Relearning War

Ralph Peters has an excellent piece in today’s NY Post arguing that most observers simply don’t understand what’s going on in Iraq.

As the presidential election approaches, the cynical charges of “failure” in Iraq obscure a fundamental truth: The conflict has improved our military dramatically. War teaches. And we’re very good learners. We already had the best-trained, best-equipped armed forces in the world. Now we have the most experienced troops, as well. With enduringly high morale.

Operation Iraqi Freedom and the subsequent occupation swept away a pile of dangerous nonsense. We found — again — that airpower alone cannot win wars and that the infantryman remains as indispensable in the 21st century as he was in the bronze age. The think-tank theories collapsed. Grit, guts and tough training carried the day. “Shock-and-awe” fizzled embarrassingly, but aircraft armed with precision weapons discovered a new role in supporting ground troops fighting in urban terrain. In the past, preparatory fires from massed artillery preceded major attacks, causing broad destruction. Today, focused prep fires delivered from the air can target terrorist hide-outs over weeks and even months, weakening the enemy physically and psychologically — while dramatically reducing civilian losses — before the troops go in.

Faced with the challenges of operating in cities, our soldiers and their leaders have developed innovative techniques to suit different situations. Some operations are now designed to start and finish between sunset and sunrise. Major assaults have begun to use mass to overwhelm opponents before they can react, to finish in days a fight that doctrine holds would take weeks or months. And the new ways work. The enemy leaders in Fallujah aren’t begging to play “Let’s Make a Deal” because our forces are failing.

Indeed. While it’s unclear that “Shock and awe” failed–Saddam’s army mostly surrendered rather than fight, after all–it’s true that the theorists continually get overexited about the prospects of gadgets rendering the foot soldier obsolete. More importantly, they create the false image that war can be bloodless, creating hypersensitivity to casualties among the population and, especially, the punditocracy.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. large says:

    The greatest reason The “Enemy Leaders” aren’t “Making a Deal” is because the politicians will not allow the military to create a “Military Decision” before we try to arrive at a political one. The “Sensitivity” BullS— won’t buy you a beer in any place people are shooting at each other! It’s a Leftist theory that has been proved wrong again and again, “We’ll settle this politically!” does not work.

    There has to be a “Carrot”, not a potential threat, in most cases, especially the people we are currently dealing with. Someone HAS to cry “Uncle”! That’s how the Middle Eastern Arab sees it, either as a spectator or participant. This goes even beyond the Religion of the area, and to the ethic of the Arabian Male.

    Without a definite Military Domination of the Sunni Triangle in Iraq, you will not see a decrease in terrorism in the area. And even though the Sunni Moderates in those areas are beginning to complain about the terrorists drawing fire to their neighborhoods, they continue to support and allow them to exist and hide in their midsts. Therefore they must become victims to the same people they support and cannot be considered “Innocents” as are portrayed by the Media and the Left!

    AFTER the military WINS, then the politicians can come and make deals easily! And if one notices, instead of adding more troops to the mix, maybe we ought start subtracting Politicians and the results would be clearer and positive!

  2. vdibart says:

    Wow, this is how far we’ve come. In a desparate effort to extract some positive over the mess in Iraq, we’re supposed to be proud of our improved ability to kill more people. Wonderful, that’s just the kind of sentiment that wins over hearts and minds.

    On a side note, if I worked at the NY Post I’d consider it a coup that a quote from my “news” paper somehow landed a quote on the site of a respectable blogger.

  3. vdibart says:

    “That’s how the Middle Eastern Arab sees it, either as a spectator or participant. This goes even beyond the Religion of the area, and to the ethic of the Arabian Male.”

    Shameless channeling of the apparent Abu Ghraib policy.

    “The greatest reason The ‘Enemy Leaders’ aren’t ‘Making a Deal’ is because the politicians will not allow the military to create a ‘Military Decision'”

    I’m not sure how you go from the above quote, which is an indictment of politically-motived war policy, to blaming the “Leftists”, who are by no means setting any of the war policy in Iraq. That would be the neocons actually. So in effect you’re arguing that the neocons are getting in the way of the military, which is a familiar refrain, just not from pro-war posters.

