September 17, 2005
This story on Fox News raises -- and begs -- the most fascinating question about the GWOT, the Global War on Terrorism; or as I prefer it, the war on militant Islamism.
The story -- "Baghdad Terror Campaign Claims More Lives" -- reels off the usual litany of brutish attacks by the troglodytes who call themselves al-Qaeda In Iraq. Being Fox News, the story also recites a number of military successes that the Coalition has had recently, particularly the Tal Afar and Haditha campaigns along the Syrian border that Wretchard at the Belmont Club has analyzed.
But there is a larger question here: what exactly constitutes victory or defeat in "this" war, whether the referrant of "this" is Iraq or the GWOT itself? To put it in military terminology, what are the victory conditions?
Without knowing the victory conditions, it's impossible to decide whether we're winning or losing. But the Bush administration has done a wretched job articulating just what these are. Come on, guys, we're tough; we can take it!
They've done a better job communicating the goals of the Iraq phase of the GWOT: the victory conditions are (1) a free and democratic Iraq that (2) does not threaten its neighbors or the United States and (3) stands on its own feet, both economically and militarily to (4) deny sanctuary to international terrorism.
But what about the larger war, of which Iraq is only a part? What are the victory conditions anent Iran, for example? Must the mullahs be overthrown for us to have "won," or would permanently preventing them from developing nuclear weapons be sufficient?
And how about our quasi-allies, such as Pakistan or Egypt? Need they become true democracies, at least at the level of Turkey? Or is it enough if they're still ruled by strongmen, but those autarchs fight alongside America to destroy terrorist infestations?
The Pentagon and the White House need to butt heads and come up with a clear set of victory conditions, understandable to the average citizen, by which we can measure success and failure in today's struggle... which is every bit as consequential as the Cold War against Communism or World War II against Fascism.
And perhaps the blogosphere can lead the way... suggestions, anyone?
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 17, 2005, at the time of 1:13 AM
TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/29
The following hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell
I am less certain that announcing a set of objectives is a useful activity. The internal reasons for not doing so is that the political opportunists who will use ANYTHING to get themselves elected or otherwise in positions of power, will attack the validity of the objectives, the progress being made, and the try to erode the standards of those objectives. Our external political enemies will do exactly the same, only with less restraint and integrity because they will never face US voters for their positions of power. Our external economic competitors will have reasons to defer that period of victory and transition to an even greater US powerhouse. Oh yeah, and the people who want to kill us all might make use of such announced objectives, as well.
I realize that is frustrating to support a war without a clear set of measureable criteria for victory. Look at it from the other side, though. Imagine how incredibly frustrating it must be for our enemies to feel the sands of history eroding out from under them with nary a mark made to inform them of their doom.
The above hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 17, 2005 8:14 AM
The following hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell
One more note: Just because there have been no announced objectives does not mean that there is no set of objectives used by the President and the senior planners in the Department of Defense. I believe that there is such a set, and that keeping it from inadvertant disclosure is a serious matter. Imagine if a document like that found it's way into the hands of the CIA!
The above hissed in response by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 17, 2005 8:47 AM
The following hissed in response by: Clint
Imagine that our real, thirty-year goal is to have representative human-rights-respecting governments with free economies throughout the greater middle east -- including Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Etheopia, Sudan, Chad, and so on... massive regional transformation.
Announcing this fully, right now, would lead to two devastating problems:
(1) Externally, all or most, of our local allies who support our short-term agenda would turn against us.
(2) Internally, instead of spending the next year focused on security in Iraq and the solid foundations of a free state in Iraq, we'd spend it debating details of our future goals.
But most of all -- the Cold War should have taught us the folly of thinking we even know what "victory" might look like. If you'd asked most Americans in the '60s to describe what victory over Communism would look like, I doubt very much that they could have forseen what really happened. But no one doubts that we won that War.
E.L. Doctorow once said, "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
The above hissed in response by: Clint at September 17, 2005 8:59 AM
The following hissed in response by: Mr. Davis
The Pentagon and the White House need to butt heads and come up with a clear set of victory conditions, understandable to the average citizen, by which we can measure success and failure in today's struggle... which is every bit as consequential as the Cold War against Communism
Exactly. And I don't recall anyone defining victory conditions, at least after October 1956, in the Cold War. I don't recall Johnson speaking of Cold War victory conditions in any speech during the Viet Nam war. Or Nixon, who bear hugged every commie he could find, either.
