Magazine article USA TODAY

A Losing Cause

Magazine article USA TODAY

A Losing Cause

Article excerpt

IN APPROXIMATELY three years, the U.S. and its allies won World War II, attaining total victory over Japan and Germany's military might. Except for beating back the Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1991, we have won nothing since. While fighting in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we expended massive treasure and spent thousands upon thousands of precious lives. We fought three years in Korea. Then it was 10 years in Vietnam, almost a decade in Iraq, and now another 10 years-plus in Afghanistan. The U.S. is the strongest country in the world. Why have we not seen clear and decisive victories?

Let us be clear about the American military: it unquestionably is the finest and strongest in the world, and has been since WWII. Might is not the problem. However, where do we send our forces? What situations do we put them in? What goals do we set for them? Once engaged with an enemy, do we, as a country, facilitate their ability to perform and achieve victory, or do we somehow prohibit them from winning?

The U.S. military is under civilian leadership and control, which is as it should be. Civilian leadership determines whether, when, and where combat forces are committed. To be sure, the military is involved in deciding location and timing once the decision to fight has been made. Once that decision is in place, the politicians need to step aside and retreat to a position of oversight. That is not happening to the degree it should. Civilians restrict where and how our forces can move. They then go about pushing generals out of the way and severely limiting combat effectiveness by interfering with or preventing certain tactics--all the way down to the small unit combat level.

It began in Korea when Gen. Douglas MacArthur wanted to destroy the bridges over the Yalu River to prevent a massive move of Chinese Communist troops into South Korea. He was denied permission, ostensibly because doing so might provoke Communist China. Shortly afterward, hundreds of thousands of Communist troops poured across those bridges, inflicting thousands of casualties on U.S. and South Korean forces.

That was the first of the Washington directives that said, in effect, "You go in there and fight, but only according to the rules we give you." Thus began the U.S.'s timid approach to war. Such thinking was elevated to an art form in Vietnam and is prevalent today.

There are problems with those types of policies. The first has to do with how, where, and why American combat forces are committed. It is poor policy to commit combat forces in foreign countries as policemen or under the guise of fighting another country's war. In Vietnam, we won the battles (yes, even Tet) but gave away the war. Limited war does not work. Our country never should commit forces anywhere unless it intends to fight and win. We won WWII because we said we would. We insisted on unconditional surrender and were determined to accept nothing less.

Washington wants the world to think well of the U.S. It appears the politicians are more concerned about how our country is perceived than they are for the safety of our troops. Once those politicians commit our military forces to combat, they set about trying to keep other countries from being angry at us. This is evident by such limited-war policies as forbidding our forces to cross certain lines and borders. Our enemy can camp within sight and we cannot pursue and engage them because they are across a line on the ground? That has been the policy for so long that it now is standard procedure. Such policy might make sense in diplomatic matters but, for the troops on the ground, it does not work. Such handicaps prolong wars and cost lives.

What will happen the next time we come up against an enemy force as large and as sophisticated as our own? We will lose, and it will not be the now-accepted military stalemate and we go-home kind of loss. Our country and our way of life will be taken from us. …

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