Thursday, January 01, 2015

It Really Isn't a Floor Wax and Dessert Topping

The notion that our military can't win wars--and hasn't--is just nonsense.

I'll just skip the nonsense that our military is not scrutinized in a rush to "support the troops." Let me just say that "scrutinize" isn't what a large segment of our population did to the troops who fought in Vietnam. And I wonder how many veterans were in the Congress that authorized the war in Vietnam, eh? The piece is a somewhat incoherent mish-mash complaining about civil-military relations, military effectiveness, weapons acquisition, and military accountability.

Here's one response.

Let me address the other nonsense about the record of "failure" of an admittedly high quality military.

Oh good grief:

Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the U.S. has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.

Really? Let's ignore the cost stuff. First of all, we actually spend money to avoid casualties--the "human cost" (ours, the enemy's, and civilians in the way). In the big picture, that cost is irrelevant to the issue of winning or losing. You can cite it to say that the result wasn't worth it, but that's another debate isn't it?

And cut out the part about the Iraqi military collapsing. That's really a condemnation of leaving the Iraqis on their own. Perhaps if the author had more familiarity with the military he'd understand that a military requires constant training to maintain its quality rather than being something you train and then just have ready for action.

What we are left with is the idea that our military has not won its wars and has failed to bring lasting stability to areas where we intervene. I'm sorry, but just who expected the Middle East of all places to be instantly stable and peaceful? That is the measure of success or failure? Are you kidding me?

Face it, in Iraq we destroyed the Saddam regime that was a conventional threat to the Gulf region, supported regional terrorism, and was an evil bloody despotism; defeated al Qaeda, Baathist resistance, and Iranian-sponsored Shia death squads trying to become the local chapter of Hezbollah there; and left Iraq with a functioning if fledgling democracy with the three major groupings (Sunni Arab, Kurd, and Shia) more unified than under Saddam, that in time could be an example to other Moslem majority states of an alternative to autocracy or Islamism to govern.

But the Iraqis aren't debating bike paths already, so the war was a failure? Get over it. We won in Iraq.

Who has ever said that military force--a blunt instrument--is the only tool in our kit? Aren't the people who claim our military has failed the same ones who say that "smart" diplomacy requires non-military assets? I certainly agree, although sometimes successful military action is the prerequisite for the use of other assets of foreign policy. That's why so many supporters of the Iraq War wanted our military to stay there after 2011 even when our military objectives were achieved.

The fact is, sometimes a situation is so bad that only military force can even get close to eliminating factors that inhibit those non-military means of pursuing our objectives. How is it possible to complain that eliminating evil foes doesn't lead to the ascendance of the Baghdad Chapter of the League of Women Voters all at once?

Come on! What did the Revolution achieve all at once when we took another decade to get a reasonable form of government, had to re-fight the war of independence in 1812, and had to finally settle the question of slavery initially left to fester in 1865?

What did the War of 1812 settle when the ending of the Napoleonic Wars really ended the reasons for war?

Was the Civil War really a success when Jim Crow laws kept freed slaves too close to their old status, and which required Civil Rights laws a century later to finally kill off legal discrimination?

Was World War I a victory given that 20 years later we had a rematch in Europe with a new fight in Asia to add to the fun?

Was World War II really a victory when it led to the Nazis and Japanese militarists being replaced by communist despots in the Soviet Union and China--whose body count was far higher--as threats to world peace, and which as a result we still keep troops forward deployed to defend our interests and allies?

In light of all this, this bit of the article is amusing:

The last war that ended up in circumstances remotely resembling what prewar planning would have considered a victory was the brief Gulf War of 1991.

Say? Isn't the fact that we fought Saddam's Iraq again after the 1991 ceasefire--and have kept troops in Kuwait ever since--proof that we really lost that war, too? Or did I miss the lasting stability created?

Actually, I'm so old I remember when academics argued that we really lost that 1991 war. Now, safely in the rear view mirror, that war can be safely ratified in order to condemn the recent wars. That's how the anti-war side works.

Do remember that the Afghanistan campaign was only the "good war" as long as the anti-war side wanted to focus on losing the Iraq campaign. Once we defeated our enemies in Iraq, the anti-war side turned against the only war in town.

Our military has given us battlefield victories over all of our recent foes, whether conventional, irregular, insurgent, or terrorist--including in 1991, of course. That is what we have the right to ask of our military assets.

If you have problems with the post-wars, maybe you should speak about other tragedies of government policy and institutions--or of the flaws of societies themselves that prove so oddly immune to the soothing reform of JDAMs. If you want New Shimmer Pentagon, forget it.

UPDATE: Related--with points I make above.