Tom Snodgrass writes a wonderful piece at Intellectual Conservative about our current and past warfare doctrine, and how it must change:
With the advent of nuclear weapons, many civilian think tank warfare theorists believed that direct superpower confrontation had become too dangerous to contemplate. Thus was born “limited war” in the national lexicon of strategic thinking when the Korean War broke out in 1950 and President Truman limited the war objectives and means in order to avoid nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. The Korean War began the change in the American concept of war away from total war, or what was called at the time “general war,” to a form of war that was more “civilized” and “less dangerous” in the minds of social scientists.
The problem of limited war from an American national interest standpoint was that it assumed U.S. enemies would likewise be restrained in objectives and means. This fanciful social science assumption rested on the unproven belief that no foreign national leader in his right mind would dare oppose America, following its World War II victory, once U.S. willingness to fight was made clear. However, the advocates of limited war never came to grips with what would happen if a Soviet Cold War client state refused to “play” by limited war “rules.” In other words, how and when would limited war be concluded when the communists were pursuing total war objectives and the U.S. was waging a war for limited objectives? This was the first appearance of an asymmetry in war strategies long before the now infamous contemporary asymmetry on the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) battlefield. The GWOT is more appropriately termed the war against Islam (and the Shari’a touting faithful), but we use GWOT due to its common usage.
This disparity of total vs. limited war objectives first became apparent as the Korean War dragged on and President Truman’s administration could find no way to conclude the conflict. When President Eisenhower assumed the presidency from Truman in 1953, he quickly recognized the logical solution to the strategic conundrum was shifting U.S. war-fighting from limited to total war means, and he thereby ended the Korean War by communicating to the communists his intention of escalating with nuclear weapons if the communists persisted in their total war objectives. Civilian limited war advocates should have seen the glaring fallacy of their theory at this point, but they didn’t. For his part, Eisenhower did not believe that limited war could remain limited.
As a warrior who knew war first-hand, President Eisenhower opted for a historically-based defense doctrine of “Massive Retaliation,” which promised an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in the event of aggression. Throughout the better part of the 1950’s, Eisenhower’s national security strategy insured that there was no military superpower confrontation. Because Eisenhower had doubts that a “limited war” would remain such, his over-all national security policy, called the “New Look,” was based on the unstoppable nuclear striking power of Strategic Air Command. During this period of relative peace, Democrat political opponents and social-science civilian theorists were in constant chorus that the New Look Massive Retaliation was simply too risky for the country and the world.
But of course along came Kennedy and company:
Ho Chi Minh set out with the total war objective to conquer South Vietnam, while President Kennedy, and later President Johnson, in accordance with the Flexible Response doctrine regarded the conflict as limited, and they answered Ho’s total war with limited war subject to a gradual escalation. Instead of sending the intended message of strength to the North Vietnamese, Ho correctly interpreted the limited U.S. response as a sign of a lack of will on the part of the American political leadership. Once it became evident to Ho that America would not use its massive military strength to destroy North Vietnam, and thereby end the conflict and communist rule, the North Vietnamese targeted the will of the U.S. body politic and pursued the war with impunity.
Amazingly, a weak American political leadership refused to even threaten the continued existence of the North Vietnamese Communist Government, thus encouraging and enabling Ho and his successors to drag the war out to the point that the war-will of the U.S. polity was eventually destroyed. In truth it was not the media or the political opposition that “lost the war,” as is sometimes alleged, it was a U.S. political and military leadership that was both too timid (a polite word for cowardly) to be successful wartime leaders and too blinded by their own hubris to understand that the impossible asymmetry in the objectives of the warring parties guaranteed that limited war was a sure strategy for defeat in Vietnam.
Sound familiar? Here is our new majority Congress:
In short, it is time to begin to move our forces out of Iraq and make the Iraqi political leadership aware that our commitment is not open ended, that we cannot resolve their sectarian problems, and that only they can find the political resolution required to stabilize Iraq.
Our troops and the American people have already sacrificed a great deal for the future of Iraq. After nearly four years of combat, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, and over $300 billion dollars, it is time to bring the war to a close.
Bring it to a close whether we are victorious or not. No matter. Hey, as long as we gave it that old college try right?
Tom again speaking about the Weinberger and Powell doctrines set in motion in the 80’s and 90’s respectively:
Both doctrines are admirable in their attempts to clarify when and how U.S. forces should be used, but they are clearly meant for limited war contexts. We know this from the doctrines themselves and their historical context. Quite simply, the limited war doctrine reigns today; it has never been re-written. As a consequence, after 9/11 when the U.S. entered into the GWOT, our national strategic thinking was not geared for global war. Hence we have both opponents and proponents of GWOT measuring the “Battle for Iraq” and Afghanistan solely in terms of limited war. We continue to be trapped in the same mental box that pre-ordained our Vietnam defeat. It is not widely understood that Iraq is merely a campaign in the GWOT, not a limited “Iraq War.” Today we are battling the faithful Muslims of the world who wish a Shari’a-based worldwide Caliphate together with the foot soldiers of Iran, Syria, and al Qaeda in Iraq.
