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Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War - Martin van Creveld
November 29, 2005 5:44 PM   Subscribe

For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men. If convicted, they'll have plenty of time to mull over their sins.
Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War
Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University, is author of "Transformation of War" (Free Press, 1991). He is the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's required reading list for officers.
An interview with Martin Van Creveld. See also Nowhere To Run
posted by y2karl (73 comments total)

 
I agree the war in Iraq was a mistake, but an exageration like it being the most foolish war in 2k years just creates more wedge between the sides.
posted by herting at 5:47 PM on November 29, 2005


Given the guy's credentials, who's to say he's exaggerating?
posted by psmealey at 5:55 PM on November 29, 2005


More foolish then Hitler's invasion of france? More foolish then south starting the civil war? Although I suppose if you add in potential reward (almost none for us if this war had gone well). Still, 2,000 men isn't that many, relative to other wars.
posted by delmoi at 5:58 PM on November 29, 2005


Can you name a more foolish war in the past 2k years? I can't.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:59 PM on November 29, 2005


Oi, now he tells us.
posted by undule at 6:01 PM on November 29, 2005


herting: I agree the war in Iraq was a mistake, but an exageration like it being the most foolish war in 2k years just creates more wedge between the sides.

I also doubt it was the most foolish war. Usually they are fought for the invisible people in the sky. This one was at least started for something tangible.... dollars.
posted by Mr_Zero at 6:01 PM on November 29, 2005


I am less concerned with decideing whether or not this was the most foolish war etc etc than I am in the notion of impeaching Bush. ILt just will not happen. Period. After all, he can always claim that he was given intelligence that in good conscience he accepted as accurate. And, addtionally, the congress nearly unanimously agreed to authorize the war.
posted by Postroad at 6:05 PM on November 29, 2005


There is definitely an "invisible people in the sky" element to the Iraq war. If peace can be declared in the middle east and the jews returned to Israel many right wing nut jobs believe Armageddon and the second coming to be right around the corner. Last time I checked Bush was still "born again" and falls into said nut job category.
posted by photoslob at 6:10 PM on November 29, 2005


He is the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's required reading list for officers.

I'd like to see a source for that. Just as an exception-that-disproves-the-rule, here's a story claiming that a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, an Irani refugee presently living in Europe, is required reading for the USMA (West Point) graduating class of 2006. An impressive number of stories and websites seem to point out that a certain item is on said required reading list, but I can't find the list itself; more broadly, however, the USMA Officers' Professional Reading Guide (PDF) contains dozens of works by Europeans and even (gasp!) some that have been translated from the French.

I point these out not to play "gotcha," but to refute what seems to be your underlying connotation, that US Army officers generally receive only biased, jingoistic training, aside from this brilliant exception you've pointed out. And I don't think that's a fair characterization; I think the officer training program(s) in the US Military are remarkably well-rounded and produce very knowledgeable officers. Pretty much all of the problems in the Iraq war have been caused by bungling in the civilian leadership; don't blame the officers.
posted by rkent at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2005


Can you name a more foolish war in the past 2k years?

The Thirty Years War? The Hundred Years War?

You had to ask.
posted by Gator at 6:12 PM on November 29, 2005


I'm opposed to the war in Iraq, but impeaching Bush seems like a really bad idea in this case.

Using impeachment as a political weapon against a president because of a bad policy sets a terrible precedent. The US is not going to collapse because of a bad war in Iraq, we'll survive this presidents as we've survived other bad presidents in the past. What we might not survive is turning to the impeachment process every time we start to regret an election.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:13 PM on November 29, 2005


Upon further investigation:
Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University, is author of "Transformation of War" (Free Press, 1991). He is the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's required reading list for officers.
Ah, I see you've just taken your source's attribution and lent it your imprimatur. Well, I still think it's a crap claim and would like to see substantiation. Maybe I'll write to The Forward.
posted by rkent at 6:15 PM on November 29, 2005


Van Creveld's Command in War is a masterpiece, probably the best book ever written on command and control in war. If van Creveld--no bleeding heart liberal, to say the least-- is now castigating the BushCabal's Mesopotamian Madness, his opinion is worth paying attention to, irrespective of one's political orientation.
posted by rdone at 6:16 PM on November 29, 2005


I seem to remember Hitler actually won quite fast with very few troop losses when he invaded France and then proceeded to keep it and use its resources till the end of the war. I'd call that a "success" actually. Perhaps the invasion of Russia is a better example.

The Iraq war is a candidate for stupidest war in 2000 years because there was no possible gain for the invading country. The "dollars" argument is highly suspect because the US was committed to not actually keeping any of what they captured from the very beginning. In very best case, the US would have broken even.

When your potential upside is zero and your potential downside is very great, you have great foolishness.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:22 PM on November 29, 2005


I point these out not to play "gotcha," but to refute what seems to be your underlying connotation, that US Army officers generally receive only biased, jingoistic training, aside from this brilliant exception you've pointed out.

Take it up with the Forward then: it was a verbatim quote of the blurb they ran below the article.

Reading, nay, simply skimming the article linked prior to jumping to conclusions as to who wrote what has prevented many a foolish comment.
posted by y2karl at 6:22 PM on November 29, 2005


lupus_yonderboy

I do not believe the dollar argument to be suspect. What corporations have benefited from this the most? It seems quite simple actually. 9 out of 10 times if you follow the money you find the answer.

The upside is in the 100's of billions and they don't care about the downside.
posted by Mr_Zero at 6:28 PM on November 29, 2005


Why was the invasion of Iraq foolish? Its unavoidable consequence is the enhancement of radical Islamic power, both of the Iranian Khomeinist and the Sunni Salafist persuasion. Is it not insanely foolish to spend billions to bolster Tehran? Is it not insanely foolish to turn a secular Iraq into a nursery for Islamic communal hatred, ready to infect its weak neighbors like Syria and Jordan? In the words of van Creveld:

Yet a complete American withdrawal is not an option; the region, with its vast oil reserves, is simply too important for that. A continued military presence, made up of air, sea and a moderate number of ground forces, will be needed.

