Saturday, June 20, 2009

Warfare -- wise and foolish tactics and strategies

[See Michael Kuznetsov's note below mine]


In my earlier notes on warfare, I was referring to strategy and not tactics. It is often the case that a tactical decision is made to send an inferior force against a superior one as a delaying action. One thinks of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans delaying the Persian force at Thermopylae. There are many other such examples in military history.

Strategically, Persia had the superior army and believed it was attacking an inferior army, or armies, when it attacked Greece. That Persia was not successful was due to a variety of reasons, but Persia was acting in accordance with the hard-wiring for warfare that Leblanc speaks of. It believed it was up against a numerically inferior force and would win. The larger number usually wins, as we know, and when it doesn't it is the result of poor leadership, poor choice of terrain, bad weather, etc.

The individual soldier is inherently the same throughout the world. Differences arise because of training, tradition, and technology. The Spartans at Thermopylae were much better trained than all but a few of the Persian forces. They also had a tradition that made them very difficult to vanquish.

When I read of French forces refusing to fight in certain battles in World War One, for example, I don't feel critical of the individual soldier. I am quite sure the individual French soldier was and is as competent as the solders of any other nationality. Instead I fault the French leadership at the time. The French, Germans and British were fighting a "war of attrition." Soldiers will go to certain death if there is a good reason for doing so. The French, British and Germans in World War One didn't have a good reason. The French leadership thought it was good to send soldiers with fixed bayonets against German machine guns. It must have been very difficult for the French soldier to grasp the sense of that. The French refusal, in my opinion was the fault of faulty leadership and faulty strategy and tactics.

The French exhibited poor leadership again at Dien Bien Phu. The French soldiers fought heroically, but that isn't enough if leadership is inadequate or inept.

Eisenhower had a poor opinion of the French soldier after World War One and believed American forces would do better in Vietnam than the French ones. He was mistaken. Also, the American tactics were as inadequate as the French ones. The Americans moved their World-War-Two tactics, tanks and all, into the Vietnamese jungles and did poorly – well not exactly poorly. They were not defeated in pitched battles as the French were, but the Vietnamese used tactics the Americans were not expecting and the adjustment was slow.

The American forces should have understood asymmetric warfare. They used it against the British in their Revolutionary war. But they didn't make an adequate adjustment in Vietnam.

The same thing can be said about the Russians in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was Russia's exposure to asymmetric warfare. The Russians made the same tactical errors the Americans did. I think the last time this subject came up Michael took comfort in the fact that the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan with more dignity than the Americans did from Vietnam. Yes, that was true. America as the great haven for immigrants tried to take as many away with them as possible, but more wanted to come, and the Americans couldn't take them all. It was a chaotic time. The Russians, probably didn't take many Afghan allies with them when they returned to Russia. Their return would of course have been more orderly.

The Obama administration may have "counted the cost" relative to both North Korea and Iran. It has calculated that while it may have many more than 10,000 men, they are over-extended, and the country, not to mention its current leadership, is not inclined at present to engage in a new war. It has seen North Korea and Iran coming from a "long way off" and is suing for peace.

For America to decide to use military force to accomplish its international goals it must have leadership willing to use that force. Obama is at least willing to continue in Iraq until the Iraqis are more self-sustaining. Also, he has made Afghanistan his own special project. He is not facing the same situation that the Russians did – at least I don't think he is. The USSR at the time was trying to establish a Communist-type government in Afghanistan. The US at the present time isn't attempting that. It is trying to establish a stable government capable of opposing the local Islamists, the Taliban. Most of Afghanistan is in favor of that, if I understand the situation correctly.

But it isn't just Afghanistan that Obama will have to deal with. The Islamists go back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan with impunity. And Obama is willing to bomb Islamists even if they go into Pakistan.

And if I were asked to choose a single trouble spot for America to resolve today, I would favor the Afghan-Pakistan area that Obama has committed US forces to. It represents more danger than Iran does. And while anything can happen in that psychotic nation called North Korea, the trouble there has been abetted by South Korea, Japan and China. The onus is on those nations, more than on the US, to solve the North Korean problem. Yes, the North Koreans are addressing their bluster against the US, but we are doing very little to oppose them. Checking their ships may hurt their feelings, but it is not direct military action. And if North Korea decides to take direct military action, it will be against South Korea which has until recently favored diplomatic ploys such as the "Sunshine Policy."

We shouldn't abandon South Korea and Japan, but the North Korean onus is not on us as it is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It isn't even on us to that extent in Iran. Europe and Russia both favor a diplomatic solution in Iran, and Obama is more than willing to go along with that.

Obama's "strategy" in Afghanistan and Pakistan is limited: Get the Taliban out of Afghanistan. His authority for chasing the Taliban out of Afghanistan is clearer than for dealing with it after it crosses into Pakistan. Harking back to Stephen Peter Rosen who in "Blood Brothers, the Dual Origins of American Bellicosity" argued that while the Scots-Irish are always willing to fight, the Puritans need proper authorization. So what is our "authorization" for bombing Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Pakistan? I'm sure our Puritans can understand as well as our Scots-Irish that an Islamist-controlled Pakistan would be a worst-case scenario in this modern world. These are the same people that brought us 9/11. Do we want them to be in control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons? Obama might have to make a decision about American military action if the Pakistani military were to lose control there. Would he "count the cost" and figure he could defeat the Taliban and their allies in Pakistan?

I'm sure Obama would prefer not having to formally go to war in Pakistan, but "counting the cost" would need to be considered from another standpoint than that described in Luke 14. Can we afford the cost of a nuclear-armed Taliban and Al Qaeda? Obama seems willing to accept a nuclear-armed Iran, but would he accept an Islamist Pakistan?

We worry about what Israel might do if Iran is on the cusp of obtaining nuclear weapons, but what would India do if that became true of an Islamist force in Pakistan. Yes, Pakistan is already hostile to India, but it represents the old hostility that was there before the partition. The new hostility bombs women and children and is, in terms of modern civilization, insane. Will India accept an insane Pakistan? Will we?

Here is an article published today, June 20th in the Pakistan publication "Dawn": It was written by Pevez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani intellectual, who attempts to strike a positive note about Pakistan's future, but I don't believe he succeeded.

Lawrence Helm

Michael Kuznetsov has left a new comment on your post "Warfare -- Will a weak nation attack a strong one?...":


I feel satisfied and relieved with your explanation.
Evidently, I must have failed to understand you in full measure regarding the alleged "American idea to permanently attack the weak."

So, I can now say that my esteem toward the American people is restored, which fact is rather comforting for my Russian Soul:-)

I will try to continue our interesting and helpful exchange of opinions as soon as possible.



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