Saturday, May 08, 2010

On the Failure of the Current US War Strategy

Barry Rubin recently wrote a very important blog post entitled "What's Wrong--and Dangerously So--With U.S. Strategic Policy in the Middle East". In the post he praised two important articles highly critical of US strategy, which originated with the Bush administration and is now still substantially continued by the Obama administration. Echoing themes that are detailed in Elan Journo's Winning the Unwinnable War, as well as John David Lewis' Nothing Less than Victory (I highly recommend both books!!!) , the articles decry the counterinsurgency methods of General Petraeus, as well as the continued refusal of the US to strive for victory by making the sources of the problem, namely Iran and its allies pay for their instigation . Rubin writes that in retrospect:
All these points will be very clear in 20 or 30 years as people look back on these mistakes but are powerless to change them. It would be far better if they were understood and corrected right now.
The first article referenced is Spengler's General Petraeus' Thirty Years War (Spengler is an alias for David P. Goldman, senior editor of First Things). Goldman argues that the apparent stability created by arming the various militias in Iraq and elsewhere is a big mistake:
Petraeus created a balance of power between Sunnis and Shi'ites by reconstructing the former's fighting capacity, while persuading pro-Iranian militants to bide their time. To achieve this balance of power, though, he built up Sunni military power to the point that - for the first time in Iraq's history - Sunnis and Shi'ites are capable of fighting a full-dress civil war with professional armed forces. "Nation-building" in Iraq failed to construct any function feature of civil society - a concept hitherto unknown to Mesopotamia - except, of course, for the best-functioning organized groups of killers that Iraq ever has had.
Read the whole article, in which Goldman covers the ominous implications of similar policies in the Palestinian territories.

The second article, published on Michael J. Totten's blog, is Lee Smith's The Trouble with Proxy Wars. In a key paragraph Smith writes:
If the Iranians are capable of heating up Iraq, if they are able to embark on a broad campaign including both political and military aspects, then the US did not win in Iraq. The test of victory is simply whether or not you are capable of imposing terms on your adversaries; if you can’t, if rather they shape your strategic decisions -- e.g., if they determine your security environment by funding, arming and training militias -- then you have not won. Or think of it like this: after VE Day what capacity did the Nazis have to heat things up for US troops in France and Italy and consequently determine US strategy? American society may have changed during the last half century so that we no longer know how to describe victory, but the objective standards for defining victory have not changed, nor have they changed at any time during the course of human history. The Iranians are able to shape our regional strategy because we did not win. [emphasis added]
Smith's article is even more important than Goldman because it drives at what ought to be the key goal in a war: Victory.

Update 11:48am: Fixed grammar.