08/22/2005: A Hawk Historian Speaks Up...
Heres an interesting piece from a Hawk: Eliot A. Cohen (Special to The Washington Post) A hawk's son goes to war.
War forces us, or should force us, to ask hard questions of ourselves. As a military historian, a commentator on current events and the father of a young Army officer, these are mine.
.... I say that what I took to be the basic rationale for the war still strikes me as sound. Iraq was a policy problem that we could evade in words but not escape in reality. But what I did not know then that I do know now is just how incompetent we would be at carrying out that task. And that's what prevents me from answering this question with an unhesitating yes.
. [B]y resting much of its case for war on Iraq's actual possession of weapons of mass destruction. The true arguments for war reached deeper than that. Decades of American policy had hoped to achieve stability in the Middle East by relying on accommodating thugs and kleptocrats to maintain order. That policy, too, had failed: It was the well-educated children of our client regimes who leveled the Twin Towers.
The administration is right in thinking that Saddam's overthrow could change the pattern of Middle Eastern politics in ways that, by favoring the cause of decent government and basic freedoms, would favor our interests as well. Iraq will not become a progressive social democracy for generations, if ever. But it can become a state that has reasonably open and free politics, and that could inspire other changes in the Arab Middle East. The administration believed the invasion would jolt and transform a region bewitched by the malignant dreams that my colleague Fouad Ajami has described so well: the dark fantasies of Baathists, ultra-nationalists and religious fanatics. Indeed, cracks have begun to show in Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, even in Syria and Saudi Arabia.
But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks' blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq brave, honorable and committed though they were would be so unsuited for their tasks. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.
I did not know, but I might have guessed.
That's particularly true here because counterinsurgency is inherently a long, long business. Most insurgencies do, however, fail. Moreover, most insurgencies consist of a collection of guerrilla microclimates in which local conditions charismatic leaders (or their absence), ethnographic peculiarities, concrete grievances determine the amount and effectiveness of the violence.
This is an unusually invertebrate insurgency, without a central organization or ideology, a coherent set of objectives or a common positive purpose. The FLN in Algeria or the Viet Cong were far more cohesive and directed. This makes the insurgency harder to figure out, but also less likely to succeed. And with all its errors, the United States remains an extraordinarily wealthy and formidable foe. That fact may invite hubris, but it also provides solace.
None of this predetermines the outcome, of course, or foretells the consequences of a muddled success or a blurred failure in Iraq. Historians have the comfort of knowing how past wars played out in the end. Unfortunately, that philosophical detachment is cold consolation in the here and now, as young men and women go off to war.
Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?
Pride, of course, and fear. And an occasional flare of anger at empty pieties and lame excuses, at flip answers and a lack of urgency, at a failure to hold those at the top to the standards of accountability that the military system rightly imposes on subalterns.
It is a flicker of rage that two years into an insurgency, we still expose our troops in Humvees to the blasts of roadside bombs knowing that these armored vehicles simply aren't designed for warfare along guerrilla-infested highways, while, at the same time, knowing that plenty of countries manufacture armored cars that are. It is disbelief at a system that ships soldiers off to war for a year or 15 months, giving them two weeks of leave at the end, while our British comrades, wiser in pacing themselves, ship troops out for half that time, and give them an extra month on top of their regular leave after an operational deployment. All this because after 9/11, when so many Americans asked for nothing but an opportunity to serve, we did not expand our Army and Marine Corps when we could, even though we knew we would need more troops.
.Disdain for the general who thinks Job One is simply whacking the bad guys and cannot admit that American soldiers have tortured prisoners or, in panic, killed innocent civilians. Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war, and for the blithe disregard of the bungles by some who think they were right in favoring it.
A desire to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, that the casualties are not really all that high and I really shouldn't get exercised about them.
If we fail in Iraq and I don't think we will it won't be because the American people lack heart, but because leaders and institutions have failed. Rather than fretting about support at home, let them show themselves dedicated to waging and winning a strange kind of war and describing it as it is, candidly and in detail. Then the American people will give them all the support they need.
The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do. What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth: an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight.
(Eliot A. Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University)
Karen on 08.22.05 @ 01:06 PM CST