Monday, January 08, 2007

Neocon Nation: Ignoring Sun Tzu

Also at Kos

Lieutenant General Raymond T. Ordierno, who took over as operational commander in Iraq last month, says that even with additional American troops deployed to Iraq it may take "two or three years" for U.S. and Iraqi forces to turn the tide in that country.

John F. Burns of the New York Times reports that "In his first lengthy meeting with reporters, General Odierno, 52, struck a cautious note about American prospects, saying much will depend on whether commanders can show enough progress to stem eroding support in the United States for the war."

I’m of two minds about Odierno's comment.

On one hand, I'm encouraged to see that Odierno understands that support of the American electorate is necessary to persist in a war that seems to have little hope of achieving an end state that U.S. political leaders have consistently been unable to describe in a coherent manner. On the other hand, I'm concerned that Odierno is falling into the standard disclaimer mode of blaming lack of public support for the failures of the military and its commanders to achieve our foreign policy objectives.

Since the fall of Saigon, military pundits in and out of uniform have tried to lay blame for America's defeat in Vietnam on hippies, the "liberal" press and a limp wrested Democratically controlled Congress. The truth is that we lost Vietnam in Vietnam, thanks to bad generals and politicians who started a bad war for bad reasons and ran it badly for over a decade. Similarly, we're not presently losing our so-called "war" on terror on the home front. We're losing it in two third world sinkholes called Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wisdom of Ages

The ancient Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu said "Every battle is won before it is ever fought."

Sun Tzu also said "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

And: "When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength."

And: "If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain."

And: "Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished."

And: "In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them."

And: "It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on."

And: "In war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory."

I reckon you get the idea.

We lost this "war" before we started it. The neoconservative cabal headed by Bill Kristol that goaded us into it had no experience of war, didn't know how to conduct one, shattered and destroyed and turned loose the Iraqi Army without considering the consequences of doing so, and underestimated the cost of war. Their misadventure has dulled our weapons, and we're still pursuing an indefinable "victory" after the fact of having fought first and not achieved it.

Kristol and his neo-conspirators seduced us into a distant war that is straining the resources of the state, and yet they seem to have convinced young Mr. Bush into taking steps to prolong it even further.

Our ship of state is bow down in a sand dune. It's time for us to relieve the conning officers who continue to order "full speed ahead."

And it's way past time for us to stop letting them blame us for their failures.


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


  1. Jeff,

    Here's some observations about military issues inspired by Iraq.

    The U.S. Army decided the definitive analysis of the Vietnam War was On Strategy by Col. Harry Summers. The point they took out of the book was that President had to be a cheerleader for the war effort. Summers advanced the idea that the people turned against the Vietnam War b/c LBJ failed to rally the homefront.

    I find Sun-tzu's analysis more persuasive. It's impossible to sustain public support for military adventurism indefinitely. In fact, I suspect that there's a pretty fixed timeline for optional military campaigns. They can last over three years, but less than five years from the point where the public becomes aware. (This implies LBJ was correct to de-emphasize the Vietnam War, if the point was to keep troops there as long as possible.)

    Also, I can't think of a precedent for a war like the Iraq War going from unpopular to popular. U.S. military planners have to deal with this reality. They aren't going to get a blank check for ten years. They need to craft a plan that considers how much political capital they have with the American people. Summers points out that the Army is the people's army and they don't like it being misused.

  2. MK (aka Martin K)1:57 PM

    Clausewitz said something along the lines of: "Any defensive position in hostile terrain must be in combination with a succesful offensive momentum, if not they will sooner or later be surrounded and/or cut of from supply." I dont have the exact wording here, but the example is pretty clear. Youve lost the Stans, youre rapidly loosing Afghanistan and barely holding on in Iraq. Not to hitlerize the debate, but it reminds me of Hitlers famous no retreat-order on the Eastern Front. Militarily, you should do three things, in my humble opinion:

    1) Get out of Iraq and secure Afghanistan. Shower it with money, and kill the heroin trade.
    2) Start building a strong UN military force, that is capable of pacifying wars and give catastrophy relief. The largest sucess of the US military forces the last five years was the post-tsunami aid effort of Indonesia, where the Aceh rebels more or less folded as a consequence of generosity.
    3) Start building the US foreign legion, according to a European doctrine, not the US kill-and-destroy doctrine. It is superior in actual battle-situations, but inadequate in all other situations.

