Friday, December 02, 2005

WWII vs GWOT, Churchill vs Bush

In January 1942, after two-and-a-half years of fighting, there were politicians in the Conservative, Labor and Liberal parties all clamoring that Churchill had mismanaged the war. There was no end in sight, and there had been many avoidable losses: battles had “turned out differently from what was foreseen.”

Churchill also faced a hostile press, with every critic “free to point out the many errors which had been made” and newspapers offering “well-informed and airily detached criticism” — all of which had created an “unhappy, baffled public opinion.”

Faced with mounting opposition, Churchill called for a three-day debate in the House of Commons — which was “in a querulous temper” — to be followed by a vote of confidence, knowing the debate would be one in which “the Government would no doubt be lustily belabored by some of those who have lighter burdens to carry.”

During the debate, Churchill addressed the House for two hours, saying that:

We have had a great deal of bad news lately . . . and I think we shall have a great deal more. Wrapped up in all this bad news will be many tales of blunders and shortcomings, both in foresight and action. No one will pretend for a moment that disasters like these occur without there having been faults and shortcomings. I see all this rolling towards us like waves in a storm, and that is another reason why I require a formal, solemn Vote of Confidence . . .

We are beginning to see our way through. It looks as if we were in for a very bad time; but provided we all stand together, and provided we throw in the last spasm of our strength, it also looks more than it ever did before as if we were going to win. . . .

I have never ventured to predict the future. I stand by my original programme, “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” which is all I have ever offered, to which I added, five months later, “many shortcomings, mistakes, and disappointments.” But it is because I see the light gleaming behind the clouds and broadening on our path that I make so bold now as to demand a declaration of confidence from the House of Commons as an additional weapon in [our] armoury
The speech turned the tide, and after three days, Churchill won the vote 484-1.


Churchill is remembered in the popular imagination as someone who rallied a nation, vowed never to give up, and took his country to victory. Few remember that Churchill faced a crisis of confidence two-and-a-half years into the war, exploited by those “with lesser burdens to carry.” And fewer still remember the names of the politicians and media critics who created a crisis of confidence in the midst of a war.

(hat tip: American future)

Keep the faith.

PS. Don't forget to read this great piece of Victor Davis Hanson as well: "The Moral War" (hat tip: LGF)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bring back freedom of speech

A competition of ideas is vitally important, even essential, to the functioning of a free society. That's why it is depressing to read about how some European nations are restricting freedom of speech in order to prevent people from offending Muslim sensibilities. Freedom of speech has taken a beating in the United States with the passage of the McCain-Feingold legislation, which extends the suppression of political debate more thoroughly than previous campaign finance laws.

Bruce Bawer describes the approach of some European parliaments.
Legislatures have taken action. In April, after virtually no public discussion, Norway's Parliament passed a law that punishes offensive remarks about any religion with up to three years' imprisonment and places the burden of proof on the accused. Three months later, Britain's House of Commons approved a bill that would criminalize "words or behavior" that might "stir up racial or religious hatred."
Islam is not a race but a religion whose ideology should, in a democratic society, be entirely open to criticism and, for that matter, to parody and mockery. Outraged by the House of Commons measure, comedian Rowan Atkinson (who plays the character Mr. Bean on television) commented: "For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic." Atkinson was nearly alone among British authors, artists, and entertainers in his vocal criticism of the bill.
There used to be a common rebuttal to restrictions on the freedom to express ideas: "I may not agree with what you say. But I will fight for your right to say it." The war on terror is ultimately a war between the free society and the totalitarian one. Watching the elected officials of free societies restrict freedom in response to political assassination seems like preemptive surrender.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Stay the course

President Bush today delivered a magnificent speech on Iraq, again, in which he outlined his strategy for victory in that country, again. For those, like me, who have followed events in Iraq closely, looking beyond the usual media reports of car bombings and kidnappings, president Bush has hardly told anything new: the speech is an account of slow, but steady progress at the three fronts – politics, economy and security – in the fight to create an inclusive and prosperous country able to defend itself.

What are, in more specific terms, the administration’s goals at all three levels:

Politics: increasing the participation of the Sunnis, both voters ánd politicians, in the political process and, at the same time, marginalizing the hard-core Saddamists.

Economy: rebuilding infrastructure and reforming the economy thus creating the conditions for a prospering Iraq.

Security: conducting offensive, clear-and-hold operations followed by reconstruction efforts, while building and increasingly deploying Iraqi security forces, ultimately without coalition assistance.

