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PBS Frontline "Obama's War"

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There seems to be a psychological difference between use of the words "winning" and "succeeding". The term 'win' always worried me. Its too much of a sports metaphor, it implies a pointless passtime done for glory. To succeed at something implies that there is a rational objective to be achieved. The concepts are so different its possible we could win in Afghanistan without succeeding, and succeed without winning. In Vietnam the NVA lost every battle but still succeeded, we didn't win the war but did largely blunt that feared 'domino theory' wave of revolutionary communist governments spreading across the Pacific.

We blunted the theory but thoroughly played our hand - I think much of the military slump of the 70s came from a feeling of "is that all we've got?". We also basically wrote the playbook for anyone who wanted to keep a big media-sensitive power from achieving their aims.

The NVA/VC "won" any battle where they killed Allied troops, as that was their general aim, whereas we lost most battles, as annihilation of the enemy was ours. And even where we succeeded (Dak To, some other famous hill fights, Tet) it was only a draw, as truly annihilating enemy formations was always extremely bloody and therefore bad for public opinion.

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In Vietnam the NVA lost every battle but still succeeded,

I'm not much expert on Vietnam, but did NVA too feel that they lost them all? Or infact did they see that they won most of them? Atleast i've noticed this tendency when studying how both sides saw results of battles. Both sides can be happy for results, get decoration or at least save their (officer's) honor. And one can get decorations if he writes good stories how he destroyed (=enemy casualties never confirmed) battallion (=platoon) of enemy with handful of men (=company) in desperate defense-battle (=enemy was probing) :)

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I think the lesson in Vietnam was that it mattered not just who you were opposing, but who you were supporting. Then as now, the alternative to the bad guys isn't that good.

Karzai is just terrible and the unwillingness of the US to come down hard on the guy lost the war. He's not quite as bad as the Taliban but still pretty ghastly, but worse, corrupt an ineffectual. The US should have cut the self serving bastard lose the second it became clear what the guy was about.

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but did NVA too feel that they lost them all? Or infact did they see that they won most of them?

I recall a quote from a TV interview (25 years ago?) a well know Pentagon straegist was at a forum with his Vietnamese counterpart. They got into a heated debate over the war. In exasperation the American blurted out 'But we WON all the battles!" The Vietnamese strategist smiled and said 'Yes, but we won the war." The American said it opened his eye to the difference between tactical objectives and political objectives.

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I recall a quote from a TV interview (25 years ago?) a well know Pentagon straegist was at a forum with his Vietnamese counterpart. They got into a heated debate over the war. In exasperation the American blurted out 'But we WON all the battles!" The Vietnamese strategist smiled and said 'Yes, but we won the war." The American said it opened his eye to the difference between tactical objectives and overall objectives.

I'd personally would take so catchy and clever sentence with grain of salt, but who knows maybe he really ment it as admitting that they indeed feel/know that they lost all battles against US.

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As I recall the way it went was like this: The American officer told his North Vietnamese counterpart "you never defeated us on the battlefield". The Vietnamese took a moment and replied "that may be true, but it is also irrelevent".

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Osama himself eventually admitted to the 9/11 attacks, which were a quite valid casus belli.

Nope. He said he was surprised it could be so spectacular.

So, as he had tried years before 9/11 to blow the towers, you think he said "yes it's me", but he didn't.

Either, he didn't say no, for US were advertising for Al Qaeda (prestige for his anti-america recruitment).

, you'd have to be completely ignorant of the situation not to link AQ with the attacks.

Weither OBL was a wanted peson is irrelevant, as this was a war against AQ and the Taliban who actively sheltered and supported them. Whether there was an arrest warrant on OBL is irrelevant in this context. And I doubt he wasn't officially on the wanted list anyway.

He was, but not for 9/11 attacks. That's your legal link, but it's not enough to be an evidence.

But in the end a nation ALWAYS has the right to defend itself against foreign aggression. The UN agreed this was a just war, NATO did too. What else would you require of a nation before it can take action against foreign aggression?

Knowing who really is the offender.

Really, what is your beef? Because your views are not supported by fact in any way, shape or form.

Innocence presumption.

The US doesn't require a "legal case" for military action in Afghanistan against OBL, Al Qaeda and the Taliban any more than a "legal case" was required for the US to take military action against Japan after Pearl Harbor.

There were many evidences that the japanese were the attackers of Pearl Harbour. They had been clearly identified.

I try not to defend Ben Laden, but truth is the best for justice and peace.

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To bring this a bit more on topic...

