Military goals must help to achieve political goals

Written by Susan Mannella on .

The June 27 front-page article regarding the only two U.S. generals (David Petraeus and Ray Odierno) who have been successful in countering insurgencies was generally correct ("U.S. Requiring Generals Who Are Well-Versed in Diplomacy"). But the story missed a few points.

Both generals (who have political and military and diplomatic skills) were "successful" in Iraq. It is not clear to me that Iraq is a success yet. The violence continues; Iraqi politicians play the politics of revenge more often than the politics of compromise; and the compromises needed on oil revenues, budgets and regional power-sharing with the national government have yet to be made.

Granted, these shortcomings are not the fault of Gen. Petraeus or Gen. Odierno, but are rather part of the flawed political decision to jump into a war in Iraq. A country that has a corrupt or nonfunctioning political system will not suddenly become a full-fledged democracy in five years, or in 10 years.

Speaking of corrupt political systems, look at Afghanistan. This country reminds me of Vietnam in so many ways, except it is mostly mountainous and Vietnam was mostly jungle. Both countries had or have corrupt political systems, economies based partly on black markets and heroin and loyalty to tribe (Afghanistan) or social group (the South Vietnamese Army, Catholics, Buddhists, Cao Dai, etc.) in Vietnam, with little loyalty to nation. If Gen. Petraeus is not successful in Afghanistan, it would be no surprise, given the loaded deck he has been dealt.

One point the writer made is certainly true - too few generals understand that their tasks are military, political and diplomatic - all at the same time - in insurgencies. And they study too little about insurgencies, with little attention paid to the successful counterinsurgency waged by the British and Malays against the guerrillas (Malaya, 1948-1960). For that matter, we pay too little attention to the guerrilla aspects of the American Revolutionary War (we won three or four major battles out of 11 or 12, but prevailed by hanging on and using guerrilla tactics in a number of settings - and finally getting decisive help from the French).

In wars, the political goals are the key ones; the military goals are a means of helping to attain the political goals. If the military goals aren't designed to help attain realistic political goals, no amount of generalship is going to turn around the situation in such a war.


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