The focus of this speech was on the increasing capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. President Bush will address other issues in other speeches further down the run-up to the December 15 elections. I hope to comment on them as well.

Here are just a few examples of progress made by the Iraqi security forces:
- more capable Iraqi forces provide better intelligence and generate more trust from ordinary Iraqis;
- from just a handful to 120 Iraqi combat battalions (between 42,000 and 96.000 men) in one year, 40 of them are in the lead on the battlefield;
- while American forces were in the lead during the assault on Fallujah in November last year, Iraqi forces led in recent operations in the city of Tal Afar;
- following the transfer of Haifa Street, famously called Purple Heart Boulevard, in Baghdad to Iraqi forces, attacks are down;
- transfer of 30 forward operating bases to Iraqi forces, including one in Tikrit, the city of Saddam Hussein;
- increased Iraqi ability to independently support their security forces with proper logistics, airlifting and command-and-control.

Those are detailed facts, not slogans, as one non-journalist preferred to call them. Moreover, Bush admitted setbacks and errors, but they were overcome and corrected. More setbacks and errors will inevitably occur, but they must be overcome and corrected as well.

As Iraqis grow stronger to secure their own country, coalition forces will step down. They will move out from Iraqi cities, perform fewer patrols and reduce the number of operating bases. They will return home, no sooner, no later, when the mission is complete, with the victory they have deserved. Setting an artificial timetable to pull out from Iraq is a dangerous option as Bush reiterated. Ultimately, it only takes the unwavering resolve of the American people and its politicians to win. Staying the course is the plan and what a plan it is! The freedom-loving world will benefit from its success.

PS. For more information on the progress made on the political, economic and security front, I gladly refer to respectively Iraq The Model, Good News From The Front and ThreatsWatch/Bill Roggio (blogger currently in Iraq).

PSS. A document, released by the White House, called “The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”, an unclassified version of the strategy pursued in Iraq, can be found here (pdf).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"More Troops"

One of the things that is often heard is that we should have committed more troops to Iraq. The criticism of "more troops" comes from all sides, and for a variety of reasons. When we hear it from John McCain, we can be sure it is honestly made, with the best of intentions in mind. When we hear it from leftist war critics, their motivations may not always be so kind.

Nevertheless, it is one I will consider in my series on "Iraq War Fallacies. I take it up because we hear it so often, and because those who make it are so vague when they say it.

This post is not so much military analysis as it is an attempt to define how we should think about the matter.

Lastly, please understand that because this is a blog post and not a book or academic treatise, I am not going to set things up by quoting those who have said we need or have needed more troops. Anyone who has listened to the news these past few years knows who they are.

Timeframe Matters

When do the critics say we should have had more troops? We need to remember that broadly speaking the war in Iraq has consisted of two phases; the initial invasion, and the insurgency.

Unfortunatly, it has been my observation that most of those who say that we need "more troops" are either not specific on this point or they get it wrong. Most who say that we need "more troops" seem to be saying that we should have had them there from the beginning.

If they say that we should have had them there from the beginning, it is my contention that they have it exactly backwards. From everything I saw the initial invasion was brilliantly planned and executed, and the forces used were almost exactly right.

And indeed the success of that initial invasion is too often forgotten. Those who never supported the war from the beginning crow all too often that "we have been proven correct." Nothing, of course, is further from the truth. The critics predicted thousands of American casualties in the initial invasion, as well as the famed "Battle of Baghdad", neither of which took place. But my intentions here are not to make the critics eat their words.

It was only later, once the insurgency started, that we should have sent in more troops. One problem we have faced is that after we have cleared an area of insurgents (or "terrorists" if you prefer. I prefer not to quibble over terms), and our forces have moved on, the terrorists move back in. In other words, we can clear but not hold. Another problem is that the insurgency is supplied with men, material, and intelligence from Iran and Syria. We do not have enough troops to secure the border against their infiltration.

These problems are slowly but surely being alleviated with the emergence of the new Iraqi army. Unfortunately this is a slow process, burdened by a tradition of incompetence among Arabs in general and Iraqis in particular in military affairs. In another post I will tackle the fallacy that "we should have kept the Iraqi army(Saddam's army)" after the initial invasion. For now suffice it to say that we should have had more troops in the country to secure the areas we have cleared of insurgents.

But it's not that simple.

Where Would they Come From?

The most absolutely frustrating thing in listening to the critics is that I have never heard a one of them say exactly where the additional troops are supposed to come from.

There are two choices for obtaining more troops; bringing them from another theater, and raising new units. Each has advantages and disavantages.

