Veteran Conundrum?

James Webb, once SECNAV under Ronald Reagan, has some rather harsh words for both John Kerry and George W. Bush. His assessment of both Kerry’s record as leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Bush’s stint in the National Guard are unkind but fair.

He also believes both men have done questionable things in their current positions that cause problems for veterans, noting especially that neither seems to have an exit strategy from Iraq.

Webb is, to say the least, no fan of the Iraq War:

The Bush campaign now claims that these issues are largely moot and that Bush has proved himself as a competent and daring “war president.” And yet his actions in Iraq, and the vicious attacks against anyone who disagrees with his administration’s logic, give many veterans serious pause.

Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.

There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.

At the same time, those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served, have attempted to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with them. Some have impugned the culture, history and integrity of entire nations, particularly in Europe, that have been our country’s great friends for generations and, in some cases, for centuries.

Bush has yet to fire a single person responsible for this strategy. Nor has he reined in those who have made irresponsible comments while claiming to represent his administration. One only can conclude that he agrees with both their methods and their message.

Whatever one may think of the soundness of the decision to go to war, much of this argument strikes me as illogical. For one thing, it’s unclear what it is we’d be doing with, say, the 3rd Infantry Division to fight the war on terror if it weren’t deployed to Iraq. And to say that the tactical prowess of the military saved us from the consequences of the decision is rather bizarre, since one presumes the tactical prowess of the military was a primary consideration in the decision to go to war.

One can certainly debate the extent to which France and Germany–the only significant countries that have been recent allies of the United States to oppose our action in Iraq–have been valuable strategic partners in recent years. My own take is that we fought two world wars to stop the Germans, in part to bail out the French. In the years since, we’ve rebuilt Germany and allowed them to free ride under our military protective umbrella. France has hardly been a reliable ally since we drove the Nazis out.

It is also unclear to me why it is Bush would fire anyone for a strategy that he approved of. The combat phase of the war against Iraq was brilliantly executed by any reasonable standard. The occupation/transition to democracy phase has certainly been a mixed success, although how one measures such things is unclear. But a proper cost-benefit analysis will have to wait until we see the fruits of our labors. If Iraq is governed by a Saddam-like dictator or embroiled in a bloody civil war five or ten years down the road, our efforts would have been a failure. If they’ve got a stable democracy friendly to the U.S., it would be a spectacular success. My guess is we’ll have something in between those.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, 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. M. Simon says:

    I blame it all on Franklin Roosevelt.

    If he had an exit strategy from Germany and Japan in January of 1942 we wouldn’t still have our troops tied down there today. It is still a quagmire.

  2. steam-steam oh yeah says:

    what is all this talk about an ‘exit strategy’ I keep hearing so much about. What is that?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Steam,

    An “exit strategy” is a plan for conflict termination and getting our troops home. It’s easy in the case of a traditional military operation–get Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait, force him to sign a peace treaty, and go home–but not so easy in a stabilization operation. At what point do we say our goals are accomplished and we can withdraw our forces?

  4. McGehee says:

    M. Simon is (sarcastically) right. In a battle against someone trying to destroy you, the only acceptable exit strategy is victory.

  5. steam-steam oh yeah says:

    OMG James I was being sarcastic, insinuating that we might as well be ignorant of such a thing because it barley exist. LOL

  6. James Joyner says:

    Kev,

    I don’t disagree. But what, precisely, constitutes victory here? The regime has been changed. How stable do things have to get before we’ve won?

  7. steam-steam oh yeah says:

    James,

    You must be kidding, do you really believe Iraq has a chance of stabilization what so ever?

    I’m not against regime change but we blew it. Every nation in that area is subtly contributing to a return of a non-secular state. It’s going to be a free for all money pit. It’s going to show to be just as intense as Vietnam with an international effect 10 times that of Vietnam.
    Only with less casualties as I’m sorry to say that that has been the Only (yet not perfected) evolved concept of war.

    I don’t think the Dems portray a true reflection of the matter.

    It’s hard to believe but I feel our only objective here was to create chaos on top of the chaos that would normally occur, therby giving us the upper hand on knowing which direction the chaos would go in the long run.

    Their will be no peace in Iraq.
    The only enemy we are really fighting is the evolution of sophisticated strategic warfare.
    Which is very intentional

  8. McGehee says:

    James, good question — I was forgetting that “exit strategy” rhetoric refers not to military objectives but political ones.

    The role of the military at this point is to provide tactical support to the politicians and diplomats as they try to craft a situation in Iraq that will play politically as complete victory — even though military victory was achieved months ago.

    I think in broad terms the conditions necessary for a politically acceptable exit have been laid out. That those conditions don’t meet the standards of everyone else in D.C. means only that those conditions don’t meet the standards of everyone else in D.C.

    Steam: It’s hard to believe but I feel our only objective here was to create chaos on top of the chaos that would normally occur, therby giving us the upper hand on knowing which direction the chaos would go in the long run.

    By definition chaos doesn’t go in any predictable direction. If what we’ve done in Iraq is create a predictable direction for events, then chaos has been diminished.

  9. steam-steam oh yeah says:

    McGehee,

    pigeonhold on semantics?

    chaos is extremly controlable, that is universal,
    chaos means many things at one time, in this case overtly dispelling the wondering eye and establishing the cost of interfernce to the internationally interested parties i.e. the entire middle east,

    a cruel war was the whole idea, this obviously could not benifit anyone, remember the cold war, this is not new

  10. steam-steam oh yeah says:

    p.s.

    might I suggest you get your self a mental bowflex McGehee, cause you ain’t hard enough to accept ReAlity bay-Bee, oh yeah

  11. Juliette says:

    Steam wrote: “I’m not against regime change but we blew it. Every nation in that area is subtly contributing to a return of a non-secular state.”

    How did we “blow it?” By implementing regime change in the wrong manner? What, in your opinion, would be the correct manner?

    Did we “blow it” by implementing regime change *period?* Had we not gone into Iraq, what outcomes would have been better than those existing at present (other than the noble deaths of our military members)?

    Nothing in the comment from which I quoted or any of your subsequent ones explains how we “blew it.” Bowflex time, perhaps?

  12. steam-steam oh yeah says:

    Nothing in the comment from which I quoted or any of your subsequent ones explains how we “blew it.” Bowflex time, perhaps?

    I did Indeed explain my position; Every nation in that area is subtly contributing to a return of a non-secular state. I think we went about it in the wrong manner but I also think we went about it in the exact manner our administration had in mind.

    BTW I’m glad someone liked the blowflex comment. I was proud of it, I thought of it myself, It was not a direct shot at McGehee, he was just in the area of fire

  13. McGehee says:

    Steam, didn’t you used to be Steve Plonk? If anything you make less sense now than back then.

  14. steam-steam oh yeah says:

    McGehee,

    no I am not this steve plonk person

    I am a blogger who has been cheated recognition of my brillance and influence on the blogosphere

    I am 100% aware that what I say isn’t what you would normally hear, now that doesn’t make you less intellegent, just unfamiliar. and when you age respectivly to grasp my strength you will have long forgotten my name, hence no need for a true identity and no chance of blog rip offs of my ideas

  15. Greyhawk says:

    The “we’ve lost the war” screed is going to become quite loud in the near future. Over the past 12 months I’ve yet to see any forecast of the future of Iraq borne out very well. Last year’s prediction was hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees. This year’s is “another Beirut”.

    That’s failed intel.