First and foremost, such a presence will be needed to counter Iran, which for two decades now has seen the United States as "the Great Satan." Tehran is certain to emerge as the biggest winner from the war — a winner that in the not too distant future is likely to add nuclear warheads to the missiles it already has. In the past, Tehran has often threatened the Gulf States. Now that Iraq is gone, it is hard to see how anybody except the United States can keep the Gulf States, and their oil, out of the mullahs' clutches.

A continued American military presence will be needed also, because a divided, chaotic, government-less Iraq is very likely to become a hornets' nest. From it, a hundred mini-Zarqawis will spread all over the Middle East, conducting acts of sabotage and seeking to overthrow governments in Allah's name.


Is this what Americans are dying for?
posted by rdone at 6:29 PM on November 29, 2005


Using impeachment as a political weapon against a president because of a bad policy sets a terrible precedent.

No, we want to impeach him for lying to Congress and the American public in order to start a disastrous war.

An important first step would be to jail Cheney for his war profiteering. He has personally made hundreds of millions of dollars from this war and from New Orleans in no-bid contracts at a significant premium to the going rates (let's forget about the fact that they didn't actually deliver in many cases what they were contracted to do).

Luckily, Bush is quite young and will certainly live to see the day when Americans would spit on him if he were ever foolish enough to walk down the street. I'm amazed how strong this country is but five years of incompetence and looting of the government have deeply wounded this country and I fear another three years of a madman in power will be the final nail in the coffin.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2005


Giving the guy credibility because he's on a reading list is akin to buying a book because Oprah tells you so. He might be the only contemporary non-American writer, but I don't have the list so I can't tell.

However, I was told to read Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz, so um, I kinda have to figure that Army officers may be required to do so as well.

An Army officers here to confirm the list?
posted by jsavimbi at 6:35 PM on November 29, 2005


Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University, is author of "Transformation of War" (Free Press, 1991). He is the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's required reading list for officers.

The US Army does not have a required reading list. Perhaps you are referring to the CSA Professional Reading List, put out by the Army Chief of Staff.

Assuming that you are, then the statement that Van Creveld is the only non-American on it is false. Among others: Rohan Gunaratna's book "Inside al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror" is on the list. Gunaratna is Sri Lankan. "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu is on the list, right along "On War" by Carl von Clausewitz.

It should also be noted that Van Creveld isn't on the list because he has a background or expertise in terrorism, infantry, small arms, or anything else. It's because he studies the role logistics played in ancient warfare. His book on the reading list? "Supplying War: Logistics from Wallerstein to Patton."

Take it up with the Forward then: it was a verbatim quote of the blurb they ran below the article.

If all MeFi has come to is verbatim quoting the words of others, without bothering to check facts, then this place is about to go to shit really quick.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:37 PM on November 29, 2005


I am so confused by the posted article:

What had to come, has come. The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon

American forces were always going to be withdrawn, to a certain point. The troop levels were not going to stay at 160,000 plus forever. How soon was always the question, and continues to be the question.

— and at what cost. In this respect, as in so many others, the obvious parallel to Iraq is Vietnam.

Really? Really?

Whereas North Vietnam at least had a government with which it was possible to arrange a cease-fire, in Iraq the opponent consists of shadowy groups of terrorists with no central organization or command authority.


Seems like a pretty big difference to me. Among other things. Like the Soviet Union and China.

Clearly, then, the thing to do is to forget about face-saving and conduct a classic withdrawal.

Perhaps it's clear, but not on the evidence provided thus far in the article. Which is non-existant besides drawing a parallel to Vietnam. Which he then claims is a situation dissimilar to Iraq.

Handing over their bases or demolishing them if necessary, American forces will have to fall back on Baghdad. From Baghdad they will have to make their way to the southern port city of Basra, and from there back to Kuwait, where the whole misguided adventure began.

Why will they have to do this? I'd love to see some military analysis. From what I understand, the US military is expanding outwards, towards the Syrian border after having dealt with insurgent strongholds along the way. I'd love to see evidence to the contrary, that for tactical reasons, the US military "will have to fall back on Baghdad".

Not only are American forces perhaps 30 times larger, but so is the country they have to traverse. A withdrawal probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties. A


Why? Conquering the entire country and holding it for almost three years has resulted in 2000 casualties. Is he proposing a larger figure in abandoning it? Why? Will the might of the insurgency miraculously grow?

All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not.


Ok, but....

Yet a complete American withdrawal is not an option; the region, with its vast oil reserves, is simply too important for that. A continued military presence, made up of air, sea and a moderate number of ground forces, will be needed.

A continued American military presence will be needed also, because a divided, chaotic, government-less Iraq is very likely to become a hornets' nest. From it, a hundred mini-Zarqawis will spread all over the Middle East, conducting acts of sabotage and seeking to overthrow governments in Allah's name.


So it's inevitable that the US will withdraw, suffering heavy causalities like they did in Vietnam, but they won't because they did to contain Iran and Islamic fundamentalists? ANd that's a good thing, as long as it's not done by Bush. Am I missing a rhetorical device the writer is using, or is the entire article essential discongruent and borderline nonsensical?
posted by loquax at 6:38 PM on November 29, 2005


What we might not survive is turning to the impeachment process every time we start to regret an election.

Well, Clinton's approval ratings were at an all-time high, and higher than Reagan's ever were, when he was impeached. Conversely, one recent poll found that 50% of Americans would like to see Bush impeached if it's found he lied about the reasons for going to war (versus 36% who wanted Clinton impeached). Just because Clinton was impeached when he should not have been is no reason not to impeach Bush when he should be.

he can always claim that he was given intelligence that in good conscience he accepted as accurate

It's becoming more and more obvious that this wasn't the case, and I believe this is being reflected in his declining poll numbers.