    In other words, pull back and finance others. Get with the program, face the ecological challenges and cease these roman dreams of f%&ing empire by arms. It doesnt work. The nation wich gave us Heinlein, Jefferson and the Wright brothers becoming the doom of mankind? Come on, its time for the good people of America to get out of the chairs in quiet panic. They did it in Eastern Europe..;-)

  3. Anonymous8:28 PM

    You will never stop increased hard drug trafficking when there is a Bush around. The cocaine and resulting crack epidemic in the 80's and now a very large increase in opium and hair-o-wine. A coincidence? I don't think so.

    From a practical point of view legalize it and stop the enforcement abuses, etc. Legalize it and you would probably cut seriously into Bush incomes.

    Investigate, indict and vigorously prosecut all aspects of the Bush cabal will probably do a lot to redeem this country's honor and regard in the world.

    Buzz Meeks

  4. Thanks for the great comments, folks.

  5. Anonymous9:15 AM

    Must agree with Carl ("I can't think of a precedent for a war like the Iraq War going from unpopular to popular"); enter the "Iran's got NUKES!" diversion strategy that's well underway. A new threat that distracts the American public, while the corruption-business-as-usual rolls on in Iraq.

  6. Actually, if you look at the numbers, we lost the war in Vietnam because of logistics. Battles are won by tactics, wars are won by logistics. Maintaining an overseas army of over 500,000 soldiers supplied over enormous distances was astoundingly expensive, sucking up close to 10% of the U.S. GDP at its peak. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese had supply lines that were 0 miles long -- they lived there. From an economic point of view, the war was unsustainable at a cost that was in any way proportionate to its (none-existent) benefits to America, and unwinnable without completely destroying the American economy. Even so it almost managed to torpedo the ship of state -- the stagflation of the 1970's was partially part of a frantic plan to avoid defaulting on the national debt, by devaluing the dollar so that the Vietnam debt (and OPEC, after '73) could be paid off in cheaper dollars. In the end the costs of Vietnam destroyed LBJ's "Great Society" plan by making sure it could never be fully funded, and similarly stifled Jimmy Carter's efforts to patch up the social safety net.

    The lesson that the neo-cons learned from Vietnam was that modern wars have to be conducted with far smaller armies, much easier to supply and using a much smaller proportional of the GDP. That was the lesson they took away from Vietnam. Thus why the insistance upon fighting the Iraq war "on the cheap", without any major increases in the size of the military or the size of the expeditionary force deployed to Iraq. They are afraid that if they escalate to what it would take to "win" in Iraq (i.e., secure Iraq's oil for America), by mobilizing an expeditionary force of 1,000,000 soldiers (of which half would be deployed to Iraq at any given time), the economic costs would lead to the same virtual lynching that happened regarding Vietnam.

    The ironic part is that there actually are some national interests at stake in Iraq while there were never any at stake in Vietnam -- Iraq has oil, and we're going to be needing that oil real soon now to avoid collapse. But the neo-cons seem to have lost sight of the prize, now the war is all about ego and ideology. I so hoped that the war was about oil. At least then it'd make sense. But there's no oil in Fallujah... or in downtown Baghdad, for that matter.

    - Badtux the Economics Penguin

  7. Sorry it's taken me so long to catch up with the thread, gang. (Blogger problems--again.)

    Thanks for the great contributions.



  8. unkawill7:41 PM

    I bet you guy's are glad we have a new speaker, she can just cut off funding and leave our troops hanging.

  9. Buzz meeks: The drug/gun/porn money is the big elephant in the livingroom of the neo-cons that nobody talks about. Ever.

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