World War Two Analogies are a Bad Idea

On Winds of Change, Donald Sensing first complains that withdrawing from Iraq is like surrendering in the middle of World War Two and then explains the importance of killing people. To his credit, he doesn’t advocate massacring civilians the way other posters on the same blog do; however, he’s still applying a very one-eyed judgment, on a blog populated by blind people.

Well, back then, no one was claiming that FDR and the US military were the ones who carried out the Pearl Harbor attack and that the “New York money people” (cough , Jews, cough) had engineered America’s entry into war to stop the Holocaust or something. Neither was more than a third FDR’s opposition party – and tenth of his own – actually wanting FDR’s military strategy to defeat the Axis to fail. Nor was anyone of either party calling for the withdrawal of US troops from the combat theaters before the enemy was beaten.

You’d think that warbloggers would know enough about military history and military strategy to know about the importance of war aims. In World War Two, the US had a clear war aim: the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan. In the Iraq War, the only comparable war aim, the deposition of Saddam, was achieved in April of 2003. Since then, the aim has been political rather than military.

When Germany declared war on the US, Churchill said, “So we had won after all.” The US had a population unmatched by any Axis power, or indeed by any industrial country other than war-torn Russia. It was more thoroughly industrialized than any other country in the world, including the economic powerhorses of Germany and Britain. It had every necessary natural resource, including all the oil it could consume. And unlike Germany and Britain and the USSR, it was far away from the war theaters, protecting its industrial base. In conventional, symmetric, there was no possible outcome but an American victory.

Today, the American share of the world economy is down to a fifth from one half in 1945. It’s dependent on oil imports from the Middle East, and its military can’t guarantee a victory against many possibly hostile world powers, including Russia and China.

But more importantly, Iraq isn’t WW2. Asymmetric warfare is completely different from symmetric warfare. The stated goals of the occupation of Iraq – to smoothen Iraq’s transition to a pro-American democracy – are political rather than military. A military campaign is only one possible solution to the issue, and a bad one at that.

The United States’ campaign isn’t a war, but a policing operation. That it uses the military is irrelevant. In the past, the soldier combined the roles of fighter, policeman, and tax collector. Even today, it’s routine in countries without advanced law enforcement agencies like the FBI or MI5 to deploy the military when there’s a serious law enforcement problem, such as terrorism.

The War on Iraq is over and has been for almost four years. When it was going on, most liberals correctly wished for a rapid resolution, which would minimize the damage to civilians. What liberals, moderates, and many conservatives want right now isn’t to end a war, but to end a doomed law enforcement campaign.

Bush said that the people didn’t vote for failure. He was right: nobody supports failure in Iraq. However, most people both inside and outside the US recognize that the US has already failed in Iraq, and can do nothing now but cut its and its civilian victims’ losses.

7 Responses to World War Two Analogies are a Bad Idea

  1. rod. says:

    Donald Sensing is a total idiot. If he claims to know anything about war, then he could start by reading Sun Tzu’s book. The purpose of war is to attain military or political victories, not to kill people… if victory can be achieved without firepower, then so be it. Quoting Sunz Tzu: “do not embrace slaughter”. Or: “to defeat the enemy is 1000 battles displays little skill… the really skillful can defeat the enemy without even fighting”.

    Donald can’t understand it cause he has the IQ of a carrot.

  2. Comparisons to World War II are total shit for one simple reason: if there ever was a necessary war in the 20th. century, World War II was it. Hitler’s armies dominated Europe all the way from Urey to the Balkans. In comparison, the only thing Saddam Hussein ever achieved militarily was the conquest of Kuwait, a country half the size of Denmark with virtually no military power to speak of, thirteen years before we deposed him. Iraq was a third or even fourth rate power in the world at the time we invaded, as opposed to the Third Reich which was hugely powerful at the time. There really is no comparison one could possibly make of the two wars that isn’t totally void of historical verisimilitude.

  3. rod. says:

    Right on, Tyler!

  4. Thanks, rod.

    One other things that should be mentioned re: WWII analogies is that Europe was hardly a peaceful bed of roses after the conclusion of the war. If you want to look at it in context, you could say that FDR “cut n’ ran” from a nuclearized USSR that controlled more than half of formerly Nazi occupied territory. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only place where our current situation in Iraq is comparable to WWII is that we’ve achieved pretty much all of the political and military victories that are feasible, and it’s time to cut the cord.

  5. “FDR” should be “Truman”. Mea culpa.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Ironically, the Republican Party first railed against Truman for doing anything to contain communism, and then discovered foreign policy hawkishness when it could beat on him for “the loss of China.” Conservatives have no trouble invoking Roosevelt even as they promote anti-Rooseveltian social policies and not especially Rooseveltian approaches to foreign affairs.

  7. SLC says:

    The problem with Sensings’ approach is that it will greatly increase the collateral damage inflicted on the Iraqi population. This is the problem with all military approaches to winning the Iraq war, they all suppose that it can somehow be done while at the same time limiting collateral damage. You can’t have it both ways. This is where the comparison with WW 2 actually breaks down. In that war, the participants couldn’t have cared less about collateral damage (as Richard Dawkins points out in his latest book, “The God Delusion,” Donald Rumsfeld looks like a great humanitarian compared with WW 2s’ Bomber Harris).

    Further, his comparison with Grants’ strategy in the Civil War ignores the fact that the weapon systems of the time were not capable of inflicting the type of colleteral damage on civilian populations that modern weapons systems are. Even in the sieges of Vicksburg, Atlanta, and Richmond civilian causalities were relatively small because the only weapon systems which were available and had the capability of attacking these towns were the primitive rifled artillary pieces which were in short supply (the development of these types of weapons was quite new, particularly relative to military artillary pieces; naval ships had been utilizing them for some 15 years).

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