War for War's Sake


Spencer Ackerman posted a powerful email from a junior officer currently serving in Iraq. I'll just nab an excerpt:

In my opinion, what everyone fails to realize is that this is not a counterinsurgency. If we wanted to stay in Iraq, then it would be a counterinsurgency. But it is clear that our goal is to turn over power and pull out. So, in building our strategic endstate, it's pointless to set goals that relate to our presence in Iraq. If the "insurgency" is a function of our being there, then it is not an insurgency in terms of our endstate. For example, if one of our goals is to stop IED attacks on US forces, that is pointless. When we leave, there will be no more IED attacks on us forces. So our endstate needs to be different. We need to ask "if we left tomorrow, what would happen in Iraq?" and from there, we need to determine which of those anticipated results are unacceptable to us. Then we must aim our efforts on making sure those unacceptable results do not occur.

When I look at the problem that way, it becomes almost impossible to find a purpose in what we do.

This is correct but of course the policymakers in Washington some time ago shifted to a crazy equilibrium where continuing the war became the war's own rationale. Initially, we invaded to depose Saddam and destroy his WMD programs. So when at first the programs weren't there, we had to keep some troops in the country to look for them. What's more, some kind of new government had to be created. But then, contrary to what the Bush administration had expected, an insurgency started against our presence. The insurgents were killing our troops. Then beating the insurgents became the goal. Our troops had to stay in Iraq and risk their lives in order to kill the people who were trying to kill them to force them out of Iraq -- we couldn't leave until all the people who wanted us to leave were dead.

From that point, the quality of the strategic thinking involved has only declined.

John McCain's supporters get very upset if you suggest he wants the war in Iraq to continue for 100 years. After all, he stipulated that first the war would end, and then 100 years of U.S. troops running around Iraq peacefully would begin. What this misses is that the U.S. presence is one of the main issues at stake in the war. It's not that peace would suddenly break out if we left, but peace is certain to never break out as long as we stay. Counterinsurgency requires, among other things, political conciliation and conciliation requires us to leave but the hawks' logic requires us to stay and fight for the right to keep staying and fighting.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason T. Bailey