Also, the War of Jenkins' Ear was pretty silly.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:43 PM on November 29, 2005


Supplying War and Command in War are both excellent books. They make me want to go out and invade something.
posted by Ritchie at 6:43 PM on November 29, 2005


Mr_Zero, I completely agree with you. Many corporations made a very great deal of money out of this.

However, the United States as a (w)hole lost on this deal. The US took a very great deal of the people's money and wasted it on a vast war. A small number of ultra-rich people made a fortune but the country took a huge net loss -- in lives as well in money.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2005


The only one winning the War On Iraq is Iran.
posted by Rothko at 6:46 PM on November 29, 2005


Can you name a more foolish war in the past 2k years? I can't.

Heh. Nah, I couldn't name any American wars more foolish than the current adventure in Iraq. I couldn't name, say, Vietnam. Van Creveld cites it as parallel to the present situation yet thinks Iraq is more foolish?


For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them

For fuck's sake, man, don't forget Emperor Valens, who lost his life in battle at Adrianople in 378. Or the Battle of Agincourt. Or all of World War I. This guy is cherry-picking from history. To use a non-academic term, he's a massive tool.
posted by tweak at 6:48 PM on November 29, 2005


If van Creveld had merely said "ONE OF the most foolish wars since Emperor Augustus" then, from the point of view of American national interest, nobody could disagree.

However, I think van Creveld is being rather charitable about Bush's honesty and intentions. If there's one thing we should have all learned by now about Bush, it's that he consistently tells lies about his motivations. And if there's another, it's that Bush will always put his own interests, and those of his paying buddies, ahead of the US national interest.

Totalitarian regimes, as Orwell pointed out, thrive on endless war. Modern global capitalism urgently needs an eternal enemy, such as Islamic terrorism, to distract us all from the 8 million people per year who are currently starving to death while Bush and his friends party.

The chosen "enemy" has to be strong enough to keep ordinary Americans afraid and obedient, but not so strong as to be able to really threaten US capitalist hegemony.

Perhaps by destroying Iraq, thus creating a permanent terrorist base there, Bush has provided the enemy that will justify legislation like the PATRIOT Act, all over the world, for the next thirty years - keeping the Bush family, and all their friends, in the hay for the foreseeable future.

Bush's actions, in this light, are not foolish, but self serving. The only foolishness, in fact, is on the part of the people who voted for him, and who continue, against their own interest and against the national interest, to obey Bush's orders.
posted by cleardawn at 6:52 PM on November 29, 2005


Google's HTML version:
http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:xAOAxfTzeWwJ:www.army.mil/cmh-pg/reference/CSAList/CSAReadingList.pdf+%22U.S.+Army%22+%2Brequired+%2B%22reading+list%22+%2Bofficers&hl=en&client=firefox-a

Source (PDF):
http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/reference/CSAList/CSAReadingList.pdf.

Page 11:
Sublist 3
For Field-Grade Officers, CW4–CW5, and Senior NCOs
...
Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton / Martin Van Creveld
... Van Creveld points out clearly the reasons why “amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.” Most battlefield results would not have been possible without the careful organization and allocation of logistical
resources. Field-grade officers, warrant officers, and senior NCOs who fail to consider logistics in all their plans and operations will do so at their peril."

Other authors in the list include Carl von Clausewitz and, of course, Sun Tzu, neither of them U.S citizens at last report.

Interesting reading list, worthy of much attention. I'm taking it to the library, myself, soon.
posted by hank at 6:52 PM on November 29, 2005


I came across van Crevald's name after reading one of Westhusing's articles mentioned in this thread. While trying to figure out what 'non-trinitarian' meant I found this article.
Definition of the trinity as "people, army, and government" seems to have originated in Harry Summers's important and influential study, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (1982). This version of Clausewitz's concept was derived from a secondary discussion in which Clausewitz developed a linkage between his "remarkable trinity" of war (violent emotion, chance, and rational policy) and the social trinity of people, army, and government. It appears in the introduction to Summers's book: "The task of the military theorist, Clausewitz said, is to develop a theory that maintains a balance among what he calls a trinity of war--the people, the government, and the Army."*5 That definition is repeated in On Strategy II: A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War: "Particularly apt was Clausewitz's emphasis on the `remarkable trinity' of the people, the government, and the army as the essential basis for military operations."*6 Using this concept of the trinity throughout both books with great success, Colonel Summers made it a valuable analytical tool. It is nonetheless an alteration of the concept as it is expressed in On War. Perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to the concept in this form as the "Summersian Trinity." It provides a wonderful example of the way in which thinkers in every era have effectively adapted Clausewitz's ideas to the peculiarities of the times. Unfortunately, such adaptations tend to have a counterproductive side effect: When times change, people remember the adaptations and forget the original, fundamental truth to which Clausewitz himself had pointed. The result is that Clausewitz is periodically declared obsolete.

The "people, army, government" interpretation of the trinity has caught on among both proponents of Clausewitz and his critics. It has, for example, been enshrined in U.S. Army doctrine. On the less positive side, the "people, army, government" construct has been used by authors like Martin van Creveld and John Keegan to consign Clausewitz to irrelevance.*7 These writers like to claim that this essentially social paradigm is obsolete and so, therefore, is all of Clausewitzian theory. The state, in this view, is rapidly becoming irrelevant to warmaking, and distinctions between the "people" and the "army" are meaningless when wars are in fact fought not between states but between armed and irrevocably hostile populations. Thus future war, to use van Creveld's term, will be "non-trinitarian."
I guess this is sort of a derail, but I agree with Bassford and Villacres that this idea of 'non-trinitarian' war stems from a total misunderstanding of what Von Clausewitz meant by trinitarian war.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 6:55 PM on November 29, 2005


As he says himself:

van Creveld: I must say I dislike your references to my "vast knowledge" and "professional opinion". They are beside the point.

