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War is War is Politically Unfeasible

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

Let’s sum up. “War is war” is vague, doesn’t offer solutions, confuses security, defensive and offensive operations, and believes that war is only fighting, killing, death and destruction.

More than anything, though, I believe “war is war” is impotent, because...

“War is war” is politically unfeasible.

People may doubt that globalization exists. No one, though, doubts that a global media exists. Killing too many civilians isn’t just “bad tactics”, it’s bad news, it’s bad publicity. I’ll list the usual culprits: cell phones, the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, cable news--CNN, Al Jazeera, The BBC, NPR, Fox News and Russian and Chinese news channels--Twitter, Facebook, Google, Politifact, satellites, and wiki-technology.

Because of this reality, the global population has little appetite for dead civilians. Americans don’t have an appetite for war, or the deaths caused in war. This is a more evolved ethical position; it’s a good thing. (If America could, would they fight wars without bloodshed? If they could, yes.) As Marshall McLuhan said, hot wars don’t work on a cold medium. Especially when it comes to wars conducted overseas--where the homeland isn’t threatened--Americans don’t like to cause unneeded deaths.

The British in Malaya didn’t have to deal with a hostile media. The Sri Lankans didn’t have to deal with the media either. So they used violent tactics. The British did have to eventually deal with that reality in Northern Ireland, hence the emphasis on the population. The U.S. didn’t have to deal with the media in the Philippines. Again, violent tactics. The U.S. does have to deal with this reality in Afghanistan and Iraq (and to some extent Vietnam), hence the emphasis on the population.

“War-is-war”-iors hate this situation. However, they rarely, if ever, acknowledge their unpopularity. For example, take Colonel Gentile’s article in The Infinity Journal. In “The Death of American Strategy,” Colonel Gian Gentile broadly claims officers stopped thinking strategically.

In actuality, Colonel Gentile doesn’t really believe strategy or strategic thinking is dead. Instead he believes a specific strategic option has died. This option--roughly conducting massively brutal wars in which large quantities of people die through fighting, bombing and killing a--has died. He specifically cites the rise of counter-insurgency as the death of the other options. In other words, he bemoans the death of the “war is war” position.
I agree that the “war is war” position is dying (not quite dead), but I don’t blame the Pentagon for this killing. The military (along with many officers) want violence and war and killing and fighting, or the freedom to pursue those options if needed. No, that option died because we don’t have the domestic political will. The American people don’t want to kill hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands in war. This may “suck” but it’s reality. It has become a cliche, in op-eds and online rants and movies, that “politicians” hamstring the military. It’s one of Lone Survivor’s main themes. Politicians only hamstring what their constituents tell them to hamstring.

Like my complaint against William F. Owen in my post yesterday, Colonel Gentile doesn’t let us know how to resurrect strategy. Do we change the American population’s mind? Do we un-sign the Geneva conventions? Do we change our ROE to allow...what?

Like the failures of the capital punishment system, the blame doesn’t rest on the system, it rests on the people who vote that system into power. This democratic effect on war is probably what the Founders of America set out when they made their city on a hill. (Many readers probably don’t know that Jefferson, Madison and company truly believed the U.S. would never engage in wars.)

In contrast, population-centric counter-insurgency is immensely politically feasible.

Here’s my advice for “war-is-war”-iors: don’t hide behind platitudes and vagueness. Say exactly what tactics we need to employ to win our current wars in your opinion. And don’t focus on your fellow military officers; they get it. Write articles to convince moderates, liberals and progressives why massive bloodshed is in the nation’s interest. Be blunt about it. Don’t say, “We need to do what it takes to win.” Tell the Americans what “it takes” really means.

four comments

“War is war”-riors need to start pointing out that Genghis Khan didn’t have half the technology we have and that he wouldn’t have spent 10 years in Afghanistan.

Again, though, they would have to admit exactly what tactics Genghis Khan used. He wouldn’t have spent ten years in Afghanistan. Course, few people are responsible for as many deaths on as many continents.

Fantastic post. I’ve made this point to many people when they argue the US “can’t win” in Iraq or Afghanistan. Times have changed and war has changed. The military wants to win, they want to accomplish the mission, thus COIN – the graduate level of war – is born. The US could easily “win” with the gloves completely off. But the price isn’t worth it and isn’t even considered, except maybe in the basement planning sessions at the Pentagon.

The whole thing reminds me of the scene from Full Metal Jacket, where the marines are being interviewed by some news crew. Animal Mother – probably the ultimate War is War-ior states what he thinks about America’s involvement in the war (he thinks the US should win) and on how to do that (bomb the hell out of the north and send more guys, maybe they’ll give up).


That clip has a whole bunch of meta-commentary in it besides the war is war part, which is a perfect in-capsulation of war is war.

Even better though is the comments. Comments complaining about the RVA (same as current complaints about the ANA). Comments that the politicians don’t care (same as current complaints about Afghanistan). Comments about needing to have the Vietnamization of the conflict (same now). I have said for a while that Afghanistan is the true Vietnam repeat for a while.

Maybe I just need to rewatch Full Metal Jacket.