From Swords Crossed
Part 1 of 2.
---"War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means."
--- "The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking."
-Clausewitz, On War
In his response
to my post on Iraq
, Trevino answers none of the questions I pose to him, though he writes eloquently.
Instead Trevino turns Clausewitz on his head:
Somewhere in the 20th century, the idea of victory as an end in itself was lost. With that loss came a startling divergence in the military and political outcomes of wars of Western powers against non-Western foes. By the time the French abandoned Algeria, they had eradicated the opposing guerrilla forces in the field, put vastly more Algerian Muslims under arms for France than fought for independence, and secured a more absolute territorial hegemony over the vast Algerian hinterland than had ever existed in the previous 124 years of French rule. But the time the United States abandoned South Vietnam, we had eliminated the Viet Cong as a fighting force, reduced endemic enemy activity from 80% of the country to roughly 20%, and established the ARVN as a fighting force capable of effective defenses (if not offenses) against the regular units of North Vietnam. Both these outcomes looked something like success on the ground, and both were transformed into unquestionable defeat by dint of politics.
This seems a remarkable statement to me and an ignorance of one of Clausewitz's most famous and accurate maxims:
"War is . . . an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will."
Neither in Algeria nor in Vietnam were the Western powers able to compel their enemies to do their will - which was to lay down arms and ACCEPT defeat. And the simple truth is that in neither conflict did the Western powers have a realistic chance of compelling their will. Was either Western power militarily defeated as opposed to politically defeated, as Trevino posits?
This begs the question - all military actions are political. Defeat is not compartmentalized for a nation.
""No one starts a war--or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so--without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it."
What were the aims of the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Not the justification (no need to rehash WMDs here), but the aims.
Regime change. Was it ALSO change to a certain TYPE of regime? Apparently so. Otherwise we would be gone. We have certainly succeeded in changing the regime in Iraq.
So then, what is our remaining war aim? What type of regime do we seek for Iraq? What tools do we have at our disposal to achieve that aim? Do we have solely military tools? Can the military tools get the job done? Can whatever other tools we have get the job done? Can WE get the job done?
Trevino has written an eloquent essay but answers not even one of the essential questions. In that sense, he reminds me greatly of George Packer who I wrote about here:
General Wesley Clark says "If you can do good, you should." The key word is "can." And "how" of course. The idea that anybody in the political discussion would not want a free and democratic Iraq is just nonsense. Everybody wants that. I want a free and democratic China too. I don't see Packer advocating a war of liberation there. . .
This kind of sentimentalization of the extraordinarily bad judgment shown by the liberal hawks is exactly the wrong approach to discussing the issue. If their mindset remains mired in this approach, they simply are not credible to discuss the issues of foreign policy that require discussion.
This sentimentalization approach of Packer's is reinforced in this passage:
Last night I received an e-mail from a soldier I met in Iraq in July 2003 who is now agonizing over the way forward. He wrote: "I hoped all the way until March 2003 that we wouldn't go to war with Iraq. I'd heard all the arguments for it, many of which were good...I just didn't think that fighting a war to fix a problem that had always been a problem and wasn't particularly worse than any number of similar problems around the world was worth alienating so many of our friends and reducing our esteem around the world. And I thought the post-war activities would be miserable in that environment.
You were right soldier. And you left out one other thing. We were not capable of fixing the situation
But now the sentimentalization intrudes:
Once I exited the C-17, though, my views changed drastically. Particularly after meeting and befriending so many Iraqis as they, it seemed to me, woke up disoriented from a generation-long nightmare, I began to believe very deeply in the morality of what I was involved in there, if not the wisdom of the policy that brought it all about.
Hold up. It is NOT moral to adopt an unwise policy that does more harm than good even if the intention of the policy is moral. Indeed, it is IMMORAL in my view.
And this is the fundamental point. Packer wants to grasp the mantle of the "right thing to do" even if unwise. I categorically reject that. It was the wrong thing to do and not moral.
Not to accept that is to not learn from your mistakes. Packer, it seems to me, and no, I have not read his book, just his posts, has learned nothing.
Trevino has learned from his misjudgments - but he has not learned enough.
Part 2 comes tomorrow.