USS Clueless - No-exit Victory strategy

Stardate 20031002.2009

(Captain's log): There are terms which seem to appear in the political discourse and suddenly a lot of people will be talking about them. Sometimes it just happens, and sometimes they're deliberately introduced and pushed by some who have an agenda. The terms are almost always carefully selected to deceive, at least a bit.

Right now, a lot of people are talking about "exit strategies" with respect to Iraq. It's mostly those who opposed the war in the first place, or who are trying to pander to those who opposed the war, and those are the ones who are also fond of talking about quagmires and making comparisons to VietNam.

Basically, what most of them are thinking is, "We shouldn't be there in the first place, but the saner minds in this country failed to prevent the warmongers from making an invasion. Now that we're actually in Iraq, how do we arrange things so as to get back out as soon as possible, minimizing the damage?"

And their rhetoric implies strongly that either you have an exit strategy or you're stuck in a quagmire. They're trying to pretend that it's one or the other. But in fact there's a lot of territory between those two extreme situations, and our best course for the future can be found between them.

If you think that once an "exit strategy" has been completed that the only remaining US government employees will be embassy staff and a handful of Marine guards at the embassy, then we do not have and will not have an exit strategy for the next few decades, and any attempt to implement any such plan sooner would be disastrous.

This same lot has had a tendency to intone about Santayana's observation regarding learning from the past to avoid repeating its mistakes, after which they allude to the only war that the United States had ever fought before this one: VietNam. (Listening to them, one might think that we had never engaged in any other. That's certainly what they'd like us to believe, since VietNam is the only war we Americans generally acknowledge as having lost. The historic analysis is nothing like that straightforward, but that's not really important. Those opposing our current policies want to convince us that we're losing this time, too, and that's a lot easier if they can make us all think in defeatist terms.)

One of the problems with Santayana's "lessons of history" is learning the right lessons, and part of that is figuring out which ones actually apply. If you use the wrong one, you'll go astray. VietNam isn't the right one with regard to our involvement in Iraq.

Versailles is the right lesson. Our experience in Europe between 1915 and 1965 is the right lesson. And those who have been trying to focus attention on VietNam are trying to make us repeat the mistake of Versailles.

After revelation of the contents of the Zimmerman telegram in 1917, the mood in America changed. America committed its troops to war in Europe, along side the French and British. Having gotten involved late, when everyone else had fought themselves into exhaustion, and after it had become clear to everyone that human waves were suicide, the American doughboys didn't suffer the kind of casualties that our allies (and enemies) did. But our troops saw a lot of heavy fighting, and we did lose about 275 thousand casualties, of which about 68 thousand were killed.

What was then called "The World War" and then "The Great War" was also thought of by many as the war to end wars, and part of why many Americans came to support the war was the belief that if a sufficient hurting was put on those who had started it, others would in future be deterred.

The actual factors involved in the beginning of hostilities in WWI are extraordinarily complicated and involve policies and events stretching back decades. It isn't possible to designate any single thing or the policies of any single government as having caused the war. It was rather the case that the politics and policies in the large nations there and the interaction between them resulted in a super-critical situation where it only took a very small spark to cause a very large conflagration. If it hadn't been an assassination in the Balkans, it would have been something else. No single government can really be held responsible for having started it or having created the situation which made it inevitable.

Nonetheless, the popular feeling in America at the time was that it was Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire who were responsible, and who needed to be punished. So part of why the Americans fought was the naive hope that by fighting in that war they would never have to fight in another. And our boys marched to war, singing "Over There!": And we won't come home 'til it's over, over there.

Well, they did stay until the combat was concluded, and Germany and Austria had been defeated. And then the Europeans concluded the most misbegotten "peace treaty" in all of recorded history, in a conference at Versailles. I can think of no other peace treaty whose terms were more certain to cause further war, and some historians have argued that what we call "World War II" was actually "World War I, part 2". (Or maybe "World War I, the Next Generation.")

The Austro-Hungarian empire was the big loser. Everyone lost World War I, but Austria-Hungary lost a lot worse than anyone else. It was carved into pieces, and much of it was given as spoils to other nations which had participated in the war or was converted into independent states, in many cases merging together disparate and mutually hostile groups under the command of one favored group. Poland was given a large stretch of territory which had been part of Germany (or Prussia) since Frederick the Great, giving Poland access to the Baltic but leaving a section of Germany physically isolated from the rest. Alsace went to the French and the Sudetanland went to the newly created nation of Czechoslovakia. The French insisted that the Germans be forced to pay stiff reparations even though the German economy was in shambles after the war.

