Does America Have the Sustained Will to Win at Post-Modern Warfare?

Bryan Preston, of JunkYardBlog, is one of the guest bloggers on Michelle Malkin’s site and he has posted a very important piece on the American mindset regarding our battle against Islamofascists in the War on Terror:

The war we are fighting, the one that includes Iraq as a theatre of combat but encompasses a second theatre in Afghanistan and many smaller ones in Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere, is a post-modern war. That is this war’s one striking similarity to the Cold War, of which Vietnam was a theatre we happened to lose without losing a single battle. How did we lose that theatre without losing any battles? Can the same thing happen again today?
We lost Vietnam because it was the first post-modern war theatre, and we failed to appreciate that. One man did appreciate it, though, but unfortunately for us he commanded the other side. His name was General Vo Nguyen Giap, and he commanded the North Vietnamese army from the 1950s through the 1970s. In that time he defeated in succession France (at that time a world power), the United States (a superpower) and China (a rising regional power). The latter is especially interesting–Giap studied infowar under Mao Zedong in the 1930s…Giap managed to defeat three nations whose military capabilities were vastly superior to his own. He may have been the 20th Century’s most intelligent general.
How did Giap do it? In short, he discovered how to make his own troops expendable proxies, while he waged the actual war in the mind of his opponent. With the US, he discovered that we are unbeatable in combat but we are political hemophiliacs. Prick us in just the right spot, and we will bleed ourselves to death. The facts on the battlefield become secondary to the facts as we perceive them, whether those perceptions are accurate or not. The Tet Offensive was Giap’s greatest show of post-modern warfare. It was an unmitigated disaster for his own troops, who were slaughtered all across Vietnam during that uprising. But it crystallized in the US political mind as a defeat for us that presaged inevitable defeat in the war itself, thanks mostly to the way the anti-war movement and the media portrayed Tet. Giap went on to lose Tet and every other battle after it, but he won the war. He won with a post-modern war strategy, the only type of strategy that can defeat us.
Principally, he played to the US anti-war movement, using it as a psychological nuclear weapon to devastate our will to fight…Absent a coherent counter message coming from our own leadership at the time, through the Johnson and Nixon administrations, Giap’s message prevailed…We won every battle but the one that mattered most–the one that took place in the American mind.
It can happen again today. We premised this war not so much on a nation’s right of self-defense as on our moral superiority over the enemy. We do happen to be morally superior to Osama bin Laden and his head-chopping henchmen, but our war premise had the effect of leaving us vulnerable to any flimsy charge either the caliphascist enemy or the anti-American agitators in the West could throw at us, and they have managed to throw quite a lot at us: Abu Ghraib, false allegations of mistreatment at Gitmo, old charges of US crimes in the MidEast, our support for Israel, whatever small offense or canard our enemies could come up with. Once our moral superiority is punctured, our rationale for war loses much of its steam. And absent a coherent and consistent counter message from our own leadership, the enemy’s narrative begins to take hold: We’re bogged down in a fruitless war in Iraq, we should never have invaded in the first place, our leaders are liars, etc.
We’re not getting that coherent and consistent message from the Bush administration. The facts are available, but we’re getting a muddle of same-old same-old and platitudes instead of a sustained morale-building information campaign. David Frum is sounding the alarm that we’re in trouble in the post-modern aspects of the war, and I hope the White House gets the message…

Power Line offers a related and valuable commentary, including these words:

