Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Glittering Joe" Lieberman on Iraq

On Meet the Press Sunday, Senator Joe Lieberman (D*-Connecticut) shot off what may be his most astounding glittering generality to date. He said, "my own sense of history tells me that in war, ultimately, there are two exit strategies. One is called victory; the other is called defeat."

Joe Lieberman's sense of history is appalling. It's fair to say that, as often as not, wars have terminated with neither side scoring a complete victory or suffering a total defeat. As 18th century philosopher David Hume pointed out, the balance of power concept in international relations goes back to ancient times. The balance of power model recognized that political entities would compete through military, economic, and other means, but that no single political entity would ever accumulate enough power of any form (military, economic, diplomatic, ideological, etc.) to eliminate another one.

The "Good" War and the Other Ones

Lieberman and others consistently make the mistake of regarding World War II as the classic model of armed conflict. World War II was, in fact, something of an aberration.

World War II is the closest thing the modern world has seen to what 19th century warfare theorist Carl von Clausewitz described as armed conflict in its "absolute form." In the "Good War," states on both sides committed--or came close to committing--the entirety of their national instruments of power to achieving "victory." Once the allies committed to a declared end state of "unconditional surrender" by the axis powers, the stakes became astronomic, and as the tide of war turned against Germany and Japan, their definition of "victory" became forcing the allies to settle for something less than unconditional surrender. Germany's Battle of the Bulge offensive and Japan's Kamikaze strategy were desperate attempts to convince the allies that attaining their political war aims would cost more than the aims were worth.

Most other modern armed conflicts pre and post-World War II involving developed nations have been what Clausewitz referred to as "limited" wars, ones in which goals were tempered by considerations of costs and risks.

(A valid argument can be made that World War I was also an "absolute" war, and I'm certain it seemed that way at the time. Nonetheless, I group it in the "limited" category for a number of reasons, most notably that it ended in an armistice with neither side scoring a decisive military victory.)

More Dubya Talk

Lieberman wasn't the only Bush echo chamberlain talking gibberish on Sunday.

Fred Kagan of the neoconservative think tanks Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was the primary architect of the Iraq escalation strategy that Joe Lieberman so enthusiastically endorses.

Funny thing, though. Before Glittering Joe made his remarks about victory and defeat on Meet the Press, National Security Adviser Steven Hadley told Tim Russert that the escalation strategy is an "Iraqi government strategy." Fred Kagan didn't credit the Iraqis for the ideas he proposed in his "Choosing Victory" presentation, the one where he said that the proposals of the Iraq Study Group would not succeed. Does that make a Kagan a big dumb plagiarist? Or does it make Hadley a big dumb liar?

Or does it mean we're being smothered by the same pillow of bull feathers we've been breathing into for the last six years?

Last we heard, the basic scheme behind the escalation strategy is for five brigades to go to Baghdad and one to Anbar Province. When asked how this plan to secure Baghdad and Anbar is different than all the previous ones, we hear that, well, this time it's an Iraqi plan, and they'll have to agree to go along with it, and…

Oh. Wait a minute. From Monday morning's New York Times
Just days after President Bush unveiled a new war plan calling for more than 20,000 additional American troops in Iraq, the heart of the effort--a major push to secure the capital--faces some of its fiercest resistance from the very people it depends on for success: Iraqi government officials.

American military officials have spent days huddled in meetings with Iraqi officers in a race to turn blueprints drawn up in Washington into a plan that will work on the ground in Baghdad.

But the signs so far have unnerved some Americans working on the plan, who have described a web of problems--ranging from a contested chain of command to how to protect American troops deployed in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous districts--that some fear could hobble the effort before it begins…

… “We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. “We are being played like a pawn.”

We've been played like pawns in Iraq for years.

The folks pushing for the escalation strategy are blithering ideologues. Their understanding of military and foreign policy affairs would fit up their noses with plenty of room left over for a Happy Meal's worth of nickels.

The plan to send more troops to Iraq is a tank of kerosene looking for a lit match, and yet, incredibly, according to Fox News, Mr. Bush announced Monday morning that he's determined to proceed with the escalation. "I fully understand they could try to stop me," Bush said of the Democrat-run Congress. "But I've made my decision, and we're going forward."

God help America. Please. Soon.

We've had enough bang in this woebegone war. It's time to let it end in a whimper. No victory. No defeat. Just over.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Jeff,

    This post contained just what I was looking for: "we have learned far more than the older sages were capable of observing, and some of what the giants on whose shoulders we stand has proven incomplete or totally mistaken." I realize it might be off the topic of this post, but I would find it fascinating sometime to read about where you think Clausewitz and Sun Tzu got it wrong -- at least for modern times.

  2. A great question, KZ, and one that deserves an entire volume of examination.

    The best answer I can give you for now is the one I alluded to here. Neither CK nor ST imagined a world in which great powers would have weapons capable of destroying the entire planet.

  3. Jeff,

    Just because CK or ST did not imagine these things does not in itself mean anything they said is incorrect. I took your reading of CK to indicate that his analysis still applied: "Clausewitz himself said that "war is the continuation of policy by other means," and no rational entity could consider destruction of the entire planet to be a desired political end state. That, in large part, is why the U.S. labeled the Cold War nuclear strategy as "mutual assured destruction," or "MAD.""

  4. Anonymous8:24 PM

    It may be worth noting that those who dream of World War IV often don't talk too loudly about the accommodations that were reached at the end of World War II. The Nazi Party as a party certainly was annihilated, but the West Germans and the Japanese both realized they were way better off playing ball as good Cold Warriors than answering to Uncle Joe, Europe's other esteemed genocidal dictator.

    The stay behind organizations were wrapped up, the dregs of the dregs hung, Gehlen and von Braun and the like changed uniforms, the Rat Lines to South America were opened, and prosecutors knew that their longevity could correlate with not asking too many awkward questions. The ODESSA network did exist. Patton and Churchill wanted to reactivate the Wehrmacht and motor on to Vladivostok.

    I haven't read enough to reach a definitive judgment, but it does seem as if the plans to change Iraq were vastly more ambitious than those in Germany, where the Germans needed Uncle Sam much more than the Iraqis did, and shared a cultural heritage. Compare how the allies re-instituted the pre-Nazi flag, whereas the CPA imposed a brand new flag reminiscent of that of a country that Iraqis of all ages had been taught, even brain-washed, to see as their main enemy. If such ignorant circles saw the Second World War as a template for the "liberation of Iraq," they seem to have proceeded from an awfully skewed version of the Second World War. As programmers say, garbage in, garbage out. The pity is that we - and the Iraqis - will long pay the cost for this ideologically-driven folly.

  5. Jeff,

    I was reading on Wikipedia about Sun Tzu's Art of War and I was surprised to learn (if I read correctly) that this title is a translator's conceit. The literal Chinese title is simply "Sun Tzu's Military Strategy." I think of military people as serious-minded, quit distinct from the 19th-20th century notion of "artist." Why should the false title have stuck to such an important book about strategy? Is war really art? Does it make to sense to think of that way? Might some people (perhaps those responsible) be thinking of the Iraq war as some grand-scale performance art (perhaps with an unanticipated degree of Jackson Pollock thrown in)? Or, is the "art" of war a meaningless metaphor?