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Iraq and other war stories

>> Thursday, September 23, 2004

How can you win a war if you continue to do that which benefits our enemies?
Kerry's unwinnable position on Iraq

For all of you that don't study history, here's something to remember.

Georges Clemenceau once said that war is a series of catastrophes culminating in victory. Victory in every war is a tale of colossal misjudgments, unpleasant surprises, and humiliating defeats.

Often, we seem to believe that if we plan and execute properly, the enemy will fall into our hands like ripe plums, and the defeated populace will lie prostrate before our victorious troops. That rarely happens.

What most civilians don’t seem to realize is that the enemy is not an inanimate object upon which we impose our will. Instead, the enemy is composed of thinking, reasoning human beings who are doing their best to divine our intentions, and to prevent us from accomplishing them. In the military, this reality is described by the aphorism that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. This is not universally true, of course. Very occasionally you will fight against an enemy with incompetent leadership, poor training, or lack of ideological commitment that causes them to do everything your best-case scenario expects them to do.

But such situations are surpassingly rare. For the most part, the enemy will do everything he can to prevent you from reaching your objectives. He will adapt his tactics to yours, will oppose in surprising ways at inconvenient times, disrupt your logistics, and generally work as hard to defeat you as you are working to defeat him.

Many in the press seem to think that, if victory doesn’t come about relatively painlessly and bloodlessly, there must be some deep flaw in our planning or execution. In a sense, this is partially true, because all planning is faulty, and all execution falls short of the desired result. In a larger sense however, it is wrong, because the reason planning and execution fail is because of the existence of a living, breathing enemy that opposes you.

General Eisenhower’s staff planned the Normandy Invasion for years, yet, by D+30, they hadn’t reached the objectives they had planned to reach by D+10. It was only by implementing a new plan, Operation Cobra, that by D+60, Paris had been liberated, and they had passed all their objectives for D+120.

Operation Market Garden was designed to end the War by Christmas of 1944. Instead, of the 10,000 troops of the British 1st Airborne that jumped into Arnhem, only 2,000 came out. Christmas of 1944, instead, became a time of crisis, as the Germans launched the offensive through the Ardennes that we call the Battle of the Bulge.

It is very easy for Mr. Kerry to criticize Mr. Bush about the mistakes that have been made, just as it was easy for Gen McClellan to criticize Mr. Lincoln in the election of 1864. But mistakes will always be made. That is inherent in the nature of warfare. But, as Boot points out, they do not spell defeat in Iraq, any more than they spelled defeat in Europe in 1944.

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