Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Right War, Wrong War

We all remember the terror attacks of 9/11. We also remember that in the immediate aftermath of those attacks President Bush declared a Global War on Terror which essentially broadened the potential battleground in the campaign on terror beyond the rugged countryside of Afghanistan.

We remember the suspicion that Iraq produced or possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We had reason to believe it had them. The Iraqis had used them on the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War, they had used them on the Kurds in their own country in recent memory, weapons inspectors were obstructed in their efforts to get to the bottom of the issue in Iraq before being tossed out of the country on a number of occasions, and we now know from Saddam Hussein's own mouth that he intentionally led the United States to believe Iraq had these weapons because he wanted Iran to believe they had them. That turned out to be a significant and tragic gamble for him.

So, we attacked Iraq on the pretense that it was a legitimate target in the War on Terror.

We should also remember that when the U. S. and coalition forces attacked Iraq in 2003, Iraq was still under obligations compelled by the Desert Storm cease fire agreement, but ever since the end of that war when Iraq agreed to keep its aircraft and weapons out of the air, the Iraqis launched missiles and anti-aircraft artillery fire at American aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq. The United States bombed Iraqi targets in response, but it didn't deter them. Therefore, Iraq was a legitimate battlefield with or without WMD; it had not abided by the conditions under which we agreed not to expand Desert Storm beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait into Iraq.

So, the United States vanquished what was once the fourth most powerful military in the world and got busy helping the people of Iraq build a democratic republic with rights for all, hopefully to be relatively free of the tyranny of its own government. As we begin to pull back from our physical commitment to that country, Iraqis are rejoicing their new sovereignty as American troops have withdrawn from large population centers and have turned combat operations over to Iraqi control.

Shifting gears a little to the point of this posting, since the beginning of the 2008 Presidential campaign, the issue of the "wrong war" in Iraq versus the "right war" in Afghanistan has been raised repeatedly to the point that now it's virtually a catch-phrase. Now that we have nearly completed the "wrong war," we are turning our full attention to the "right war," some would have us believe...

Here's my two cents' on the "wrong war" and the "right war."

I believe that the "right war" and the "wrong war" are the same war. The campaign is being waged against a stateless enemy, so we have to think a little bit outside the box. Since terrorists aren't bound by borders, what is the point in being drawn into a battle within borders that might spell failure for us by virtue of the terrain and the operating environment? Why should we fight an enemy in the rugged unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan where they would have the tactical advantage when we can draw them to a fight on terrain that is more to our liking in a place like Iraq? In the end, we get rid of a dictator who is hostile to us and threatens us repeatedly, the people of his country finally have a voice in a new government, and we are in a better position to shape the battlefield on which we engage the broader enemy.

Mao Tse Tung (Mao Zedong) is well-known for having advised his guerrillas to "move through the people like a fish moves through water." We battle guerrillas using these tactics by leaving "fish" aground by "draining the swamp." In fact, former-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made a reference to draining the swamp with regard to the anti-terror operation.

However, I don't believe our strategy was to drain the streets of Iraq - the swamp - of sanctuary for terrorists with the hope of isolating them. I believe our strategy was to  flood the swamp (Iraq) with the hope of attracting terrorists to a battlefield of our choosing. We flooded Iraq with American troops and an opportunity for terrorists from all over the world to take the Americans on head-on. And they came to the battle: homicide bombers, snipers, IED bombers, drive-by shooters, kidnappers - the works - and we defeated them all while restoring the promise of a better future for Iraqis.

If we hadn't done it that way - stage the battle in Iraq - and if we had instead, taken the fight into Afghanistan immediately, I believe we would have had the same jihadist response that we had in Iraq, but on a much more difficult battlefield. Jihadists would have flooded into Afghanistan to fight the Americans as they flooded into Iraq, but the fight would have been much different and difficult for us there. It's hard enough as it is.

American military strategists are very familiar with the legions of warriors who have passed through Afghanistan over the centuries unable to conquer the land or the people who lived in its unforgiving terrain. We are very familiar with the experiences of the Soviet military in that country in the late 1970s which, at the time, was the other superpower in the world.

No, I think we did the right thing in going to Iraq and I do not think we really went into Iraq only for the reasons we were told. I also believe it would have been a dreadful tactical error for the American government to announce that this was its strategy because the mere announcement of it would have caused it to fail.

So, now we're wrapping up the "wrong war" in Iraq and we're committing more fully to the "right war" in Afghanistan. I think the time is right to leave Iraq because two things have happened there: (1) the Iraqi government is fairly stable, and (2) all of the swamp creatures who would come to Iraq to fight us there have been pretty well defeated. Now we go to Afghanistan to fight a much less numerous and formidable foe than we would have fought in that country had we begun our work there.

The news coverage of the fighting in Afghanistan is dreadfully poor. The media has bought into the idea of identifying our troops as NATO troops rather than American troops; the result is the American people are almost totally detached now from any sense of the progress and casualties of the war. I don't think that's good at all. The American people should have an accurate, unsensationalized impression of how the war - this "right" war is proceeding. (Isn't it odd that we know almost nothing about how this "right" war is going?) We should know our civilian leaders are prosecuting the war diligently and are not squandering valuable military lives, material assets, and tactical and strategic advantage:

(1) Do not get drawn into battles on ground not of our choosing. Guerrillas in Afghanistan are and have always been extraordinarily patient - much more patient than we Americans are. We need to fight them on terrain and terms of our choosing on our time.

(2) We need to avoid making timetable commitments. These guerrillas will do two things in response those kinds of plans: (1) they will wait us out, (2) they will be ready for us to act hastily on poor ground.

(3) We need to ensure troop strengths are more than adequate to get the job done. If commanders on the ground ask for more troops, they need to have them.

(4) We need to fight all-out. Any limitations we place on our use of tactics and weaponry will cost American lives. If we are not prepared to go in with the full force of our military, we need to just turn around and come home. The American people need to listen for cues that will tell them whether we are really committed to victory, or if we're willing to accept a strategy of limited engagements on ground of the enemy's choosing. If so, we need to be aware that this is the opposite strategy of the one that worked in Iraq.

This is the time for the American people to pay very close attention to the war. Listen to what the generals are asking for and pay attention to the Administration's response. It is more important to fight this war the right way than it is to merely know it as the "right war."