Another Theater

The main advantage of bringing in troops from another theater is that it could be done quickly. It would also be cheaper than raising new units.

The disadvantage is that we have those troops in various places around the world for a reason; we need them there. We face threats around the world, and these days troops are likely to be used for anything from humanitarian relief during a natural disaster, to peacekeeping missions, to what the military calls high-intensity warfare.

So where are they to be taken from? The critics rarely say. We have troops in South Korea, so maybe we can take them from there. "Can't they defend themselves?" is something we often hear. The answer is that yes, they could, but this misses the point. We have our troops there not because the South Koreans coulnd't defend themselves (they could), but to prevent a war from breaking out in the first place. Kim Jong Il might mistakenly calculate that he can take the south, but the risks grow immesurably when American forces are involved.

Ok perhaps we take the risk and move those troops to Iraq (to continue our example). The point is that those who say we need more troops in Iraq, and want to use existing forces, have an obligation to tell us 1) where they would come from and 2) why the risk is acceptable. That they almost never do so is simply irresponsible.

New Forces

The next option is to increase the size of our military. After all, we are told, we need "more troops" both at home and abroad.

The advantage to this is that given the level of threats around the world, and the use to which our forces are put, we do need more troops. We constantly hear that our forces are "stretched thin", and in this the critics are right.

One disadvantage is that the process of reactivating units takes time. Most sources that I've read put the time at about two years. That new units would not be ready for action for some time raises two issues; one that in the meantime they are not where they are needed, and two that when they are ready they might not be needed.

"Not needed!?!" you say. Yes, "not needed". Far too many critics seem to think that they have a perfect crystal ball and can predict with absolute certainty what the future will hold. They act like they predicted the insurgency, when few of them did. They act like they know how long it will last, which none of them do.

The other problem is one of money. We already face a mounting federal deficit. Where are we to get the money from? There are two options; raise taxes or increase the deficit. Either would hurt the economy. Again, my problem is not that we should not do one or the other, but rather that those who are on the "more troops!" bandwagon have an obligation to tell us where we will get the money and why the negative effect on the economy is worth it. But they almost never do.

It's the Logistics, Stupid

The old aphorism "amateurs talk strategy, pros talk logistics" is true. Modern armies consume vast amounts of food, ammunition, fuel, and a million other things without which they would deteriorate rapidly.

During the Gulf War of 1990-91 we had access to the excellent port facilities of Saudi Arabia, and also to bases thoughout the country. Ever since the 1970s we had contingency plans for putting troops in that country, and years of building facilities paid off.

Saudi Arabia did not want lots of additional American troops coming to their country for an invasion of Iraq. As such, their help was limited to what we already had in the country, and the use of some clandestine bases for special ops work.

American troops, therefore, were limited to Kuwait as their staging area for Operation Iraqi Freedom(OIF). Kuwait's port facilities are smaller than that of Saudi Arabia, and the country itself is much smaller. The first meant that the amount of material that we could off-load into the country every day/week/month was limited and could't support a Desert Storm size force. The second meant that it would be harder to keep a large army dispersed enough to prevent preemptive attack by Saddam.

Dynamic vs Static Analysis

A static thinking model assumes that if you change one thing in history, everything else would have turned out just the same.

A dynamic thinking model understands that if you change one thing, everything else may change too, and not necessarily for the better.

Consider for a minute that you had married a different person. Today you wouldn't just have a different person in the house, everything else about your life would probably be different too. You would probably have a different job, be living in a different house in a different city, and so on.

The Fallacy of only Assuming the Good

Suppose you conclude that you should have gone to a better college. With a degree from a better institution you would have a higher-paying job. This is good. But while daydreaming you forget that you met your spouse at your current job, and you have a wonderful marriage. If you had a different job you would not have met him or her, and indeed might be in a bad marriage.

The point of course is that people who say that we should have done this or that tend to only assume the good results that would have come from such a decision.

People who say that we “need(ed) more troops” or that we should have “kept the Iraqi Army together” assume that only positive results would come from such a decision. They seem not to realize that there were potential negative consequences from taking a decision other than what we did (I dealt with the fallacy that we should have kept Saddam's army together here)

For example, we are often told by war critics that the mere presence of American troops upsets the region. wouldn't more troops make things worse?

Suppose we took troops from the western pacific, and China took that opportunity to make a move against Taiwan? Or, to return to our previous example, we took them from South Korea and Kim Jong Il decided that the time was ripe for an attack? What would the critics say then?

