Streetwise Professor

December 1, 2009

Moderation in War is Imbecility

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:38 pm

So sayeth Lord Fisher, or Lord Macauley (attributions differ).  Whoever said it, it is damned close to the truth.  And whoever said it, I’m damned sure Obama never read it.

His speech tonite clearly indicates that he certainly doesn’t understand this home truth.  For he has proposed a “moderate” course in Afghanistan that promises only to get more Americans killed for virtually no prospect of gain.  When I blogged (ranted, some would say) about Obama’s Hamlet routine over Afghanistan in the fall, I opined that there were two real options: go large or go home, and that by far the worst choice would be a halfway measure.  True to form, Obama has chosen door number three.

The time line tells it all.  Obama says that troops will begin to deploy in 2010.  (No sh*t, Sherlock: it’s now December, 2009).  And they will begin to withdraw in July, 2011.  Given the time for deployment, and preparation for withdrawal, this means a year, perhaps a little more, of campaigning.

I dare you to name a single counterinsurgency in history that was wrapped up in one year.

The numbers are also telling.  McChrystal asked for 40K troops: Obama has promised 30K.  So, restricted time, with fewer troops than McChrystal deemed necessary to achieve victory.

Given Obama’s spending profligacy, the poor mouthing rationalization doesn’t cut it.  Moreover, this is a false economy: committing resources, but too few to achieve anything lasting is a pure waste.

And look at the less-than-inspiring operational objective: “we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum.”  Uhm, breaking momentum is a first step, at best.  What is to prevent the Taliban from regaining the momentum when we leave–on a pre-announced schedule?  Indeed, this is almost certainly inevitable.  In any counterattack or counteroffensive, breaking the attacking enemy’s momentum is but the prelude to turning him back, and eventually crushing him.  But that part is conspicuously absent from Obama’s stated plan.

Think of all the great commanders in history.  Can you recall a single one whose clarion call to battle was: “Let’s break their momentum!”?

President Hamlet has turned into a parody of Henry V:

But we in it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
Fought them on St. Crispan’s Day to break their momentum
Then went home to save a few dollars

Moreover, the thought that the Afghan army and police force can be brought up to speed in 18 months is farcical.  Indeed, it is impossible to believe that Obama really thinks that this is possible, especially if he has as low opinion of the Afghan government as he and his minions have repeatedly expressed.  If Afghanistan’s government is as corrupt and ineffectual as the administration has stated, standing up of a robust Afghan army in 18 months would be a miracle rivaling the Immaculate Conception.

Rather than a full-blooded plan to achieve enduring military gains, Obama’s at best seems to be a spoiling attack meant to cover an eventual withdrawal.  It will likely achieve some short term gains–especially since the Taliban have every incentive to play rope-a-dope rather than fight, and bide their time until we leave–but offer virtually no prospect of any long term advantage.

Failure is so likely here that one can be excused for suspecting that’s the whole idea.  Give it a perfunctory try, and then when it predictably gets nowhere in 18 months, say “well, we tried.  It’s hopeless.  We have to get out.”  More charitably (though perhaps barely), it is designed to create a simulacrum of victory in 18 months that can be used to rationalize a withdrawal (“declare victory and go home”).  At which time the Taliban will expand into the vacuum thus created.

It’s pretty clear that Obama has no stomach for an extended commitment in Afghanistan.  It’s also clear that he doesn’t have the stomach–the intestinal fortitude–to follow his true desire and pull the plug now because of the political firestorm that would unleash  after all the posing during the campaign and his early Presidency about “wars of necessity”–a phrase conspicuously absent from his speech.    So he is choosing a course that will give him political cover against charges of cutting and running, but putting the US on a path to a rapid exit after a barely respectable interval.

To me, it’s a close call between go home and go large.  Indeed, if anything, I probably lean towards go home.  Absent the reputational and signaling implications of an immediate departure, I’d lean pretty strongly in that direction.

But the one thing that I adamantly oppose is what Obama has chosen.  I would have more respect for his judgment, courage, and character if he had grasped the nettle and followed his true inclinations.  But the course he has chosen seems crafted to triangulate his personal political course.  Such moderation is often the wisest, most pragmatic course in politics, but in war it is, as Fisher-Macauley noted, imbecility.

Who, in good conscience, can ask American soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors to die to “break an enemy’s momentum,” and then go home?

