10 years ago
The educational process that the administration should have started four years ago has begun. General John Abizaid recently discussed the protracted nature of the global war on terror at Harvard University.
America cannot walk away from Iraq without risking another world war. That warning was sounded at the Kennedy School forum Nov. 17 by Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), the man responsible for U.S. military strategy in the Middle East.
“We can walk away from this enemy, but they will not walk away from us,” Abizaid told the forum audience during a discussion titled “The Long War.”
“We have not failed yet and we will not fail if we all understand what we have to do. If we can stay together nothing can stop us and we can make the world a better place.”
Abizaid cited what he called the three greatest challenges facing the world – the Arab-Israeli conflict; the rise of extremist groups “with a dark vision of the future”; and, specifically, the dangers posed by “Shia revolutionary thought.”
“Where these things come together is in Iraq,” he said. “It’s absolutely not an easy thing to do,” Abizaid went on to say. “But the sacrifice that is necessary to stabilize Iraq must be sustained in order for the region itself to become more resilient against these three challenges.”
Soon after 9.11, I sat with my father, once a paratrooper in the 82 Airborne, and explained step by step, country by country, how I believed that we would engage the enemy as a result of this event. Upon finishing, my father paused for a bit, and then responded with a grimaced look on his face, “Son, what you have just described is a twenty-year war.” I hesitated, and then responded, “No, sir – a twenty-five year war.”
The nation is slowly grasping the significance of the GWOT, and as she does, she seems to me very disoriented and dazed. The educational process will be painful, but this is no reason to avoid or neglect it. Michael Fumento made the observation recently that while the war planners didn’t plan on conducting a guerrilla war in Iraq, now that it is here, it will likely take ten years to win. Most guerrilla wars, he pointed out, take ten years. His point might have been lost on an audience who wanted to discuss other things and engage in finger pointing at each other’s political party.
Of course, General Abizaid’s remarks are deadly accurate, but there is a collision of ideas, or a logical dilemma with which to contend. In War, Counterinsurgency and Prolonged Operations, I used the famous quotations from Sun Tzu (and the less famous quotations from the Small Wars Manual) to show that prolonged operations have a deleterious effect on warriors, and that protracted operations seldom lead to victory.
This is a dilemma that the Pentagon must manage, both perceptually and strategically. Perceptually, the educational process may prove to be fruitful. Strategically, lamentable mistakes were made in Iraq. I have covered the consequences of inadequate force projection. The upshot of these failures is that we know what we did wrong. The irony is that the force projection is inversely proportional to the need to exercise that force. Proper force projection makes for a safer and more secure situation on the ground.
Therein lies the strategy. “The Long War” will possibly consist of one or more large scale wars, but doubtless many “small wars.” The protraction of these small wars, the increase in casualty count, and the lack of progress on the ground can be avoided with the proper strategy at the start of the conflict. As long as the situation is improving at any given time, or at least as long as there is hope on the horizon that the situation will improve, the American people can be very forgiving.