    “maybe we ought start subtracting Politicians and the results would be clearer and positive!”

    I agree totally. I can think of two politicians that I’d love to see subtracted from the equation, and I whole-heartedly agree that the results would be more positive once they are removed.

  4. LJD says:

    How convenient to blame all of the problems in Iraq on the “neocons”. Typical of Kerry’s campaign, you can criticize everything, promise everything, and do nothing because you’re removed from the responsibility.

    Let me clue you in on something. The situation in Iraq, is GREATLY affected by all of the trash talk uttered in this country since the start of the war. (You want to have the debate on Patriotism, let’s go for it). The Democratic debates were not just an attack on policy. They also served to undermine our chances for success.

    Do not discount the influence of the left on votes in congress. Votes for funding, votes for “inquiries”, votes for authorization to go to war. Do not discount the influence Teddy Kennedy has on the terrorists, every time time he utters nonsense from his fat pie-hole.

    Why do you think things seem to be getting worse in Iraq? Because the terrorists are encouraged by such rhetoric, even in their most desperate hours. They have been made to feel, by lefties, that if they continue on this path, they will affect change. Change that returns our foreign policy to the status quo, with a certificate of approval from the U.N., and inevitable future attacks.

    The terrorists know we have an election in two weeks. They do not want an election in their country next year.

    You have helped to make the point of the article, vdibart, you clearly have no understanding of what’s going on in Iraq. If you did, you would know the GREAT influence that the “dumb-o-crats” have on Iraq policy.

  5. vdibart says:

    LJD, perhaps you can explain how the terrorists are so current on our politics when they have elecricity for only a couple of hours a day. You must assume that rather than heat up water they prefer to watch CNN during that time. And at the same time you attack the Dems for criticizing without responsibility you place the responsibility for the failure in Iraq squarely on the shoulders of those who criticize the effort at home. This is a convenient distraction from the main point, that this war was largely authored by and executed by neocons, and it is they who bear the responsibility for its failure.

    In a democracy, dissent is not unpatriotic, it’s a requirement. You consider “votes for authorization to go to war” or “inquiries” to be a lefty plot! How absurd! This is a democracy, one where, contrary to what you may believe, Congress controls the power to declare and carry out war. Your arguments are very telling, and bely the mindset of those with contempt for the American democratic process.

    Also, it’s absurd to suggest that terrorists are emboldened by our domestic politics when there are plenty of other factors they can feed off of right in front of their faces: prison scandals, dangerous security situation, civilians being killed on a daily basis, “no-go” zones where even the US military will not enter, etc. Are you honestly arguing that these have less of an effect on them than what they see on CNN?

    I appreciate the lecture on my understanding of Iraq policy. Just one question: Are the Dems “removed from the responsibility” or do they have “GREAT influence” on Iraq policy? These two would appear to contradict themselves.

  6. Boyd says:

    vdibart: It ain’t failure. It’s a slow but steady grind to success.

  7. Doug Halsted says:

    vdibart, your last post further proved your lack of understanding of the facts on the ground in Iraq. The terrorists, and everyone else in Iraq, have more access to news than prior to the war. More electricity is being produced now than prior to the war and Internet cafes are sprouting up everywhere.

    Dissent is not unpatriotic by itself, however, the words and actions of Kerry, Edwards, Gore, Harkin and Kennedy embolden our enemies and weaken America. How can that be patriotic? Especially when they lie or pick and choose the facts they use in the process.

    The Iraqis consider the Abu Graib episode a joke and don’t understand the western media’s fascination with it. Though it did provide a real life lesson in the free press. Panties on the head do not equate to Saddam’s use of torture and murder as a matter of policy. The “dangerous security situation” is made worse by the media’s over-hype and the above list of Democrats’ comments. When terror leaders like Kim Jong Il, Arafat, and al-Zarqawi quote them favorably it’s time to rethink your position.

