The two days of testimony by General Petraeus leave no doubt that, absent exigent circumstances, the United States will start a drawdown in Iraq and that the Democrats will be unable, at least until the 2008 election results, to pull the United States out of Iraq. Rather or not the war with Iraq was justified, the fact remains that we are in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
Several lessons are apparent from the Iraq conflict.
First, that roughly 2½ augmented American and one British division could conquer a nation the size of Iraq in only three weeks is one for the military record books. Nothing of that magnitude has ever been accomplished in so short a time and with such a small casualty rate. The Pentagon planned, trained and executed well.
Second, there is no substitute for “boots on the ground.” The U.S. military simply lacked the capacity to fight the war and secure the peace.
Third, the planning for the peace is just as critical as for the war.
The problem the Pentagon faced, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, is The Peace Dividend. The end of the Cold War resulted, as with every major war in our country’s history, in a large demobilization of the armed forces. It started with President George H.W. Bush, escalated with President Clinton, and was initially reaffirmed by President George W. Bush.
The military shrank in size from 2,174,214 in 1987 to 1,406,830 men and women in 1998. The Army had 18 active divisions in 1990, but only 10 in 2003. The Navy had shrunk from 580 ships to 306 in the same period while the Air Force was reduced to 91 air wings from 165. President Clinton used the Peace Dividend to balance the federal budget.
Fourth, the military did not have, and still lacks, the boots to place on the ground. It lacked the resources to surround Tora Bora and capture Bin Laden in Afghanistan. It lacked the resources to secure the arms caches and museums in the fall of Baghdad. It currently lacks the soldiers to seal the Iraqi borders with both Iran and Syria.
Therefore, if you are going to fight a war, have a military sufficient in size to successfully wage the war. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gambled that a small, mobile force accompanied by air power could win the war. This gamble succeeded.
He also gambled unsuccessfully that an even smaller army could win the peace.
Fifth, the American public will not support an interminable war with no visible progress. This premise is not limited to the anti-war doves of the Democratic Party. Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq fit this pattern. Indeed, President Lincoln was facing defeat in his reelection bid in 1864, but was saved by a timely victory by General Sherman. The Democratic platform of 1864 declared the war a failure.
Sixth, the President must work with Congress in formulating the goals and means of achieving victory. After 9/11 President Bush should have worked with Congress in seeking not just a Congressional declaration about Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, but also the treatment of prisoners, Gitmo, the prosecution of terrorists, and the means of intelligence gathering. Instead of co-opting Congress, the President decided to unilaterally initiate these measures, opening the Administration up to substantial criticism and judicial attack later. Congress would not have refused the President when Ground Zero was still smoldering.
We would also have several more great quotes, such as “I voted for the bill first, and then voted against it,” (Senator Kerry), and “I never read the War Resolution before voting for it” (Senator Clinton).
Seventh, as if we needed any reminder from history, the Mideast is a cauldron of ancient feuds, religious extremism, and tribal loyalty. That a people could still view and treat the Crusades of a millennium ago as current event is not one based on rational or realistic thinking.
During this same millennium Western Europe and Christianity suffered through a thousand years of bloody warfare, pestilence, starvation, Crusades, genocide, regicide and the French and Russian Revolutions. Christians killed Christians, as well as Muslims and Jews. History gives us Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible, Frederick the Great, Cromwell, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, The Renaissance, Reformation, and Restoration, the War of the Roses, The Seven Year Way, The Thirty Year War, The Hundred Year War, The French and Indian War, the War of Spanish Succession, the Franco-German War and World Wars I and II, which finally left an exhausted Europe hungry (or perhaps dying) for peace.
Eighth, peacetime generals should not fight wars. American Military History repeatedly tells us that officers who rise to high rank in a peacetime possess great diplomatic skills, but only the test of battle will show who has leadership qualities for war. The lesson is always expensive and paid for with the blood of our young soldiers. In addition, the generals from the last war are often not good at fighting a new, different kind of warfare.
Ninth, nation building is messy. The United States went through a revolution, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the horrific Civil War before becoming unified. Only the naïve can expect a country in name only, such as Iraq, to achieve the same stability overnight. Iraq was a pressure cooker with the lid brutally held down by Saddam Hussein. With him removed it blew, and how it will end up is unclear. Vengeance has not yet been fulfilled.
Tenth, the downtrodden of the world are not clamoring for democracy. Their wants are food, water, shelter, electricity, jobs, peace and security. They will support whoever can deliver these needs to them. When in doubt, they will vote by ethnicity or religion. They will gladly trade one dictator for another if it helps them secure their daily needs. Give then their needs, peace, and security, and democracy will follow.
Finally, jobs and hope are preferable to guns for the idle youth. Otherwise idle youth will resort to violence. The idle youth in America’s barrios and ghettos form gangs. In the Mideast they become suicide bombers.