Monday, June 19, 2006

The Fog of War Part II:

Every War the Same, Every War Different

Part I: War is Cruelty

Whether reading from the left or the right (politically) you can always find a comparison from one war or the other to the current conflict. In fact, when reading military treatise or even operations planning, failures and successes are used to evaluate and develop the concepts for fighting a war.

The reasons for war change very little. Whether reading Homer's Iliad, reviewing heiroglyphics of Egyptian Pharoahs at war, the Romans v. Carthagenians, Chinese consolidation of Empire or defense against the Mongols, the Moguls of India, the Zulu of Africa, Medieval expansionism, Revolution, Civil War, 20th Century World Wars or proxy wars or modern 21st Century Fourth Generation Warfare; study them all and the causes and effects, the political rivalries between foes or even within the same camps, the movements of armies, the monetary cost, the material cost, the political cost, the strategic, the tactical, etc, etc, etc. Look into any of these wars and one could find something similar in the current effort to compare favorably or negatively.

None of the arguments or comparisons are convincing as to the ethics or efficacy of the war alone. For the most part they serve as bench marks by which we can evaluate, but hardly serve as the definitive by which to determine the status of a war.

For instance, one could point to Roman history or evaluate the political and territorial fall out of the Punic Wars or the break up of the Roman Empire into East and West. Or maybe the Trojan War which starts with the alleged kidnapping of a wife and ends as a territorial fight with political power implications within the Greek camp. Thus, whatever romantacism is applied to war, the purpose of war rarely changes. It is either defense against attacks or offense to control territory. The purpose of these acts are always within three spheres: security, land and resources. Wars often include all three because all three are necessary to fight and win a war, much less for reasons to begin a war. In fact, land and resources can be rolled into the singular "security" because without either, you have none.

The difference may simply be summed up into a Clausewitz concept: the political objective. The will to fight and the amount of force, resources and manpower are dependent on how strongly one believes in the political objective. War is the use of force used to force the foe to comply with demands or bend to the political objective. However strong or weak the belief in, need of or support for the political objective, so goes the force and the ability to make the foe submit to your will.

It's a very straight forward concept. It is written in a very logical and simplistic language, breaking down the concepts to be consumed in a cool and reasonable manner. However this concept is presented with cool, level headed logic and reasoning, war is hardly ever committed in such a fashion. It is almost always committed with passion, a passion that is more closely felt by the man on the battle field and all those with and against him. A man rarely commits to battle where he maintains objectivity and cool logic once the battle is met. It is all adrenaline, blood pumping insanity most people would not recognize in themselves on any other given day.

Thus is war ever the same.

But, every war is different. The Political Objective is accepted or rejected, supported or subordinated. The actors have different passions and conceptions; comprehend history and ideas differently, act on the battle field differently. Even if you could sit down with every war in history and know every success and failure in advance, imagining a set formula that demands a set answer (1+1=2), it doesn't exist because there is no guarantee that the foe will act in a specific manner to what seems to be set, straightforward actions. There is no formula that guarantees a win or loss of a battle. There is no formula which can predict with 100% accuaracy how the foe will act or even one's own forces under the stress of battle. Can a commander execute exactly the order and concept of battle conceived by a commander or is he not subject to the actions and will of his opponent as well as his own actions and will?

There are no guarantees in war. That is the only thing that remains the same.

In the Beginning

During the documentary, McNamara discussed how he was tapped for the position of Secretary of Defense. John F. Kennedy won the election and was innaugurated in 1961. McNamara had just been tapped to be President of Ford Motor Company after successfully applying the concepts of statistical analysis he had used during World War II to turn the company around and stop its losses. He was approached for the position of Secretary of the Treasury first, but turned it down. In his own words he said that, while he was good with numbers, finance had never been his strong point. Kennedy then offered him the position of Secretary of Defense even though McNamara had limited experience.

McNamara did not know or did not dane to explain why Kennedy was insistent on having him within his administration but it is clear that he was looking for proficient technocrats that would bolster his administration and balance out the nepotism and political cronyism that is usual within elected administrations. Further, it is also clear that John F. Kennedy was looking for people who would fit into what he considered a "transformative" administration. Transformation may be a modern watchword for the current military make over, but Kennedy was making the same moves in 1961. According to Wikipedia:

Kennedy rejected the concept of first-strike attack and emphasized the need for adequate strategic arms and defense to deter nuclear attack on the United States and its allies. U.S. arms, he maintained, must constantly be under civilian command and control, and the nation's defense posture had to be "designed to reduce the danger of irrational or unpremeditated general war." The primary mission of U.S. overseas forces, in cooperation with allies, was "to prevent the steady erosion of the Free World through limited wars." Kennedy and McNamara rejected massive retaliation for a posture of flexible response. The United States wanted choices in an emergency other than "inglorious retreat or unlimited retaliation," as the president put it. Out of a major review of the military challenges confronting the United States initiated by McNamara in 1961 came a decision to increase the nation's limited warfare capabilities. These moves were significant because McNamara was abandoning Eisenhower's policy of massive retaliation in favor of a flexible response strategy that relied on increased U.S. capacity to conduct limited, non-nuclear warfare.

