Carol Platt Liebau: The only solution in Iraq...

Monday, July 30, 2007

The only solution in Iraq...

This is guest blogger Wile E Coyote.

The recent success of American and Iraqi forces in Iraq poses a problem for Democrats, who have so deeply invested in our defeat there.

As good military news continues to come in, Democrats seeking to downplay this good news will resume their mantra: "[T]he only solution in Iraq is a political one."
Don't be fooled.

The mantra references von Clausewitz's dictum that war is an extension of politics by other means. Properly understood, von Clausewitz observes that warfighting is a means to an end, an end which involves imposing one's will on the other side through a political settlement.

In stating that "the only a political one", Democrats argue that force and politics are disconnected. Nothing could be further from von Clausewitz's thinking or from historical experience. Warfighting and politics are more than connected; they are part of the same thing, although the former is subordinate to the latter. Sometimes, the only way to achieve an acceptable political solution is to occupy the enemy's territory, to lay waste to its farms, industry, transport and population centers, and to kill or capture its armed forces. Witness the US Civil War (and that was a civil war) and World War II. These experiences (as well as the consequences of punishing Germany after World War I), have given rise to the American preference for a hard war and an easy peace.

But Clausewitz's dictum does not always apply. It presupposes that warfighting is the exclusive province of sovereign states fighting with professional armies. (See The Transformation of War, by Israeli historian Martin van Creveld.) Among warrior cultures, fighting is an affirmative good. Lewis and Clark's effort to make peace among the Plains Indians foundered in part upon the fact that Indian society selected leaders and conferred status through success in combat. The Indians recognized that without war, their social order would collapse. (See, Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose.)

Beyond warrior culture, religiously motivated warfare presents an insoluble problem for the "political solution" school, since fighting represents an end in itself. The best thing in life is to kill or vanquish the enemy. The next best thing is to die trying. Peace on any terms other than the complete submission of the unbeliever is a sin. To think that any "political solution" is possible with such an adversary is nonsense. Facing an enemy like Al Qaeda (and the Iranian mullahs), we can only kill, surrender unconditionally, or be killed.

Given the overwhelming conventional might of the United States, our political and religiously motivated adversaries have embraced unconventional warfare. If we are unwilling simply to annihilate the population among which the enemy moves (because it is distasteful or counterproductive), then protecting and winning over the enemy's populace becomes key. America may prefer a hard war and an easy peace, but in Iraq we have the paradigm of an easy war and a hard peace. We had better get used to it.

And we had better not fool ourselves when Democrats decry the utility and necessity of force in achieving political solutions.

UPDATE: Wile E.: I embedded the link. I hope you don't mind. Ruth Anne :)


Blogger Earth to Carol said...

Is the "Surge" working?

Eight million: Number of Iraqis — nearly a third of the population — who are “in need of immediate emergency aid.” According to the new report by Oxfam and a coalition of Iraqi NGOs, the Iraqi government is “failing to provide basics such as food and shelter.”

7:56 AM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Mr. Coyote, your logic is seriously flawed. You seem to overlook the fact that Clausewitz's central point in that chapter was the war is the means, not the end. FIRST you determine your political objectives; THEN you determine if military means are adequate to obtain that objective.

This is the fundamental error behind the American strategy in Iraq. We have not clearly defined our political objective. We started off with one objective -- remove Mr. Hussein and eliminate his WMD. We accomplished the first and discovered that he didn't have any WMD.

The problem was, we hadn't thought through the entire scenario. We just assumed that, with Saddam gone, everything else would simply fall into place. That didn't happen. Soon we realized that there was another objective that had to be met: creating a stable regime friendly to our interests. When this dawned upon us, we went even further: we decided that we wanted a stable democratic regime friendly to our interests -- an impossible task given the political and cultural situation in Iraq.

You argue that military means are adequate to achieve this objective. Yet you yourself declare that "protecting and winning over the enemy's populace becomes key." Military forces are not adequate to protect populations against insurgencies, as has been demonstrated many times in history. The only case where it worked was in Malaysia, where the British forcibly relocated the population into protected zones. This is not possible in an urban environment such as exists in Iraq.

Moreover, you most certainly cannot "win over the minds of the population by engaging in military activity in that population. Military forces are a blunt instrument, and they kill almost as many innocents as insurgents. Killing innocents does NOT win over hearts and minds -- it has the opposite effect.

Thus, military means are doomed to failure in Iraq. You cite the good news coming out of Iraq. It's true, there is some good news coming out of Iraq. There is also some bad news coming out of Iraq. To declare that the situation as a whole is now improving is simply not justified by the information available to us. But the fundamentals of military experience teach us that we will surely fail in imposing a military solution upon the situation in Iraq.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

In response to a very thoughtful post, Earth responds with the equivalent of,

"How can you say the surge is working? For goodness sakes, it's HOT over there! Isn't it obvious the U.S. has failed?"

