Home / Robert Farley / Falluja and the Political

Falluja and the Political


This story from the Washington Post is making the rounds this morning, inspiring commentary from SullyAtriosJosh MarshallPatridiot Watch, and Henry at Crooked Timber.

The outgoing U.S. Marine Corps general in charge of western Iraq said Sunday he opposed a Marine assault on militants in the volatile city of Fallujah in April and the subsequent decision to withdraw from the city and turn over control to a security force of former Iraqi soldiers.

There’s a lot going on here that needs to be talked about, more than just the ineptitude of the Bush administration. It looks as if the administration ordered the (possibly) ill-advised assault on Falluja, then shortly thereafter ordered the (certainly) ill-advised retreat from Falluja. These actions have led to radicalization of Falluja, to the supply of weapons to insurgents, and to the creation of a safe haven for insurgents who operate across Iraq. In short, it’s been a disaster. But most of the things that Bush does are disastrous, so it’s not really all that interesting or surprising from an anti-Bush point of view.

What’s a bit more interesting is the conversation regarding the relationship between politics and war. It has been an article of faith on the right since 1972 that the Vietnam War was lost by the political meddling of the Johnson administration. Never mind, for a moment, that Nixon meddled just as much during his four years; Johnson apparently tried to pick a bombing target once, which led to complete disaster. Had the military been allowed to fight the war it wanted to, it could have won. That this narrative bears no meaningful relationship to reality is unimportant, since it’s real purpose is to place blame for the Vietname debacle on the Democrats and to buck up the morale of the armed forces. The defeat in Vietnam had many fathers, including LBJ, but also including officers at many different levels in the Army who had no idea how to fight an insurgency, and who failed dramatically in their efforts to innovate and to deal with the problems that the NVA and the Viet Cong presented.

Fast forward, we have another war that’s developing into a disaster, but this time under a Republican president. Thus, we don’t hear much about the intervetion of the administration into tactics and operations, and what we do hear makes the administration seem like tough minded yet innovative realists, dedicated to transforming the old, bureaucratic mindset in the uniformed services. Rumsfeld’s attempts to wage this war on the cheap are arguably less defensible than anything that Johnson ever did, but we don’t get that much discussion of it from the right side of the aisle. Apparently, political intervention in military matters is now just fine.

And you know what? They’re right. The narrative about Vietnam was wrong on two counts. First, it let the Army off the hook, even though the tactics and strategies developed by the Army failed clearly and repeatedly. Second, political intervention is CRITICAL to war. Some people argue that Clausewitz is a sphinx without a secret, and that anyone can take what they want from him. This is true in the same sense that anyone can take what they want from Nietzche; the interpretations of Hitler and Ayn Rand, however, are perhaps a touch less defensible than those of the sane. I think Clausewitz is quite clear that war is an instrument of politics, fought for explicitly political goals with means that must accord with those goals. The problem here is not that the war is being fought by politicians, but that the goal the administration is fighting for is re-election, not the stabilization or democratization of Iraq.

This is one of the (many) reasons that I’m voting Kerry. The Democrats are not yet audacious enough to submit all policy questions to the dictates of electoral politics, which means that they still value basic competence.

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