DeM Banter: Wrestling with this one… I don’t think we can de-track from the man at all… but Max has some good points below, but such is the nature of war…no? Also pondering his thoughts on strategic views of general officers…. any thoughts are most appreciated.
New York Post
December 29, 2012
Schwarzkopf’s Iraq lessons
The Gulf War of 1991 was, after all, the last truly feel good war that America has fought — the last one that ended in a victory parade back home. But on slightly closer examination, the definitive nature of the Gulf War becomes decidedly fuzzy.
The war was a clearcut victory only in the sense that Kuwait was liberated. But the good feelings deriving from this outcome were dissipated in large measure when Saddam Hussein remained in power and used his remaining military forces to crush Shiite and Kurd rebellions that were encouraged by the United States.
The US, in turn, was to spend the next decade enforcing no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq — and in 2003, George W. Bush launched another war to finish what his father started. That war, in turn, would drag on for nearly another decade and end inconclusively with a unilateral American withdrawal.
There is nothing remarkable about this — even World War II, supposedly the “good war,” ended in a muddle whose legacy included the Cold War and the hot wars in Korea and Vietnam.
The very existence of North Korea, which continues to bedevil us with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, is an offshoot of the ceasefire that ended World War II. But it runs counter to the myth that somehow wars have ever been easier to end than they are today.
What was Schwarzkopf’s role in the mixed outcome of the Gulf War? He played less of a part than more senior figures such as President George H.W. Bush, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Colin Powell.
It was they, and ultimately Bush alone, who gave the military its marching orders, set narrow war goals (perhaps justifiably, in light of how difficult it proved to pacify Iraq) and insisted on ending the ground war after 100 hours, even though Saddam’s elite Republican Guard had not been destroyed. Even if the George H.W. Bush administration’s decision to stop short of occupying Iraq looks better in hindsight, its willingness to encourage revolts against Saddam but leave the people of Iraq to his tender mercies tarnished an otherwise proud moment in our military history.
Schwarzkopf’s responsibility for the outcome was secondary, but he did not do enough to warn the politicos about the consequences of their actions and conveyed somewhat misleading information about how advanced his plans for the destruction of the Republican Guard were. Even worse, in the ceasefire negotiations he handled personally, he naively allowed the Iraqi regime to continue flying rotary-wing aircraft, little realizing that they would be used for the suppression of popular revolts.
“Stormin’ Norman” apparently did not view it as his duty to deal with such matters. He was a superb soldier who inspired the troops and kept confidence in the war effort back home (and around the world) with his bravado briefings. But he exemplified the narrowly tactical outlook adopted by most US military commanders — one that makes it harder to translate tactical success into lasting strategic success.
None of this should take away from his genuine heroism, exemplified by an incident during the Vietnam War when, as a battalion commander, he ventured into a minefield to pull some of his soldiers to safety. Nor does it deprecate his considerable dedication to the Army and the country, and the great skill he showed in implementing (if not designing) the famous “left hook” that routed Saddam Hussein’s army.
But it does suggest that there were limits to his generalship that continue to confound the US to this day. Witness the uninspired performance in Iraq of Ricardo Sanchez, George Casey and other generals who were perfectly competent tacticians but did not always grasp the big picture. One of the few exceptions was David Petraeus, but now he is disgraced because of a scandal unrelated to his military capabilities.
There are a few potential successors to Petraeus waiting in the wings, but they must face long odds to rise to the top in an Army bureaucracy that favors hardcharging tacticians such as Norman Schwarzkopf or Tommy Franks over geostrategic big thinkers. Trying to revise those personnel policies should be a major to do item on the agenda of the next secretary of defense, whoever that may be.
Max Boot is the author of the forthcoming “Invisible Armies.”