There was just a small chance at the end of 2008 that our effort in Iraq would work. By extreme exertions we had mostly pacified the nation and with a bit of luck and more hard work, Iraq might have slowly developed into a pluralist democracy, thus providing a both a bulwark against extremism and a model for the rest of the long-suffering people of the Middle East. It did not, however, work out like that. Rather than keep a presence in Iraq, we withdrew all our forces and essentially left Iraq to its own devices. Power does abhor a vacuum and as we weren’t there and the Iraqis weren’t quite up to the task, other powers started flowing into Iraq. Now we see the result of that – a clash which is now really more between some people who want to create a Caliphate without reference to the existence of Iraq as a nation, and the Iranians who are bound and determined to keep control of as much Iraqi territory as possible, also without reference to the existence of Iraq as a nation. Those in Iraq who would prefer neither Iranian nor Caliphate domination are squeezed between the two and will simply have to choose which evil they think is lesser.
At the end of 2008, Afghanistan was seeing an upsurge in trouble as the Islamist effort in Iraq was beaten back and Afghanistan became the only place an Islamist could fight the United States. In the 2008 campaign, Obama told the American people that Iraq was the distraction, but that Afghanistan was the war we had to fight. This is why we cut out of Iraq and then surged into Afghanistan. Not with the number of troops recommended by senior military leaders and while giving a time frame for our withdrawal, thus allowing the enemy to know how long they had to endure before we quit – but, still, the effort was made in accordance with Obama’s oft-stated premise that we had to fight the war in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it also didn’t work out. The enemy knew we weren’t there forever and continual restrictions upon the ability of our forces to conduct the sort of brutal war necessary to defeat the Islamist forces made certain that victory wasn’t possible. Meanwhile, the Afghan government descended into ever worse corruption and clearly started making arrangements for what would happen after the United States departed – mostly in terms of giving power to those who were fighting against us.
After all is said and done, whatever we were hoping to accomplish by going into Afghanistan and Iraq has proven a failure. For you liberals out there who are of the opinion that killing bin Laden was key and winning in Afghanistan was right because Obama said so: you were wrong. For us conservatives who believed that we could build a democratic, Muslim nation: we were wrong. For those on the left who want to harp upon circa-2004 BUSH LIED!!!!1!! memes; just shut up and go away. Seriously – no one wants to hear that nonsense any longer. However one felt about the efforts, they have clearly failed and now it is time to re-assess our policies.
First off, let’s look at some of the mistakes which were made – this is bi-partisan and so I’m not going to assign blame to any particular person. These are American mistakes.
1. Failure to actually declare war on Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria and Iran). We haven’t declared war since we advised Hitler we were at war with him in 1941. Since that day, we have fought 6 major and minor wars. We lost four of them (Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, War on Terrorism) and won two (Grenada and Panama) – with the two wins being of the nature of a police action, over so quick that no one had time to really rise in either favor of opposition to either of them. Some might say that Korea and Gulf War were not losses, but I have the view that if you don’t absolutely win, then you have lost. The bottom line is that failure to actually treat war as war is a fundamental flaw. There is something to be said for a people who, via their elected representatives, clearly state they are enemies of another people and are determined to crush them. And that leads to the next point.
2. Failure to fight war with all our means. In the basic mental toughness of war we have been found wanting. War requires quite brutal actions to be carried out ruthlessly. It is the only way to be merciful in war. The longer the thing drags out, the more people will die. As I noted in an earlier post, in World War Two when we caught some Germans fighting in an irregular manner we shot them 6 days after we captured them. That is war. That is how it is fought. Not by being savages (that is counter-productive) but by letting your enemy know that your intentions are serious and you won’t be deterred by either losses or a false sentimentality. The enemy knew they had our number when we got mad at our own boys and girls because they were a bit ill-disciplined regarding some Iraqi captives (yes, the troops shouldn’t have done that – but as no one was killed, it should have just been busting them in rank and calling it a day). This was just confirmed when, later on, we brought up on charges some US soldiers who pissed on the corpses of dead enemies. Who would fear an enemy which tut-tuts at such a thing? Seriously, folks. This is war; not bean bag.
