“As our generals have said, the war cannot be won militarily. It must be won politically.”
Some generals may have said that, but it’s wrong. It’s what is said by generals who love to train and parade and buy expensive weapons systems and then retire to cushy jobs at Lockheed. The fact is we have to win both militarily and politically.
We have to learn to fight and win a war against terrorist and insurgent groups. If we have a military that can’t win this kind of war, then Iraq will be only the first of many defeats–Afghanistan, Jordan and Pakistan will soon follow. What would prevent that?
Conservatives have come to love the idea of the military more than the actual military. Now, May is right that the US military isn’t particularly well constructed to fight this kind of war, and that at least some of the blame for failure in Iraq lies at the feet of senior military personnel. It would have been great, however, if someone on the Right had made this analysis prior to 2001. Since the end of the Vietnam War, conservatives in the United States have pursued what must be understood as a pro-military propaganda strategy. Beginning with Caspar Weinberger and the Weinberger doctrine, they facilitated and enabled the US Army narrative which said that the primary responsibility for the defeat in Vietnam lay with (Democratic) politicians. This was great, as far as it went; it helped restore morale within the military, and helped the Republicans to win elections by painting their Democratic opponents as weak, meddling, pacifist traitors.
It was not, however, conducive to healthy civil-military relations, or to the construction of a set of military organizations capable of fighting the kinds of conflicts the United States was likely to fight. Enabled by this narrative, the services turned further away from the kind of low intensity conflict seen in Vietnam and toward a high intensity model that had little applicability in the post-Cold War world. Because support of the military became so deeply embedded in a particularly Repbublican form of patriotism, cricitism of the military became akin to criticism of America itself. The Democrats are not innocent in this; to say that Bill Clinton treated the military with kid gloves is a grave understatement.
The chickens, so to speak, have come home to roost. Left to its own devices, the Pentagon has constructed a doctrinal and material edifice wholly unsuited to the challenges of the War on Terror. The most valuable political insight that American conservatives have offered is that large governmental bureaucracies are unwieldy, inefficient, and often unable to accomplish their goals. For the last 35 years, however, an article of faith among conservatives has been that this insight ought never to be applied to the US military, the largest bureaucracy in the Federal Government. Since 2001, Don Rumsfeld and his lackies have discovered that, no matter how many one-stars and two-stars you fire, the US military is too large of an institution to be turned on a dime. Like any bureaucracy, it includes entrenched interests that resist change. It cannot transform itself, will not transform itself, at the command of a few arrogant and irritable civilians.
And so they complain, and they blame, and they point fingers, and they manage to forget that the monster is of their own creation.