15 April 2004

Refusing to think is an unthinkable strategy

From the Bush press conference:

A desperate enemy is also a dangerous enemy, and our work may become more difficult before it is finished. No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead, or the costs they will bring. Yet, in this conflict, there is no safe alternative to resolute action. The consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable. Every friend of America and Iraq would be betrayed to prison and murder as a new tyranny arose. Every enemy of America and the world would celebrate, proclaiming our weakness and decadence, and using that victory to recruit a new generation of killers.

X is unthinkable is not an especially new strategy in politics or in war-making.

In Strange Victory Ernest R May writes:

Confidence that France had superiority and Germany recognised this superiority made it difficult for French and British leaders to put themselves in the place of German planners, whom Hitler had commanded to to prepare an offensive no matter what their opinions of about its wisdom or feasibility might have been. Imagination was not paralysed, far from it. Witness the the enthusiasm for opening fronts in Scandinavia or the Balkans. But the possibility that the Germans might use ingenuity to shape a surprise version of a frontal offensive seemed too fanciful for consideration.

There are about a million other examples. Let's pick one. In 1942 Singapore was impregnable. Until the Japanese did the unthinkable.

In the event, Australians discovered too late that the fundamentals of the policy upon which reliance had been placed were unsound. Britain had promised to provide a fleet for the base, whenever needed to deter Japanese aggression, initially within six weeks although this was extended to three months in 1939. When that situation finally arose in November 1941, a matter of weeks before Japan struck at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere around the Asia-Pacific region, Britain was already heavily committed in Europe and had few ships to spare. What arrived early in December was not a great fleet but a small squadron based around just two capital ships, Prince of Wales and Repulse (one very new, the other quite old). Both big ships were quickly disposed of a few days later by the Japanese in the opening hours of their invasion of Malaya.

Singapore thus remained without the fleet that was its primary rationale. Worse than this, planning for the base had called for roughly between 350 and 550 aircraft to defend it from the air. But this requirement had never been met, either in the number of aircraft provided or effective types. Despite the best efforts of Malaya's aerial defenders, including three squadrons from the Royal Australian Air Force, Singapore found itself at the mercy of an enemy that was vastly superior in air power.

Singapore is a cogent example. The fortress was built in 1921 to hold out for 70 days until the British fleet could arrive to save the day. In 1939 that was raised to 180 days, not because of anything happening in Singapore but because the British fleet was no longer available.

Continuing a bad war can be as wrong as starting bad war. The new line emerging from Bush's defenders, as quoted at Troppo Armadillo, would have us believe that although the original justification may have been bad we're there now and we have to win.

Iraq has more of the characteristics of a failed state now than it did before the invasion. The rosewater did not flow. The violence has not stopped. The economy has not significantly improved. Iraq is nowe a prime cause of terrorism. The WMDs are unfound and the prewar claims of their existence would seem unfounded. All we are left with is the war for the owrd fo the US.

Wars are not won by proclamations of resolve. that strategy failed for the US in Vietnam as it failed for the USSR in Afghanistan. At best mere talk of staying the course is magical thinking. At worst you end up with John Kerry's famous question:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

The war party's predictions in Iraq have all failed thus far. What makes a prediction of staying the course any different?

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