In this case, I would have to agree.
posted by loquax at 6:55 PM on November 29, 2005


loquax, I think van Creveld is illustrating the fact that the western powers are at an impasse. Our forces have made no net gains in the past two years. Withdrawal is imperative, but at the same time it is not an option.

The number of casualties taken is irrelevant. I personally think 2000 deaths is an amazingly low figure, but to obsess over the bodycount is to miss the point: Even had the western powers suffered zero deaths in combat, we would still be in a situation of no end in sight.

Our political leaders seem unable to find a third direction, and so we stay the course, incapable of bringing the issue to a decisive conclusion, whilst billions of dollars are spent. We need new leaders who are capable of thinking their way through to a new peace.
posted by Ritchie at 6:56 PM on November 29, 2005


loquax, I think van Creveld is illustrating the fact that the western powers are at an impasse. Our forces have made no net gains in the past two years. Withdrawal is imperative, but at the same time it is not an option.

I would beg to differ, especially from a non-strategic, or non-political perspective. The accomplishment of the military has been remarkable from any perspective. To project such force across the earth, capture and hold a country of 30 million with little to no serious trouble is amazing. The only reason the number of causalities is so high is because the military has assumed the role of police, politician and highly visible target. Over the last two years, the military has been changing strategies, employing different tools, and shifting responsibilities to ever increasing Iraqi forces. Whether or not these efforts will pay off is primarily a political issue now, not a logistical one. Unless I grossly understand the military situation in Iraq. If I do, van Creveld certainly hasn't said anything here indicating why he believes that the US "must" retreat and withdraw from any kind of tactical perspective.

The US and allied powers can keep this up forever. They essentially monopolize the use of force, and there is no serious challenge to their overall authority (unlike Vietnam, or Korea for that matter). Whether or not this is politically an option, or even desirable is a different issue, but I find his argument very odd as someone who has built his reputation on the analysis of logistics. How can this war not be called logistically brilliant?
posted by loquax at 7:10 PM on November 29, 2005


Google Scholar: "Martin van Creveld"

Sample results therefrom:

Results 1 - 58 of 58 citing Van Creveld: Command in war

Results 1 - 100 of about 123 citing Van Creveld: The transformation of war.

See also Parameters: The Fate Of The State by Martin Van Creveld

Naval War College Revew: Through A Glass Darkly - Some Reflections on the Future of War by Martin Van Creveld

Apparently, his is not an unfamiliar name in some circles.

More Martin van Crevled on the War in Iraq:
Some people claim that the US won the War in Vietnam, to which I can only say that I strongly disagree. Others argue that Vietnam differed from Iraq, saying that it was essentially a conventional war that was lost because the American civilian leadership failed to provide its Armed Forces with proper strategic direction. It is of course true that there are considerable differences between the two. Still, recalling Dayan’s observations, I think there are three main reasons why the similarities are more important.

First, according to Dayan, the most important operational problem the US Forces were facing was intelligence, in other words the inability to distinguish the enemy from either the physical surroundings or the civilian population. Had intelligence been available then their enormous superiority in every kind of military hardware would have enabled them to win the War easily enough. In its absence, most of the blows they delivered—including no fewer than six million tons of bombs dropped—hit empty air. All they did was make the enemy disperse and merge into the civilian population, thus making it even harder to find him. Worst of all, lack of accurate intelligence meant that the Americans kept hitting noncombatants by mistake. They thus drove huge segments of the population straight into the arms of the Viet Cong; nothing is more conducive to hatred than the sight of relatives and friends being killed.

Second, as Dayan saw clearly enough, the campaign for hearts and minds did not work. Many of the figures being published about the progress it was making turned out to be bogus, designed to set the minds of the folks at home at rest. In other cases any progress laboriously made over a period of months was undone in a matter of minutes as the Viet Cong attacked, destroying property and killing “collaborators."
Above all, the idea that the Vietnamese people wanted to become Americanized was an illusion. All the vast majority really wanted was to be left alone and get on with their lives.

The third and most important reason why I think Vietnam is relevant to the situation in Iraq is because the Americans found themselves in the unfortunate position where they were beating down on the weak. To quote Dayan: “any comparison between the two armies… was astonishing. On the one hand there was the American Army, complete with helicopters, an air force, armor, electronic communications, artillery, and mind-boggling riches; to say nothing of ammunition, fuel, spare parts, and equipment of all kinds. On the other there were the [North Vietnamese troops] who had been walking on foot for four months, carrying some artillery rounds on their backs and using a tin spoon to eat a little ground rice from a tin plate."

That, of course, was precisely the problem. In private life, an adult who keeps beating down on a five year old—even such a one as originally attacked him with a knife—will be perceived as committing a crime; therefore he will lose the support of bystanders and end up by being arrested, tried and convicted. In international life, an armed force that keeps beating down on a weaker opponent will be seen as committing a series of crimes; therefore it will end up by losing the support of its allies, its own people, and its own troops. Depending on the quality of the forces—whether they are draftees or professionals, the effectiveness of the propaganda machine, the nature of the political process, and so on—things may happen quickly or take a long time to mature. However, the outcome is always the same. He (or she) who does not understand this does not understand anything about war; or, indeed, human nature.

In other words, he who fights against the weak — and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed — and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if U.S. troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.
Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did By Martin van Creveld
posted by y2karl at 7:20 PM on November 29, 2005


How can this war not be called logistically brilliant?

Because it hasn't produced a favourable outcome. Come on: it has been over two years. If the western powers were capable of winning this war, it would have been done by now.

WW2 took years to finish, but that was a global war involving many millions of soldiers. And it was followed by a period that was universally recognisable as peace.

The leaders have had their chance, and failed. They deserve to be replaced, not to receive endless second chances.

