How to “Win” a War

The events of this week have turned my thoughts to war. President Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld all spoke in Salt Lake of the necessity for “winning” the war on terrorism. United they stated that there is no alternative other than absolute victory. What I wonder is whether they, or more importantly, the American people, realize what is required to “win”.

There is no doubt that America and its allies won World War I and World War II. In each case, on all fronts, our enemies deemed themselves divine rulers and militarized their populations right down to the children. The enemy was not only ruthless and aggressive, they spoke as the hands of the almighty, and their countries believed them. No atrocity was out of line, no diplomacy could stop their bestowed destinies. They were on a path to world conquest. It is not much different from the Islamic extremists the United States is locked in a struggle with today.

How did we defeat them? To me the answer is simple. We beat them until they begged for mercy. We bombed their cities, then bombed the rubble. We deconstructed their societies and faith in their leaders brick by brick until there was nothing left. The surrender of Emperor Hirohito was also a dethroning of a country’s divine ruler and an end to a form of worship. Hitler died at his own hand. Mussolini was hung and his corpse beaten in the public square after the hardships his country faced. These victories were delivered to the American people via newspaper and newsreel.

The Vietnam war changed the face of war in that the public became intimate with its intrinsic horrors. The image of naked children running from napalm dropped by Americans was reprinted in every newspaper in the USA. It is an image that burns the cost of war into the minds of anyone who has seen it. As a result, American efforts have been carefully tailored to be more appetizing to the general public. “Surgical strikes” are somehow technologically possible, where bombs only seek out evil-doers and those who wish harm to America. Every bullet finds only the guilty.

Yet the images still come. Dead, blinded, and limbless children. Destroyed homes. Family members crying in anguish over their loss. Transmitted all over the world, the horrific internals of war makes the overall effort unpopular.

It would seem to me that if this administration truly desires victory in Iraq, they should act as the bigger bastard. A roadside bomb equals the loss of a city block, a penetration into secured barracks equals the flattening of the town square. The bombings lose their precision and in turn are escalated to the point of destroying an entire civilization. Is that what was advocated this week by American leadership and applauded by the American legion? Is America ready for the wholesale killing of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people? The victory of World War II came at the cost of 62 million lives. Iraq will spill into Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. The entire middle east will not only be soaked with oil, it will be soaked with blood.

That is what victory demands. There are no other ways to “win” a war.

I do not believe Americans can support such a proposition and neither do I. Since John Murtha proposed withdrawal from Iraq, the debate has been locked in a stranglehold between “stay the course” and “timetable for withdrawal” with no movement towards peace in either direction. This lack of resolution bothered me last year until someone contributed the idea of asking the Iraqi people through referendum on my wiki, which is what I have been advocating for ever since. The Iraqi people can take responsibility for their future, but if they continue to need our help, they should ask for it. Whether or not they slide into civil war is something that Americans cannot prevent by standing in the middle.

War should be robustly debated and declared formally by our congress. If Americans are not willing to bear the humanitarian and financial cost required for victory, then such a declaration should be very rare indeed.

16 thoughts on “How to “Win” a War

  1. I think Bush ought to define what he means by “win”. If it’s a war on terrorism that he’s wanting to win, he’s sending our troops to the wrong country. I have no idea what his idea of “win” is. I’m not sure if he’s trying to make Iraq the 51st state, or kill everyone who doesn’t agree with him over there, or just trying to prove he wasn’t wrong in the first place. But one thing I am certain of is that Bush is abusing our troops, our reputation as a country, his power as president and the beliefs that we as a society hold dear about freedom, democracy and justice. I firmly believe we’re in Iraq for the wrong reasons, and as an American citizen, it makes me hurt to the core that, unwilling as I may be, I am still a part of the atrocity that is the war in Iraq. We’re set on a course that is “win at all costs”, whether we’re right or wrong. Winning won’t make it right.

  2. I think that if we are going to stay in Iraq, the American people at least deserve some progress reports. The Administration needs to tell us what their goals are, what they need to do to accomplish them, and approximately how long each step should take. The dates can be adjusted as needed, but we should at least have an idea of where we are at.

    Instead the President gets up in front of the nation and tosses around phrases like “stay the course,” and “cut and run,” and he keeps saying we’re going to be in Iraq until we’ve finished the job, even though the job isn’t really well defined. It’s all a bunch of fluff and the American People are starting to see through it, even a few in Utah.

  3. I hope you win this election, but this entry shows again why you have not really earned a victory. To say “leave it up to the Iraqi people” is great for a sound bite, but sucks in the real world. Real world considerations guarantee that we would be asked to stay by a majority, because they would be more afraid of having us leave than of having us stay. Both Iran and Syria would love to install a puppet government in Baghdad, and the Kurds would break away in the North in a heartbeat. That, of course, would result in an invasion by Turkey. We alone can postpone these things, but why should we? If the Iragis get to decide if we stay, do they also get to decide on what we do while we are there? Are you ready to hand command of the American military to an Iraqi government? If so, which one? Bush has left us with no good choices, and we should be talking about policies and strategies for promoting planetary tranquility that emphasize slow, steady progress through pressure AND incentives, while explicitly recognizing the limitations inherent in the cataclysmic forces unleashed by military intervention. As for Iraq, it is going to be a disaster now, or a disaster later, so there is really no reason not to pull the plug today.

  4. Command of our military by Iraqis is not what I am advocating, nor will I. If the majority wishes the US to stay, then there should be accounting for the financial and personal cost of doing so.

