Today, God save the Queen, the country is in the hands of pathologically aggressive Cold War leftovers, in particular Mr. Genghis Pompeo. In light of his desire to get America into a war with Iran, plus the acrid whiff of desperation wafting from the White House, plus increased provocations against Iran, one may wonder about such a war being used to distract from Mr. Trump’s woes. At risk of repeating myself, some thoughts on said war.
A point worth considering is that wars (very) often do not go as the aggressors plan. We might consider this when pondering any martial eruption against Tehran.
For example, when Napoleon invaded Russia, he did not plan for Russian troops to march in the streets of Paris. Which is what happened. The American Civil War was supposed to last an afternoon at First Manassas; wrong by four years and 650,000 dead, equivalent to 6.5 million today. When Germany invaded France in 1914, it expected a short, victorious war of movement, but got a bloody four years of attrition war. Then it lost. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, their plans did not include American Gis diddling their daughters in Tokyo. Which is what happened. When Hitler invaded Russia, Russian troops drinking in Berlin was not among his war aims. When America attacked Vietnam, leaving with its tail between it legs was not a hoped-for outcome. When Russia invaded Afghanistan, it did not expect to lose. Which it did. When America invaded Afghanistan…you see the pattern.
Now, Field Marshall Pompeo seems to want a war with Iran, a country with eighty million people, a fine army, and massive missile forces within range of Israel and of much of the world’s oil supply. As an example of strategic brilliance, such a war would rank up there with drinking wood alcohol.
But this is not surprising. In fact, it is habit. Americans begin their wars by overestimating American capacities, underestimating the enemy, and misunderstanding the nature of the war they are getting into. Then they forget and do it again, world without end. General Pompeo seems prepared to respect tradition.
Why does the American military lose its wars? In part because it prepares for the wars it wants to fight, not the wars it does fight. The Navy in particular, important for a war in the Gulf, is designed to fight other navies like itself, which do not exist. It is essentially the Navy of WWII, upgraded. (Should the Japanese Imperial Navy come back it will be ready.) But a war against Iran would be, at least in the beginning, almost entirely an air war and, despite masturbatory fantasies of fern-bar Napoleons on Pennsylvania Avenue, air wars kill lots of people, last forever, and seldom produce victories.
Those ardent of air power always promise quick and cheap victory. Buffs of military history will think of Douhet, de Seversky, Mitchell. But it doesn’t happen. Years of bombing Hanoi and Afghanistan or, for that matter, of Germany and Japan proved neither quick nor decisive. The first two did not result in any victory nor the second two in a quick one.
Why does the military prepare for World War II? For several reasons. First, heavy armament, fast and loud airplanes, and Godzilla tanks appeal powerfully to male romanticism. Second, these things call to a man’s joy in cooperating with others in hunting packs. Third, modern weapons feed the masculine love for controllable complexity, screens, dials, computers, radar, reactors. Fourth, conservatism. When you have invested a lifetime and billions in anything as glorious as carriers and strategic bombers, you don’t want to give them ump
If you have watched night flight operations on an aircraft carrier, thirty knot wind whipping over the bow, endless dark ocean, an F-18 howling at mil power and then the cat shot…it’s Star Wars, baby, and men aren’t going to give it up.
American wars have failed in part because of a pattern perhaps first observed in Vietnam and since diligently repeated. America invaded with its usual hooha about saving the world from communism, terrorism, evil dictators, socialism, of bringing to the benighted dusky locals the precious values of truth, justice, the American way and perhaps of apple pie and virginity. Those being brought these things don’t see them in quite the same way. The Viets, sick of being invaded first by the French, then the Japanese, then the French again, had not asked for any of these precious offerings, perhaps especially virginity. To them the Gis were not saviors but just more goddam white invaders. They didn’t need any.
The Americans didn’t understand this. They still don’t. They believed their own reviews, which they largely wrote. In Vietnam the GIs were now in a country which most didn’t know where was. It was a country with a very different race, utterly different culture, utterly different religions, and speaking a language that not one American in a thousand spoke decently or, usually, at all. GIs came to detest the locals, whom they called gooks, dinks, slopes, zipperheads, and rice-propelled paddy maggots. Small town boys from Tennessee are not compulsively multicultural. They killed a lot of locals, sometimes for sport, that being the nature of counter-guerrilla war.
If Sitting Bull Pompeo tried to put American ground forces into Iran this is exactly what would happen.
In such wars the Americans, thinking that they are the good guys, start training the Viets (Iraqis, Afghans, Laos, Bodes, Kurds) to fight what the Americans think are the bad guys, meaning other Viets (Iraqis, Afghans, etc.) for the benefit of the invaders.
Take the phrase “preternaturally stupid,” and nurture it, give it a gym membership, high protein milk shakes, have it do lots of pushups, and it may get robust enough to describe the foregoing incomprehension. But probably not.
Predictably—very, very predictably, so predictably that only a West Point trained lieutenant couldn’t figure it out—this doesn’t fly with the locals. If the Chinese invaded your state and tried to get you to kill people in a neighboring state, would you be wildly enthusiastic? So our Viets (Afghans, etc.) fight poorly, desert to the enemy with their weapons, and take part in insider attacks while their local officers charge the Americans for nonexistent soldiers. And so, year after year, US officers say that with just a little more time, a little more money, they will get the Afghans to stand up for their country, which has nothing to do with it.
Why doesn’t the military learn? Because it is designed not to. If this is not literally true, it comes close.
To begin with, the military is an organization of the herd. It demands conformity, obedience bordering on the kinky, compliance, and a lack of expressed thought. It gets people who are comfortable with this. Those of more independence leave after their first tour.
Would you think it extreme to call them “weirdly ovine”? Ask yourself what you would think if your boss required everybody in your office to line up in a square with thumbs precisely along trouser seams, feet at a forty-five degree angle, staring straight ahead, while he inspected you to see whether you had dressed yourself properly. In this environment independent thought is neither encouraged nor tolerated.