How long the coalition can keep it up is also irrelevant. If no favourable outcome emerges, the entire exercise is pointless.
posted by Ritchie at 7:27 PM on November 29, 2005


So many comments, but none about the War of Jenkins' Ear.

Also, I suppose if he'd said "the most foolish invasion," we could include everyone's invasions into Russia. Tip for future generations: Do not invade Russia. Especially in the winter. You will not win.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:30 PM on November 29, 2005


Ritchie - I was very careful to say logistically rather than strategically. The military has accomplished any goal set out for it, and continues to achieve near-total (for all intents and purposes) control of force in a vast area using air power, ground power, and unconventional methods of power projection. I believe you're talking about "favourable" in a political or strategic perspective, as in whether or not the goals involved in sending the military out in the first place were accomplished, which is beyond the purview of the military itself. Tactically, I don't believe that there is any reason that the military "needs" to withdraw in the manner described. There may be political reasons, but the implication on the part of van Creveld seems to be clear in that the war is tactically as well as strategically lost, which I disagree with.

By contrast, it could be argued that World War 2 was a logistically unsound war, while being strategically sound.

The leaders have very little to do with tactics and logistics, and the actions of Bush et al have little to nothing to do with the imperative as asserted that the US must tactically withdraw.

If no favourable outcome emerges, the entire exercise is pointless.

From a strategic perspective, maybe. From a tactical perspective, no. The part I have a problem with is:

Handing over their bases or demolishing them if necessary, American forces will have to fall back on Baghdad. From Baghdad they will have to make their way to the southern port city of Basra, and from there back to Kuwait, where the whole misguided adventure began...

Not only are American forces perhaps 30 times larger, but so is the country they have to traverse. A withdrawal probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties.


Why?
posted by loquax at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2005



As to van Creveld's the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, perhaps he has the long term consequences of the war in mind, consequences which will unfold for decades hence for an enormous number of people. There is an argument that this war is a folly of unprecedented proportions when one considers the pandora's box it has opened.
posted by y2karl at 7:58 PM on November 29, 2005


If the logistics do not serve strategy, then they are useless, are they not? If one's tactics do not lead to victory, then the chosen tactics have failed, haven't they?

The military has accomplished any goal set out for it, and continues to achieve near-total (for all intents and purposes) control of force in a vast area...

The operative phrase is 'near-total'. Until they can claim total control, they are merely keeping the lid on the situation. That is not what a military is for, and so it can be said they have failed in a primary, even the primary goal - to bring about peace.

You are correct, I'm talking strategically. Tactics cannot be judged separately from strategy. One serves the other. The tactics and logistics involved in the Iraq war have not produced a strategically benficial result, and so fall short of brilliance. I believe it is true that they have been conducted with a high degree of technical skill and professionalism, but that is not the same thing.
posted by Ritchie at 8:05 PM on November 29, 2005


tweak wrote:To use a non-academic term, he's a massive tool.

What cutting wit you exhibit with your sly barb! I am sure he is quaking in his academic boots!

The orginal quote, please:
For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men. If convicted, they'll have plenty of time to mull over their sins.
This is rhetoric at its fiery best. A call to action must be stern and unyielding. To say "please express your disapproval for your sub-optimal war" isn't going to stir anyone's blood.

The question is simple. Do you believe in his underlying message?

Do you believe that the President and his team have committed and are continuing to commit crimes, acts that are literally criminal under United States laws?

If you do, then quibbling about his phraseology is pointless.

If you do not, then you need to explain the President's and Vice President's actions to us in some possible way that do not involve felonies as well as impeachable offenses (like lying to Congress).


(The Augustus comparison is interesting. Augustus was actually a Really Bad Person. Rome had been a republic for over 500 years when he took over as emperor. I am a big fan of democracy so this was a Very Bad Thing, and it led to Extremely Bad People like Tiberius and Caligula, and the Fairly Bad Nero (who wasn't really in a class with the last two and might well have gotten bad press from the early Christians). Things started to go wrong for Rome around the time of the German disaster, a massive tactical blunder, which however had fairly rational goals, being the steady advancement of the power of Rome. I frankly don't quite see why he picked that specific event out of all of history....)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:05 PM on November 29, 2005


If the logistics do not serve strategy, then they are useless, are they not? If one's tactics do not lead to victory, then the chosen tactics have failed, haven't they?

Good point, except that in this case, I'd guess that there would be near-unanimous opinion that the tactics employed weren't the problem, the strategy and metrics for victory were either flawed or unattainable. In other words, if the tactics were based on a flawed presumption of victory with their use, the presumption was flawed, not the tactics. The police can execute the most perfect drug bust ever, but if it's the wrong house, it hardly matters.

You are correct, I'm talking strategically. Tactics cannot be judged separately from strategy. One serves the other. The tactics and logistics involved in the Iraq war have not produced a strategically beneficial result, and so fall short of brilliance.

Tactics cannot take into account the implications of their use. That is the difference between strategy and tactics. A soldier fires upon an enemy because it is tactically sound to do so in any situation. Of course, there are many situations in which it would be strategically very unsound to do so. In this case, it can be argued (though I would disagree) that it was strategically unsound to invade and occupy Iraq, however the tactics employed to do so can be considered flawless *even if* they led to further strategic problems.

Coming back to the article, I still don't understand why he claims it is inevitable that the US will have to retreat. Strategically, I can understand the argument made by others, but tactically, I can't. Whatever he meant, I would have been interested to hear his reasoning seeing as he is a respected analyst of such things.

This is rhetoric at its fiery best. A call to action must be stern and unyielding. To say "please express your disapproval for your sub-optimal war" isn't going to stir anyone's blood.

Yes but there are so many rhetoricians writing along the same lines. I was hoping to see an analysis that would analyze the logistical and tactical issues that in his mind would precipitate the need to withdraw (something along the lines of "the fourth rail"), rather than some pat comments about Vietnam and the "inevitability" of a hasty retreat.
posted by loquax at 8:26 PM on November 29, 2005


WW2 took years to finish

1939 to 1945 - six years... so the Iraq War has already taken 1/3 as long as WWII. That's one sobering thought there.

