All those brains in the Oval Office—and what was there to show for it?

(Further comments have been posted in this entry.)

A group of prominent conservative journalists met with President Bush in the White House yesterday for an unusually frank exchange about Iraq. Byron York has written it up at NRO. The main topic of the discussion was: are we doing enough to win? But neither these smart journalists nor the president grasped the fundamental problem with our Iraq policy that I have been incessantly pointing to for three years: the problem is not just that we do not appear to be winning; and the problem is not just that we are not actually winning; the problem is that we do not have a strategy in place that even theoretically could lead to victory, in the sense of destroying the enemy’s will and ability to fight. This was the 800 pound gorilla in the Oval Office that, even at this very late date, no one dared mention—or, perhaps, even now, no one sees it.

To back up what I just said, here is an excerpt from the article:

“The American people were solidly behind this when you went in and you toppled the Taliban, when you go in and you topple Saddam,” columnist Mark Steyn said to the president. “But when it just seems to be a kind of thankless, semi-colonial, policing, defensive operation, with no end—I mean, where is the offense in this?”

“We are on the offense,” Bush answered. U.S. forces are taking it to the enemy every day. But he explained that the administration had made a decision that in some ways has hobbled its ability to show just how much it is on the offense. “We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team,” Bush said, in a clear reference to the tabulations of enemy killed that became a hallmark of the Vietnam War. And that, in turn, “gives you the impression that [U.S. troops] are just there—kind of moving around, directing traffic, and somebody takes a shot at them and they’re down.”

Steyn is asking for signs that we’re on the offensive. Bush replies that we are on the offensive, but that, by withholding enemy body counts, we are not giving the public the impression that we’re on the offensive. But what both the president and Steyn miss is that, even if we were on the offensive (and of course, our forces have engaged in all kinds of offensive actions in Iraq, such as the battle of Fallujah and the attacks on insurgent strongholds), that accomplishes nothing. Our forces could be attacking and killing the enemy all over the place, but if those attacks are not part of a strategy aimed at destroying the enemy’s will and ability to fight, then we’re still in a Vietnam-type situation.

So, Steyn’s question should not have been, “Where is the offense in all this?” His question should have been, “Where is the strategy that can lead to victory?” And that would have brought the president up short. He would have started talking about the love of freedom that beats in every human heart. Or he would have said that we are training the Iraqis so that we can hand over the endless job of insurgency-management to them. Both answers would have shown that we have no strategy to achieve victory and that this war is a fraud. All we are doing is staying in place, keeping total chaos from engulfing Iraq, and getting lots of American men killed and maimed in the process. But that is not war, and that is not victory.

Addendum: Back to body counts

Inadvertently proving the point I made above, Clifford May at The Corner argues that the president is wrong not to publicize the number of enemy killed, and that we must have enemy body counts to show that we’re hurting the enemy and that it’s not just the enemy hurting our side. He concludes: “It’s this simple: Change the metrics or lose the war.”

May, who sees his own position as one of hard nosed realism as compared with the president’s failure to grasp reality, imagines that merely releasing the numbers of enemy killed assures victory, or at least the avoidance of defeat. But May’s own position is an embrace of pure unreality. At least in Vietnam, Gen. Westmoreland didn’t think that it was the publication of the numbers of enemy killed that would win the war, but the fact that our forces were, indeed, killing the enemy.

In terms of the intellectual superficiality of our government leaders and policy journalists, in terms of their refusal or inability to think a thought through to its logical conclusions, our present situation is, as I have said before with regard to other aspects of the Iraq debacle, worse than Vietnam.

- end of initial entry -

James N. writes:

I’m pleased to see your latest on Iraq.

I think if we drill down to the root of American failure there, we will learn something important.

First, the problem. This is a society rather like Shinto Japan (not at all like NS Germany, by the way). They are a tribally-oriented people in thrall to a heathen religion and able to face death in battle with at least equanimity.

We’ve fought enemies like this before. Using buckets of blood, flame-throwers, and nukes, we prevailed, and were able to remake Japan in our image (more or less).

WHY ON EARTH would any normal person, minimally educated and able to process data, think Iraq would NOT require conquest, occupation, and reconstruction? From whence comes the fantasy that they were just WAITING for “liberators” to arrive, after which there would be no need to turn out crispy critters by the millions, a la Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki?

There was no evidence—none—that this was true. There was an abundance of evidence, both from our own history and the history of Western encounters with the infidel Turk going back to the seventh century, that this was NOT true.

AND, the government after 9/11/01 had a free hand. They would have been granted any forces they asked for, and could have sent them on any mission they desired.

SO, it’s clear that the President, his alternative brain Dr. Rice, and his SECDEF, did not DESIRE to conquer and reconstruct Iraq. If they had so desired, it would have been done.

The question is, WHY? Why didn’t they want that? The answer is that they are liberals and, as such, are in thrall to a false and anti-human belief system to which all rays of light must be bent, all phenomena distorted so as to fit, all people misconceived as children of light just waiting for a liberal to arrive and set them free.

How have we fallen so far since 1945?

Kautilya, an Indian living in the West, writes:

Your reader James N made some crucial mistakes in comparing the Japanese to the Iraqis.

