light, movement was rapid and the imbedded media were sending back one success story after another. The difference between Iraq and Afghanistan became apparent almost immediately after the fall of Baghdad when Iraqi’s began looting government building, ammunition depots and military barracks. They took everything from weapons and ammunition to toilets and sinks. The Americans were stunned and stood by doing nothing to stop the looting for almost two weeks until pressure at home worked its way back to Iraq. This was the first crack in the strategy and when the Administration turned to its Iraqi advisors they were missing in action as it turned out they were leading the looting and working to set themselves up as power brokers in the new Iraq. Dismayed and confused the American military under political pressure to get the rioting and looting under control and to get power and water restored cracked down and almost immediately lost the Iraqi people’s support and a liberator.

After so many years of being told what to do and when to do it Iraqi’s celebrated their freedom by saying I want what the rich had and I could only imagine and did so by looting and making unreasonable demands on the Americans to immediately restore utilities that weren’t working well before the invasion. The crack down shocked Iraqi’s who thought they would be able to express their new freedom any way they wanted and quickly had them complaining to a now bored 24 hr news media that American was simply the new Saddam.

I’m trying desperately to stay away from turning this essay into political comment so I’ll do my best to stick with military issues. As the Iraqi’s increasingly expressed dismay with the occupation a small insurgency began to grow attacking American convoys with IED’s (built with looted artillery shells). As the Iraqi’s were turning away from the Americans, terrorists from around the world were gathering in Syria and Iran preparing to begin the biggest Jihad in modern history. They weren’t able to respond in Afghanistan as the American victory was so quick and the Afghani’s didn’t seem to object but in Iraq there was opportunity. The American military was there in large numbers, the Iraqi people were unsure if they liked this new occupier and the American media was bored and looking for exciting stories to keep their rating high.

The weakness of this new military strategy which up to this point had proven Rumsfeld right and was now replacing the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force was beginning to show as America shuttled troops from one area to another attempting to track down the insurgents and to stop the common crime that was springing up. The disbanding of the police and Iraq military by Paul Bremer was also hindering their effort. More boots on the ground were needed as the Iraqi occupation was not going in the same direction as the Afghan one.

As the Jihad began the American military was drawn back into combat operations over and over again, destroying cities and engaging in deadly fighting in built up areas while suicide bombers were making a huge impact on the media and the local population. The successful killing or capturing of the former regime leaders did nothing to stop the insurrection and in fact after high profile killings or captures the violence would increase. Over and over again the Rumsfeld doctrine was failing to support a traditional occupation which is manpower intensive. The American military was stretched far to thin in Iraq and was more like a single engine fire department that had to fight a forest fire. Just as one area was pacified another area blew up as the insurgents simple moved to a location that the Americans weren’t in and started up their activities there.

The American military is more nimble than ever and its tactics began to change dramatically as they conducted numerous raids and began to better use Iraq human intelligence to get to the insurgent leadership and those with the skills to make the IED’s while ramping up the training of Iraq security forces and using them as the bad guys. While American death rates continued to average 2.2 per day they were bleeding the insurgency at a much higher rate and had managed to pacify 16 out of 18 provinces within 3 yrs. As the military wins on the ground the tide was turning against them at home. The media again was the first to turn against the war and that was followed quickly by Hollywood and then regular Americans who began to judge the war’s success by the American death toll. If the monthly total was down the polls would go up and if the monthly total was high as it is this month the polls would go down. Although I said I wouldn’t go political in this essay you can’t ignore the reality of the General election in 04 and mid term election occurring now and how the public perceives the war based on the politicians who are running their campaigns. Sadly we’re in 68 again, the media perception after Tet was that we have lost the war, then the public turned against the war and an administration was destroyed. Morale in the field faltered as nobody wanted to fight and possible die if they weren’t being supported at home.

Once again the military is winning on the ground while the public is being lead to believe they are losing by a biased and profit driven media who are bored and know that to keep ratings high they need to highlight American deaths and any division between the Iraqi leaders and the American leaders and shameless politicians who are willing to hang the military out to dry to gain power.

American wins wars only when the country is mobilized and motivated to win. Iraq is a war that will not be one unless the public rejoins the effort and is willing to make sacrifices. If they don’t we will loss this war and Iraq will be abandoned and become a failed state that eventually breaks into pieces the number of which is for another article. America began this war with noble goals and must not allow politics, the media or polls drive military tactics. America must recognize that when we tell a group of people that we want them to achieve freedom we must follow through instead of demanding instant results. At this point I would suggest everybody re-read American history books which clearly outline the difficulties of creating a constitution and a democracy after a war of liberation. Why is that we expect the Iraqi’s to attain stability quicker than we could?

If we want to win we only need to look at why we’ve been successful and why we’ve failed. If we don’t mobilize the home front we will be adding the Iraq war to the loss column when it easily could have quickly gone into the win column.

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