Monday, December 31, 2007

Bad Assumptions About Military History

In every generation and in every struggle since the founding of the United States, mistakes are made and opportunites go unexploited. Case in point, witness the Articles of Confederation and the failure of our Framers to eradicate slavery. The fact that such mistakes are made is not news nor should it be viewed as an overall failure, the greatest strength of the United States is that we learn (and usually quickly) from our mistakes. In no arena is the fact that mistakes will be made more prevalent than in war and the military. Michael Barone talks about Iraq and mistakes.
There are lessons to be learned from the dazzling success of the surge strategy in Iraq.

Lesson one is that just about no mission is impossible for the United States military. A year ago it was widely thought, not just by the new Democratic leaders in Congress but also in many parts of the Pentagon, that containing the violence in Iraq was impossible. Now we have seen it done.


George W. Bush, like Lincoln, took his time finding the right generals. But it’s clear now that the forward-moving surge strategy devised by Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno has succeeded where the stand-aside strategy employed by their predecessors failed. American troops are surely the most capable military force in history. They just need to be given the right orders.
The fact that the American military is not only the greatest fighting force ever assembled was somehow lost. The military is capable of performing just about any mission handed to it and even some that the so-called "experts" believe to be impossible. The American soldier is a master of "adapt and overcome." The failings that happen in most military struggles come not from the grunt on the ground, but from the civilian leadership. That George W. Bush and his advisors made mistakes with regard to Iraq strategy cannot be denied (but can be debated in their specifics). But once handed orders, the generals and their men salute, say "Aye, Aye Sir" and move about their mission.

Now that their mission is showing success, it is almost natural to stop and think, "Why didn't we come up with that strategy before?" The answer lies in the basics of wartime (or any real time) decision-making. Decisions are made in the very absence of the "perfect" information we have in hindsight.

As the New Year dawns, perhaps now we can move on from the America will lose dialectic and take on the idea that mistakes happen. We must learn from those mistakes and allow for the knowledge that as certainly as the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow, we will make more mistakes. It is the ability of the military, and America, to own up to and correct those mistakes, that makes the United States great. America is not perfect, but it is great.

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