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On War #34: Learning From Uncle Abe
Free Congress Foundation ^ | September 17, 2003 | William S. Lind

Posted on 09/17/2003 2:44:14 PM PDT by Chapita

One of the reasons the North won the Civil War is that President Lincoln was willing to sack incompetent generals and President Davis was not. Some recent remarks by the American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, suggest that it is time for President Bush to emulate Mr. Lincoln.

According to the Sept. 7 Cleveland Plain Dealer, during Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's recent visit to Iraq, General Sanchez said, "There is no risk at the tactical, operational or strategic level... A platoon out of any one of my battalions could defeat the threat, readily."

The first of these statements is patently false, while the second suggests a breathtaking ignorance about how war is fought. American troops face tactical risk every time they venture out of their compounds, as photos of burning American Humvees and trucks show almost daily. While counts vary, it seems American forces are facing about fifteen attacks on an average day, some of which leave American soldiers dead or wounded. I suspect General Sanchez's assurance that they face "no tactical risk" was received by American troops in Iraq about as well as General Haig's repeated assurances to British troops in World War I that the next "big push" would win the war.

The risk on the operational level is more subtle. It is true that the Iraqis no longer have any capability to undertake operational maneuver. But the guerilla war they have launched faces U.S. forces with a serious operational threat, the same threat that defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan. The risk is that we will find it impossible to operationalize the war at all, because the enemy will possess no centers of gravity that can be targeted by operational maneuver. As the war becomes increasingly a Fourth Generation conflict, this risk will increase; Fourth Generation forces tend to have centers of gravity such as God, against whom not even M-1 tanks have demonstrated much capability. If we cannot operationalize the conflict, we will be forced into a war of attrition at the tactical level, again like the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The risk is greatest of all at the strategic level, because it is at the strategic level where we are most likely to suffer outright defeat. If a spreading and intensifying guerilla war raises American casualties beyond a level the American public will tolerate, we will be defeated. If the war in Iraq greatly strengthens our real enemies, non-state Islamic actors such as al Qaeda, we will suffer strategic defeat (and this is already happening). If the war in Iraq so delegitimizes pro-American regimes in key Moslem countries such as Pakistan, Egypt or Saudi Arabia that they are overthrown, we will have suffered strategic defeat. Far from there being "no risk" at the strategic level, it is more likely that America will be defeated at that level than that she will win.

General Sanchez's other remark, that "a platoon out of any one of my battalions could defeat the threat, readily," suggests that he fails to pass the Gilbert & Sullivan test: he knows no more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery. If the Iraqi guerillas fought us in open combat, fighting the way we fight but without our vast fire support, General Sanchez would be correct. But why should anyone expect them to do that? They will fight as guerrillas always fight, hitting us where and when we least expect it, then running away. All the Moslems know how their ancestors defeated the Crusaders. When the Crusaders, clad in heavy plate armor, mounted their massive Belgian horses and charged, the Saracens got out of the way. That night, when the Crusaders had taken off their armor and were sitting around the campfire, the Moslems snuck up and shot in some arrows. That is exactly how the Iraqis and the Afghans will fight us.

General Sanchez's comments suggest he should be given the Halleck Award and quietly sent home. It is of course possible that he knew what he was saying was nonsense, but also knew that it would please Mr. Rumsfeld. In that case, he should get the Braxton Bragg Medal, with kneepads and oak leaf cluster. The one thing worse than an incompetent commander is an incompetent commander who knows how to kiss ass.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: militarycompetency; operational; risks; strategic; tactical
This is a developement I haven't heard of anywhere else!
1 posted on 09/17/2003 2:44:25 PM PDT by Chapita
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To: Chapita
The "North" did not win the Civil War; the United States Army and the United States Navy won the Civil War.
2 posted on 09/17/2003 2:46:29 PM PDT by Grand Old Partisan (You can read about my history of the GOP at
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To: Chapita
**************** Although Mr. Lind's "On War" commentaries are published independently of the Free Congress Foundation, we are assisting him in distribution and media relations. If you would like to interview Mr. Lind, please let me be of assistance.

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The Free Congress Foundation is a 26-year-old Washington, DC-based conservative think tank, that teaches people how to be effective in the political process, advocates judicial reform, promotes cultural conservatism, and works against the government encroachment of individual liberties.

3 posted on 09/17/2003 2:50:56 PM PDT by Chapita
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To: Chapita
By risk, the General most likely meant risk of defeat. Even at the tactical level, that's not going to happen. Taking causualites is not the same as being defeated. However at the strategic level, the General is wrong, with their allies, witting or unwitting, in the media and the Democratic party (and a few on the right as well), the enemy, could indeed still end up with a strategic victory.

They would do it the same way, and on the same "battlefield" as the North Vietnamese. They never won an operational or strategic victory on the battlefield, nor even a tactical much beyond the small unit level, against American forces. Nonetheless they won the war.

4 posted on 09/17/2003 2:56:15 PM PDT by El Gato (Federal Judges can twist the Constitution into anything.. Or so they think.)
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To: Chapita
Oh boy. This is high risk thread. Will it stay on topic or degenerate into civil war argument?
5 posted on 09/17/2003 2:56:35 PM PDT by Huck
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To: Chapita
The author is an idiot. Warfare is about risk, and not about individual soldiers. It is only about winning. Iraqi citizens should consider themselves lucky that America will not (yet) do whatever is necessary to insure the safety of our troops. We are not imposing Marshall Law in Iraq, but we could if we wished to.

The General was correct in his statement.

A true leader of men is not going to pay any attention to public sentiment about casualties and continue to do the job at hand. The public wants a winner, not another spineless politician leading them in war.

6 posted on 09/17/2003 3:03:32 PM PDT by Pukin Dog (Sans Reproache)
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To: Huck
Seems as though not many remember the Cold War!
7 posted on 09/17/2003 3:19:46 PM PDT by Chapita
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To: Chapita
But the guerilla war they have launched faces U.S. forces with a serious operational threat, the same threat that defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan

Lind is an idiot.The Soviets could not move out of any city without facing almost continuous attack. The so called "guerilla war" in Iraq is the work probably less than a thousand men, who mainly set off remote control bombs because they know an RPG attack is likely to result in an extremely low life-expectancy.

We run 500+ convoys a day throughout Iraq, and the current pace of 10-15 attacks a day is well less than 20-25 attacks in July. Sanchez is right: a platoon of mech infantry is, in fact, not only capable of beating off any current attack but of inflicting disproportionate causualties in response.

8 posted on 09/17/2003 5:14:12 PM PDT by pierrem15
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To: Chapita

Lind is a freaking idiot.

Sanchez is correct. I have been pounding the table over and over again with the argument that a trained infantry platoon, skippered by an able lieutenant and held together by a seasoned first sergeant, can pound guerrillas into the ground. It was true in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Phillipines, and yes, even in Vietnam.

You will all notice that we aren't taking the kind of casualties in September that we took in June and July? Change of tactics. Infantry oriented patrolling oriented towards agressive engagement of the Wahabists. Works wonders. We were losing three to five men a week before.

Be Seeing You,


9 posted on 09/17/2003 5:20:21 PM PDT by section9 (To read my blog, click on the Major!)
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