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The Reality Of Winning Wars

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From this month’s Foreign Affairs comes an amazing article about the realities of winning the Iraq war:

“Despite the Bush administration’s repeated declarations of its commitment to success in Iraq, the results of current policy there are not encouraging. After two years, Washington has made little progress in defeating the insurgency or providing security for Iraqis, even as it has overextended the U.S. Army and eroded support for the war among the American public. Although withdrawing now would be a mistake, simply ‘staying the course,’ by all current indications, will not improve matters either. Winning in Iraq will require a new approach.”

Who wrote this? Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., retired US Army lieutenant colonel, Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. He is also the author of The Army and Vietnam. The book was published back in 1988.

Here’s a breakdown of his book from Publisher’s Weekly:

The emphasis here is on the Army’s stubborn insistence on pursuing a strategy of attrition, through large-unit operations and heavy firepower, and largely ignoring the political and social dimensions that form the foundation of successful counterinsurgency warfare. The result was a high-cost, low-payoff strategy which the Army stuck with until civilian leaders in the defense establishment openly challenged the policy after the Tet Offensive. Krepinevich praises the pacification programs of the Marines and suggests that their methods could have been profitably employed by the Army. More significantly, he suggests that the Vietnam experience has had little effect on the doctrine by which the Army is currently preparing for future low-intensity engagements.

After reading the article, it seems like this is a man who is genuinely concerned with the way things are going in his military. Passages like this strike me in particular at how are truly lacking any sort of REAL strategy in Iraq.

The basic problem is that the United States and its coalition partners have never settled on a strategy for defeating the insurgency and achieving their broader objectives. On the political front, they have been working to create a democratic Iraq, but that is a goal, not a strategy. On the military front, they have sought to train Iraqi security forces and turn the war over to them. As President George W. Bush has stated, “Our strategy can be summed up this way: as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” But the president is describing a withdrawal plan rather than a strategy.

And where does this lead? Contradictory statements that seem to ignore the realities on the ground and confuse the people of both countries involved in this war.

Without a clear strategy in Iraq, moreover, there is no good way to gauge progress. Senior political and military leaders have thus repeatedly made overly optimistic or even contradictory declarations. In May of 2004, for example, following the insurgent takeover of Fallujah, General Richard Myers, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated, “I think we’re on the brink of success here.” Six months later, before last November’s offensive to recapture the city, General John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, said, “When we win this fight — and we will win — there will be nowhere left for the insurgents to hide.” Following the recapture, Lieutenant General John Sattler, the Marine commander in Iraq, declared that the coalition had “broken the back of the insurgency.” Yet in the subsequent months, the violence continued unabated.

The article is long, but that’s never stopped you all before. It’s definitely well worth the read because instead of just talking about the problems, Krepinevich offers solutions and real strategies for making this possible. Because as he points out in his conclusion, wouldn’t like the consequence of not staying the course.

Even if successful, this strategy will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls. But this is the price that the United States must pay if it is to achieve its worthy goals in Iraq. Are the American people and American soldiers willing to pay that price? Only by presenting them with a clear strategy for victory and a full understanding of the sacrifices required can the administration find out. And if Americans are not up to the task, Washington should accept that it must settle for a much more modest goal: leveraging its waning influence to outmaneuver the Iranians and the Syrians in creating an ally out of Iraq’s next despot.

The last sentence has been my fear about this war from the very start, and to make sure it doesn’t happen we need to start listening to voices like Krepinevich’s and get a real strategy in Iraq. Even if it takes a decade to accomplish, it’s a fight we need to be waging.

(HT: David Brooks)