In spite of the bumper stickers, war is not inherently evil. It is catalytic in nature, in that it provides the opportunity for change. The war in Iraq is the catalyst which can change how Islamo-fascists are dealt with, and whether we will suffer future 9-11 attacks.
Almost two hundred years ago, Carl von Clausewitz outlined three ways to win a war:
Destroy the enemy’s army; destroy their ability to make war; and destroy the enemy’s will to engage in war. Of the three, America has always prevailed in the first two, but has been mostvulnerable in the last item.
Mr. bin Laden, as a subset of Islamo-fascism in gneral, has declared “holy war” on the West and the U.S. in particular. Perhaps we should do him the courtesy of acknowledging that fact. When Osama bin Laden ordered the attacks on the people in the airliners and the World Trade Center as well as the Pentagon, he was attacking our will to make war. The method that he chose was based on the realization that he could not compete toe to toe and destroy our military, nor could he affect our ability to make war. Therefore, he has to exploit our one vulnerability, which is also a strength of our democratic process.
Psychologists know that people will believe what they want to believe. After the
bombings of the embassies in Africa, the withdrawal of the American forces in Somalia, and the lack of response after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, Mr. bin Laden probably believed that we would withdraw completely from the Middle East as a reaction to the attack on September 11th and the deaths of 3,000 Americans. Mr. bin Laden most likely looked to history and our war in Viet Nam as support for his assumptions. Faced with the only logical and remaining tactic, he had to attack our will to make war. This decision was based on a misunderstanding of the American will, and has had disastrous results from what he would have predicted, as shown by Afghanistan, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The fact that we have reacted in the manner that we did is probably very disconcerting to his Weltanshauung.
The senior Democratic leadership, as embodied by Senators Kennedy and Byrd, have alleged that Iraq is now President Bush’s Viet Nam. Aside from the psychological and partisan aspects of the charge, they offered nothing in support of their assertions to prove their argument. But suppose hypothetically, that they are earnest in their assertions. Is Iraq another Viet Nam? The short answer; that it is only if the political leadership allows it to be.
In Viet Nam, American forces never failed to prevail on the battlefield. We were instead defeated by the lack of national will at home to continue the fight. Historians point to the Tet offensive as the turning point for American support for the war. However, a review of polls taken about the popularity of that war showed that American support for continuing in that conflict did not fall below 50% until after the start of withdrawal of American forces, and the instituting of Vietnamization as official policy.
At the Operational level of war, there are no similarities. Viet Nam was conducted during the Cold War, when both we and the former Soviet Union would probe at the outside of our spheres of influence, but dared not to risk open confrontation with the other nuclear armed superpower. Viet Nam is geographically situated next to the People’s Republic of China. After our experience in the Korean conflict, we were naturally wary of carrying the conflict to the enemies’s homeland and inviting a repeat of Chosin.
In Iraq, there is no threat from a competing superpower. The most significant threats in the immediate area are Iran and Syria. Both of those nations are having a problem with their own domestic politics, and are not in a hurry to challenge us militarily. Additionally, Viet Nam was being supplied with arms and training from the Soviets and Communist Chinese. In present Iraq, there are no massive arms shipments that will be able to challenge us in the air by a surface to air threat, nor on the ground through the use of armored and mechanized forces as the final consolidation of the North’s power against the Republic of Viet Nam in 1975 demonstrated.
It is the area of strategy, which provides the greatest contrasts between Viet Nam and Iraq. In Viet Nam, we were engaged in what was principally a defensive strategy. We were looking to protect the status quo of a communist North, and (supposedly) democratic South.
Defensive strategy works well when there are two powers of equal strength with no urge to expand. In Viet Nam, America was the stronger power, and North Viet Nam the weaker. Although the North was attacked repeatedly from the air, it did not have to defend against a land invasion. This freed up its forces to act offensively, and placed the Americans in the position of ceding the initiative to the enemy.
Additionally, in geo-strategic terms, Viet Nam held no particular value to America beyond the political implications of the domino effect. Iraq, on the other hand has tremendous influence on America for one very important reason: because of its location. Sitting in the midst of some of the world’s largest known oil reserves, and adjacent to the holiest sites of Islam, and the birthplace of Islamo-fascism, it is the culminating point of why there is a war on terrorism.
Although not discussed much, it is possible to view the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq as probably the greatest advance in geo-strategic thinking that America has ever done.
Iraq differs from our (supposed) allies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in a number of important areas. Iraq’s population prior to the First Gulf War used to be the best educated and largest middle class in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have no real middle class, because of the distribution of petro wealth. For those who have served in the region, there is another, perhaps impolitic observation: The Iraqis work hard, the Saudis and Kuwaitis do not seem to be as interested in labor, and import all that is needed.
Because of its educated middle class, and the natural affinity of the Middle East culture to mercantile exchanges, Iraq is the only country in the region which can provide the impetus for democratic change that President Bush has called for. By assisting Iraq in its transition to a sturdy democratic society, adjacent nations will have to confront their population’s questions of why the Iraqis can develop a stable and democratic nation, and their countries have not. In addition, through the Hadj, more Iraqis will come into contact with Moslems of other nations,
and will be able to plant the seed for democratic development beyond their immediate borders. All of these predictions are based upon the U.S. “Staying the course.”
Strategically, there is one major similarity between Viet Nam, and Iraq. In both of these cases, there was a militarily inferior foe fighting against American public opinion. President Johnson was said to have abandoned his reelection campaign when Walter Cronkite, the man America trusts the most, came out against the war. President Nixon campaigned on a platform of “Peace with Honor,” but instituted the withdrawal of American forces, and the handing off of military responsibility to the Viet Namese. As mentioned above, that was the tipping point which caused the shift in popular support for the war. In the present war, we have suffered over
1700 casualties. At the present rate of attrition, it will take two more years to equal the numbers who died on September 11th.
If the American political leadership has the courage and strength of conviction to see this conflict through to the end, we will prevail. The real test of the war, is whether the Iraqi “resistance” can sway the leadership, or if our leadership will be able to be as strong as the American people in seeing this through to the end. Failure of will by the leadership will result in further 9-11s. Continuing until the Iraqis are able to develop into a stable, democratic and progressive nation will offer the greatest chance to change the world, and dramatically reduce the pernicious threat of future terrorist attacks.