18 September 2007

They shall study war no more

…and it will cost us, big time.

Ron Kuby, on Laura Ingraham’s show last week, complains that there will be more troops in Iraq after the surge than there were before. And that, he informs us, demonstrates that the surge isn’t working.

This is the problem with having a national debate about a war: some of the participants don’t understand military terminology and ways of thinking. A surge is an increase in the number of troops. Unless I'm missing something nuanced about it, Kuby’s position amounts to this: There will be more troops in Iraq after the increase in the number of troops in Iraq than there were before the increase in the number of troops in Iraq. And this increase in the number of troops in Iraq demonstrates that the increase in the number of troops in Iraq isn’t working.

We’ve had this problem for a long time, at least since the Vietnam era. It’s illustrated beautifully by American reactions to Tet. Because Tet accomplished none of the stated purposes (perhaps the most important of which was to spark an insurgency in South Vietnam), General Westmoreland hailed it as a defeat for the enemy and, by implication, a success for the U.S. and their allies. To give the enemy their due, Tet was hard-fought. But it was also, militarily speaking, a failure. However, when the news cameras showed the destruction wrought during the six months of the offensive Westmoreland’s assessment was difficult to accept. In the end, Tet was an overwhelming psychological victory. The fact that such an offensive (extensive in scope as it was) could even be launched in the first place – even if it failed – was enough to demoralize us. (Admittedly, the same military which successfully repelled Tet is largely to blame for this: military leadership, especially Westmoreland, had led us to believe that the enemy were incapable of anything of so vast a scope as the Tet Offensive.) So, what really was a victory for us was perceived as a defeat instead.

Not much has changed. We still have participants in the national debate who seem to think that fighting a battle – or a war – is like building a table or something: if you don’t succeed right away, or if it proves more difficult than you think it should be…quit. Some of them, like Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island (who delivered the Democratic response to the President’s speech last night and despite having been a commissioned Army officer) seem to think that one ends a war unilaterally by just ceasing to fight it. Never mind what the other guy does. According to Reed: “[O]nce again, the president failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it.”

It occurs to me – I’m no general, of course – that an essential part of any plan to end any war successfully must include at least four things: (1) continuing to fight said war, (2) defining “success” as “thoroughly, completely, and totally defeating the enemy”—or something like that, (3) not allowing the enemy either to seize (or keep!) the initiative or dictating the terms of battle, and (4) going through generals until you find the one that gets the job done (sort of like Lincoln until he found Grant). I think the President does have a plan to end the war successfully. The problem for Democrats appears to be that the President will not accept the Democrat definition of “successfully” which seems to mean “we stop fighting”. And the convincing rationale for continuing the war is that the enemy have defined that move on our part as defeat for us and victory for them. Some of us find that unacceptable.

When we ultimately win this war, we will have the tortuous (and, for some of us, impossible) task of finding a way to live with a victory which costs the lives of thousands of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. I doubt we will ever find a way to live with a defeat which costs thousands of lives. We still, in many respects, haven’t gotten over a defeat in Vietnam which costs so many lives.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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