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May 28, 2014

General: We Should Have Smashed Iraq & Afghanistan, Declared Victory, and Gotten Out

The military's specialty is breaking things, not putting them back together.

[R]ecently retired Army lieutenant general Daniel Bolger, who played key roles in Afghanistan and Iraq in his 35-year career, wasn’t coy when it came time to titling his upcoming book Why We Lost.


The nation and its military would have been far smarter to invade, topple the governments they didn’t like, and get out. “Both wars were won, and we didn’t know enough to go home” after about six months, Bolger argues. “It would have been messy and unpleasant, and our allies would have pissed and moaned, because limited wars by their nature have limited, unpalatable results. But what result would have been better — that, or this?”


“They should have been limited incursions and [then] pull out — basically like Desert Storm,” he adds, referring to the 1991 Gulf War that forced Saddam Hussein’s forces out of neighboring Kuwait after an air campaign and 100-hour ground war. The U.S. wasn’t up to perpetual war, even post-9/11. “This enemy wasn’t amenable to the type of war we’re good at fighting, which is a Desert Storm or a Kosovo.”

The argument against this is that if we leave with the country in chaos, there will be further bloodshed as tribes war with tribes and a new virulent power might take the country over.

The rebuttal to the first point is obvious: Even with US troops in-country, there will be violent clashes between tribes seeking to dominate the others. Even if one assumes that US troops reduce the carnage (which I'm not sure they actually do), one has to question how many troops we're willing to lose for this purpose.

As to the second point: The sort of in-and-out smash-and-grab war that Bolger is talking about is relatively cheap, and relatively painless from a political perspective. America likes fast, easy wars in which we blow up a lot of stuff and then come home.

Americans like their wars like they like their TV seasons: About eight months or so long.

But assuming a war (with limited objectives) was fought and won quickly, one could imagine there would not be a large level of political resistance to doing it again were it to become necessary, should a guy Worse Than Saddam Hussein take power in the country.

It seems to me that we're spending a lot of blood and treasure to pacify countries in order to avoid "having to do this all again in 15 years" -- when the cost of doing it all in 15 year is actually less than the costs of preventing it from happening again.

Another huge cost of a prolonged military pacification action is that our troops are pinned down and unusable for any other purpose -- including the purpose of threatening a regime with military force. It seems to me Iran was emboldened by the fact that an army locked down in Afghanistan and Iraq was not available to invade Iran as well.

Add to that the Vietnam Syndrome, which this country is currently suffering from. After each lengthy, bloody war, the nation retreats from even considering major military action for 10 to 15 years.

It would be better to fight limited wars (limited in ambition and limited in time requirement) if only to avoid having the armed forces pinned down for so long, or risk a public aversion to using military force at all.

It's much better to win a war by having never fought the war in the first place. If our troops are capable of invading a country, and the nation is as least tolerant of such an action, we can steal a great deal of geopolitical ground simply by threatening to use the military.

But such a threat is only effective if there's actually a chance the threatened action will occur. Right now the bad actors of the world know America is out of the fight, and will be out of the fight for years to come.

But what if the public hadn't turned against military intervention, and our troops had not been overtaxed by by fighting two major counterinsurgency wars for thirteen years?

In that case, bad actors might mind their Ps and Qs a bit more.

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posted by Ace at 08:26 PM

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