    A question for you vdibart…What do you think of Clinton’s war in Bosnia? Or Haiti? Or Somalia? We still have troops in Bosnai & Kosovo and Halliburton was brought in by Clinton with a no bid contract.

  8. vdibart says:

    Boyd, I am jealous of your optimism. I truly am.

    Think about all the lines we’ve been told about Iraq. They would welcome us as saviors. The oil would pay for the war. Iraq would cause a domino effect of democracy to spread throughout the Middle East. Unless you consider 0 for 3 to be a good batting average, there’s a serious creditbility problem with this administration. And I won’t even get into other, more controversial claims that have been proven wrong….

  9. Boyd says:

    vdibart: Optimistic? Well, yes, but I don’t think that’s the trait I displayed in my earlier comment. I believe it’s more a matter of patience.

    Your point #1) They (Iraqis) would welcome us as saviors.

    You’re correct, they didn’t run into the streets, tossing bouquets at our troops as they rolled through the cities. But look at Iraqi attitudes today. Most believe their government, even though currently unelected, is on the right track. Most believe that democracy will be to their benefit. Most look forward to electing (and some already have elected) their leaders, especially as opposed to having a theocracy.

    It may have taken a year and a half, but it’s happening, and in an Iraqi way, not matching our Western expectations, but happening nonetheless.

    Your point #2) The oil would pay for the war.

    I agree, it ain’t happening, at least not yet, and not for a while. Over-optimistic expectations, I agree. But I also think that Iraqi oil will turn into the key for getting the new Iraqi government moving down the road to financial self-sufficiency.

    Your point #3) Iraq would cause a domino effect of democracy to spread throughout the Middle East.

    Now you’re really exposing your impatience. I certainly never expected Middle Eastern countries to fall into a democratic line in 18 months. I didn’t expect one Middle Eastern country to change to a democracy because of changes in Iraq within 18 months. These things don’t happen overnight. But they do happen.

    To coin a phrase, it’s a slow but steady grind to success. 🙂

  10. LJD says:

    War takes time to win. Modern American society has a drive-through mentality and a short attention span. It can probably be argued that we will never be able to fight a successful campaign because of the lack of instant gratification and zero casualties.

    O.K., here we go with the decimated Iraqi infrastructure argument. If you don’t believe the terrorists have access to the internet, cell phones, and TV, then you are underestimating them.

    The democrats in congress authorized the war, although “knowing what we know now” they have retracted from it. It is incredibly convenient for Kerry and hid Demo buddies, to change their mind. They were not faced with the decision at the time. In blaming it all on the President, they fail to take responsibility for their own actions in authorizing the war.

    Try to separate the attacks on Iraqis, by terrorists, from their dissatisfaction with being an occupied country. The Iraqis are tired of their kids being blown up by radical muslims. They know we’re not pulling the trigger. Any time they want us to leave, they can just ask.

    I knew we had to finally get to the “dissent is not unpatriotic” B.S. argument. Calling the Commander in Chief a liar, undermining support for the war while we’re still fighting it, spreading falsifications and rumors designed to discredit the President, etc. are all treasonous at a time of war.

    A true patriot would state the policy he/she objects to, and constructively follow up with a solution. Pissing and moaning helps nothing. Unfortunately, this has been Kerry’s campaign.

    Let me now differentiate the final point: The democrats greatly influence foreign policy through their influence on public opinion. They refuse to take responsibilty for their words and deeds, and have no resposibility for the difficult decisions the President has made.

  11. vdibart says:

    Boyd,

    I am in agreement with you that these things take time. But that doesn’t mean that we should just ignore signs of progress while events are unfolding, if for no other reason than as a measurement of our success. What we face today is that due to our policies in with Iraq, hardliners in Iran and other potentially-progressive Islamic states are able to rally support for their extremist views. Perhaps in the long run democracy will overtake the Middle East, but it’s clear to me that because of the manner in which this war was conceived and prosecuted we have made the task harder on ourselves than it need be.

