April 16, 2004

Fog of War Part 2

A few days ago, I wrote about the fog of war. After I published it, I realized I had forgotten at least one very relevant example: the bombing in Madrid, and how it affected the campaign against islamofacism.

At the time I decided that the omission wasn't that important; at least, not important enough to warrant an update in the original post.

After reading recent news articles, as well as blog posts, about the current situation in Iraq, I have decided that further comment is required.

What crystallized my decision was an article at The Command Post. Now, you'd expect a place like this would provide reporting that I would characterize as "fairly neutral, patriotic, with an undercurrent of "go git 'em, boys," but the comments on this article really threw me. It was one of the few posts I've seen with both conservatives and liberals complaining that the war was already lost.

What does this have to do with the "fog of war," and 11/M? Simple: 11/M and that article are both perfect examples of the fog in action...

Let's roll the clock back just a little bit...

On March 11, Al Qaeda islamofascists murdered over 200 people in Spain. Now, we've all read (or heard) what happened, and I'm fairly sure that most of us have managed to make up our minds whether the Spanish decision to pull out of Iraq in June is a good one, or a bad one.

My point here is the country-wide range of reactions that can be represented on a Deans World post regarding his comments about the situation here.

Now Dean misses some points, such as when the President-elect of Spain says that the "war was started by lies," so I doubt that that gentleman in question has any genuine devotion to the Coalition. On the other hand, Dean is perfectly correct to point out that Spain has agreed to keep her troops there until June, at the least.

I am sure that we've all visited our favorite blogs since then, and we've all seen predictions that this is the presage of an avalanche of appeasement from Europe, while others are quite confident of eventual success in the war on terror.

What the commenters on Dean's World missed -as have most positions elsewhere that I've seen- is that the Spanish voters made their decision based on the feeling that the Aznar administration pushed the "Basque terrorist" angle too far, too quickly, and not so much on Spaniards dying, although that probably did have some effect.

I also think that most people have overestimated the utility of some two thousand Spanish soldiers in Iraq, out of over one hundred fifty thousand. What the "calamity" party has missed is that their claim that the removal of Spanish forces tends to support the anti-war position that the coalition is primarily symbolic.

Truthfully, the Spanish troops in Iraq are the equivalent of the Jewish Brigades in World War Two. Useful? Yes. Decisive? No. Inspiring? Certainly.

In point of fact no one will be able to accurately judge the effect of the Spanish decision for several years, at least. It generally takes at least five or ten years (at minimum) to develop the proper perspective on any historical or military event.

This brings us back to the present, and the comments at The Command Post.

Both the "Iraq==Vietnam=quagmire" and the "Kill them all, God will know his own" groups are over-reacting to specific events or conditions with little regard for the proverbial big picture.

Who among the Union leaders could have predicted the fall of Vicksburgh after a long seige in July 1863, or the capture of Atlanta after a dismal summer in the fall of 1864?

What few -besides Kirchener- foresaw a long war in 1914, the use of tanks, or the methods used in 1918 to break the stalemate?

Who would have predicted the collapse of the fabled French Army in less than a month in 1940, the bizarre halt of the German armor that allowed the British escape at Dunkirk, or the monsterous resistance at Stalingrad?

Who in 1944 would have predicted that the OKW estimate of Allied divisional strength would be 150% over the actual figure, or the sincere Allied belief in the mythical "Nazi redoubt?"

I could go on, but these examples should demonstrate to anyone with an open mind that it is very difficult to predict the outcome of a war (or a campaign) with a single event, or a single battle.

In Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr is a thug, with a gang of perhaps 3,000-8,000 men. It is fatuous to describe them as representative of some sort of "Iraqi resistance." Most of the other gangs have closer relations to the Bloods and the Crips (especially with 13-16 year old members) than they do with the WW2 Maquis Resistance. On the other hand, it is unduly optimistic to think that the current situation is other than critically important.

One vital clue is that the Bush administration has altered the rules of engagement so that our soldiers can defend themselves. Bombing hitherto untouchable mosques, for example. Another clue is that the generals in charge have, for the first time, asked for an increase in manpower in-country, instead of a decrease. The administration has met that request with alacrity.

Does this mean that the current administration is doing all the right things? No. On the other hand, there are few indicators that they are substantially wrong in their approach either.