At the tactical level relative goals are all important. The problem with CMx1 was it had no possibility of asymmetric Victory Conditions. There were flags, whoever had them likely won. Casualties were counted towards Victory, but it was an even evaluation for both sides so it was also a black and white situation. If you got flags with low casualties, you won. If you got flags with lower casualties, you won. If you didn't get the flags you likely lost regardless of casualties. So on and so forth.

CMx2 allows for the tactical conditions which lead to a Vietnam or Afghanistan type strategic situation. It is possible to win most of your battles in CM as Blue, according to Blue's definition of "win", but have the game rate you a loser of most of those battles. If CMx2 were a COIN type simulation you may find you never actually "win" anything. Which is why Afghanistan is going the way of Vietnam in terms of the overall direction. Hopefully it can be reversed.

Thankfully, most in the military "get it". The people I usually see spouting off about "winning" and "victory" are usually NOT those in uniform at the mid to high level leadership positions. Those leaders, more recently, have ceased using those sorts of black and white, irrelevant terms and instead speak of "achieving our goals/objectives". When Gates and Clinton did their joint interview a couple of weeks ago they explained what that all means and it's spot-on.

The West's goal is to have a stable, extremist free Afghanistan. How we get there is irrelevant as long as the objectives are achieved. The questions are what objectives are possible to achieved and what do we need to do to achieve them. Nobody has any easy answers for that EXCEPT that a strategy built nearly exclusively on military action will fail. Only the ill informed, reactionary right wing nuts think that it can be won through force of arms. Just like the ill informed, reactionary left wing nuts think that ceasing military action will achieve our goals.

We live in interesting times!

Steve

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Ah, so you are one of those who actually believe that it's not cut-and-dried that Al Qaeda and OBL were the instigators of 9/11.

Then we really have nothing to discuss; if you're not convinced by now, nothing I say is going to change your mind. Enjoy the tinfoil hat.

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The Vietnamese took a moment and replied "that may be true, but it is also irrelevent".

Ah, sounds familiar. You either have a much better memory that me or that American has repeated his anecdote several times over the years ;)

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On the topic of the 'domino theory' in SE Asia. By the mid 70's things got very muddy in that regard. Vietnam of course went communist. Then Cambodia went all crazy Maoist with Pol Pot. So erstwhile foe Vietnam entered Cambodia to stop the slaughter and reinstall a sane government. In response the CIA began supporting Pol Pot against Vietnam! And to add icing to the cake, China attacked Vietnam in retaliation for invading Cambodia. I recall hearing that the majority of the "boat people" Vietnamese refugees weren't so much fleeing Ho Chi Minh as fleeing the Sino-Vietnam war. So basically the much feared 'Communist steamroller' of the 1950-60s devoured itself at the end of the 70s.

There may be parallels happening today. Al Qaid appears to be 'persona non grata' in Iraq these days due to past murderous excesses against Iraqis. The Afghan Taliban seem to prefer regional zenonphobia over global jihad. With every bombing Pakistan becomes increasingly disenchanted with appeasment. If we're extremely lucky the global jihadi movement could devour itself in the same way global communism devoured itself, a victim of its own excesses.

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Quote source:

In On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, Colonel Harry Summers recalls an April 1975 conversation in which he remarked, "You know you never defeated us on the battlefield," to which his North Vietnamese counterpart replied, "That may be so, but it is also irrelevant."

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Steve,

In order to make this game truely realistic, winning conditions must be the following:

1- Defeat the enemy on the map / or take control of specific objectives

2- Coordinate a massive media campaign to tell the people why we came here

3- Rebuild the local Army and Police forces that you just destroyed.

4- Coordinate massive human resources drops (kids like soccer shirts)

5- Get their electricity back on

6- Get their water back on

7- Those buildings you blew up with JDAM's...yeah we gotta fix those too.

IF the player meets condition #1, then it is a Minor Tactical Victory. If 2-7 are not met, then it is a Major Defeat. At this point, the in-game media would turn on him and cry out 'defeat!' , the people back home would stop supporting them, and most importantly his computer would be infected with an unfixable virus called INSURGENCY. It would corrupt everything and ultimately ruin that players computer.

Once we get this all in game, then we will have realistic missions.

It would make campaigns interesting!

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Point of history:

The "irrelevant" reference most historians trace back to Harry G. Summers Jr. He was a squad leader during the Korean War, a battalion staff officer in the 1960s in Vietnam, and in 1974 - 75 he was part of the US delegation at the Paris Peace Talks, one part of which was US-Vietnamese negotiations on US POW returns.

Summers was in Hanoi in April 1975 - this is about four months before the Red Vietnamese took Saigon - and he was chatting unofficially with his counterpart Colonel Nguyen Don Tu. According to Summers, the conversation went like this:

US colonel: You know you never beat us on the battlefield.