    I applaud the level-headedness in your reply, as it makes me think you and I are not that far off in our evaluation of the issue. Different to be sure, but perhaps not that far off. In the end, I don’t think it’s an option to cut and run, and I truly don’t believe that’s what Kerry would do either. Success is truly the only option, but without the ability to critique our past performance, how can we possibly expect to avoid repeating the same mistakes as the stakes get higher?

  12. vdibart says:

    To resond to LJD…

    “It is incredibly convenient for Kerry and hid Demo buddies, to change their mind.”

    No, this is what people who rely on logic, rather than blind faith, do when confronted with an error in judgement. It would be irresponsible for them to keep their mouths shut while we continue to flounder in Iraq.

    ” Try to separate the attacks on Iraqis, by terrorists, from their dissatisfaction with being an occupied country.”

    Uh….the attacks are *because* they are an occupied country. The vast majority of the attacks are being carried out by Iraqis who have no ties to Al-Qaeda. And I don’t understand what’s happening in Iraq?

    “The democrats greatly influence foreign policy through their influence on public opinion.”

    Since when has this president even insinuated that public opinion drives his foreign policy? In fact, he’s equated that kind of reasoning to the “global test” that he despises so much. And to boot, your point previously was that they had influence through their mythical control of Congress (inquiries and authorizations). Now you say it’s through their control of the public. Well, which is it?

  13. vdibart says:

    Doug,

    “the words and actions of Kerry, Edwards, Gore, Harkin and Kennedy embolden our enemies and weaken America.”

    This is apparently one of the favored lines of the pro-war crowd, but I have yet to hear anyone explain how this actually works, just assertions that it is the case. But more to the point, in your opinion, which of the following “emboldens” the enemy most:

    1) no-go zones where the US military has ceded control to the insurgents
    2) the apparent impunity the terrorists who behead innocents and civilians enjoy week after week
    3) the prison scandal
    4) something John Kerry, John Edwards, et. al. said on tv.

    To use one of Cheney’s favorite words, thinking that they would be empowered by something so minor compared to their daily experiences is just plain naive.

    “The Iraqis consider the Abu Graib episode a joke and don’t understand the western media’s fascination with it.”

    I can’t even fathom that someone would write this seriously. If that’s the case, why did Colin Powell say that it would take “generations” for the effects of that scandal to dissipate?

    “When terror leaders like Kim Jong Il, Arafat, and al-Zarqawi quote them favorably it’s time to rethink your position”

    And how should your position change when the leader of Iran, a named member of the axis of evil, endorses George W. Bush for president, as he did today?

    “We still have troops in Bosnai & Kosovo and Halliburton was brought in by Clinton”

    I had not mentioned anything about Halliburton, but thanks for responding to an argument that was not made.

  14. vdibart says:

    One last thing for LJD:

    “Calling the Commander in Chief a liar, undermining support for the war while we’re still fighting it, spreading falsifications and rumors designed to discredit the President, etc. are all treasonous at a time of war.”

    So the difference is that when the Republicans did almost the exact same thing to Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal, we weren’t at war and therefore it was ok to attempt to discredit the President? Or was it ok because Clinton was a liar and W isn’t? Or is one of the things that 9/11 changed was the inability to recognize contradictions? Just want to understand the issue.

    But on a more basic level, I’d just like to hear what quotes you are referring to when you say they attempt to discredit the President and undermine the war effort. At least then I can evaluate whether I agree or disagree with your underlying claim.

  15. LJD says:

    Wow! Somebody had a busy night! I was too busy watching my Sox kick the tar out of the Yanks…

    No matter what successes the U.S. has, no matter how many people we help, the Dems always find a way to turn it around and make it not so.

    A BIG LOSS on Nov.2 will be difficult to turn aroun though…

    VD- you are a well indoctrinated mouthpiece for the left, congratulations! I (and millions of Americans) couldn’t disagree with you more. I suppose I can at least commend you for being involved…