Saturday, March 29, 2008

Losing the war in Iraq? (Again)

The Chicago Tribune reported on the additional violence that is going on in Iraq. The articles tend to assume that the increased level of violence is proof that the U.S. effort in Iraq is undergoing a setback. I have studied hundreds, maybe thousands of wars. I can’t think of ANY wars in which the violence went down as the war progressed. The tendency is for an increase in violence. The violence level in wars is by no means constant. Many periods of relative ‘quiet’ can be observed followed by intense levels of combat. Surprise is sought after by both sides in any war, so it is reasonable to guess that by keeping the level of combat low in one area may be an effort to lull the enemy to sleep. Then all hell breaks loose. The point is that just because violence is going up or down is NOT an indicator of who is winning or losing. All it tells you is that the violence is going up or down.

Winston Churchill once said that wars are not won by evacuations. The evuaction of Dunkirk had just been completed, saving a third of a million men. This allowed the manpower to be re-equipped and re-deployed to other areas of importance. This in no way can be considered a victory. It was a BIG defeat where the losses were minimized. This is of significance because of the debate over withdrawal from Iraq.

Retreat/withdrawal is one of the most difficult maneuvers to conduct during wartime. Usually, it is performed under tremendous pressure with the threat of total destruction hanging over that unfortunate enough to be caught up in one. Sometimes, it is a necessary move to save the units in an exposed position. In all cases, withdrawal is a defensive move. A counterattack may be planned, with additional units freed up by the withdrawal. In any case, it is basically a defensive move. The current debate in Iraq is basically over the strategic necessity of being on the offensive or defensive.

People who believe that the war against terrorism should basically be a defensive war favor a full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. This line of thought is that no military solution is available, and that the first line of defense should be civil force, such as the police. The solution is political, so the primary offensive effort should be in the political arena. A Cold War strategy with the main effort in keeping the violence level down will allow for moderation to gain ground and bring the extremists to heel. Treat them like the criminals that they are.

I can’t think of any war that was won by playing defense. Many wars were lost because the side that ultimately lost could not assume the offensive. Basically through lack of strength they were forced into a final defensive position and could not attack to get themselves out. Most of the wars that ended with one side victorious over the other ended with the winning side launching major, successful attacks. The major point here is that in war, the winning side is generally the side that is attacking. Retreats and withdrawals can become necessary, but generally should be avoided. If you occupy an important position that your enemy is attacking to get you out of, then it generally is in your best interest to hold that position if possible without prohibitive losses. The U.S. is not undergoing anything like prohibitive losses in Iraq.

The war in Iraq is not a large war. By comparison to other major wars the U.S. has been involved in, Iraq is not on the list. It will take more than 50 years at the current rate in Iraq to equal the casualties that we have lost in just a few years in other conflicts. (We have lost these many in a day, several times in our history) The U.S. has the strategic initiative in Iraq. We chose the battleground. The desert is one of the best environments on earth for a conventional force like our military to do battle in. The enemy may be able to attack us, but they are not capable of wiping us out. The best they can do is pin-prick. Classic guerrilla warfare. In guerrilla warfare, it is generally to the conventional army’s advantage to have additional combat, not less.

Moral in the armed forces is surprisingly high. Re-enlistment is a major indicator of moral and this important figure is relatively high, particularly considering that we are involved in a shooting war. I do not blame anyone who is not interested in a military career when an active war is being fought. Particularly a war against irregular forces. Conventional forces tend to have low moral when fighting these types of wars, for a number of reasons.

Once again, this is not the case with the U.S. armed forces and our involvement in the war in Iraq.

Once again, wartime news reporting misses out on many of the fundamentals of warfare. Looking at warfare through a political lens can handicap even the most informed person.

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