While the tactics used by the U. S. military have moved from attrition to maneuver, the geopolitical strategy is still attrition. We will out live the enemy, out earn and spend them, out educate them, out invent them, and out enjoy them.
I actually feel an iota of sympathy for the militant Islamists. We, the vanguards of modernity, are destroying their world, and this is the best response they can come up with. It will be futile, as it was for the American Indians.
And like the conquest of the North American continent, Presidents did not make speeches about ultimate victory conditions, well maybe Adnrew Jackson did. But generally they presided over the growth of the country ignoring the Indian problem except whenever some specific tribe would flare up, be dealt with and soon be forgotten by the country at large as it went along with the business of progress. Until finally at Wounded Knee the pathetic situation to which the Indians come was so apparent to all that it was over.
The war against militant Islam will be much the same. Modernity will prevail. Those who wish to oppose it will die or learn to accept it. It is up to them to choose their preferred alternative. When no more remain who violently oppose modernity, this war will be over.
The following hissed in response by: Captain Ned
Ah, then. All we need is the GWOT equivalent of the Long Telegram. Gimme a minute or two and I'll gin one up.
Is there anyone in Kennan's position today willing to speak out as Kennan did and also possessed of the gravitas Kennan held at the time?
The following hissed in response by: THANOS
hi all....first time here...i would just like to say that though the Bush administration did.does not have a well defined policy on what needs to be done in the war on terror i would also like to say that during WWII there were also lots of problems on the American and British side with occupation, especially during the invasion of Italy and Sicily....they knew they had to be conquered to remove the Germans, gain airfields but they poorly planned on how to feed the Italian and Sicilian citizens, how to govern the conquered areas and because of this poor planning the Allies had lots of problems with criminal gangs, the resurgent Mafia and black marketeers even amongst their own fronttroops and support troops...it seems to be a repeating problem in Iraq due to poor planning on what to do AFTER the main battle was over but its not a unique problem and not one that has only happened to a Republican Pres as the Democrats seem to love to claim...they seem to ignore the facts that a Democrat, Roosevelt, was President during WWII so they can also make mistakes and underestimates...thank you and good looking site
The following hissed in response by: Tom Paine
Bush has been pretty clear that the desired political end-state is genuine democracy with a local accent everwhere.
I think that's about as precise as he can be without galvanizing some of the autocrats and oligarchs off the sidelines, where they are presently, into open, active, and cooperative (with each other) opposition.
The following hissed in response by: HelenW
Ddd writes: what are the victory conditions?
Your question is a non-sequitur. The maintenance of civilization is not a binary set of conditions. When the rate of terrorist acts declines, we are winning.
Let me tell you about scientific pest control. It applies to everything from mold, to rodents, to terrorists.
The 1st thing to understand is that you will always have some population. There is no such thing as "eradication."
The 2nd thing to do is define the boundaries of the habitat.
The 3rd thing to do is to set an Action Level within the habitat, that will trigger control measures. You many want to take action if one of your children is bitten by a rat in your home, or if there are 100 terrorist casualties in the US.
The 4th thing to understand is what factors are needed to support your pest population--food, shelter, and access. With terrorists, we can add "targets." After all, a terrorist w/o a target, ceases to be a terrorist.
The 5th thing to understand is the difference between access and pressure. Water will not flow through a hole unless there is pressure to drive it through. A building will not harbor rats unless they have both access and support factors.
The 6th thing to understand is that we can bring the pest population down below the Action Level if we block access, remove support factors, or both. In the real world, it is general best to implement the easiest measures in both categories.
So how to we achieve victory,or more properly, terrorist activity below the Action Level? We can try to hunker down within closed borders. Or remove targets by hardening our infrastructure. Or eliminate terrorist support factors by chasing them down within our borders. Or we take the pressure off our porous borders by trapping and killing terrorists half a world away.
The best thing I like about Bush is that he is fighting terrorism in a perfectly focused, scientific way. That is exactly why we haven't seen a repetition of the attacks on 9-11. Call it Victory, if you like.
The above hissed in response by: HelenW at September 18, 2005 1:51 PM
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