Why fight a war we are unwilling to win?

This photo taken by freelance photographer Abdul Malik on Saturday, May 21, 2016, purports to show volunteers standing near the wreckage of the destroyed vehicle, in which Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was allegedly traveling in the Ahmed Wal area in Baluchistan province of Pakistan, near Afghanistan border. A senior commander of the Afghan Taliban confirmed on Sunday that the extremist group's leader, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike. (AP Photo/Abdul Malik)

From The Wall Street Journal:

Trump Takes New Tack in Afghanistan Fight

President, heeding advisers, will add more troops and increase pressure on Pakistan

By Gordon Lubold, Eli Stokols and Peter Nicholas | Updated Aug. 21, 2017 11:48 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump said Monday he would expand the U.S. role in Afghanistan while taking a new approach that is tougher on neighboring Pakistan and doesn’t telegraph American military strategy.

In a 30-minute nationally televised speech, Mr. Trump acknowledged that his initial instinct as president had been to pull out of Afghanistan. But, concluding he must bow to realities, he outlined a new South Asia strategy predicated on the need to remain engaged in the region.

“From now on, victory will have a clear definition,” he said from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Va., describing the defeat of terrorist groups and the protection of American interests.

The address represented a sharp reversal for Mr. Trump on Afghanistan, where he has long opposed U.S. military involvement. In setting aside his impulses to withdraw, Mr. Trump acceded to advisers who urged the U.S. to step up efforts to combat extremists and militants and support the Afghan military in the nearly 16-year-old war.

Mr. Trump didn’t spell out troop numbers nor a timeline and didn’t signal a significant shift from the Obama administration’s military approach, which relies on counterterrorism operations and training missions. But he said the U.S. wouldn’t remain in Afghanistan indefinitely nor write “a blank check.”

Mr. Trump said also the U.S. would end the goal of trying to forge U.S. democratic values in Afghanistan and would avoid discussions of troop numbers and battle plans, repeating his criticism of the Obama administration’s publicly stated timetable there.

There’s more at the original.

An obvious question: has this ever worked before?

Charles Colson, then general counsel to President Richard Nixon, had a plaque in his office which said, “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow,” which was a follow up to a Vietnam era congressional debate in which a liberal congressman asked what was necessary to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people. President Nixon, inheriting the Vietnam mess from President Lyndon Johnson, who had inherited it from President John Kennedy, who had (sort of) inherited it from President Dwight Eisenhower, tried to disengage from he war by turning it over to a rebuilt Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). We poured billions of dollars in equipment and training into ARVN and the country as a whole, while Henry Kissinger negotiated a fig-leaf peace agreement to allow the US to withdraw without simply cutting and running. The Communists went along with this, knowing that it was the cheapest and easiest way to get American forces out of Vietnam, and that, once we were gone, they would resume their attempt to conquer the South. The Communist leadership knew that the Democrat-controlled Congress would never allow President Nixon to reintroduce American troops in Vietnam following withdrawal regardless of whether they broke the peace agreement, so they were perfectly willing to sign it.

evacuationDr Kissinger and his communist counterpart in the Paris Peace Accords, Lê Đức Thọ, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, but Mr Thọ declined it. While the oh-so-noble West celebrated the peace agreements, President Nixon, Dr Kissinger, Mr Thọ and the entire Vietnamese leadership, North and South, nothing but a farce. After regrouping and retooling, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam again attacked the South, and by the end of April, 1975, the US was fleeing the fall of Saigon. Not only did our efforts to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people fail, we soon saw the loss of the war we fled.

In 1991, President George H W Bush responded to Iraq’s invasion and conquest of Kuwait with a buildup and then invasion, which kicked the Iraqis back out Kuwait; the elder President Bush was confident that the Iraqi people would then kick President Saddam Hussein out following his humiliating defeat, but that didn’t work out quite as planned. Eleven years later, President George W Bush, believing that Iraq was breaking agreements and stockpiling banned chemical weapons, and eager to finish what his father had left undone, promised a quick military action to depose President Hussein and bring peace and democracy to Iraq. The military action was certainly quick enough in defeating the Iraqis and deposing Mr Hussein, but somehow the Iraqi people weren’t quite as Westernizable as the younger President Bush had thought, and the continued war to make Iraq governable by the democratic government installed by the United States was still going on when Barack Obama was inaugurated. President Obama had campaigned against the Iraqi war,¹ and despite having kept the fighting going for a couple of years, eventually withdrew American forces. That the Iraqi military was never able to beat the various opposition forces is proved by the fact that Secretary of Defense James Mattis had to make his visit to Baghdad “unannounced” just yesterday; security in the Iraqi capital is still so fragile that he had to sneak in.

Afghanistan? The younger President Bush’s campaign to defeat and destroy al Qaeda in Afghanistan certainly did weaken the terrorist organization dramatically, though leader Osama bin Laden wasn’t actually killed until President Obama’s term. However, defeating al Qaeda and deposing the Taliban hasn’t brought Afghanistan peace, and the Taliban are still holding out, with both they and other Islamist inspired groups holding significant swaths of that mountainous country. We never really had them by the balls, and their hearts and minds certainly haven’t Westernized.

How did we win World War II? I’ll be brutally honest here: we defeated Germany and Italy and Japan by killing so many of their fighting-aged men that those who remained alive and physically fit to continue fighting were so beaten and so demoralized and so terrorized that they had no stomach for continuing the war. More we killed so many of the next generation of boys growing up, the next ones to reach fighting age, that those left alive and unhurt had no desire to continue the fight. We destroyed their countries, virtually eliminating their ability to produce war materiel. While the Allied armies had to push into Germany and crush it in a land war, but the constant aerial bombardment, the firebombings of Tokyo and Yokohama, and the two atomic bombings finished off the Japanese will to resist; the deaths of their soldiers and sailors abroad, and the killing of their civilians at home beat all of the fight out of the Japanese people. We were able to install democratic governments, governments which held, because there was no one left to resist them.

It does not matter how President Trump changes our policies in Afghanistan: if we are unwilling to kill so many of the Taliban that the survivors are beaten into submission, if we are unwilling to kill so many of the next generation of boys growing into fighting age, we cannot and will not win in Afghanistan. To win there, we have to kill, and kill, and kill, and keep on killing until Hell won’t be able to take anymore; if we are unwilling to do that — and even the Soviets were unwilling to go that far in the 1980s — then we would be better served to just get out! Why waste any more American soldiers and Marines fighting a war we are unwilling to win?
¹ – His upstart victory over Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the primaries was, in part, attributable to his campaigning against Mrs Clinton’s vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq; Mr Obama hadn’t been in the Senate when that vote occurred, so he never voted on it. Of course, if he had been in the Senate, given his record, he’d probably have voted ‘Present.’
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.

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