The Advantages of a Small Force

As Rich Lowry of National Review pointed out last year in "What Went Wrong" (subscription required), there were significant disadvantages to having put more troops in the field of battle:
If more troops would have enhanced security in the aftermath of thw war (a debateable proposition, as we shall see), the lighter and more mobile force had significant advantages in the prosecution of it. "The decision was made to collapse the regime as quickly and violently as possible," says a senior administration official. the most kimportant advantage of this approach, he sways, was simple: "A quick collapse saves American lives and Iraqi lives."

It served other objectives as well. It made it possible to take the oilfields - crucial to Iraq's rebuilding - mostly intact before Saddam had time to destroy them. And there was the political consideration. It was thought important to avoid a drawn-out war, and the destabilizing effect it might have on the region. "You don't want an American army slogging it's way to an Arab capital," is how one official puts it.

Shoot Them?

As for the looting, one wonders what exactly additional troops would have done. Shoot them? Detain them? Fire tear gas? No potential human rights violations there! One can see the CNN reporter now, interviewing an Iraqi: "I was just out to go buy a loaf of bread and the mean Americans arrested me!"

Some will say that simply the presence of American troops around targeted buildings(another issue, how to know this) would have done the trick. exactly what orders do you issue the troops, what do they do if the crowd turns hostile and tries to force their way past your line?

Further, soldiers and Marines are not trained in riot or crown control. They do not even normally carry quantities of tear gas. Train them, you say? When, how, and who will do the training of 150,000+ troops? All done in the sands of Kuwait while they're waiting orders to attack?

What bothers me is not that the questions never get answered, for there may be good ones to all of them. What gets me is that so few seem to think it necessary to bring them up.

The Most Wrongheaded Criticism

"We shouldn't have invaded if we didn't have enough troops"

This is actually something I heard from a caller to a radio talk-show last week, and figured I may as well use it in this post.

First, we needed to take down Saddam. OIF was right for many reasons, but that is not the subject of this post(I went over why it justified here).

Second, we did have enough troops for the invasion, as events proved correct. That we did not anticipate the insurgency was a failure, but one that was largely unforseen by anyone at the time. And that includes war critics, who spent their time telling us about the tens of thousands of American casualties that would result from battle with the regular Iraqi army, especially in the "Battle of Baghdad" that would resemble Stalingrad of WWII fame.

Everyone Wants More

Just about every commander in history wanted more troops or more resources. McClellan always wanted more troops, and refused to invade the south unless he got them. He didn't get them, so he didn't attack. When other Union generals finally did attack, they suffered huge losses and were often defeated. Was McClellan right? Not in this instance, because by waiting he sqandered much time, allowing the South to build up their defenses.

Even "planning for the worst" entails risks. Overallocation of resources in one spot means that fewer will be available elsewhere.
During WWII field commanders always wanted more troops, yet Eisenhower, Nimitz, MacArthur etc only had so many go go around. During the drive across France after D-Day Patton and Montgomery each demanded more fuel than was available, so Ike had to ration between them, satisfying neither. Both Patton and Montgomery said that they could have won the war earlier if they had had been given the resources, and maybe so. Each wanted to spearhead a thrust into Germany, leaving the others behind. Ike knew this entailed the risk of the invading army being cutoff Stalingrad-style, so he opted for the "broad front". Ike may have been wrong, we'll never know. The problem with history is that you can't go back and replay it with different variables.

Calculated Risks

What I've been trying to say - which I hope has come across - is that everything is a calculated risk, and that there are trade-offs for every decision.

It just seems to me that if you're going to advocate more troops, you have an obligation to say roughly where they would come from, what other area of the world can do without and why, or how additional units will be financed.

I am not saying that Rumsfeld et al did not err in not sending in additional troops at some point. I think they did, and will offer my ideas on what we should have done next. But too many of the critics seem to think that if you go on TV and repeat "More Troops! More Troops!" often enough it will pass for a reasoned argument. Not on my watch.

Final Thoughts

Simply put, we had the right number of troops for the invasion but should have sent more in later. We should have taken them from Europe, especially the former Yugoslav republics, and demanded that the Europeans pick up the slack. We should have increased the size of the Army and Marines (and let the Navy and Air Force remain at current levels). Taxes should not have been increased, and painful as it is for me to say this, it should have been done through deficit spending. The economy is doing relatively well, and the worse option would be to increase taxes.

While the President is partially at fault, both parties in Congress must also shoulder some of the blame. The Republicans because they lack the courage of their convictions, and the Democrats because they seem intent on reverting to Jimmy Carterism.

But how easy it was to write those last two paragraphs with the knowledge of hindsight.