Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The Meaning of Defeat and the Utility of Victory

An interesting discussion on US military prowess and how it shapes post-war outcomes is going on. It was kicked off with this post by Vodka Pundit and then this response by One Hand Clapping.

I find myself agreeing with Vodka Pundit when he says:

Need to understand why West Germany gave up on Nazism? Because it got every single one of their major cities reduced to rubble, courtesy of the 8th Air Force and the RAF.

The high price Germans paid for Hitler's adventures drove a wedge between the Nazis and the German people. It was not just that the Nazis were evil (Germans managed to ignore that in 1941), it was that they betrayed the German people and allowed them to be crushed, starved and raped.

But he loses me when he writes

Want to know why West Germans feared Soviet tanks? Because they saw firsthand what Patton's tanks could do.

Sorry, the Germans feared Soviet tanks because they had firsthand knowledge about the Red Army. They saw more Russian tanks than American tanks. Berlin, after all, did fall to Zhukov, not Patton.

OHC rightly points out that the

Fighting the modern way is certainly not more difficult than before. It is not easy - Stephen is right that war is never easy - but to imply that this year's Iraq campaign was somehow more difficult than, say, the Normandy invasion or the Battle for Manila is just plain wrong. America's modern way of war enables us to defeat the enemy much faster than ever, and there is no way that means war is more difficult than it was, oh, at the Battle of Gettysburg.

But modern US commanders do face one factor that was not present in World War Two or the Civil War. Patton and Nimitz did not have worry about the political fallout of operational victory. During the August 1944 breakout, the German army tried to escape from the Falaise pocket before Allied armies encircled them. Tactical air power and artillery pounded the retreating Germans. Yet there was no domestic outcry in the US about the uneven combat with a retreating enemy. This is in stark contrast to the "Highway of Death" hysteria in 1991.

The American way of war calls for the deployment of overwhelming firepower at the decisive point to win rapid victory with a minimum of casualties. That used to mean American and civilian casualties. Today it means enemy combatants as well. This is a complexity the World War Two and Civil War generals did not face.

OHC also writes that

The Iraqi soldiers who survived the war this year are not claiming that they were not really defeated. Many of them have been beaten by the US twice - 1991 and 2003. They know they were beaten badly and could not have prevailed even with better generalship. Modern technology enabled us to defeat Iraq's military without killing enormous casualties among Iraqis.

As i read this i was reminded of an incident Col. Harry Summers related in On Strategy. After the ceasefire in South Vietnam, an American officer said to an NVA officer, you never defeated us on the battlefield. His counterpart replied, that is true, but it is also irrelevant. (Paraphrasing from memory here).

Victory on the battlefield does not automatically mean that we gain our strategic objectives.

Clausewitz wrote that "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will" . In Iraq I, our victory compelled the Iraqi's to leave Kuwait and also allowed us to destroy much of their WMD program. However, in Iraq II, we have the much more difficult challenge of creating a functioning polity that is stable and somewhat liberal. Decisive military victory against Saddam's conventional forces was a necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve this.

One factor needed is a patriotic rallying point for Iraqis that is untainted by the Saddam regime. In West Germany, for example, Adenauer was an anti-Nazi and thus an acceptable politician to lead them during and after the occupation. Perhaps more important, though, were the officers who tried to kill Hitler in 1944. Though they failed, they preserved the "honor" of the army. A German patriot could admire their bravery, repudiate Hitler, and still take some pride in his country's history.

DeGaulle and the French Resistence served similar roles in the restoration of French pride and confidence. French soldiers helped liberate Paris and that helped ease the pain of the defeat in 1940 and the shame of Vichy.

After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee served a symbol for reconciliation and stability. The North and South could agree that he was a good general and honorable man. By accepting defeat and repudiating guerrilla war in 1865 he brought the bloodshed to an end and opened the possibility for a better civil society in the post-war South. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of Adenauer-types to lead the states and insufficient troops to police the occupied South.

At this point, unfortunately, we don't seem to have either type of rallying point in Iraq. They are beaten, liberated, and occupied. But all of that is due to an external power. I worry that if a heroic, patriotic figure emerges, he will do so by fighting or opposing the US. Sort of the way the Communists emerged in China and Vietnam as both anti-colonial and anti-Japanese.

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