Greetings, Peoples. By way of introduction, I am the friend of which Noocyte speaks in his post, “MY PATH FROM PORT TO STARBOARD”, and Noocyte has kindly invited me to post to this blog, an invitation that I have accepted with Gusto! or maybe it was trepidation. Now that I think about it, it was probably mostly inebriation so we'll have to see how it goes; at some point I might sober up.
My own political conversion from Liberal to, well, whatever I am now, started roundabout Early Spring of 2003. At some point I’d like to write about it, and my recollections of the Summer 2004 email conversation with Noocyte about which he wrote, but for now I thought I’d just metaphorically get my feet wet with something less daunting in scope (... like justifying the state of the Global War on Terror in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters. Yeah, that should be a cakewalk!).
I’ve been reading “Neocon Nation: Neoconservativism c.1776” by Robert Kagan (worldaffairsjournal.org) and it begins by setting the premise that critics of the Iraq war ignore the history of Saddam Husseins' Iraq, particularly in relation to the United States. That seems true enough; in my travels around the swamplands of Leftopia, this history seems to begin around the start of the Bush 43 presidency, the period preceding it consisting of a prehistoric fuzzy-wuzzy time when the butcher Saddam was remote and contained. That's understandable, given that the indignant and outraged denizens of Leftopia primarily occupy themselves with criticisms of Bush and Republicans as opposed to making a case for contextualized alternative policies or strategies when addressing a problem. That is to say, they seem to only infrequently offer the alternative, as in “This is what we should have done instead” rather than their usual complaint that “What Bush has done is wrong.” It got me to thinking about the chasm which separates hawks and doves, not just in matters of opinion but in matters of objective fact. There are a variety of criticisms from the Liberal/Left that I’d like to unpack, but in this post I’d like to share my observations which casually address some of their criticisms of the GWOT. Of course, various critics of the war have raised innumerable objections, the vast majority of which don’t stand up to scrutiny (and I’ll let that statement stand unsubstantiated for now, although I’d like to address it at some point in the future). Nevertheless, it seems to me that for these critics it’s as if the fact that the war has dragged on for years and years is in itself prima facie evidence that the conduct of the war has been flawed – as if we should have pacified Iraq and Afghanistan by now had it been done properly.
I disagree. These wars are taking as long as they have because the facts on the ground are changing. As the members of our Armed Forces say, from the top brass down to the boots on the ground, “The enemy has a vote” – which I’ve always found somewhat ironic in that the democracy we've been working and fighting for over there would be immediately and permanently undone should our enemies win. After the Taliban were routed in Afghanistan they fled in large numbers, but we did not block their escape and slaughter them. Later, after the astonishing rapidity with which our Armed Forces shattered the Iraqi Army, Republican Guard, and Fedayeen in Iraq, we again let our enemies dissolve and disperse rather than killing them outright. This left a great many enemy combatants alive to fight another day.
Certainly WWII would have taken a great deal longer had we acted similarly. Although the Liberal/Left complain about how this war is taking America longer than WWII, it goes without saying that they would never agree to a redress of their grievance with a reversion to the tactics that enabled us to do so in WWII. Google "Highway of Death" to see what I mean.
At any rate, while the ensuing insurgency has waxed and waned, only two events really threatened to spin the war out of our control. The first was when Sadr’s “Mahdi Army” confronted Coalition forces in a stand-up fight back in April 2004. I’ll confess that I was genuinely concerned at the time, not so much that we’d lose but that the cost of crushing them would be enormous, mostly for the Iraqi people, and that American public support might go wobbly. Bear in mind that in Iraq or Afghanistan, to this day, U.S. Armed Forces have never lost an engagement that involved twenty or more of our fighters; in every moderate-sized or larger stand-up fight that any of our enemies has undertaken against us, they always lose. While the Mahdi Army wasn’t destroyed, it did suffer horrific losses which forced Sadr to agree to a ceasefire. Problem deferred but not resolved; adequately, although not optimally.
The second was the al-Askari Mosque bombing (better known in CENTCOM as the “Samarra Mosque bombing”) in early 2006, although I didn’t recognize it at the time. This was a part of the Al Qaeda program to instigate Sunni/Shiite sectarian war in Iraq, and it was working. Although it took time for Al Qaeda to commit enough atrocities to incite the Shia, the Surge seems to have done its job in quelling the two sides.
In either case, what we’ve seen is, to put it in simple terms, war. It’s what happens when, after the outbreak of hostilities, neither side is either destroyed or willing to capitulate. Although Iraq’s Army was destroyed in the initial invasion to the point that what was left disintegrated, we did not bomb the country of Iraq back into the stone age. That’s pretty close to what we did in WWII, and the critics who point out that these conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking longer to pacify than larger theaters in WWII are seemingly oblivious to the contrasts between how these conflicts were waged. We’ve not mobilized our millions of citizens to fight on anything near to that scale; we’ve not bombed their population or industrial centers into dust as we did then.
Had we destroyed their ability to make war in the same way as we did in Japan and Germany during WWII then we would probably have achieved similar results. I’m always reticent about making such comparisons because, as it turns out, we can’t rerun history with different parameters, so although I won’t make any defense of the theory I do think it stands to reason. Bear in mind that Arab countries, having given tacit, if not explicit support to the Nazi’s during WWII, were duly subjugated in the end stage of that war, and I can’t think of a reason that it couldn’t be done again.
The point is that we did not do that again; we’ve been waging a more humane war which has been intended to convert these hostile countries run by thuggish despots and theocrats into representative republics, and in so doing set an example for the rest of the Middle East for what was possible, and how beneficial it would be for them to follow suit. Not that the WWII model of prosecuting war would have necessarily precluded our achieving these aims; our successes in transforming postwar Japan and Germany are testament to that. Furthermore, the zeal with which Liberal/Left critics frequently accuse America of war crimes demonstrates the difficulty of waging traditional war in the modern age of instant, global media attention.
For the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters, it’s been so far, so good. Not without flaws, but then, I’ve never expected that we would do it with zero-defects, as some critics seem to demand. The zero-defect war is an inherent contradiction; insofar as we know, it cannot be done.
If the Liberal/Left is going to demand that wars that aren't perfect should be abandoned then that’s an argument which can be made against any war. That is to say, it’s an argument which can be used against waging any war at all – even a war which might otherwise be fully justified or necessary to the degree that we would all agree that it must be waged. If Liberals believe the war in Iraq should be derailed by such criticisms then in principle we would never be able to wage any wars, although we’d still be able to lose them.
[2008-04-21 Revised with minor edits for grammar & clarity.]