  5. I agree with the main point of your post, but would pick a nit on a minor detail. WWI and WWII were not similar in nature. Our enemies in WWI were no more ruthless, had no more divine pretensions, and were no more militarised than were the allies. That war was a disgraceful catastrophy, caused by rampant militarism and colonialism on all sides, and in which all sides were willing to use whatever new military weapon came into their hands. The U.S. chose a side based primarily on financial criteria, rather than any moral imperative. And yes, the Allies won by mercilessly pummelling the Central Powers into submission. They subsequently carved up the Central powers and demanded such reparations as to absolutely obliterate Germany. And the Allies paid a heavy price for their hubris. It was the pummelling and despoiling of the losers which set up the conditions for the rise of Hitler, and it was the Imperialist pretensions of the Allies in the Middle-East in the aftermath of WWI which gave rise to the resentment of the West in the Islamic world–for which we are STILL paying the price every time we must deal with Islamic terrorists.

    I bring this because while WWII stands as one of the precious few examples of “moral” wars, in which there was truly an evil threat which had to be dealt with, WWI stands as a perfect example of the sort of tragic wars brought on by hubris on all sides, and which we must seek to avoid at all costs.

  6. How do you recommend that we pull out of Iraq without causing significant destabilization in the Middle East? Power abhors a vacuum. If we pull out too quickly, I think we will end up with many more problems than we’ll have if we stay in there until the Iraqi government is strong enough to support itself.

  7. TuxGirl: I do not want another post Soviet Afghanistan. That is why I think the best judges of the situation are the Iraqi people. The only way to understand when the “right” time is, is to put the question to the people it affects the most.

  8. As nice an idea as asking the Iraqi people to vote for themselves sounds, I agree with Darrell – it’s impractical in the real world, although for a slightly different point than his. While it’s entirely possible that the Iraqis would be more afraid of having the US leave than stay for other compulsions, that’s exactly the point of the poll as I see it – to see whether or not they’re confident enough in themselves to be willing to go it on their own. However, the main problem to my mind is not that they’ll be too afraid to see the US go, it’s that they’ll be more afraid to see it stay. I don’t mean that the US is a bad influence or anything, but that no outfit of “freedom fighters” is going to be sitting idly while such a poll is carried out; they’ll do their best to see that it goes their way. While the much of the western world may see this as ridiculous, the sad truth is that it happens a great deal more often than we care to think about. Look at India – in Bihar (it’s an Indian state), a corrupt and inefficient politician (who was widely acknowledged as such) used strongarm tactics to stay in power for over 15 years. If that can happen in a supposedly vibrant democracy, what about a war-torn country surrounded by hostile neighbors and filled with “freedom fighters”? It’s entirely possible the people would vote *against their will* for the US to leave. And what then?

  9. Unless we are absolutely ready to ramp up to an occupation force of 400,000 or even more, then the point is moot. We aren’t going to win. The Iraqi government isn’t going to win. Another strong-arm leader will rise and pull the country together by ripping through it knee deep in blood.

    I don’t want to pay for the mess with one more American life or one more dime. My brother came home in a body bag 1963 when his fighter crashed. He looked like a torched Thanksgiving turkey with his limbs contracted to fetal position and his face burned completely off. And he died for what? Give me three good things that happened from 10 years of war in Vietnam. It’s the same for Iraq.

    The administration knows exactly what it would take to “win” and Pete’s outlined it above. Syria, Iran, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt will not tolerate the slaughter because their own populations will not tolerate it. And if the big boys get involved, it’s not going to be pretty. They’re armed to the teeth and highly militarized. What we have got in Iraq–get this– 2.5 superdomes (which hold 62,000 people) full of soldiers to cover an area the size of California. Are you ready for another draft? Are you ready for gas rationing? Are you ready for serious terrorism–not this bin-Laden-the-October-surprise type nuisance terrorism? Are you ready for crushing taxes because the administration can’t Laffer Curve voodoo their way out of the cost of a real war?

    Call this immoral, illegal invasion what it is–a disaster–and come home.


  10. Just one thought,
    President Bush say’s “Stay the course”, yet abandoned the first course, which was hunting down the ones who caused 9-11 and switched to a course that had absolutly no involvement in it. And who’s still running free and regrouping while we stay the course in Iraq?

  11. I’d love to see a clean and broad Iraqi vote on this issue. I don’t know how that’s possible. This is the one point that I get stuck on. Ashdown, you say we need to let the Iraqi’s tell us when they want us outta there. I want us out, right now, this minute. But I cannot fathom how in all of the chaos, with gobal interests bearing down upon this piece of real estate… a true and clean voting process could take place.

  12. The chaos is starting to grow, but the interesting thing about the past three elections in Iraq is that they were unplagued by chaos and had over 70% turnout. A referendum does need to be executed before it is too late.

  13. 70% turnout is impressive, no doubt. My concerns regarding putting the decision to stay or leave on the shoulders of the Iraqi people, are not so much about those willing to risk their lives to cast their vote. I am, however concerned about the integrity of the process.

    In my mind, what Phyllis Bennis said of the 2004 elections in Iraq needs to be taken into account here:

    “An election cannot be legitimate when it is conducted under foreign military occupation; when the country is nominally ruled by, and the election will be officially run by, a puppet government put and kept in place by the occupying army and the election will be under the ultimate control of the occupying army…” znet

  14. To clarify, I AM concerned FOR “those willing to risk their lives to cast their vote”. I re-read above and realized it could be taken the wrong way.

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