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  1. We get it. Obama is a political opportunist who doesn’t want a withdrawal / fullbore defeat hanging over him in 2012, just like any successful politician.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 2, 2009 @ 1:06 am

  2. […] Moderation in War is Imbecility Streetwise Professor […]

    Pingback by Links 12/2/09 « naked capitalism — December 2, 2009 @ 4:40 am

  3. “So sayeth Lord Fisher, or Lord Macauley (attributions differ). Whoever said it, it is damned close to the truth. And whoever said it, I’m damned sure Obama never read i”

    Clausewitz sez different. Clausewitz sez that a great many things, but mostly the value of the political object, moderate the theoretical ideal of all-out violence. That’s also how you know when to stop.

    “Given Obama’s spending profligacy”

    This past January, befor the inauguration, the CBO estimated spending, revenue, and the deficit, based on then-current law as signed by Dubya. Actual FY09 spending diverged very little. Revenues collapsed however.

    “To me, it’s a close call between go home and go large. Indeed, if anything, I probably lean towards go home.”

    Wow! SWP has a clue! Please explain then why something most likely not worth doing at all is worth doing all out.

    Comment by rkka — December 2, 2009 @ 6:26 am

  4. ” If Afghanistan’s government is as corrupt and ineffectual as the administration has stated, standing up of a robust Afghan army in 18 months would be a miracle rivaling the Immaculate Conception.”

    The Soviets managed that, well enough, and starting from pretty much zero in 1986. They did that by a sophisticated politico-military-economic-advisory strategy. It worked well enough that when the Glorious Afghan Freedom Fighters, the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers, who are now killing our troops, tried to take Jalalabad in the Spring of 1990, the Afghan Army handed them their a$$. Of course, they required continued financial/logistical/advisory support from the Soviets, but any force we build there will require the same from us, as long as we want it to stay in the field.

    Of course this will require that we have a sophisticated politico-military-economic-advisory strategy. That may indeed be beyond us in the aftermath of the Dubya Administration.

    Comment by rkka — December 2, 2009 @ 7:04 am

  5. Thirty thousand additional soldiers are going to be able deprive the counter insurgents of a safe haven east of the 1,643 mile long Durand line? The professor is correct, go hard or go home. Carpet bomb both sides of the Durand line killing 100,000’s of fighters, women and children or pull the troops out. Wars are dead bodies stacked upon dead bodies. Wars are ended when one side runs out of bodies or both sides tire of burying their own dead.

    Obama has the same lack of regard for US soldiers as he has for US taxpayer dollars.

    Comment by Mark G. — December 2, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  6. The only part of America that will suffer when we leave Afghanistan is the wallet – of neocons.

    Both wars have been useless quagmires with no defined goal.

    Of course, that defines today’s GOP as well.

    Comment by Unsympathetic — December 2, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  7. I heard him say “go home,” didn’t you?

    It’s pretty clear what happened. Candidate Obama promised to surge Afghanistan. President Obama had access to info showing we should withdraw. He spent 2 months trying to figure out how to break the news to us. His uneasy compromise was to meet his promise as narrowly as possible: send 30k guys over there for a few months, then withdraw.

    Yes, it is unfair to play politics with 30k soldiers. He better hope they don’t vote. The good news is we are getting out. We need the forces and money in reserve for a conflict that matters, and that we can win.

    Comment by Nostradoofus — December 2, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  8. I have to disagree. This is a bigger move than the “surge” in Iraq. This *is* going hard, compared to the alternatives. I think it’s absolutely the right approach at this point. In my opinion, Obama is showing statesmanship. This is not the easy, politically expedient path. He’s getting hammered by the left. (and by the right, of course, but they will make up a reason to hammer him no matter what he does). Obama is showing that he is in fact community organizer in chief.

    He was elected and upon taking office, the prior administration gave him several container loads full of crap to deal with. It’s not all fertilizer.

    Comment by Dave — December 2, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  9. Kill’em all, let god sort them out.

    Comment by So? — December 2, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

  10. The only difference between Obama’s show last night and his March 27 speech was that now we have a deadline.

    People were falling asleep at West Point during the Obuma show – and everywhere else.

    Dumbocrat presidents just don’t learn. In Vietnam, LBJ picked targets personally, and “limited warfare” was disastrous.

    Now Obuma is going to pretend that he has carefully thought this out, and that the requests from his generals are worthless.

    Apparently, the fighting slogan of the day for General Obuma is “fight fiercely – make them relinquish their momentum.”

    Comment by elmer — December 2, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  11. The ragheads have no meaningful foreign backing. Now is not the time to be squeamish. The Philippinos were speaking English in no time.

    Comment by So? — December 3, 2009 @ 3:18 am

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