The Japanese who fought WWII were a real nation. And they fought viciously and brutally. In fact, I would venture to say that the Japanese Army of 60+ years ago could defeat any army the miserable Iraqis ever put together—under Saddam or anyone else, even if it had 21st century weapons. This crucial difference is why the Americans are having such a miserable time in Iraq. Unlike the Japs, the Iraqis never fought with anything like real conviction in the conventional war. America’s conventional war with Japan was fierce and brutal by comparison. But once it was over, the Japanese as a nation were completely exhausted and had no will left to fight. The same applies to the Germans of WWII. The Germans were a real nation and fought with conviction. And when they lost, they were totally exhausted.

The Iraqis simply never fought the conventional war but have used the most visible and the biggest chink in American armour—the fear of killing civilians. What the Iraqi insurgents have done is ruthlessly use civilians as cover to kill Americans and other Western troops. This means that all the Curtis LeMay/George S Patton style tactics are useless. You are fighting a guerrilla war and guerrilla warfare is a completely different ball game.

To fight guerrilla war effectively, you need good intelligence. And if you don’t have good intelligence, you need to find ways to get it. The way that occupying armies traditionally get good intelligence is by using torture. And we know how the American public/Western media deals with that as an issue. There will be such a howl and scream from all directions if torture was used, that no matter how much resolve and toughness any American president ever mustered, he would never be able to carry it through. Iraq tells us that Western armies do have a very big weakness and that they are not invincible. The key to defeating a Western army is by choosing not to fight the conventional war (just look at what the Taliban did). Hide your guns and your ammunition away and wait for the invaders to become occupiers. After this happens, use civilians as a shield to keep killing more and more of the enemy. They won’t ever be able to retaliate properly because they are squeamish about inflicting too many civilian casualties. In the end, once you have bled them enough, they will leave.

This is the important lesson that emerges from Iraq. This is the key. Western strategists have no answer to it quite frankly. All those nukes and fancy weapons are pretty useless.

Now compare this with three other occupying armies—Indians in Kashmir, the Russians in Chechnya and the Chinese in Uighur province. The Chechens are very heavily armed but the Russians have used brutal tactics to destroy the back of the resistance. In Kashmir, the Indian army has (from memory) half a million troops stationed there—and they will be there until the separatists have been destroyed. If they cannot be destroyed they will never leave. Already, the majority of the Kashmiri Muslims are sick of the terrorists because they are convinced the separatists cannot win. As for the Chinese, one hardly hears about Uighur province much. In fact in all three cases, the occupying armies are not as hamstrung when dealing with guerrillas as the Americans are in Iraq.

Lastly, the Americans have no real understanding of Iraqi society. The Russians do understand Chechnya because it is their backyard, the Indians do understand Kashmir because it is their backyard and the Chinese understand the Uighurs because it is their backyard too.

Michael Jose writes:

You write:

“May, who sees his own position as one of hard nosed realism as compared with the president’s failure to grasp reality, imagines that merely releasing the numbers of enemy killed assures victory, or at least the avoidance of defeat. But May’s own position is an embrace of pure unreality. At least in Vietnam, Gen. Westmoreland didn’t think that it was the publication of the numbers of enemy killed that would win the war, but the fact that our forces were, indeed, killing the enemy.”

But body counts will not matter as long as we look at the strategy as defeating the “active” enemy (i.e. those who are trying to attack us). They are at any given time a small percentage of the population, and every time we kill one, we anger more “potential enemy” Iraqis (i.e. those who are not willing to kill us currently but who might become willing to do so) and they join the “active enemy” in response. Moreover, often we wind up killing innocents by mistake as collateral damage, which angers the “potential enemy” Iraqis, and even some of the friendly Iraqis, even more—in fact, a lot of insurgent tactics are specifically designed to get us to mistakenly kill civilians so as to turn the population against us.

The fact is, the only way to defeat the enemy in a war such as this is to kill large numbers, not only of the active enemy, but of the potential enemy so as to terrorize the population into submission. Fallujah gives you trouble? Rope it off and raze it to the ground, with everyone who lives there still inside.

The downside to such a strategy, of course, is that it makes the population hate you so much that once you start, you can never let up or they will rise up and slaughter you.

Mind you, I’m not advocating doing this, but it is the only way actually to defeat the enemy. Although I doubt that even such tactics would enable Iraq to be reconstructed into a democracy.

Also, I don’t think James N.’s comparison of Iraq to Shinto Japan holds up. However tribal Japan was, there was an intense centralized loyalty to the emperor. Once we got the emperor to surrender, Japan mostly gave up, and was able to come together and work towards the goal of a remade society. No matter how many “crispy critters” we make, I do not think that the Iraqis have the sense of unity to build a democratic society around. The idea that we did it Japan, and Japan is like Iraq, so we can do it in Iraq (as long as we are willing to nuke and/or firebomb cities and show no mercy) is almost as ridiculous as the Germany = Iraq idea.

LA replies:

As I’ve said repeatedly (speaking of how things ought to have been and should be if we have similar situations in the future), if a careful analysis of the situation had led to the conclusion that there was no way we could gain and maintain control over Iraq in a humanly acceptable way for a long enough period to reconstruct it politically, then we had to scuttle any reconstruction idea and reduce our mission to destroying the Hussein regime, finding the WMDs if any, facilitating some successor regime to take power, and getting out.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 26, 2006 10:40 AM | Send

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