On War #161
By William S. Lind
As recognition of the defeat in Iraq spreads, so also does the process of sweeping up the debris. Both civilian observers and a few voices inside the military have begun the “lessons learned” business, trying to figure out what led to our defeat so that we do not repeat the same mistakes. That is the homage we owe to this war’s dead and wounded. To the degree we do learn important lessons, they will not have suffered in vain, even though we lost the war.
Most of the analyses to date are of the “if only” variety. “If only” we had not sent the Iraqi army home, or overdone “de-Baathification,” or installed an American satrap, or, or, or, we would have won. The best study I have thus far seen does not agree. “Revisions in Need of Revising: What Went Wrong in the Iraq War,” by David C. Hendrickson and Robert W. Tucker, puts it plainly:
It is of interest, and a hopeful sign, that this blunt assessment was published by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.
One target the study hits squarely is the American assumption, still regnant in the Pentagon, that superior technology guarantees our Second Generation forces victory over technologically primitive Fourth Generation enemies. Hendrickson and Tucker write,
Recognition that war is not dominated by technology but by human factors is an important counter to what will inevitably be claims by the U.S. military that it performed brilliantly; it was the politicians who lost the war (the Vietnam War claim repeated). As the authors note, this reflects an overly narrow definition of war:
Nor could the Iraq war have been won if we had sent more troops. More troops would not have helped us deal with the problems of bad intelligence, lack of cultural awareness, and the insistence on using tactics that alienated the population. As the authors state, “The assumption that the United States would have won the hearts and minds of the population had it maintained occupying forces of 300,000 instead of 140,000 must seem dubious in the extreme.”
The most important point in this excellent study is precisely the one that Washington will be most reluctant to learn: “Rather that ‘do it better next time,’ a better lesson is ‘don’t do it at all.’” What we require is a “national security strategy (I would say grand strategy) in which there is no imperative to fight the kind of war that the United States has fought in Iraq.”
For most of America’s history, we followed that kind of grand strategy, namely a defensive grand strategy. If the fallout from the defeat in Iraq includes our return to a defensive grand strategy, then we will indeed be able to say that we have learned this war’s most important lesson.
William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.
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