In support of the 'most foolish' theory: generally leaders have real pragmatic reasons to start wars and peoples are lead into them by some variety of supporting emotionalism. So to start with, this one was apparently supposed to work in reverse. Straight-up emotionalism was the reason to start the war and leadership figured they'd sell it by finding real pragmatic ones. Which then proceeded not to appear anyway further compounding the foolishness.
posted by scheptech at 8:30 PM on November 29, 2005


For foolish wars, you gotta include Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Defeated within 100 hours of the ground war commencing at a loss of 100,000 men vs. a few hundred on the coalition side.
posted by extrabox at 8:30 PM on November 29, 2005


1939 to 1945 - six years... so the Iraq War has already taken 1/3 as long as WWII. That's one sobering thought there.

We're well into 1948 by now. The "war" is long over. Comparing WW2 to a conflict where maybe 1000 (including less than 100 on one side) combatants die each month is a little absurd anyways.
posted by loquax at 8:39 PM on November 29, 2005


i hope i can learn to remember , its not a loss, and not a victory. what we have here , with all our modern forces, is a glorious stalemate . that just so happens to be costing us lives and resources, and gaining us . . . what again?
posted by nola at 8:55 PM on November 29, 2005


Comparing WW2 to a conflict where maybe 1000 (including less than 100 on one side) combatants die each month is a little absurd anyways

I think it's absurd that, whatever we're calling it, the 'situation' in Iraq has not been concluded already. Took only six years with 1940's technology for a entire huge global conflict to play out. Compare the military might of the Allies to the Germans and Japanese of that time. Very roughly, I dunno 2 to 1? Reasonably close balance anyhow and it still took only six years to conclude. And that's after the enemy(s) made the first move(s). Compare the might of the United States today to that of Iraq. What's the ratio here, 100,000 to 1? Include nukes in the ratio and it's about a billion to one. And two years later troops are still getting killed. And the US initiated it, chose the time.
posted by scheptech at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2005


The "war" is long over you say, loquax? Tell it to the families of the maimed and dying. This war has just barely begun.

Until the oil companies and multinationals realize that peasants and other brown folks are no longer going to stand idly by while cowards like Dick Cheney steal their resources, it's a long way from over. This invasion has created a permanent state of emergency, which likely will never end.

Inevitably, Iraqi teenagers who would never have heard of the U.S. until Bush's cabal invaded their homeland will start exploding dirty bombs in Chicago and London and Tokyo.

All the smooth rhetoric about strategy and tactics will be rendered meaningless. George Orwell must be rolling over in his grave.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:04 PM on November 29, 2005


Scheptech, concluding an insurgency quickly involves a level of violence in intimidation that modern democracies cannot countenance.

Saddam knew how to conclude insurgencies quickly. (See details of the current charges against him).

WW II was an all out with war with single day death tolls in high multiples of our current losses.

It is completely absurd to compare WWII to the conflict in Iraq.
posted by extrabox at 9:07 PM on November 29, 2005


Do you believe that the President and his team have committed and are continuing to commit crimes, acts that are literally criminal under United States laws?

Yes, I think the war was unjustified, I'm not sure about illegality under U.S. law, but that's a separate point.

If you do, then quibbling about his phraseology is pointless.

Bullshit. So it doesn't matter if he makes a demonstrably innaccurate statement as long as it is in support of The Movement? Paging Rigoberta Menchú.
posted by tweak at 9:09 PM on November 29, 2005


The US and allied powers can keep this up forever. They essentially monopolize the use of force, and there is no serious challenge to their overall authority

At 5 billion dollars a month, the US most certainly cannot keep this up forever. Individual infantry platoons might walk the streets of Iraq's cities more or less unchallenged, but that is a rather narrow measure of success.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 9:25 PM on November 29, 2005


Maybe it is just me being pedantic, but I have trouble with a military historian who can't get his dates correct. When he says Augustus "sent his legions into Germany and lost them" in 9 B.C., I think he is refering to Teutoburger Wald which occured in 9 A.D.

I could be wrong and Van Creveld could be refering to the entire campaign in Germany, almost 30 years I think. Or it could just be sloppy editting on the part of the magazine.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 9:41 PM on November 29, 2005


Looking back over the article and loquax's first post, though, it is a bit strange that van Creveld compares Iraq to Vietnam and then proceeds to explain how different Iraq and Vietnam are.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 9:43 PM on November 29, 2005


If the logistics do not serve strategy, then they are useless, are they not? If one's tactics do not lead to victory, then the chosen tactics have failed, haven't they?

Tactics cannot be judged separately from strategy

Not at all.. Policy dictates strategy, and strategy dictates tactics. You'd call 'walking' artillery rounds out to a target a tactic, but you wouldn't call it a strategy. The strategy is the thinking behind the use of the artillery fire. Clausewitz talks about a "Policy-Strategy Match" in On War, and the need for a state's political goals to be in-line with the reality of strategy. If the state's goals are unrealistic, than it doesn't matter. In any case, when you have bad policy, you end up with bad strategy, and tactical decisions behind that spoiled strategy will get you nowhere.

The war was the easy part - the Army could have won the peace if they were provided with the tools to do so.
posted by SweetJesus at 9:46 PM on November 29, 2005


I think he is refering to Teutoburger Wald which occured in 9 A.D.

You're right. Here's a good background. The Romans lost three legions (approximately 20,000 men) and many historians credit the battle as the reason Rome never conquered Germania. Augustus supposedly would bolt from sleep shouting, "Varus, where are my legions?"

How can this war not be called logistically brilliant?