And to a great extent because of those reparations, Germany's currency collapsed due to hyperinflation, and the Weimar Republic then collapsed, and the stage was set for the rise of the National Socialist Party.

All of this happened without the Americans being around, because America's traditional isolationism had kicked back in and we'd brought everyone home. So less than 20 years after the treaty of Versailles, Europe was again at war. Isolationism continued to dominate in the US until Pearl Harbor, and then America once again got involved, went "over there" and stayed involved to the end.

But it was clear after VE day that it was vital to not repeat the mistakes made after WWI, leading to yet another major war in Europe in ten or twenty years, especially in the age of nuclear weapons. So American policy after WWII was entirely different. Combat had ended, but it wasn't "over, over there", so we didn't "come home", or not totally. A lot of the troops which had fought in Europe were returned home, but new troops were shipped back, and we maintained a major military commitment in the region.

The original deal made at Potsdam had been that after the war the four powers would administer individual zones of Germany more-or-less consisting of the regions they had taken militarily, but eventually would reunite them under independent German rule. The French and British and Americans actually did that, creating West Germany, but Soviet leaders refused to cooperate and instead converted their part into a separate nation. Partly that was because Stalin was an imperialist, but a lot of it was fear of the Germans, especially the Prussians. They had delivered massive death and destruction to Russia and the other nations of eastern Europe in two World Wars, and what Germany had done twice in recent memory it might do yet again. The Soviet zone of occupation mostly coincided with 19th century Prussia, and by keeping that area under Soviet rule, and preventing it from reunifying with the rest of Germany, the Soviet leadership felt more confident that they could prevent yet another resurgence of Prussian militarism.

Final reunification had to wait until the end of the Cold War, and coincided with the implosion of the Soviet Union. Until that point, the Soviet Union kept a substantial military force in East Germany.

And the US also kept a substantial military force in Germany after the war. But its role and the impact of its presence changed quite a lot over the years. In the first few years our troops served as a classic occupation force in the American zone, trying to keep the peace while aiding the process of rebuilding. After a few years, the Germans were permitted to write a new constitution and to elect a government, which then signed a peace treaty with the UK, France and US. Most historians date the end of WWII in Europe to VE day, when Admiral Dönitz (the German head-of-state after Hitler's suicide) formally surrendered. But strictly speaking the war didn't end until that peace treaty, after which Germany's status changed from occupied former-enemy to new-found friend and ally.

But that didn't mean we withdrew our troops, because it still wasn't really over. There were reductions but many of our troops withdrew into designated reservations and military bases in Germany, and mostly went outside only for R&R. They no longer enforced martial law and no longer interfered in German civil affairs, but they also didn't leave.

Meanwhile, other American troops were doing much the same in Japan. After an initial period of direct control by our troops and civilian administrators, gradually more and more was turned over to Japanese policemen and bureaucrats, and finally they too wrote a constitution (or had one largely written for them by us), signed a peace treaty, and regained full sovereignty. And in Japan, too, we ceased interfering in day-to-day life, but we didn't leave.

In fact, we keep a large military presence in Japan to this day. We kept a significant force in Germany for nearly 50 years. The largest part of it was redeployed to the Gulf region during the last two years and will probably not return, but if we had not been attacked in September of 2001, we'd probably still have a large force there.

And it is largely because we left large military forces in both places that new wars have not broken out involving either.

If you have to pay the awful expense in blood and treasure to fight and win a war, then if you're smart you'll try to make sure you never have to fight that particular war again. A war to end all wars probably won't ever happen unless it's one which annihilates our species, but at least you can make sure that you don't have to again fight the foe you just defeated.

You don't want to do what the US did in 1991: wound a foe badly but leave him standing. And you don't want to do what the treaty of Versailles did: create a situation where there's a strong likelihood of further war later.

That's only common sense, but historically speaking most nations who have been victorious in such wars have done an extremely poor job of preventing future wars. For instance, they may try to occupy the conquered nation indefinitely to administer it as what amounts to a colony, complete with puppet governments. That's what the USSR did in eastern Europe after WWII, creating friendly governments in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and several other nations. But they had to maintain the situation violently in many cases to suppress attempts at revolution or increased independence (such as in Prague in 1968), and though the governments of those nations were nominally friendly and nominally allied with the USSR, deep down the Soviet leaders didn't really trust them.

The Treaty of Versailles and other diplomatic instruments in place after WWI used another approach which historically has been a failure, by trying to impose severe arms limitations on Germany so it could not again become a military threat. "Who cares if they hate us, as long as they don't have any guns?"