…The sins of the news media in reporting on Iraq are mainly sins of omission. Not only do news outlets generally fail to report the progress that is being made, and often fail to put military operations into any kind of tactical or strategic perspective, they assiduously avoid talking about the overarching strategic reason for our involvement there: the Bush administration’s conviction that the only way to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, long term, is to help liberate the Arab countries so that their peoples’ energies will be channelled into the peaceful pursuits of free enterprise and democracy, rather than into bizarre ideologies and terrorism. Partly this omission is due to laziness or incomprehension, but I think it is mostly attributable to the fact that if the media acknowledged that reforming the Arab world, in order to drain the terrorist swamp, has always been the principal purpose of the Iraq war, it would take the sting out of their “No large stockpiles of WMDs!” theme.
One wonders how past wars could have been fought if news reporting had consisted almost entirely of a recitation of casualties. The D-Day invasion was one of the greatest organizational feats ever achieved by human beings, and one of the most successful. But what if the only news Americans had gotten about the invasion was that 2,500 allied soldiers died that day, with no discussion of whether the invasion was a success or a failure, and no acknowledgement of the huge strategic stakes that were involved? Or what if such news coverage had continued, day by day, through the entire Battle of Normandy, with Americans having no idea whether the battle was being won or lost, but knowing only that 54,000 Allied troops had been killed by the Germans?…
We are conducting an experiment never before seen, as far as I know, in the history of the human race. We are trying to fight a war under the auspices of an establishment that is determined–to put the most charitable face on it–to emphasize American casualties over all other information about the war.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to state the obvious: being a soldier is a dangerous thing. This is why we honor our service members’ courage. For a soldier, sailor or Marine, “courage” isn’t an easily-abused abstraction–“it took a lot of courage to vote against the farm bill”–it’s a requirement of the job.
Even in peacetime. The media’s breathless tabulation of casualties in Iraq–now, over 1,800 deaths–is generally devoid of context. Here’s some context: between 1983 and 1996, 18,006 American military personnel died accidentally in the service of their country. That death rate of 1,286 per year exceeds the rate of combat deaths in Iraq by a ratio of nearly two to one.
That’s right: all through the years when hardly anyone was paying attention, soldiers, sailors and Marines were dying in accidents, training and otherwise, at nearly twice the rate of combat deaths in Iraq from the start of the war in 2003 to the present. Somehow, though, when there was no political hay to be made, I don’t recall any great outcry, or gleeful reporting, or erecting of crosses in the President’s home town…
The point? Being a soldier is not safe, and never will be…they never will be safe, in peacetime, let alone wartime.
…We would all prefer that our soldiers never be required to fight. Everyone–most of all, every politician–much prefers peace to war. But when our enemies fly airplanes into our skyscrapers; attack the nerve center of our armed forces; bomb our embassies; scheme to blow up our commercial airliners; try to assassinate our former President; do their best to shoot down our military aircraft; murder our citizens; assassinate our diplomats overseas; and attack our naval vessels–well, then, the time has come to fight. And when the time comes to fight, our military personnel are ready. They don’t ask to be preserved from all danger. They know their job is dangerous; they knew that when they signed up. They are prepared to face the risk, on our behalf. All they ask is to be allowed to win.
It is, I think, a reasonable request…

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Anchor Rising
18 years ago

More on American Will to Win a War

To amplify Don’s previous post, read what Max Borders has to say in a column over at TCS. He labels it “Vietnam Syndrome” and echoes many of the points mentioned by both Preston and Frum. He also has some of…

Thomas J. Jackson
Thomas J. Jackson
18 years ago

Great article and great analysis but I feel the answer is a simple one. If the cause is great enough to commit troops to it is important enough to declare war for. Once such a declaration has been made the anti war crowd can’t carry on without the charge of treason. It also allows the US to wage total war. The US just isn’t serous about war and hasn’t been since WWII.

Kunal Mukherjee
Kunal Mukherjee
18 years ago

The underlying premise in Bryan Peston’s blog, America’s moral superiority over the rest of the world, is the main reason why America tends to lose wars despite winning battles. Many years back, George Kennan, the architect of the successful containment strategy which ultimately bested the Communist block had warned that America should desist from preaching to the world when sunk in its rootlessness, lack of a family culture, obscene consumerism, it did not have the energy or mental wherewithal to understand others living on this beautiful planet. “It shall never understand”, was what he said. The world is not divided into good and bad guys. All guys everywhere are grey. The Ramboic urge to go and kick butt everywhere has been the main reason for the tragic 9/11 event. I say this with great sadness because I have a host of near relatives who are Americans including my brother and sister. Sad that the leaders and opinionmakers of such a warm hearted, talented and innovative people have not been able to understand, indeed not attempted to understand, the undercurrents of different cultures. Blaming American journalists for highlighting the body count will not solve the problem. Indeed their efforts need to be lauded as a civilised act arising from the sensitivity of a growing number of Americans to the senselessness of attempts to impose American values on one of the oldest civilisations of the world – the Mesopotamian- which later spawned the Pan Arab culture. Surely there were a large number of eminent candidates whose butt deserved to be kicked before taking on Iraq. Iraq had a modicum of secularism and tolerance, respect for women’s rights, fair governance even though it was a dictatorship. Can we say the same about Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Pakistan, Libya et al? Iraq was in… Read more »

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