[Note: FUBAR = fucked up beyond all recognition for my non-military friends]
Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, wrote a scathing indictment of the top brass in an article for Armed Forces Journal. It’s worth a read. In it he makes a couple points I wanted to highlight and comment on. I’ve been having several conversations lately about the war and had one just today with a friend. We weren’t coming from the same direction entirely, but there were certainly some takaways from it that actually line up with Col. Yingling.
His first point:
Armies do not fight wars; nations fight wars. War is not a military activity conducted by soldiers, but rather a social activity that involves entire nations. Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted that passion, probability and policy each play their role in war. Any understanding of war that ignores one of these elements is fundamentally flawed.
This is absolutely on point. I don’t agree that a global “war on terror” ought to be deemed a “war” at all, but for purposes of this post I’m willing to stipulate as such. Where is the passion? Where is the walk through concrete walls to get done what has to get done to protect and defend our country? It has been unceremoniously bled from us over the course of the last 4 years by an administration intent upon it’s own goals and entirely deaf to the cries of the American people. Has there been a greater squandering of political capital in the modern era? September 12, 2001 saw a country and world united in a quest to rid ourselves of terror and fear. We would have done anything and ended up going along with anything as we watched anxiously hoping the ousting of the evil Saddam might bring some comfort to us as we continued to watch images of the still smoldering towers. Some of us woke up quickly to the charade. Most have awakened now.
September 12, 2006 saw a country and world completely suspicious of those who took that political capital and spent it on their own neocon dreams. We had a chance to do this the right way, but found ourselves ironically in the hands of the party of defense and market driven military industrial complex – a party that was about to make the middle east and the world as a whole a much more dangerous place for us all for a generation to come. Their actions were so far outside of anything rational that we are now fighting a war without passion and without sacrifice. We are treading water and hoping we don’t drown.
I would argue that we are missing all 3 elements in this failed attempt at establishing a new order in the middle east.
We have no social passion for this war, that much is clear. Poll after poll after poll. We did have it, but it was wasted on a project for a new american century.
I’d also argue that probability was not on our side going in and many knew this. The odds were skewed and hidden from us like a game of 3 card monty and the American people are today walking away from the table wondering where their money is.
Policy? We have been devoid of a definitive and clear policy on how to wage this war since the beginning. The intital reasons and justifications and resulting policy have been altered so many times as to make it absolutely unrecognizable. That was the intent. You create a moving target. Raise and lower the bar. Redefine situations. Then explain why there is no progress by pointing to some other benchmark or better yet point out into the future and offer hope. Plausible obfuscated deniability. You know it when you hear it.
If The President had wanted to use what capital and unity he had after 9/11, he should have put a bigger effort into transforming Afghanistan with many more troops. Even if there had been justification for war in Iraq, the planning was piss poor. War planning in 1998 for an invasion of Iraq certainly called for more troop levels than what were committed, some 380,000 as Colonel Yingling points out. Using Bosnia and Kosovo as a guide for how many troops would be needed points to 470,000 troops. Rumsfeld wanted to go lean and mean ignoring the advice of Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki. Hard to see a George Bush Ave. in Baghdad given the outcomes.
Every correct thing done since the fall of saddam has been an afterthought. All meaningful long-term action was indeed done as an afterthought. All of it seeming too little too late. The Colonel’s main point is that the blame lay with the American General Officer’s Corps. He has valid points and I don’t disagree, but the blame has to lay where the buck generally stops: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Colonel Yingling ends with this:
America’s generals have been checked by a form of war that they did not prepare for and do not understand. They spent the years following the 1991 Gulf War mastering a system of war without thinking deeply about the ever changing nature of war. They marched into Iraq having assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like the wars of the past.
Checked indeed. The reason I don’t necessarily consider asymmetrical warfare “war” per se, especially in the sense of terrorism is that there is no battlefield and that is all we train for. Weapons systems and battlefields. How do you train an M1-Abrams MBT on an idea? Can you hit a shadow hard enough to hurt it? What we are really dealing with – which has been obvious to anyone spending more than 12 seconds pondering the situation – is more like fighting organized and decentralized crime units. The invasion of Iraq will go down as one of the biggest foreign policy and warfare blunders of the modern era. It cannot all be pinned on the generals and I’m not sure that the Colonel wants it to be. I remember several prominent generals speaking up and speaking out. They are all retired now…
Me? I’m JAFO
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