Germany's army was limited to a very small size and it was not permitted to develop certain kinds of weapons or to acquire others in large quantities. The flaw in that became apparent later when in the 1930's Germany began to violate those limitations, at first secretly but later more and more openly as it became clear that other nations were not willing to go to war to enforce them.

Historically speaking, crushing a conquered enemy and trying to keep him flat afterwards (militarily and any other way) doesn't eliminate the threat in the long run, unless you're willing to go all the way and commit genocide. Rome defeated Carthage in the Punic wars, and permanently eliminated the threat by killing all the Carthaginians. (And then, according to tradition, pulled all the buildings down and destroyed the place so thoroughly that no two stones remained together.) Few nations today would consider going to such extreme lengths, and any attempt at long term squashing that doesn't go that far only serves to make sure that antipathy between the nations remains strong, so that once the squasher ceases it's squashing, the squashee will want revenge.

There's a different approach which has been far more successful, though it has not been tried as often, and that is to turn the previous enemy into a friend. Sometimes that happens on its own, and sometimes it's been the result of active policy.

England's conquest of Wales and later of Scotland each ultimately involved intermittent wars over a period of centuries, but eventually both were pacified and began to think of themselves as "British" as much as or more than they thought of themselves as "Welsh" or "Scottish" respectively. The conquest of Wales happened much earlier and Wales is farther along in this process. Scottish conquest happened more recently and there's still a degree of latent nationalism and yearning for independence in Scotland (which unlike Wales has its own semi-independent legislative body and its own currency – sort of). The English tried the same thing in Ireland but eventually failed and gave up.

Welsh and Scottish integration wasn't something which the English deliberately worked to accomplish; it's rather something that happened over the course of decades and even centuries.

On the other hand, that policy was far more successfully applied to the former Confederate states in the US after the American Civil War, but in this case it was deliberate. It didn't happen instantly and a lot of mistakes were made, but southerners now do not think of themselves as citizens of a conquered nation. They're far more integrated psychologically into the US than the Scots are into the UK.

After WWII, American foreign policy was to actively work to make that happen in Germany and Japan. Rather than trying to prevent either nation from again becoming a threat by keeping them crushed flat, we gave them aid in rebuilding and actively supported their new governments. But we made sure that those aspects of their national cultures which were most capable of making those nations threats to us were deemphasized. In a sense, we forced both nations to become friends since there was a degree of coercion involved. But that's not the same as forcing a nation to become a vassal.

That was really quite radical, and that can be demonstrated by comparing it to the aftermath of WWI, or comparing it to Soviet policy in eastern Europe after WWII.

Meade describes how Jacksonians believe one should treat opponents in war:

It recognizes two kinds of enemies and two kinds of fighting: honorable enemies fight a clean fight and are entitled to be opposed in the same way; dishonorable enemies fight dirty wars and in that case all rules are off.

An honorable enemy is one who declares war before beginning combat; fights according to recognized rules of war, honoring such traditions as the flag of truce; treats civilians in occupied territory with due consideration; and—a crucial point—refrains from the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Those who surrender should be treated with generosity. Adversaries who honor the code will benefit from its protections, while those who want a dirty fight will get one. ...

Jacksonians also have strong ideas about how wars should end. "There is no substitute for victory", as General MacArthur said, and the only sure sign of victory is the "unconditional surrender" of enemy forces. Just as Jacksonian opinion resents limits on American weapons and tactics, it also resents stopping short of victory. Unconditional surrender is not always a literal and absolute demand. The Confederate surrenders in 1865 included generous provisions for the losing armies. The Japanese were assured after the Potsdam Declaration that, while the United States insisted on unconditional surrender and acceptance of the terms, they could keep the "emperor system" after the war. However, there is only so much give in the idea: all resistance must cease; U.S. forces must make an unopposed entry into and occupation of the surrendering country; the political objectives of the war must be conceded in toto. ...

Once the enemy has made an unconditional surrender, the honor code demands that he be treated magnanimously.

While there are a lot of reasons for this basic attitude, there's deep pragmatism involved. Total commitment to the war to the end means you leave no wounded enemy standing to once again fight against you. And long term generosity helps to prevent that enemy from once again rising against you.

In the aftermath of WWII there were several ways in which the situation could conceivably have led to new wars. There was the worry that either Germany or Japan might once again fall under the sway of militant leaders, just as Germany had in the 1930's. Either nation might face invasion by aggressive hostile neighbors trying to take advantage of their weakness. And fearful neighbors might build up militarily, in turn forcing Germany or Japan to once again build their military forces to defend themselves.