Logistics is "the aspect of military operations that deals with the procurement, distribution, maintenance, and replacement of materiel and personnel." Since some US troops were still buying their own body armor in late September 2005 and uparmored Humvees are sitting in parking lots in Texas, I'd say this war is logistically half-assed.

Also, I suppose if he'd said "the most foolish invasion," we could include everyone's invasions into Russia.
You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia," but only slightly less well known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line."
posted by kirkaracha at 11:12 PM on November 29, 2005


The war was a mistake because it is:
  1. a money pit,
  2. a distraction from the conflict with Al Qaeda and it's allies,
  3. a conflict that turned a stable state (albeit one ruled by a bastard) into a failed state, and
  4. a fight that makes the US look like the bad guys in much of the world's eyes.
Regardless, mistaken though it was the war was fought and we are left with the reality of the aftermath. The ostensible goals of the war (getting rid of Saddam Hussein; destroying the nation's non-existent WMDs; bringing democracy, freedom, and apple pie) are accomplished. The question now is, why are our forces still there?

Are the troops on the ground there helping matters? Is it worth 5 billion a month in US taxpayer dollars to help the Iraqis sort things out? Even if we have a moral obligation to help rebuild as the conquering nation, are we actually doing so effectively? As far as I can see, the answers are "no," "no," and "no."

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to stop trying to help.
posted by moonbiter at 11:37 PM on November 29, 2005


1939 to 1945 - six years... so the Iraq War has already taken 1/3 as long as WWII.

American involvement in World War II was shorter than that--three years and nine months between the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to the Japanese surrender in August 1945. Four years and two-plus months after the September 11 attacks, the War on Terra is still going on and Osama bin Laden's still on the loose.

Mir Amir Kasi fled to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region after he killed two people outside CIA headquarters in January 1993. He was captured in June 1997, four years and five months later, so we've still got three months to catch the guy responsible for killing 3,000 people in less time than it took to catch a guy who killed two people.

The "war" is long over.

No, it's not. The resistance in Iraq is probably a guerilla campaign that was planned before the war as a "rope-a-dope" strategy.

It is completely absurd to compare WWII to the conflict in Iraq.

Tell it to President Bush, who was busy making that comparison instead of responding to Hurrican Katrina. "Survey: Should President George W. Bush be in the Southwest drumming up support for his policies while Hurricane Katrina batters the Gulf Coast?"
posted by kirkaracha at 11:56 PM on November 29, 2005


The remaining superpower of the beginning of 21st century decided on fruitless imperialism rather than benign egalitarianism.
posted by ryoshu at 12:12 AM on November 30, 2005


The War of Jenkins' Ear. Beat that.
posted by Joeforking at 1:32 AM on November 30, 2005


The Augustus comparison is interesting. Augustus was actually a Really Bad Person. Rome had been a republic for over 500 years when he took over as emperor. I am a big fan of democracy so this was a Very Bad Thing,

The Roman republic was, in every sense imaginable, NOT a democracy.
posted by vbfg at 2:24 AM on November 30, 2005


The War of Jenkins' Ear. Beat that.

OK
posted by vbfg at 2:26 AM on November 30, 2005


*Sigh* Normally I stay out of Iraq threads, but I saw van Creveld's name mentioned and got all excited. Before I knew it I was bogged down in the old debate of what constitutes tactics versus strategy, as well as an unintended comparison of the Iraq war to WW2.

Not seeing a fast resolution to this conflict, I'm electing instead to make peace with honour and withdraw my forces from territory I don't wish and cannot hope to hold.

I like to be deliberately vague about the dividing line between tactics and strategy. In fact, I believe there is no dividing line beyond those artificially and temporarily (but necessarily) imposed by those in the profession of arms. I find the whole 'the surgery is a success, even if the patient dies' attitude rather baffling.

As for Iraq being likened to WW2, I was trying to make an entirely different point: namely that of the many myths about war that WW2 has conditioned us to believe, one of the most pernicious is that wars always take years to resolve, and hence the acceptance and lack of surprise people seem to exhibit today when told the Iraq conflict may drag on until 2008.

My point never made it into writing. I think the Iraq war and WW2 are similar in that they were both armed conflicts, but that is about as far as the similarities go.

And with that, I bid you all a good evening.
posted by Ritchie at 2:34 AM on November 30, 2005


Was Caligula's invasion of the English Channel more foolish? I mean, at least he got seashells out of it.
posted by Grangousier at 2:37 AM on November 30, 2005


vbfg yeah, stupid (and short) war, but not so well named.
A few years ago I met a guy in the house clearance biz who had found a photo album of pics taken before and after the shelling, the sultan, the ships etc.
A stunning and possibly unique record of the event. I tried to borrow it from him and scan the pics, but he was only into converting the album into beer money.
However, I lay evens he's still got it, and have not given up hope of getting my hands on it.
posted by Joeforking at 3:31 AM on November 30, 2005


He is the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's required reading list for officers.

Oh dear.

So the US Army doesn't require students to read Norman Dixon's seminal work On the Psychology of Military Incompetence?

That explains a lot.

(Thumbnail: Dixon is required reading in British military academies. He analyses military disasters with specific reference to the psychology of the officers responsible, and comes to some interesting conclusions about the tendency of institutional structures to encourage rigidity of thought, which isn't an asset in dealing with the fluid, chaotic and uncertain conditions of warfare. While the US Army itself doesn't perform terribly badly by his yard-stick, the White House is another matter ...)
posted by cstross at 4:03 AM on November 30, 2005


Iraq was at least the most foolish war at least in American history but it is the most self-defeating. It seems designed to drain treasure, handicap the US Armed forces, cause more instability in the mideast, not less. All of these other wars mentioned, at least were started with imaginable achievable objectives in mind. This one wasn't.
posted by psmealey at 4:44 AM on November 30, 2005


Using impeachment as a political weapon against a president because of a bad policy sets a terrible precedent.

