(Captain's log): In response to my long exposition of the strategy of this war and how the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq serve that strategy, I've received several letters which have asked a similar question: if Iraq's WMDs were not really the principle reason for going in, then why didn't Bush and Blair level with us and the world?
This letter, from Peggy, was typical:
It is entirely possible to believe that this was a necessary war to achieve strategic goals and simultaneously be thoroughly disgusted with this administration's exaggeration of the WMD evidence. I know I am. It is, after all, the WMD and specifically the nuclear threat that put the imminence in "imminent threat" to justify what was termed a preemptive war. Most of the American public is not familiar with the neo-con strategy as it pertains to Iraq and the Arab world and feel duped, and rightly so, by their president. Your entire essay is an argument for "the end justifying the means." Do you really believe that? Or have you just allowed your disgust with the "leftists" and your strong pro-war stance to overwhelm your ability to objectively assess this situation? Any time the American public is called upon to expend their national treasure and send their troops into battle they deserve a completely honest accounting of the reasons why.
No, I'm afraid they don't. They don't need to know, and can't be trusted to know.
If there were a way for Bush to share this little secret with 270 million of his closest friends without it leaking out to the rest of the world, perhaps it would make sense to talk about it. But that's obviously impossible.
It is nearly always a mistake to reveal any information when there's no need to do so. That applies on every level, from the mundanity of operations all the way up to the grand strategic. That's especially the case in a war like this one, where the goal is so diffuse and which affects so many nations in so many ways.
TM Lutas offers a superb explanation of why it is that in this particular case it would have been catastrophic to reveal the true strategic goal of the war. But on a more general level, the more you reveal about your intentions and your capabilities, the easier it becomes for your enemy to predict what you'll do and to work to make it fail.
Deception and misdirection have been part of war for as long as we have written records about war. Sun Tsu speaks about deception and misdirection. Some of the earliest stories in the Bible about war include descriptions of ruses and lies. Dunnigan and Nofi wrote a book which collects dozens of stories about how lying and misdirection have made a difference in critical battles in history.
Last November, I wrote a long article about the kinds of intelligence tradeoffs that the grim logic of war can force. I concluded it this way:
And though we are in the habit of watching our government closely, and trying to understand what it does, so as to try to advise it, in times of crisis our leaders must keep secrets from our enemies, and that means they must keep secrets from us, too. For us as citizens, then, it becomes necessary to pick leaders and then trust them to lead, and accept that they will do things which they cannot explain. We must trust them, and understand that they cannot trust us. All we can do is to hope we've picked well. History will tell those of us who survive whether we did.
And so it is in this case. If there were a way that the President could have revealed the true strategy for the war to us all without negative consequences, I would agree that he would have had an obligation to do so. But that's not the case; for the government to come out and frankly state that the purpose of this war was to bring about broad political and cultural reforms in the entire Arab/Islamic world would have guaranteed that the war would be much more costly to us, and raise a substantial risk that we would not succeed.
Ultimately, victory is the real objective. Sometimes that requires that the government employ misdirection so as to deceive our enemies, and as a side effect that will cause many of us to be deceived as well. But that is better than actually losing.
Consider what might have happened if Bush had been completely frank about the strategic goals I laid out in this article.
The single biggest reason that the campaign in Iraq went as rapidly as it did, losing as few casualties as we lost, was because we were able to use Kuwaiti territory to build up a large force and a mountain of supplies before the primary ground campaign began. And a lot of why that campaign went as rapidly as it did was because of extensive and heavy close air support, much of which was provided by USAF fighter-bombers, which flew from airbases in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and to some extent from Saudi Arabia.
Suppose that none of those nations had been willing to cooperate. In that case, conquest of Iraq would have involved making a heavy amphibious landing on the gulf coast of Iraq, which would move out to hold a perimeter and to capture at least one major port (e