Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Winning Battles, Losing Wars
By Alan Caruba
My late Father was too young to serve in World War One and too old to serve in World War Two, but he sent two sons to serve in the U.S. Army, one during the Korean conflict in Tokyo’s command headquarters and myself during early 1960s peacetime at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The closest I ever came to seeing combat was during the Cuban Missile crisis. It extended my active duty by a couple of months while Krushchev and Kennedy considered the consequences and then, as Dean Rusk, Kennedy’s Secretary of State said of Krushchev, “He blinked.” I went back to being a civilian. And, like big brother, a veteran.
In the 1970s, after the sad end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. ended the universal draft in favor of an all volunteer military
The question I have grappled with over the years is actually quite simple. How did the greatest military power in the world manage to only achieve a stalemate in Korea, lose the Vietnam War, and get itself mired in the Middle East after a remarkably brief and successful initial invasion in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq?
Stephen L. Melton retired after twenty years of service as an Army officer and became a member of the faculty at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. He is a warrior turned scholar or perhaps was always a scholar because he applies his experience and analysis to answering my question in his new book, “The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
It is his contention that the U.S. Army and other branches by extension, forgot how to how to occupy and govern in the wake of victory. The best historical examples are Germany and Japan, two despotisms that were first destroyed and then revived as democratic nations. America used to be good at that sort of thing.
Astonishingly, though it had been part of military manuals for decades, Melton notes that “There are no chapters in any of our (current) manuals entitled ‘How to Conduct a Military Occupation’ or ‘How to Install a New Government in an Occupied Country’, even though the U.S. Army has a long and successful history of conducting these types of operations.”
Why has Iraq proved to be a quagmire? “In Iraq the army’s contemporary speculations on war failed their first reality check: We went to war with no occupation doctrine, no nation-building doctrine, no army organizations specifically designed and trained for occupation duty, no advisory corps to rebuild Iraqi security institutions, no plan for procuring the necessary legions of translators, no institutional understanding of Arab culture, and no counterinsurgency doctrine.” Ditto Afghanistan.
So now you know why, having swiftly smashed its way into downtown Baghdad, our victorious army had no idea what to do when the looting erupted and not enough troops to stop it. Martial law wasn’t declared or enforced. That is a misuse of a standing army by virtue of failing to think about what was required once it achieved its initial mission.
“Rather we have failed in Iraq because the army no longer understands how offensive wars are won,” says Melton. “Consequently, we no longer have the doctrine, force structure, or training programs necessary to execute offensive wars.”
The military operates from “doctrines”, the agreed-upon strategies to wage and win wars. What it lacks, says Melton, is a doctrine to address what must be done after conquest and, lacking that, we invite endless insurgencies and the casualties that come with them.
Military folk will argue Melton’s point of view, built on what he calls a post-Vietnam love affair with the writings of a Napoleonic era Prussian general named Carl von Clausewitz whose long neglected book promoted a military philosophy that included “center of gravity analysis” and “decisive battle” concepts. The U.S. Army, however, had always won its wars based on “attrition.”
That’s how Grant and Sherman fought. That’s how McArthur fought. That’s how Eisenhower fought with the assistance of a brilliant tank commander named Patton; overwhelming, relentless application of fire power from the ground, from the air, and from the sea. It was always about the ruthless necessary destruction of the enemy’s ability or willingness to fight.
As the last of the World War Two veterans die off and the veterans of Vietnam grow old, a whole new generation of veterans is emerging. World War Two was over in four years and was fought in two separate theatres, Asia and Europe, but the Vietnam War lasted from 1961 to 1975. We have been in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom.
These new veterans, state reserve units and fulltime military, have been subject to years of constant rotation into war zones where the war never ends. They deserve better. They deserve some thought about when and whether to go to war and what to do when initial success leads to a kind of grinding defeat when conquered people will not or cannot change.