There's a single solution to all of those: benign occupation by a substantial disinterested military force whose only significant goal was keeping the peace, and which was willing and able to fight against anyone who threatened the peace. Such a force bears no resemblance to what are referred to as "peacekeepers", who generally are only capable of keeping the peace when there are no threats to the peace. This is rather a force willing to "fight for peace", and that's what we kept in Germany and Japan.

There were those in both nations who were nationalistic, militaristic, ethnocentric and imperialistic, and in both nations they had largely been in power up until the end of WWII. Japan had in theory abolished the domination of the Samurai at the time of the Meiji Restoration, but as a practical matter it was still the Samurai ethic which controlled the nation right up to WWII.

But there were many others with different attitudes and ideas, more like our own. Part of the process of fostering new governments in both nations was to make sure they had the power. And as long as they did, we didn't interfere. But had more aggressive and hostile leaders appeared, we would have interfered and they all knew it. That helped stabilize their systems; it discouraged extremists and encouraged the moderates.

Since we were also willing to defend both nations against invasion, it meant they did not have to once again build large military forces of their own. If Japan had once again substantially rearmed in the 1950's or 1960's, it would have terrified the Chinese and Koreans (and a lot of other people), and the entire area could gotten trapped in a massive arms race similar to the one in Europe before WWI, converting the whole region into a powderkeg just like Europe in 1914. Likewise, if Germany had rearmed then it would have forced France and the UK and other nations in Europe to do the same.

But there was much less fear of American occupation forces. There was some concern in China that the US might use Japan (and South Korea) as a base from which to threaten the new Communist government there, and the presence of American troops in Germany represented a threat to the USSR, but for many nations in those regions our troops were not seen as a threat, which had to be matched with military buildup.

Thus American military occupation of Germany helped prevent a threat of invasion of Germany by France or the UK and vice versa. That idea sounds laughable now if one's historical horizon doesn't go back far enough, but it was no joke to the people in those areas at the time. Between WWI and WWII there was an interval in which Germany was once again becoming a threat but was still militarily weak, and some in Germany did fear invasion. (Much German diplomacy in the 1930's was involved in preventing that eventuality before German rearmament had eliminated the vulnerability.) And of course, eventually Germany did invade France and tried to conquer the UK. But there was no significant risk of those kinds of things in the 1950's, as long as the US was there.

The American military occupation of West Germany also helped to prevent an invasion by the USSR. That was because of our willingness to use nuclear weapons in such a case, even though it was understood that this would probably lead to a full nuclear exchange between the US and USSR which would destroy both nations. We were willing to risk the majority of our lives to defend Germany, and there was never direct war between NATO and the Warsaw pact.

Every one of those potential failure modes also face us in Iraq. We're working now to try to rebuild the nation after the destruction of war, cumulative damage from the sanctions and decades of Baathist incompetence and deliberate misrule, and we eventually hope that Iraq will adopt a constitution and elect a government which is based on the same principles as the ones we also sponsored in Germany and Japan. The new Iraqi government doesn't have to look like ours, but it does have to be secular and democratic, and the new constitution has to guarantee certain fundamental civil rights to the people of Iraq, including in particular the right of free speech, free press and legal equality for women.

But once that's in place, if we then shake the hands of Iraq's new moderate leaders and go home, it could all fall apart within just a few years. In the 1930's in Germany, the Nazi party took power by winning elections within the rules of the democratic system there but then eliminated that democratic system and converted the nation to a dictatorship; extremists in Iraq might do the same. When Iraq is militarily weak after the war, hostile or ambitious neighbors might take that opportunity to invade. If Iraq builds up a military force to defend itself, that could in turn be seen as a threat by other nations there, especially smaller ones like Kuwait. Any of those could lead to war; all of them represent long term failure.

That's why we can't leave. We had to occupy both Japan and Germany for decades, and we're going to have to do the same in Iraq. In a year or two or five, whenever enough progress has been made to permit it, a new constitution will be put into place and the Iraqis will elect their own government, and we'll turn power over to them. But we will need to keep a substantial military force there afterwards for the foreseeable future, on the order of 30 years.

The likely form would be three large military bases or collections of bases: one near Mosul, one NW of Baghdad in the heart of the "Sunni Triangle", and one near Basra. Each of the three would house one or two armored or mech-infantry brigades, as well as having the facilities to support multiple USAF squadrons. (It's unlikely that the US Navy will have any large bases there unless our relations with Bahrain go sour.)

My SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess) is that the commitment would have to include an armored division and a mech-infantry division, and one USAF wing, as well as other units and auxiliaries, totaling somewhere in the range of fifty to seventy thousand troops. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Iraq will become the new official home for 1st Armored and 1st Infantry, who will never return to Germany.)

By their presence, our troops will say that the US guarantees that Iraq will remain peaceful, liberal, and democratic, because anyone who says otherwise will have to answer to us. Any threat of invasion by Syria, Turkey or Iran would face our troops and our air power, with all that implies. Iraq will eventually have an army and an air force but it will be far smaller than the one Saddam created, and we'll guarantee that it won't be used by Iraq to invade any other nation or oppress any minority group inside Iraq. And we will guarantee that Iraq's government never comes under the control of extremists who would then scrap the constitution and once again institute a brutal autocracy.

Which means that we will guarantee that Iraq represents no serious threat to Kuwait. (And that the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are no threat to each other.)

And it means that we will guarantee that Iraq will represent the worst possible threat imaginable to the current rulers of Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Long term success of liberal democracy in Iraq will threaten the dictators in those other nations by causing rising domestic pressure for comparable reforms. (In fact, it's already doing so.)

Having failed to prevent us from conquering Iraq and eliminating Saddam's government there, postwar diplomacy in the region and elsewhere in the world has been oriented around trying to make us pull out as soon as possible, before the job is done.

The recent wrangling in the UN was the latest attempt by opponents of Iraqi democracy to make us give up before such a poisonous thing as a true liberal democracy can be established, or failing that to get us to turn control over to others who will make sure it doesn't happen. As it currently stands, the only way they can prevent it is by convincing us to give up, and the Bush administration is standing firm. But even after a new Iraqi government has been established, there will be many in the region and elsewhere who will use whatever means they can to try to make it fail later. By its very existence it will be a mortal threat to their less enlightened rule, a cultural and political threat rather than a military threat. (And that's exactly what we hope it will do; it's the primary reason we are doing all this.)

One of the many dangers we must therefore work to avoid is a repeat of the Weimar Republic. It does us no good to establish democracy in Iraq if it dies in just a few years, and with as many enemies as it will face that's a very real possibility. To prevent that, we will have to remain engaged with Iraq on many levels for the foreseeable future, and part of that engagement will be a substantial ongoing military presence there.

It won't be an occupation force, any more than our troops in Japan and Germany were occupation forces in 1970. But their presence is vital. It will mean that if anything happens there which threatens the existence of liberty and democracy, no matter what and no matter by whom, then we'll get actively involved again to defend the government. Not necessarily any given group of leaders, mind; but the government itself, the Iraqi constitution and the government based on it. Small challenges will be handled by the Iraqi government itself, but we will deal with anything large. It's a sort of political "loan guarantee"; which by its very existence reduces the possibility that it will be needed. If others believe that we will defend Iraqi democracy, they will be less inclined to try to destroy it.

That's why any true "exit strategy" is a strategy for failure. Those who are now talking about "exit strategies" are doing so because they want us to fail. And that's why we don't have an exit strategy.

Rather, we have a victory strategy, but while it involves progress and change, it does not and cannot involve "exit". If there is no progress, then we truly are stuck in a quagmire. Some of our enemies have been trying to prevent any progress, but for the most part they've failed. (However, other forces have been partially successful at deliberately misreporting what's going on so that it seems as if we're making less progress than we truly are, in hopes of convincing us to give up.)

A long term strategy of engagement is our only possible path to victory in the multi-decade war we now fight. Conquest of Iraq was a battle in the war, and the primary reason we conquered Iraq was to remove Saddam and to replace him with something far better. The goal was to use Iraq as a pilot project for "Arab Civilization 2.0", something which is better than what they have now as judged by them.

If we accept and commit to long term engagement in Iraq, including long term military commitment there, that will drastically increase the chance that liberal democracy will succeed there, which in turn will inspire reformers in the other nations of the region.

Update 20031003: By the way, I consider this article to be a continuation of this one from a few days ago.

include   +force_include   -force_exclude


no graphics

Log archives
Best log entries
Other articles

Site Search

The Essential Library
Frequent Questions
Font: PC   Mac
Steven Den Beste's Biography

My custom Proxomitron settings
as of 20040318



Grim amusements
Armed and Dangerous
Joe User
One Hand Clapping

Rising stars:
Ace of Spades HQ
Bastard Sword
Drumwaster's Rants
Iraq the Model
Mister Pterodactyl
The Politburo Diktat
The Right Coast
Teleologic Blog
The Review
Truck and Barter
Western Standard
Who Knew?


Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004