While the concepts of limited warfare and transforming the military to be able to act in such a way is reflected in today's modern transformation and Department of Defense, the reasons are no longer reflective. In fact, it could be considered a direct opposite. Where Kennedy wanted to "prevent the steady erosion of the Free World through limited wars" (ie, resist Communist Expansionism), today's purpose is to assist in expanding the "Free World" though both of the concepts fall under the main objective of ensuring United States Security. The battle then was to resist being surrounded or cut off in certain regions by the upsurge of Communist nations, particularly in regions that either threatened our borders, thus security, physically or threatened the availability or control of resources that would indirectly threaten US security. Kennedy understood that massive war with the USSR would have no good outcome and, while Eisenhower had looked at war with the USSR through this scope, the USSR had been fighting another war all together which was the slow, barely under the radar expansion into small countries in strategic areas, slowly strangling the United States and its free allies. Proxy wars we call them now, but it was the wars or, better yet, battles the USSR had chosen to fight.

It required less money, less materials and less exposure of the homeland, national forces and resources.

In many people's minds, this represents the first similarity between history and now: once again looking at and transforming for small wars. Once again, the idea is to combat the erosion of freedom (though, more accurately, it is the expansion of freedom but people often feel more passionate about defending something than giving it where it might not be accepted). There is no longer a huge overshadowing foe with a single ideology that must be met and defeated. In many respects, that made the effort that much easier because, while information war (or propaganda) had to be tailored to specific areas, the ideology to be combatted was the same and provided a formula of sorts for action.

Today, every region has its own ideological vagaries. In Venezuela where Chavez is manouvering to cut off the free press, nationalize businesses and position himself as an emergency dicatator for life (now we can see similarities there in the emergence of nationalist dictators who come to power under false pretenses, rigged or limited elections and generally run an autocratic thugocracy where their power is from intimindation). In Indonesia, separatist and nationalist Islamists want and Islamic state based on their own ideologies. Afghans may or may not support the taliban and Iranians may or may not want to continue to live under Islamist rules while China continues its psuedo capitalist/communist government and alleged Democracies such as Russia see all the gains of freedom such as the press and elections, slowly evaporating back into the grasps of ex-Communist Buearocrats whose ideology is neither compellingly simple or completely comprehensive.

In short, there is no key to world freedom nor clear path on which to traverse, only the confusing path between all of the individuals, nations and ideologies who continue to play a part in the over all strategic requirement for national security. If there is one difference that must be pointed to between the here and now, this is it. We might still need to be able to fight "small wars" and these wars might, in the end, be for the over all security of the United States, but the ideas and the foes are not the same. Everyone is different and will require a different response.

At some point, McNamara believes he understands it and many others would believe they have made that leap, but, in the end, most people are stuck in the last war (including civilians, politicians and even generals and general staff officers).

That is another point that remains the same.

In short, people often accuse the military and its leaders of never being ready for the next war or always fighting the last war, but it is also true of the body politic: we are always fighting the last war. That's a mistake that usually leads to very mixed outcomes at the beginning of war and, unless the true transformation of, not only the military, but the body politic occurs, unless some very creative and, dare I say "risk taking", individuals are elected or appointed to leadership positions, it's possible to lose this war.

Tigerhawk posted on this theme: the fourth mutation

A viable system of Jihadi force-generation within the West would have the effect of shifting the battlespace away from South Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and into mainstreet USA. It will have the further effect of shifting the mode of combat away from military operations to cultural, religious and political warfare. The Washington Post almost accidentally destroyed the Vietnam metaphor singlehandedly by noting that the number of airstrikes in support of military operations in Iraq was so low that it actually amounted to half the air support provided in Afghanistan.[snip]

Iraq is no doubt a war, but it's a different war from what it is imagined to be. One of these days the MSM is going to discover that neither OIF nor the War on Terror bears any but the most passing resemblance to Vietnam. That occurred on a different continent, against another enemy over another ideology with a different type of warfare and in another century. Once an aging generation stops looking for napalm, punji sticks, carpet bombing, air strikes and helicopters in the headlines they may realize that that this war is being fought with propaganda, networks, educational systems, religion and nerve gas anywhere and everywhere. In word, it is being fought on a basis that the Western mind is not prepared to contemplate.

Even though, I might add, we live in a world that is filled with advertisements, subliminal placing of products in movies and packaging that is tested and marketed with the intent of gaining our attention, even subconsciously, we still somehow believe that an information war is not real war or not ethical or is too damaging to our own psyche and concepts of free will that we cannot undertake it or we commit only half assed resources and concepts generally derailing any efficacy.

Someone recently told me that the truth always wins and that all we need is to have a clear, consistent message of the truth to combat the enemy information war. If that isn't the biggest, fattest self-induced delusion, I don't know what is. Really, that flies in the face of all historical facts. If you want to compare Iraq and Vietnam, try this on for size: the enemy lies and the world press (including ours) buys it hook line and sinker. If there is an important lesson to learn from Vietnam, this one is surely it. If you don't believe half what one side tells you and you consistently work to debunk anything they tell you (even if it is part of an over all strategic work to make the enemy believe you and act in a way that you want them to), but, when the enemy gives a press release, video or other statement, you simply print it verbatim and imagine that the people you have just been telling that their government lies to them (as if they were the target of disinformation campaigns) will some how also believe the other side is a liar (someone has to be telling the truth, if it's not your side, then it is the other) without expressing the idea that they lie, what are people going to believe?

A lie.

There is the similarity once again between now and Vietnam. No one is interested in the truth, just their opinions of it.

No comments: