I apologize to those of you who read yesterday’s post about Secretary of Defense Gates. I read his recent speeches with my mind closed. Fortunately Tom Engelhardt sees what the rest of us overlook. Following his suggestion, consider Gates’ 4 April speech at West Point.
Last year I read Partners in Command, a book by Mark Perry. It is an account of the unique relationship between Eisenhower and General George Marshall … one of the things I found compelling is how they were both influenced by another senior Army officer who is not nearly as well-known and in fact, as a reader of history, I had never heard of.
His name is Fox Conner, a tutor and mentor to both Eisenhower and Marshall. … From Conner, Marshall and Eisenhower learned much about leadership and the conduct of war. Conner had three principles of war for a democracy that he imparted to Eisenhower and Marshall. They were:
- Never fight unless you have to;
- Never fight alone;
- And never fight for long.
All things being equal, these principles are pretty straightforward and strategically sound. We’ve heard variants of them in the decades since, perhaps most recently in the Powell doctrine.
But of course, all things are not equal, particularly when you think about the range and complexity of the threats facing America today, from the wars we are in to the conflicts we are most likely to fight. So tonight I’d like to discuss with you how you should think about applying Fox Conner’s three axioms to the security challenges of the 21st century, the challenges where you will be on the front lines.
Gates then explains that we will no longer follow these principles — and will do the opposite. This is the build-up to the heart of the speech (bold emphasis added):
A drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq is inevitable over time – the debate you hear in Washington is largely about pacing. But the kind of enemy we face today – violent jihadist networks – will not allow us to remain at peace. What has been called the “Long War” is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity. This generational campaign cannot be wished away or put on a timetable. There are no exit strategies.
Engelhardt brilliantly explains what this means in “The Last War and the Next One“, TomDispatch dated 4 May 2008, “Descending into Madness in Iraq — and Beyond.”
“There are no exit strategies.” That’s a line to roll around on your tongue for a while. It’s a fancy way of saying that the U.S. military is likely to be in one, two, many Sadr Cities for a long time to come. This is Gates’s ultimate insight as secretary of defense, and his response is to urge the military to plan for more and better of the same. … Every time you hear the phrase “the next war” — and journalists already love it — you should wince. It means endless war, eternal war, and it’s the path to madness.
How did we get to this point, where the Secretary of Defense announces a policy of endless war — without any reaction from the press or Congress? Does this madness result from a long war, as so well described by Thucydides? Engelhardt explains…
So, to sum up, let me see if I have this straight: The Bush administration liberated Iraq in order to send U.S. troops against a ragtag militia that has nothing whatsoever to do with Saddam Hussein’s former government (and many of whose members were, in fact, oppressed by it, as were its leaders) in the name of another group of Iraqis, who have long been backed by Iran, and… uh…
Hmmm, let’s try that again… or, like the Bush administration, let’s not and pretend we did.
In the meantime, the U.S. military has tried to partially “seal off” Sadr City and, in the neighborhoods that they have partially occupied with their attendant Iraqi troops, they are building the usual vast, concrete walls, cordoning off the area. This is being done, so American spokespeople say, to keep the Sadrist militia fighters out and to clear the way for government hearts-and-minds “reconstruction” projects that everyone knows are unlikely to happen.
Soon enough, if the previous pattern in Sunni neighborhoods is applied, they and/or their Iraqi cohorts will start going door to door doing weapons searches. As a result, the American and Iraqi prisons now supposedly being substantially emptied — part of a program of “national reconciliation” — of many of the tens of thousands of Sunni prisoners swept up in raids in Sunni neighborhoods, are likely to be refilled with Shiite prisoners swept up in a similar way. Call it grim irony — or call it a meaningless nightmare from which no one can awaken. Just don’t claim it makes much sense.
As in Vietnam, so four decades later, we are observing a full-scale descent into madness and, undoubtedly, into atrocity. At least in 2003, American troops were heading for Baghdad. They thought they had a goal, a city to take. Now, they are heading for nowhere, for the heart of a slum city which they cannot hold in a guerrilla war where the taking of territory and the occupying of neighborhoods is essentially beside the point. They are heading for oblivion, while trying to win hearts and minds by shooting missiles into homes and enclosing people in giant walls which break families and communities apart, while destroying livelihoods.
… Put in a nutshell: If the mission is heading into madness, then double the mission. Bring in yet more of those drones whose missiles are already so popular in Sadr City. This is brilliantly prosaic thinking, based on the assumption that the “global commons” should be ours and that the “next war” will be ours, and the one after that, and so on.
We should not be surprised. This is the foreign policy of the United States, clearly set forth in many public documents. And if you missed those, David Kilcullen — one of the west’s leading COIN theorists — explained it to us. And if you missed both of those, I wrote about this in America takes another step towards the “Long War”.
Fortunately it is an election year. Elections make us responsible for what our officials do in our name. Make your views known.
Note: Tom Engelhardt is the author of The End of Victory Culture — Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation. Here are excerpts and reviews.
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