Current American warfighting doctrine is based largely on the successes of fast-strike campaigns such as the Nazi’s Blitzkrieg of WW2, Patton’s 3rd-Army charge across France and more recent charges to the Iraqi border in 1992 and to Baghdad in 2003. Built on the Euro-centric idea that a force will quit the field when told to by its deposed leadership, this strategy may be less-than-useless in facing a non-European enemy.
The opposite strategy, employed on the largest scale in modern times by General Eisenhower in WW2 in the European Theater of Operations, was the Broad Front Strategy. Rather than a lightning strike to Berlin to cut off the head of the Nazis, this strategy consisted of a broad, sweeping front, rolling up the German armies as they fought in the field, killing tens of thousands more men – on both sides – as he steadily worked his way to Berlin.
Sixty years on this strategy is seen by many as the greatest moral failure of the West – ever, taking as it did, eight months and hundreds of thousands more deaths than unleashing Patton to drive to Berlin.
But was it?
One can make the argument that a strategy of killing as many of the enemy as possible while still in the field is far more moral than cutting off the head and letting the enemy fester – and go on killing you for years. This is the result of the lightning strike made by America forces into Baghdad – and it may be the wrong way to fight a war.
The nature of our military, from training to organization to equipment, is bent on fast – very fast – killing of the enemy and taking of strategic targets. Current professional writing suggests that we need to develop an ability to close with and kill the enemy even more quickly – as it is the camera of the media, not the ability of the enemy soldier that now determines the outcome of America’s wars.
Certainly we have proven that our precision airpower and mechanized infantry forces can sweep aside any enemy and close with the political leadership in amazingly short amounts of time. But has that capability, has this lightning-fast-strike capacity increased the success of our wars?
And the answer to that is quite obviously – “No.”
In the past 100 years, America has been involved in two major wars, four minor wars and countless smaller engagements of a handful of battles or fewer. Of these wars, WW2 was an uncontestable victory, WW1 an incomplete triumph seen by one side (Allies) as a victory, but by the other side as merely an acquiescence to President Wilson’s 14 Points; in short, not a defeat. Of the four minor wars, we tied in Korea, lost in Vietnam, and won in Kuwait and Iraq. Or did we?
In looking at the use of speed in the strategies in the various wars, what was the effect?
Following MacArthur’s landing at Inchon, we sped up the peninsula, but, when confronted with masses of enemy soldiers at China’s entry into the war, sped right back down the peninsula – for we lacked the usable means to kill enemy soldiers at the rate necessary to offset our disadvantage in numbers and supply lines. The war resulted in a tie.
In Vietnam our political and military leadership never figured out why we were there, if they wanted to win, what winning would mean, let alone how to go about it. By the time anyone wanted to talk seriously about anything, it was time to talk about coming home. If there was any strategy at all – other than not winning – it is not discernible. Absent a strategy, though we won every single battle, we lost the war.
In Kuwait the speed tactics were used to good effect. But what was the strategy? Were we at war? Combat, sure. But war has a political objective; it is a continuation of politics by other means. What were our political goals? Did we have any?
At best, this was a penal expedition, punishing Iraq for invading another country. It was not a war to change behavior – the goal of war – but to slap a hand for reaching across a recognized international boundary.
Combat arms were used punitively to chase an invader back home. No strategic goal was defined, set or reached. No action other than telling the invader to go home – forcefully, to be sure – was taken.
At a strategic level it was laughable – the most powerful military in the history of the known universe taking months to deploy and then weeks to drive a few miles northward a fourth-rate power undisciplined in its training and deployment, unschooled in modern doctrine.
Iraq? Conservatives hate to liken this to Vietnam, but no other military deployment provides a comparison.
Deciding not to win we are suffering an attrition strategy – attrition this time by the media; Not only taking too long to achieve our goals (what were they?) but seemingly incapable of understanding the kind of war we are fighting – and that the goal of war is changing the opposition and forcing it to behave as we like.
And here is where the strongest evidence exists that Eisenhower’s Broad Front strategy was correct:
Had Bush employed a Broad Front strategy rather than a quick sweep to Baghdad, both the Iraqis and the Americans would be better off today.
If the goal was to A) change behavior, and, B) to introduce Democracy, then a strategy to destroy in the field the Iraqi Army, and young men who ultimately became terrorists killing Americans and Iraqis, would have been more efficient in achieving that goal.
In introducing Democracy, it is necessary to have order first – so that people can feel safe as their government changes around them. Killing the Army and young male radicals in the field – those who took up arms against us – would have enabled a goal of introducing democracy much more quickly and efficiently than a swift cut-the-head-off strategy that left thousands of these people alive only to kill Americans and Iraqis later – and to this day.
Instead, we took the approach to cut off the head as quickly as possible, leaving the army and assorted other killers in the field to – – well, to kill Americans, which they have been doing for a few years now.
Had we carpet-bombed Iraq as we did Germany or Japan, we would be much farther ahead in our goal of introducing democracy. Had we killed thousands more Iraqis in the field we would not have them killing us today. Had we acted as though we had been at war – destroying buildings from which shots were fired at our troops as we did in WW2, had we used the forces and weapons (sans nuclear; more on that in another post), we could have ended this much faster and at much lower cost to our military – and to the average Joe citizen in Iraq, as well.
What about collateral damage? About the thousands – or tens of thousands – of Iraqis who would’ve been killed in such a campaign? Same answer as for the hundreds of thousands or millions of Germans and Japanese civilians who died as we carpet-bombed their cities to end the rule of their murderous leaders:
If you let a cancer fester within your cities and countryside, don’t be surprised if killing it kills you, as well. You, too, have a responsibility to treat humans with regard. If you absolve yourself of that responsibility by allowing terrorists to kill others without qualm, if you allow others to live among you who will deal death and destruction to innocents, don’t be surprised if you are killed removing the pestilence you allowed.
That’s THEIR problem, not OURS.
Those who don’t understand that war is not neat and clean, that PGMs (smart bombs) are tools to kill decidedly small sites for specific reasons (killing anti-aircraft artillery, for instance), but decidedly NOT weapons of war, can either complain and whine, or grow up to see war for what it is: Brutal, hard, ruthless – – and often inescapable.
And if war is not approached ruthlessly, it is a lethal joke. If one is not serious about the political change required, one does not go to war. If one is serious, one takes war seriously – and kills the enemy.
War is not about talking – it is about killing until the enemy surrenders – unconditionally. Mixing the two notions only gets more of your own guys killed.
It is intriguing as a side note, that those most vocal about being against the use of force are also those most passionate about “multiculturalism.” Since some cultures only respect force, a true multiculturalist would understand this – and give them all the force they desire. Since “Islam” means, “Submission,” and since one submits to force, a multicultural understanding of our opponent would be to apply as much force as we can to cause the behavioral change that is the purpose of war.
As the American Military reviews doctrine following this war, perhaps Eisenhower’s Broad Front Strategy will be seen for the valuable tool it was in destroying the opposition in the field, rather than allowing it to fester long after its leaders have been cut-down. But probably not, to the detriment of our warriors in our future “wars.”
We should have killed the Iraqis – Army and terrorists – in the field in a broad-front strategy rather than striking quickly at Baghdad.
Iraq would be farther along toward democracy and peace – and we would be farther along in coming home.
And we need to take this into consideration in future conflicts. Faster is not always better. Maximizing the destruction of the bad guys – killing as many as possible – is.