(And long-term readers of this blog are suddenly starting to either cringe in their seats or make popcorn. Either of which is a viable response to a post of mine with the word "thinking" in the very first sentence.)
I think that we are seeing demonstrable, often positive changes in Iraq--changes that came from Iraqis weary of war and the excesses of thuggish “insurgents”, the creative leadership of General Petraeus, more troops, the the aggressive tactics of the surge. Iraq isn’t won, but these changes do seem to be creating an environment where the political victory can incubate. A real victory seems more possible now than it did less than a year ago; nothing is guaranteed, I realize, but if we continue to let the military do its job we can give the diplomats and politicians the time to do theirs.I have to ponder one simple ponderable: why were we just now starting to achieve results in Iraq? We had many of the tools David mentioned before this moment in time. The insurgents have been thugs from the word Go. We had the potential for plenty of troops at the very beginning, none of which were worn thin by constant exposure to combat. We had the potential for creative leadership and aggressive tactics, at least once General Tommy Franks retired. And we have had, for many a season, the ability to create an environment for actual victory rather than simple political victory.
Yet something has been holding us back. And the blame for this can be placed solely at the feet of the political leadership of this country.
Let us start from the beginning, with House J.Res. 114, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. (PDF warning.) As I have already argued, some would say successfully, an AUMF via the War Powers Resolution of 1973 is not a declaration of war. Thus, the desire to bring forth the full power and force of the United States of America was not even an issue from the very beginning. And yet this was, and is still, portrayed by our political leadership as being the ultimate battle for our time: America's Eurasia.
(I shall not go into the apparent sleight-of-hand required to convince the international community to join and/or assent to the invasion plans, nor will I make any further Orwellian references. They are simply too easy of a cheap shot.)
Next comes an obvious question: What is the worst mistake that a well-equipped, -maintained, and -manned military power can make? Open a "war" on a second front, before securing victory on the first front, unless you have absolutely no choice whatsoever to do so.
World War 2 is an obvious example of this dilemma. When the United States finally entered the war after the preemptive strike upon Pearl Harbor, strategically the only option to start off with two fronts. Hirohito's navy was too powerful to let roam in the Pacific unchecked, so it had to be destroyed at all costs and with sufficient follow-through to remove the Imperial Army from their strategic occupations. And without Britain available for a rally point for the D-Day invasion, our troops would have been forced to only enter Europe from the south, where the geography would have been in Germany's favor. A mountain range the size of the Alps is an effective force multiplier for any defenders, particularly when the attacking army is refused access to the more easily accessible passes through Switzerland.
Conversely, Germany made a significant strategic error when they opened up the eastern front against Soviets before Britain was removed. Hitler's flank was secure and his rear was sufficiently covered via the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Operation Sealion had yet to be launched in full so that the newly-formed Churchill government would be removed from the equation. And yet Operation Barbarossa was still sent directly into Russia's teeth with over three million soldiers marching for Moscow to respond to the possible threat caused by the Soviet invasion of the Baltic states. We all know how well that worked out for the Third Reich.
And so we apply this to the situation in 2002. Afghanistan was not yet secured, with roving bands of Taliban soldiers still in play. The border with Pakistan had yet to be secured, if such a goal was ever possible. And the primary public casus belli for the invasion of Afghanistan, the price on Osama bin Laden's head, had yet to be credited to our morale account. While many of the conditions for absolute victory were within the grasp of the American military in Afghanistan, we had yet to fully obtain them before reassigning a significant percentage of our troop strength to the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom on 20 March 2003, thereby creating the effect of an unnecessary war on two fronts.
Admittedly, this effect is difficult to see when one solely views the American news media reports, as events in Afghanistan are rarely reported here in the U.S. for various reasons, yet the effect is not unfelt. In neither theater of operations can we concentrate our forces in sufficient number to completely eliminate a ground-level insurgency campaign. In Afghanistan, this is exasperated by the fact that the physical terrain is well-suited to guerrilla operations, much as the Soviet Union found to their dismay in the 1980's. In Iraq, this is exasperated by the fact that the social terrain is well-suited to the camouflage of insurgent operations, with the religious devisions providing both ample cover for existing efforts and ample recruiting grounds for further operations.
Given the public desire of the President to secure overwhelming victory, it is surprising that an initial overwhelming troop presence was resisted so strongly. My personal speculation is that the military and political leadership were looking for, in the reputed words of Vyacheslav von Plehve, "a short, victorious war." Iraq was reportedly within the gunsights of the Administration on the first day after the inauguration. Rumors of Secretary Rumsfeld and others within the Administration requesting data to tie together Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks are too numerous to link.
In essence, Operation Iraqi Freedom was a political exercise, not a military exercise. In few areas is this more understood than via the administration of the Coalition Provisional Authority, whether in regards to the contract awarding process (PDF warning and strong liberal stance warning) or the appointment of loyal party members to positions within the CPA who then return to the White House for federal appointments. (One example of many.)
(SERIOUS PARENTHETICAL ASIDE: Hmm. The phrase "loyal party members" reminds me of something. But what could it be? Is there a connection between the operational and strategic organization of the Soviet-style Communist Party and the modern-day Republican Party? Obviously there are differences in political philosophy and I would not care to suggest that there is no philosophical difference. Yet the application of management theories are, at first blush, remarkably similar. See also: 11th Commandment.)
And then comes the home front. In theory, all politicians today are working in order to "support the troops, regardless of partisan affiliation. Yet, for the first four years after the Iraqi invasion, the "war" was treated with a business-as-usual attitude in Washington, D.C. While the reporting of Josh Marshall has defined a vast majority of them, I have one significant point that seems to have gone unnoticed by the vast majority of the punditocracy.
At no time in the history of warfare has a government been able to both cut taxes and win battles. None. At all. Period. Wars cost lots of money, both to train the soldiers on the ground and to supply them with weapons. Why is this? Because wars are expensive. Kennedy and Johnson tried cutting taxes during Vietnam, but even Richard Nixon realized that we needed to increase our revenue if we were to be successful. During World War 2, the United States saw the largest tax expansion in history. During the War Between The States, we instituted the inheritance tax. The taxes that sparked the Revolutionary War were to pay for the defense of the colonies and to restore the British military after the French-Indian War. All of the Crusades saw further taxes levied against the yeomanry and peasantry. Rome raised taxes to conquer Gaul. The Achaeans probably raised taxes to defeat the Trojans. And in the Stone Age, Ogg would have raised taxes to defeat Ugg and take his fire if such a concept existed back then.
You cannot win battles without spending the money. You cannot spend the money unless you have the money. The President has been more than willing to request money to spend. He has been reluctant to find ways to get the money in the bank in the first place. And the reason for this is simple: it is against the political philosophy of the Republican Party to raise taxes. Yet wars, whether declared or not, are supposed to be such significant events that a temporary breach in philosophy is necessary. Therefore, the continued resistance of the White House to the raising of taxes will continue to baffle me, particularly after launching into the stock "do whatever it takes" line to create and maintain a secure Iraq.
We might be the giants of the world, but not even we can win when we cut our own hamstrings. Yet that is precisely what we have done. We are not treating this as a war. We are not at war with Iraq. We have never been at war with Iraq. We won't treat ourselves like we are at war with Iraq.
And that is why we will continue to lose in Iraq.
Until the philosophy within our government changes from "just another day of business as usual" to "let's kick more ass than a donkey herder's convention", that basic fact will never change.