Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hanson the Great

A fantastic article from Victor Davis Hanson. A sample:

Equally fossilized is the "more troops" debate. Whatever one's views about needing more troops in 2003-5, few Democratic senators or pundits are now calling for an infusion of 100,000 more Americans into Iraq. While everyone blames the present policy, no one ever suggests that current positive trends — a growing Iraqi security force and decreasing American deaths in March — might possibly be related to the moderate size of the American garrison forces.

So, for every argument offered by "experts," there was just as available a convincing counter-argument — something usually lost on those eager to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle.

More troops might have brought a larger footprint that made peacekeeping easier — but also raised a provocative Western profile in an Islamic country. More troops may have facilitated Iraqization — or, in the style of Vietnam, created perpetual dependency. More troops might have shortened the war and occupation — or made monthly dollar costs even higher, raised casualties, and ensured that eventual troop draw-downs would be more difficult. More troops might have bolstered U.S. prestige through a bold show of power — or simply attenuated our forces elsewhere, in Japan, Okinawa, Korea, and Europe, and invited adventurism by our enemies. Too few troops were the fault of the present Administration — or the chickens that came home to roost after the drastic cutbacks in the post-Cold war euphoria of the 1990s.

"Troop transformation" has become equally calcified. We know the script. Pensioned Army and Marine generals appear ever more ubiquitously to assure the public that we have near criminally shorted ground troops. They alone are now speaking for the silenced brave majors and dutiful colonels stuck on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq with too few soldiers — as their four-star Pentagon brass sold out to Mr. Rumsfeld's pie-in-the-skies theorists in Washington.

Maybe — but then again, maybe not. The counterarguments are never offered. If hundreds of billions of dollars were invested in sophisticated smart shells and bombs, drones, and computers, to ensure far greater lethality per combatant, then must traditional troop levels always stay the same? How many artillery pieces is a bomber worth, with ordinance that for the first time in military history doesn't often miss? Has the world become more receptive to large American foreign bases? Or depots to housing tens of thousands of conventional troops and supplies? And did lessons of the Balkans and Afghanistan prove the need for far more ground troops and traditional armor and artillery units?

The point is simple: Somewhere between the impractical ideas that the U.S. military was to become mostly Special Forces on donkeys guiding bombs with laptops, or, instead, a collection of huge divisions with tanks and Crusader artillery platforms, there is a balance that the recent experience of war, from Panama to the Sunni Triangle, alone distills. And it isn't easy finding that center when we had enemies as diverse as Slobodan Milosevic, Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein.

So we know the nature of these weary debates. Both sides offer reasonable arguments. Fine. But let us not fool ourselves any longer that each subsequent "exposé" and leak by some retired general, CIA agent, or State Department official — inevitably right around publication date — offers anything newer, smarter, or much more ethical in this dark era that began on September 11.


Anonymous said...

Five retired generals have called for Rumsfeld's resignation. One would thank that maybe, just maybe, the morass in Iraq has a little bit to do with the Pentagon's civilian leadership and its bungling rather than Hanson's point that war is complicated so self-criticism is essentially pointless.

Tom said...

I think there is an argument to be made about problems with leadership at the Pentagon, but you are missing Hanson's point completely, which is that the difficulties in Iraq (morass is hyperbole) were inevitable. That's why he keeps repeating the idea that in most wars you have multiple options, ranging from bad to worse. Crying that one option is bad is not self-criticism, it is defeatism.