12:19 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

This is Ruth Anne Adams' remark, not Carol's

Comment moderation is on. You only need to send it once.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

I attempted to post a comment earlier this morning; was it lost in the ether or explicitly rejected?

1:14 PM  
Blogger Earth to Carol said...

I thought this was from Coyote and not Adams? Perhaps, they are one and the same? Either way, my user name is just that, and not a salutation.

Why the moderation? We have been good girls and boys, not?

1:30 PM  
Blogger Ruth Anne Adams said...

Chepe Noyon: We're in a little transition here. Your prior comment was received, but I won't make the decision on it [it's quite long]; I'll leave that comment decision to Wile E. Coyote [this post's author]. So the answer is it was received and no judgment has been made.

Earth to Carol: Moderation has been enabled at Carol's request. There will be multiple authors pinch-hitting for a short time. Comment moderation allows us the chance to assure Carol that her high standards are being maintained. And I am not Wile E. Coyote.

Greg: I commented from Carol's blogger account because it was quicker. Won't do that again!

1:39 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Thank you, Ms. Adams. I'll try to be more concise in the future.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Wile E Coyote here --

I certainly agree that the Bush Administration blundered in several respects, but have argued in my blog that military means are both connected and subordinated to political ends. To that extent, I think we agree.

With the surge, we finally have a military strategy that supports political ends vis-a-vis Iraqi groups (Sunni, Kurd, Shia). Petraeus has also elaborated tactics and doctrine to support counterinsurgency operations; these efforts are not doomed to failure. On the contrary, tribes in Iraq seems to be voting with their feet and their rifles in favor of the surge.

My larger point was that the political/military ends/means discussion breaks down when considering warrior cultures and religiously based enemies. If you have a problem here, you must take it up with Prof. van Creveld, from whose book I take the observation. Reasonable people can differ.

Finally, I believe that the invasion of Iraq was an indirect attack on our true enemy -- Saudi Wahabbi islam (sp?). WMD were a pretext. Bush (supported by Cheney and Rumsfeld) confused overrunning Iraq with conquering it.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

Mr. Coyote, I certainly agree that the conventional wisdom regarding the relationship between force and political objectives breaks down when dealing with cultures that glorify violence. As you point out, this doesn't make force useless, it means only that we must use force in a different way. The problem here is that, in these cases, force can only be used defensively -- you can't really go after the insurgents aggressively because you'll end up killing too many innocents, making matters worse.

We're dealing with multiple opponents with multiple and divergent goals. The al-Qaeda people just want to kill lots of Americans and show up America as a paper tiger. The Sunnis want to restore their dominance over Iraq. The Kurds want independence. The Shias want the power that their numbers deserve. The Iranians want to support the Iraqi Shias so that they will have a client regime. The Saudis want to support the Sunnis as a bulwark against Iran. And we're in the middle!

9:23 PM  
Blogger Earth to Carol said...


We don't have to guess what Martin van Creveld thinks about US invasion of Iraq:

The most foolish war in 2014 years. The US should forget about saving face and pull its troops out.

"What had to come, has come. The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon - and at what cost."

9:48 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I really appreciate your posts, Chepe Noyon. They are thoughtful, polite, and challenging. I hope you continue to post on this site. But I have to disagree with your first post on this thread.

I am no political operative or insider. I'm simply a member of the general public with only the news media and the internet from which to gather information. Yet it was clear to me from the very early discussions regarding Iraq that the objective of this administration was much more than to simply remove Sadaam Hussein and eliminate his WMD. It was articulated early and often that the main goal was to replace a terrorist-friendly regime with a stable, friendly government in Iraq. The objective was to provide a successful, local alternative to the Islamic Fascism that has gripped the region. It was further hoped that this would, in turn, cause populations in Syria, Iran, and other countires to demand and ultimately achieve more free and open societies.

A grand plan, yes - radical even. But also a clearly stated objective. Lybia's reaction served as evidence that it might actually work, too.

Removing Hussein and eliminating WMD was nothing more than the easiest ideas to sell to the Democrats and the general public. The far-reaching, yet clearly articulated (Funny to use that phrase when talkinig about Bush, isn't it?) rationale for invading Iraq is not easily condensed into media-ready sound bites.

The problem has never been with the political objectives. The problem has been with the tactical execution on the ground. The current "good news" coming from Iraq as result of our changed tactics is exactly the kind of news that suggests the Bush Administration was right to offer the people in the Middle East the hope of freedom.

Finally given real protection from brutal oppression, the people on the ground - whose hearts and minds we must capture - are choosing America over Al Qaeda!

This is the very beginning of the realization of the objective laid out by President Bush from the start of this campaign. I pray it continues.

6:26 AM  

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