Ed.: 070917a – Words: 969 – Audio: 10:04
Sun Tsu’s Art of War suggests….
In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
Wars are no fun anymore. Well.. not that any war is “fun” (just ask those that fought in one), but some wars lend themselves to quick and relatively easy victories.. and are generally campaigns for the greater good… Great Crusades against evil empires… and as such are somehow morally acceptable. The last war we had like that was WW2. Our country’s involvement was just about 3 years, 4 months. Our involvement in WW1 was only about 1 year, 7 months. Even our own Civil War lasted “only” 4 years. Now, certainly by comparison here with the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 between the UK and Zanzibar that lasted only 45 minutes (yes, minutes), even a one year war seems a lifetime. But wars and conflicts since those glorious days have turned into basically unwinnable quagmires.
“Quagmire” has become a favorite term to describe our unwinnable conflicts pretty much since our adventure in Vietnam. You can’t quite count our effort in Korea as a quagmire. That war lasted three years before an armistice treaty was signed and the shooting stopped. Yes, we essentially stayed there for a while as a precaution… but we have been there for decades for no real apparent reason given the South has developed a great economy and economic affluence decades ago and can defend itself. (Now, this does not mean that another war with North Korea would not end up a quagmire if we ended up an occupying force; not likely to happen though if nukes have been dropped all over the countryside.)
But there have been a fair share of what I might term, “nonsense wars”; my definition suggesting the various armed interventions that amounted to no clear strategy or technical win… or just begs the general question, “why did we bother?” (in other words, a vague purpose for being there). I should say at this point that there has been only one military commander since Eisenhower, in my opinion, who actually tried do his job under the political condition that there would be specific goals and objectives… Norman Schwartzkopf of Desert Storm fame.
I’m going to wave his flag here for a moment for a couple reasons. Firstly, he was a combat command veteran during Vietnam who preferred leading his troops from the front rather than from the rear. Like most GI’s in that war, he experienced the frustration of a poorly conducted war based on totally ill-conceived political goals and objectives that translated to poorly directed military and obscure objectives that only served to kill or maim thousands of soldiers. Following the Vietnam War “Stormin’ Norman” went up the ranks and reached the position of theater commander for Desert Storm… removing Saddam’s Iraqi military out of Kuwait. In his own story he tells that he only took the top commander position for Desert Storm if there were strictly defined political and military goals and objectives. This lesson he learned in Vietnam.
The second component to me mentioning him here is his unique ability to handle the press. He saw how the press covered the Vietnam War and noted that their reporting just added to the overall depressed morale of the average soldier, thus affecting his fighting ability. In Desert Storm he encouraged press participation, had some imbedded with front line units… and he did his own press conferences on the progress of the war, using maps and charts (you had to have been around to watch that on the evening news… quite impressive); the man became a celebrity himself for his ability to handle the press. I mention this because he discovered that if you can cater to the questions from the press, you have the ability to control the answers if the answers are direct and concise… and being specific on what you can or cannot answer. There has been no one in government since him that can do this with the press. More to the point, it’s easier just to dismiss the press as all fake news and liars rather learning to live with them… and use them.
Bottom line… he was a “total war” commander to meet the goals and objectives. He kicked the Iraqis out of Kuwait, destroyed the Iraqi military from ever returning (totally blasting the retreating forces without mercy), and kept Iraqi air power within the northern no-fly areas. He had no license to continue to Baghdad.. and that was never his goal in spite of public opinion urging the then President to do otherwise.
It’s very sad, for the popularity and military hero he was, with the big welcome home parade… that he died in 2012 with barely a blurb anywhere on the news. There’s likely people reading this that barely know his name.
But.. the point is that the use of the military since WW2 has been pretty dismal… yet more so, the diplomacy, or lack thereof, that caused the military to be used at all. We have a kick-ass military, with kick-ass equipment, and totally kick-ass weaponry. But civilian leadership sucks at defining realistic political or military objectives. We send our kids into battle with their hands tied with rules of engagement limitations; who to shoot, when to shoot, how to shoot, and who they can talk to along the way. How does anyone win wars like that? It’s because wars now are more “police actions” (to borrow a political Korean War phrase), or “humanitarian relief”.
Desert Storm proved we can clobber an enemy in open field battle with our advanced armor and open field tactics. But wars aren’t like that anymore. This “war on terrorism” is guerrilla urban fighting.. often man-to-man or in the least unit-to-unit, smack in the middle of civilians in the crossfire constantly. This type of fighting started with Vietnam and we have still not learned how to cope with it. We didn’t learn this in Afghanistan, our longest war, or in Iraq, where we are currently trying to defeat yet another kind of enemy from territories our GI’s fought and died for (and theoretically won) just a few years ago. Now these politicians have gotten us into the Syrian “quagmire”.
More in Part 2