What if its over lying to the American people? Woudl you be happier if the impeachment documents said 'The President used his office to tell a fib'?

How about over international law?
Perhaps he's yelled at his dog?

The President will be brought up on impeachment charges when the people who pay via campaign contibutions/lobbysts feel their interests are threatened. The war is good for business NOW. Who cares if it bankrupts the country?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:04 AM on November 30, 2005


The Roman republic was, in every sense imaginable, NOT a democracy.
posted by vbfg at 2:24 AM PST on November 30 [!]


Ok so? Its not like the US of A is a Democracy.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:08 AM on November 30, 2005


More foolish than the Children's Crusade? Really?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:38 AM on November 30, 2005


I'd add this to moonbiter's list of mistakes:
We're in bad shape, in military terms, now and in the short- to medium term. Our military options are very limited if trouble breaks out with China, Iran, North Korea, or elsewhere. We aren't as intimidating to countries with better militaries than Iraq had, and the insurgents have demonstrated how to fight us to a standstill. And we attacked Iraq based on justifications that are being increasingly shown to be false. Our loss of credibility and arrogance toward our allies will make it more difficult for us to get help against legitimate enemies in the future.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:39 AM on November 30, 2005


Smith calls the new kind of conflicts "war among the people". They are fights, he says, which, even if successful from the western point of view, usually provide only a step towards the desired end, rather than delivering it at once by military means. They are fights taking place among the people, both in the combat arena and in the world at large. (This is one reason why the media are even more important than in previous conflicts.) They are fights that are often episodes of violence in a long process of confrontation rather than definitive struggles. They are fights where the conventional side, especially if it is western rather than, say, Russian, Indian or Chinese, tries hard to keep both its own casualties and its equipment losses to an absolute minimum. They are fights involving the constant adaptation and reshuffling of weapons and tactics designed for other purposes. And they are fights in which the sides are rarely single states, but rather multinational coalitions and sub-state parties and movements.

There are striking similarities between some of Smith's and Shaw's principles. Smith's "among the people" is close to Shaw's idea of "global surveillance war", in which a conflict is fought under the critical gaze not only of the people among whom it is being waged and the people in intervening nations but of the world as a whole. Above all, Smith's emphasis on force protection chimes with Shaw's central concept of "risk-transfer war". But where Smith sees this as simply a logical consequence of the value and scarcity of military assets in western societies, Shaw goes beyond that to identify what he regards as the key problem at the heart of the way recent conflicts have been conducted by western countries.

In the aftermath of Vietnam, Shaw believes, the west came up with a formula for making war that was felt to be both sustainable at home and likely to be effective. It used technical superiority and, in particular, air power, to destroy enemy combatants without incurring serious casualties. Indeed, it privileged its own military personnel to the point of a readiness to inflict "collateral" damage on civilians that could otherwise have been avoided. It used new ways of controlling the media, including embedding reporters, to dominate the "narrative" of wars, so as to build support at home and suppress the views of opponents. In this way, risks have been transferred from politicians to their soldiers, then on to enemy soldiers and finally to non-combatants. These were wars with varied purposes, but many liberals were attracted to the idea that the military could be used to stop conflicts and to discipline or even unseat oppressive regimes.

Kosovo was the acme of such wars, with not a single allied soldier lost. The Falklands, much earlier, was close. The two Gulf wars seemed to fit the template - but not if you saw them as one conflict and counted the civilian losses not only of the two periods of combat but of the sanction years and of the occupation, a still mounting total. Shaw's conclusion is that even when such wars "work", they are still degenerate. When they do not, the degeneracy is compounded, and when terrorists strike in western capitals it is clear they have understood the vulnerabilities the new way of war was intended to protect as well as their opponents have. Shaw concludes by calling for the strenuous avoidance of war, even if the use of force is sometimes unavoidable. Smith concludes by calling for force to be used only when it is fitted into more realistic and more responsible political strategies. In the end, there is not much in it. There are no magic, painless wars, and we are at a point, both agree, for reassessment and reflection.
What is it good for?
posted by y2karl at 7:42 AM on November 30, 2005


Dixon's 'On the Psychology of Military Incompetence' is no longer required reading at Sandhurst.

It used to be: I know because I found a crate of dogeared copies at the back of the library. Judging from the graffiti, several generations of cadets found Dixon's analysis of incompentence pretty close to the mark with regard to their current instructors.
posted by fingerbang at 7:52 AM on November 30, 2005


I think Israel is a minor winner after our invasion: the regular suicide attacks seem to have basically stopped in the last few months, though I am no news junkie and perhaps am ill-informed. Therefore I assume a causual link between Hussein and the attacks.
I ask myself if there was the possibility that Bush Inc. was acting to preventive a reactive attack by the Israelis on Baghdad which I am sure whould have turned the entire Mideast order on its head.
This is the only positive thing I can find out of this war and it is not too late yet for a agressive Israeli regime to give the Iranians or Syrians sufficient provacaton to act militarily.
Did I read somewhere that some of Bush's or the Neocon's actually worked on Neyet whats his names or Sharon's election campaigns?
posted by OXYMORON at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2005


The two Gulf wars seemed to fit the template - but not if you saw them as one conflict and counted the civilian losses not only of the two periods of combat but of the sanction years and of the occupation, a still mounting total.

Considering the names and relationships of the Presidents involved alone, when the facts of this war come out as they eventually will, there will provided material more than sufficient for epics and operas. Move over Nixon In China, here comes Mission Accomplished.
posted by y2karl at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2005


Just because Clinton was impeached when he should not have been is no reason not to impeach Bush when he should be.

Let's be honest here. Pres. Clinton obviously broke the law when he lied to the grand jury. Whether or not he shouldn't have been in front of said grand jury is irrelevant (at least to me).

I can't believe no one has mentioned the War of Jenkin's Ear yet. /snark
posted by mrgrimm at 5:17 PM on November 30, 2005


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