Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Losing is not just thinkable -- it is a fact

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic photo

It's hard for most people in the United States, even dedicated peace activists, to comprehend the one simple truth: the US is currently losing -- actually has lost -- two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We just can't take it in. We've got all the high tech weapons; we're the biggest and meanest giant on the planet; we're the richest society around spending enormous sums on a war-fighting apparatus full of smart, dedicated people -- how can we be losing militarily? It must be a mistake; maybe George W. and Rummy were just incompetent.

In fact, the U.S. is repeating a pattern here, one that has existed since the U.S. emerged as top empire after World War II. One of the best historical dissections of the U.S.'s Vietnam debacle is James William Gibson's The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. Gibson made a nuanced argument that capitalist development in the U.S. ensured that our leaders and military were mesmerized by their technological capacity into believing that they could override any political obstacle to their plans for Southeast Asia by applying sophisticated technology. A few choice quotes give the flavor of Gibson's analysis:

Bicycles cannot "beat" cars and trucks and planes and railroads. But in 1954, the Vietnamese beat the French in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Thousands of peasants cut trails through jungles and across mountains; thousands more dug tunnels close to French fortifications; thousands more walked alongside bicycles loaded with supplies for the Vietminh army. ...At the time, the French were amazed at their loss. The Americans were similarly amazed years later. They did not learn from the French because they thought the French simply did not have enough tools of war. ...

Gibson quotes Henry Kissinger writing in the Vietnam era:

'A scientific revolution has, for all practical purposes removed technical limits from the exercise of power in foreign policy.' ...

And he describes a study by a U.S. military analyst, Stephen D. Westbrook, who was trying to fathom how the United States could have been tossed out by the technologically inferior Vietnamese forces:

Major Westbrook compared 'unit readiness' in the United States Army to the readiness of the People's Army of Vietnam. He found that in heavy equipment the American military totally dominated the NVA. The NVA's victory then was the result of categories not conceptualized by the American military ...

Gibson goes on to point out that because losing the war to technological inferiors seemed impossible, aside from a few serious military historians, both military and politicians sought to blame civilian authorities for "exercising self-imposed restraint" in killing enough Vietnamese. The Vietnamese might beg to differ.

These days, an historians of Vietnam, Gabriel Kolko, is trying once again to explain how the U.S. could be losing wars to technologically inferior enemies in interviews in Der Spiegel here and here.

The US is losing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the very same reasons it lost all of its earlier conflicts. It has the manpower and firepower advantage, as always, but these are ultimately irrelevant in the medium- and long-run. ...

Wars are more determined by socio-economic and political factors than any other, and this was true long before the US attempted to regulate the world's affairs. Political conflicts are not solved by military interventions, and that they are often incapable of being resolved by political or peaceful means does not alter the fact that force is dysfunctional. This is truer today than ever with the spread of weapons technology.

Against a determined enemy, technology doesn't necessarily prevail even at the operational level:

Many in the American military have learned the fundamental dilemma of modern warfare: More money and better weapons don't mean that you win. IEDs, which cost so little to make, are defeating a military which spends billions of dollars per month. IEDS are so adaptable that each new strategy developed by the United States to counter them is answered by the Iraqi insurgents.

The Israelis were also never quite able to counter IEDs. One report quotes an Israeli military engineer who said the Israeli answer to IEDs was frequently the use of armored bulldozers to effectively rip away the top 18 inches of pavement and earth where explosive devices might be hidden. This is fantastic, as the cost of winning means destroying roads, which form the basis of a modern economy.

He concludes:

Washington refuses to heed this lesson of modern history.

Even though our rulers don't get it, it is important that the peace movement understand and proclaim loudly that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are well and truly "lost." We owe it to the suffering people of those countries who bear the vast preponderance of the pain. We owe it to U.S. grunts who are getting killed to disguise the loss so that politicians (and generals) now in power can push blame off onto future rulers. We owe it to ourselves, because unless we can ensure a true history of these debacles, we'll just live them again.

Knowing that these are lost wars -- wars that no new tactics, or "surges", or even redesigned new armored personnel carriers, are going to "win" -- clarifies that all the arguments about "responsible phased withdrawal" are just hot air. U.S. military forces aren't doing anything in Iraq or Afghanistan but killing and dying -- the meaning of those conflicts is already set. The U.S. launched aggressive wars and lost. Extending the killing and dying won't change a thing, but will increase human misery and U.S. guilt.


June Butler said...

They're lost, all right. How many more dead and wounded before we can bring ourselves to acknowledge the truth?

We'll chug along until Chimpy leaves office and maybe beyond without coming out and saying those very words. We have lost.

Anonymous said...

We could have won in Afghanistan, If we had put the resources we used in Iraq there, Not just millitarily. In the first years of the war peacekeepers were kept in Kabul, allowing the south to drift away.

Its such a shame because we could have won but we snatched defeat from the jaw of victory.

Anonymous said...

The problem for the US is that they don't have - and never have had - the stomach to fight a long term war. If you want to call someone "surrender monkeys", start with the US, because the French were at war with the English for 116 years; the US only attacks those they "think" they can overpower in six months.

The reality of technological dependency is that you start thinking that your soldiers don't need to die and you become squeamish over even one death. The US doesn't have the balls to fight a war of attrition. "True believers" of any extremist view, however, be they fundamentally retarded muslims or Vietnamese communists, are willing to die at ratios of 20:1 or even 100:1 just to win the war. They are willing to die in huge numbers just to lay that one bomb that works, while the US is gun shy and paranoid of attack every single second. I don't care how much technology you have, you can't win a fight if you're not willing to take a few body blows yourself.

Add to that, there's the problem of US shortsightedness. To the US public and media, scandals like Walter Reid and Scooter Libby are ancient history. To the muslims, the crusades of a thousand years ago are current events. Unless your side is willing to die, not just kill, and think in the same terms and with the same commitment to win as your opponent, you have ZERO chance of ever winning.

The only way to win an occupation is genocide (eg. the Limeys in Tasmania), but given US attitudes toward the muslims (eg. depleted Uranium, chemical weapons, murdering civilians) the only reason George Putz hasn't ordered a genocide is because he can't get away with it...yet. But he's certainly trying to rationalize it and make it possible.


Anonymous said...

Thats Funny I am in Afganistan right now and all we are doing is kicking ass. LOL I think its funny you people have no clue.
GMG2 G P McDaniel

P.S the american fighting man won in Vietnam. I blame the loss on the Left cut and running and not giving South Vietnam the suport it needed.