3. We took too long. Celerity of movement is vital in war. Caesar knew this, so did Napoleon. All the great captains of war have this in common: they move very quickly. You have to – because it is the only way to keep an enemy off balance. Doubly so if you move quickly in an unexpected direction. Don’t telegraph your punches. This means, among other things, never go to the United Nations – takes months, at the least, and just lets an enemy know where you’re heading. Kabul, Afghanistan fell on November 12th, 2001. If it was decided that the best next target was Iraq (and I did – and still do – believe it was), then we should have been there by, oh, December 12th, 2001. Baghdad by January – and then on to Syria by March, 2002. Clean up Libya somewhere in between there. See where I’m going with this? If by, say, June of 2002 we were sitting in Baghdad, Damascus (and Beirut – because Lebanon goes along with Syria) and Tripoli then Iran is next – and what might have eventuated among the people of Iran if they saw such an avalanche coming? We’ll never know. It wasn’t tried. We didn’t even get into Iraq until March of 2003, 18 months after the 9/11 attacks and right around 9 months after we telegraphed to Iraq that they were 2nd on the target list…thus giving Saddam time to (a) move the WMDs (they were there – intelligence agencies just don’t get it that wrong) and (b) prepare for the “Mogadishu” strategy in which Saddam’s forces would fade into the populace and launch terrorist-style attacks against US occupation forces. In World War Two MacArthur went from Port Moresby to Manila, a distance of 2,400 miles as the crow flies, in two and a half years against fierce enemy resistance. That is celerity of movement. Getting from Kuwait to Baghdad in 18 months is sluggish.
4. Wars don’t end – they are won, or they are lost. What is victory? It is the enemy surrendering and submitting to our will. There is no such thing as an “exit strategy”. There is no “exit”. We’ll fight until we win; however long that takes and however many of the enemy we have to kill. When they surrender and do as we desire, then the war is over. In the case of this war, surrender would mean the turning over to us of all people who lead terrorist groups, all sources of funding for such groups held by enemy States, a solemn pledge never to aid, abet or in any way, shape or form support terrorist activities ever again, reparations to us for putting us through the trouble (ie, surrender of wealth and/or territory to the United States).
In light of these mistakes, I think our best policy should be, for now, to withdraw as far as possible from the entire Middle East area. Keeping our pledges to defend Israel – and perhaps Jordan, as well – we should get our people out (as well as any locals who worked closely with us). I’m talking pretty much an entire shut down – not just military personnel, but US government employees, contractors and a firm discouragement of any private Americans to travel into any Muslim-majority nation. Break off trade relations as far as possible, refuse entry visas to people from those nations, deport middle eastern nationals from the United States as swiftly as possible. Still provide humanitarian assistance, but through third party actors. Still provide asylum, but only for minority people of the middle east – this will of nature mean mostly Christians of the area, but can mean certain Muslim or quasi-Muslim sects which do suffer routine persecution.
Once we’re out, we announce of policy regarding acts of terror against the United States. Should such a thing come to pass, we will lay the blame on all nations we have identified as sponsors of terrorist groups. It does not matter which terrorist group actually does the attack – any such attack on the United States will result in our laying blame upon all the nations we identify as people State-sponsors of terrorism. Our action then will be to declare war on all the offending nations and fight them until they surrender to us.
By being out we lessen the chances that a terrorist in that area will be able to do something to provoke US response. By making it clear that only an attack upon the United States will lead to war, we make it clear that we’ll only fight a defensive war (by being out – and cutting trade – we become less and less interested, for instance, in what happens to middle eastern oil…if the Europeans and Japanese care about it, let them station troops in the area). By insisting that any attack will result in war against all the State-sponsors, we’ll give them pause. Maybe enough to ensure they don’t hit us at home. Maybe not, of course; people who sponsor terrorist groups are (a) a bit insane and (b) never able to really fully control them…but them’s the breaks, as it were. If you don’t want waves of US heavy bombers over your capital city in the by and by, then manifestly get out of the terror-sponsoring business. Finally, by doing this we would ensure national unity in the event of a future war and thus the political will to act with the necessary brutality and ruthlessness against the enemy required to win a war, and win it swiftly. We’ll never find ourselves again in a Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan situation again.
These are just my thoughts, of course. Others can come up with other ideas. But I believe I have distilled down to the essence of our mistakes and the best course out of the military morass we’ve been in since 1945. There are those, of course, who say we shouldn’t fight, at all. To such people I really have nothing to say: the absolute pacifist position is absurd and immoral. There are other who only believe we should fight if the enemy presents himself upon American soil. To that I say, you really don’t want a war on US soil. Always better to fight “over there”. There are those who say the whole thing is our fault and thus we go what we deserved. To that I say that, if true, then my policy of nearly complete withdrawal from the area repairs that fault and thus any future attack upon us is out of perversity.
We’ll see now what sort of horrors are in store for Iraq and Afghanistan and what sort of fumbling, incompetent response Obama will give. But however the mess sits as of January 20th, 2017, we will need to think then about how we want to go forward – and I hope we will think long and carefully about what we’ll do.