Moreover, the very idea that America can no longer fight a total war, but only a limited war, has grown out of the enormous democratization of our body politic. When World War I and World War II were fought, the national leaders and especially the Commander-in-Chief had relatively few political constraints on their war-making abilities and strategies. The average citizen simply did not expect to carry on a national debate about how to fight the war — only that it ought to be won and won decisively.
And here we are. Radical Islam, a very large army, has attacked us on our own soil but still we quibble. We worry about those who were forced to put panties on their heads instead of worrying about how we will crush the enemy.
We force our troops to operate in more and more restrictive rules of engagement until they are almost useless. As a cop I am forced to operate in some ridiculous rules of engagement, but these are American citizens so what can I do but keep safe and do the right thing. Our troops are over there fighting those who want us ALL dead. Including you Cindy Sheehan. While I fight a criminal who doesn’t fight fair in most cases they are individuals or a maybe a gang of dozens, but they fight a organized army of fanatics willing to blow themselves to smithereens to accomplish their mission. Then they are told they basically have the same rules of engagement as I do as a cop.
Can we change things? Here is Tom again:
Can we escape the limited war mental trap of our own making?
We have no alternative as a nation. We must! We have Muslim enemies within and without Iraq. In World War II the Vichy French, Hungarians, Romanians, Croatians, Iraqis, et.al, never attacked the U.S., but they were our enemies nevertheless because they were allied with the Nazis. Today Iranians, Syrians, Palestinians, et.al, are likewise our enemies because they are allied to the extent that they want a U.S. defeat at the hands of an Islam bounded by the Shari’a. So long as we continue to define Iraq as the only GWOT battlefield, we are again headed for defeat because of our failure to deal with the fact that warfare does not necessarily stop at national borders. Limited war paid homage to this fallacious idea at the Yalu and Parrot’s Beak, and was fatally wrong in both cases.
American politicians (with the exception of President Eisenhower and his administration), senior military leaders, think tank civilian warfare theorists, and media pundits have been mesmerized by limited war in their national security thinking since the outbreak of the Korean War. In Vietnam, successive presidential administrations failed the American people because they were unable to break the paralyzing spell of limited war, and we lost. In the global war against the Shari’a-faithful Muslims, the stakes are existential and not limited, but our national political and senior military leaders are still in the paralyzing death grip of limited war conceptual thinking. If nothing changes, nothing changes.
I credit President Bush for many things. His willingness to attack one facet of our enemy knowing it would harm him politically (Iraq) and sticking with his decision. But we can’t keep pussyfooting around this. I mean, come on, Iran is about to get nukes. This just has to stop. Will innocent people die, yes. As they have in all wars. But we cannot let a ideology that believes in the total annihilation of the west to gain nukes. IT CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO HAPPEN.
We cannot let Iraq turn into chaos.
We have the might, do we have the will?
This last election is making me think we don’t. Will it take another attack on our soil to teach us how wrong we were?
Jules Crittenden with a vision of what will come to pass if we fail this test:
We are sharply divided as a nation. There will be no governing by consensus. Only by hardnosed leadership. This week, we’ll find out what it is going to be. Neither of our options is attractive. But that’s war.
Option One: Pull out. Achieve short-term gratification for those who believe our absence from Iraq will solve our problems. Watch Iraq descend into further violence. Watch a nuclear-armed Iran come to dominate Iraq and the world’s richest oil fields.
No longer a world power, discredited by our own choice, we can watch the pile of bodies mount. Maybe we’ll be restored to our national senses, as we were a decade after Vietnam, when we woke up and realized we never really had the luxury of disengaging from the fight.
This time, it will be harder. It won’t be so neatly contained as it was then. The only good side to this is the army gets to rest. Don’t count on the Democratic Congress to refit or build it up, or to do anything but dither when we need to use it again.
More likely, a dispirited people, our army broken by defeat, we’ll just wait to see who emerges as the new world power. It will be a while before there is one, and much longer before there is one we would care to live under. I predict a dark age, in which brutal second-rate powers such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea do what they choose to whom they choose without restraint. An age of modern warlords, with no over-arching, feared power to keep them in check. We can watch the sick man that is Europe slowly succumb. We can watch small free nations try to fend for themselves. We can await the inevitable nuclear crisis.
Does that sound at all medieval or apocalyptic? It is. Don’t think we can’t go back to that.
Does it sound overly melodramatic and alarmist? If so, you’re a fool with no understanding of history. I have bad news for you. The fight against evil in this world is business as usual. It never ends.
Will we do the right thing and fight those who want us destroyed? Or will we bend and brake due to the soft underbelly of our country…..the Democrats.