Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wars kill people. That is what makes them different from all other forms of human enterprise.

[Written last year]

You know where that title came from?  Colin Powell.  That's from his paper: U.S. Forces Challenges Ahead, 1992 in Foreign Affairs;  Vol. 71 Issue 5, p32-45, 14p.  What's in that paper is also referred to as the "Powell Doctrine."

You know what else he said in that paper:
We owe it to the men and women who go in harm's way to make sure that this is always the case and that their lives are not squandered for unclear purposes.
Look what John Kerry said in 1971:
...In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart....
Look at what Robert Kennedy said in 1968:
This has not happened because our men are not brave or effective, because they are. It is because we have misconceived the nature of the war: It is because we have sought to resolve by military might a conflict whose issue depends upon the will and conviction of the South Vietnamese people. It is like sending a lion to halt an epidemic of jungle rot.
Why would we use the term "squandered" if that were not a possibility for the men and woman who are asked to serve?  Obviously Powell was speaking from some historical grounding.  If we are the greatest country in the world, surely we would never "squander" these lives.  Correct?

Look at what else Powell says:
When the political objective is important, clearly defined and understood, when the risks are acceptable, and when the use of force can be effectively combined with diplomatic and economic policies, then clear and unambiguous objectives must be given to the armed forces. These objectives must be firmly linked with the political objectives.
Decisive means and results are always to be preferred, even if they are not always possible. We should always be skeptical when so-called experts suggest that all a particular crisis calls for is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the "surgery" is over and the desired result is not obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation--more bombs, more men and women, more force.
History has not been kind to this approach to war-making. In fact this approach has been tragic--both for the men and women who are called upon to implement it and for the nation. This is not to argue that the use of force is restricted to only those occasions where the victory of American arms will be resounding, swift and overwhelming. It is simply to argue that the use of force should be restricted to occasions where it can do some good and where the good will outweigh the loss of lives and other costs that will surely ensue. 
See that?  "A new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation--more bombs, more men and women, more force."  Golly jeepers, doesn't that sound just like Vietnam?  And what about those absolutists who think we could have won if we dropped more bombs, kicked the press out, sent more troops, and used every tool and resource we had against the enemy.  Had we just had the will....

Here is what Powell says about war:
All wars are limited. As Carl von Clausewitz was careful to point out, there has never been a state of absolute war. Such a state would mean total annihilation. The Athenians at Melos, Attila the Hun, Tamerlane, the Romans salting the fields of the Carthaginians may have come close, but even their incredible ruthlessness gave way to pragmatism before a state of absolute war was achieved`
The Gulf War was a limited-objective war. If it had not been, we would be ruling Baghdad today--at unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships. The Gulf War was also a limited-means war--we did not use every means at our disposal to eject the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. But we did use over-whelming force quickly and decisively. This, I believe, is why some have characterized that war as an "all-out" war. It was strictly speaking no such thing.
Vietnam was not addressed in a similar manner as was the Gulf War.  For that matter, neither was invading Iraq and Afghanistan at the turn of this century.  Without clear objectives military might means very little in obtaining an end point.  Had the US body count been more, we would have demanded we get out of those two places in a similar manner as Vietnam, I suspect.  As I write this, we are still in Afghanistan.

What Kennedy and Kerry understood was what Powell would come to articulate in 1992.  

Kennedy said:
The fifth illusion is that this war can be settled in our own way and in our own time on our own terms. Such a settlement is the privilege of the triumphant: of those who crush their enemies in battle or wear away their will to fight. 
Kerry said:
Therefore, I think it is ridiculous to assume we have to play this power game based on total warfare. I think there will be guerrilla wars and I think we must have a capability to fight those. And we may have to fight them somewhere based on legitimate threats, but we must learn, in this country, how to define those threats and that is what I would say to the question of world peace. I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The Communists are not about to take over our McDonald hamburger stands. 
Now look at what Powell says:
When a "fire" starts that might require committing armed forces, we need to evaluate the circumstances. Relevant questions include:
  • Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood?
  • Have all other nonviolent policy means failed?
  • Will military force achieve the objective?
  • At what cost?
  • Have the gains and risks been analyzed?
  • How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?
As an example of this logical process, we can examine the assertions of those who have asked why [first] President Bush did not order our forces on to Baghdad after we had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We must assume that the political objective of such an order would have been capturing Saddam Hussein. Even if Hussein had waited for us to enter Baghdad, and even if we had been able to capture him, what purpose would it have served?
And would serving that purpose have been worth the many more casualties that would have occurred? Would it have been worth the inevitable follow-up: major occupation forces in Iraq for years to come and a very expensive and complex American proconsulship in Baghdad? Fortunately for America, reasonable people at the time thought not. They still do.
In 1968, reasonable people like Cronkite, Kennedy, and Kerry looked at what we were doing through a logical and objective process and understood that total warfare was never going to be an option, that the political objective was not clearly defined or understood, which - as they saw it, made the risk for continued effort unacceptable.

Because we could not effectively combine military force with diplomatic and economic policies, clear and unambiguous objectives would never be given to the armed forces.  There became no war for the military to win unless we wanted to opt for total annihilation, which to this day, is an option some, like General Brady and Kid Rock, would have no qualms in ordering.

Now lets look at what General Powell told Rachel Maddow, April 1, 2009:
Decide what you are trying to achieve politically and if it can't be achieved through political and diplomatic and economic means, and you have to use military force, then make sure you know exactly what you're using the military force for and then apply it in a decisive manner.
Now, the means he's [Obama] applying to it—21,000 more troops, hundreds more civilians, a billion and a half dollars a year to Pakistan—is that enough? Is that decisive? I don't know the answer to that question because even the greatest of all strategists must take into account the presence of an enemy.
In Vietnam it appears we had met the enemy, and that enemy was Ky and Loan.  So when Kerry said:
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
It's that word 'mistake' that causes all the bitterness.  Did over 55 thousand Americans die for a mistake?  Surely we cannot think that fathomable, that our government did not do them right.  At some point opinion changed enough to bring the war to a close.  It took people going against the notion of my country right or wrong.  It took people questioning their duty to fight and die for a situation that did not make sense.

And the reason it started to not make sense was because bit by bit the picture of what was happening there became clearer.  You can manipulate the words and background all you want, but sometimes when you look at a cigar, what you see is just a cigar regardless of what your mind may want to compare it to.

So did our defeat in Vietnam come from, as General Brady states:
"the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard."
Or did these folks see it for what it was. Were they cowardly, dishonest, misleading, liars, and bastards for speaking out?  Did they have an obligation - a right - to question the expenditure of blood and treasure?  Does the public ever have a right to tell its government involved in war, stop?

General Powell thinks so:
"I have infinite faith in the American people's ability to sense when and where we should draw the line."
Two US Generals, two very different opinions.  I think I'll listen to the more reasoned one.


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