This is not a simple war; there will be no Waterloo, no fallen Atlanta, no D-Day with the practical guarantee that Germany will fall. There will be no final Star Wars battle where the Rebel Alliance defeats the Evil Empire to general applause.

This will be, as Bush said nearly three years ago, a long, drawn-out struggle. Much of it will be fought in the shadows. Those battles fought in "the light" will be misunderstood by many, if not most of the experts.

I repeat: the thing is, the trick is: not to lose your head...

Fog of War, postscript

Posted by Casey at April 16, 2004 4:28 AM | TrackBack

Casey, you are a voice of reason as usual. As you might guess, is that I see so much coming from the White House and the RNC and Clear Channel an FOX as so much spin. And when it comes to warfare, spin is propaganda. There are usually much more circumspect analysis coming from the Pentagon briefings, but Rummy loves to generalize, even in the presence of generals. (Pun intended -- as usual). Unfortunately, POTUS gets all the air time, the RNC buys the air time and Rush and O'Reilly own the air.

Subtle and fair analysis is unavailable in a sound-byte culture. Ironic that as the news cycle has expanded to fit the whole day, the opportunity for fair treatment of complicated subject matter has condensed. That's surely only a perception and not the reality, but it sure seems that way. Probably the result of the ubiquitous point/counterpoint presentations.

I agree that there will be no Waterloo etc. With the overwelming military machine we have at our disposal, the chance for a decisive turning point in the Iraq conflict was hardly to be expected. If you look at the larger struggle against Islamofascism and theocratic kelptocracy since 9/11, Mazar i Sharif, Tora Bora, the fall of Saddam's Statue in Baghdad, Madrid and Fallujah will all be worthy of more than a footnote in future historians' understanding of this time. The Waterloo will be political, and cultural, not military, and may not be as readily uncloaked. For all the fog and death and destruction in war, its analysis is fairly straightforward and clean. Politics is the dirtiest of businesses, but the players, cheerleaders, and pundants can all keep their hands clean, all but the pawns that is.

Posted by: Mark Adams at April 16, 2004 9:34 PM

Mark, thank you.

I hope you will resist the temptation to crow "you see, Bush was wrong!! Bush had no plan!!," and so on, since you are very much not a fan of the man.

The rest of my original reply has become a new post. It's all your fault! :)

ADDENDUM: hold on, one thing I want to add (ah, the Godlike power of one's own blog!): there are -as you say- "subtle and fair analysis available," but they are hard to find.

Short list:
Jerry Pournelle
Ornery American
One Hand Clapping

Posted by: Casey Tompkins at April 17, 2004 1:47 AM

May I suggest a Kerry win in November as a possible Waterloo moment? I also suggest that the jury is still out whether the US is Napoleon or ________ (?) in this scenario. (sorry-brain cramp)

WTF was the Brit general's name??

And speaking of subtle analysis, I stronly recommend Wretchard at the Belmont Club.

Posted by: Phil Winsor at April 17, 2004 9:56 AM


Check out Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion series on war.

Posted by: Phil Winsor at April 17, 2004 9:57 AM

(Two hours later) Wellington!! I do have some living brain cells, after all!!

Posted by: Phil Winsor at April 17, 2004 12:31 PM

Actually, Phil, I think that his anthology series "There Will Be War" would be of more use to the prospective "student," since it includes fact as well as fiction, from a wide variety of sources.

I think my favorite Falkenberg story is West of Honor.

As for Kerry: at least the man's campaigning right now to "stay the course" in Iraq. I'll give him that. I just think it's funny he's taken a position that Leiberman was excorciated for only a couple of months ago by several mainstream Democrats.

Ain't politics grand? :)

Posted by: Casey Tompkins at April 17, 2004 3:04 PM

Is it too early to promote a Kerry/Lieberman ticket??

Also agree with "There will be War" as an excellent resource. I was thinking of "Go Tell the Spartans" and "Prince of Sparta". ALthough both are fiction, the author includes many quotes from Clausewitz, and lectures within the format of the stories that speak to the Fog of War and what is needed for a successful insurgency.

Also agree with your comment on the other thread that both parties have crowed at opportune times, though I believe the Left has done more crowing IMO.

Ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times"

That we do.

Posted by: Phil Winsor at April 17, 2004 6:40 PM

Hmm. "Kerry/Lieberman."

Hmmmm.... :)

Maybe Bush should be nervous, right about now.

Posted by: Casey Tompkins at April 18, 2004 2:38 AM