Vietnamese Colonel: (After a short pause) That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.

Summers later wrote a book called On Strategy, recording the conversation.

A main theme of Summers' book was that the US defeat in Vietnam was due primarily to a failute by US leadership to apply intelligent military strategy. Generally, the problem as Summers saw it was that the Americans started out with a flawed assumption (Indochina is gonna go Communist, better do something), and piled on error after error, most based either in willful ingnorance, or in wishful overestimation of what US military force could accomplish.

Summers cited Colonel Tu to point out that winning battles does not necessarily win the war, as was assumed by pretty much the entire US leadership.

(As a personal note I can add that the "We never lost a battle in Vietnam" became sort of a mantra among the US Army officer corps during the 1980s, it seemed like they felt that if they repeated it often enough, the Vietnam failure would magically disappear from the history books.

As it happens I once even got in trouble with a brigade commander for disagreeing in public about US military performance in Vietnam, but my dissent seems to have done little to change the US Army group think.)

To continue the famous quote sweepstakes can any one tell me who was it that said: "The first time history repeats itself it's a tragedy, and every time after that it's a farce."

Voltaire? I may have the wording a bit wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's the general idea.

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To continue the famous quote sweepstakes can any one tell me who was it that said: "The first time history repeats itself it's a tragedy, and every time after that it's a farce."

Voltaire? I may have the wording a bit wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's the general idea.

Karl Marx

from Wikipedia:

The "Eighteenth Brumaire" refers to November 9, 1799 in the French Revolutionary Calendar—the day Louis Bonaparte's uncle Napoleon Bonaparte had made himself dictator by a coup d'état; and the work is the source of one of Marx's most quoted statements, that history repeats itself, "the first as tragedy, then as farce" (with the former referring to Napoleon I, the latter to Napoleon III).

__________________

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There may be parallels happening today. Al Qaid appears to be 'persona non grata' in Iraq these days due to past murderous excesses against Iraqis. The Afghan Taliban seem to prefer regional zenonphobia over global jihad. With every bombing Pakistan becomes increasingly disenchanted with appeasment. If we're extremely lucky the global jihadi movement could devour itself in the same way global communism devoured itself, a victim of its own excesses.

Bingo.

Here is a very 'possible' scenario which will highlights your point.

Assume for a moment that the Pakistan extremists continue their reign of terror. Outcomes are:

1. The Pakistani military moves against the extremists powerbase and hopefully the 'political' will is there to see the job properly done. The political 'will' is the big wild card here as the extremists have supporters within the Pakistani government.

2. Assuming a ineffective Pakistani military who can't get the job done. The militants, sensing a opportunity, try to grab more ground or topple the government. That puts Pakistan's nucleur weapons at risk. Now we all know, there is no way in hell that the US is going to allow the extremists to even get as sniff of those weapons. I daresay, units like the 82nd AB Division most likely have gotten their warning orders and contingency planning is being done to deploy to Pakistan is short order. In this outcome, the US military with the Pakistani military will deal with the militants and under US operation command, the job will be done properly.

Either scenario will set the militants back, victims of their own success. Scenario 1's success is predicated that the 'will' is there to destroy the militants once and for all. Scenario 2 will ensure the job is done.

Either scenario should destroy the powerbase for the militant operations in Afghanistan, making them ineffectual. Then real headway in addressing security concerns in Afghanistan can be made.

To defeat the Taliban/Al Queda in Afghanistan, you have to defeat them first in Pakistan.

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I think maybe Obama has decided not to increase our regular troop presence in Afghanistan and instead will be relying upon a new para military force to get the job done :) It would then truly be Obama's war.

No - I have no idea what he's talking about there, but it sure does make you scratch your head and go hmmmmmmmmm.

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I think maybe Obama has decided not to increase our regular troop presence in Afghanistan and instead will be relying upon a new para military force to get the job done :) It would then truly be Obama's war.

No - I have no idea what he's talking about there, but it sure does make you scratch your head and go hmmmmmmmmm.

Current dithering should be interpreted as twisting Karzai's arm in to satisfying the doubts about his legitamacy one way or the other.

As for the vid, I am assuming he is talking about civilian intelligence services and anti-terror projects.

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I think the dithering is more, they have behind closed doors concluded the war is unwinnable, that Afghanistan is unreformable, and that money given to Pakistan is money handed over to one of the most corrupt governments on the planet. I believe the US civilian leadership has concluded there is no solution in Afghanistan except failure. It is obvious to all the Americans lack the will and the resources to supress the Pathan tribes, never mind impose modern government on Afghanistan. Without the ability to do that, everything else is a bandaid on a punctured aorta.

Since staying the course in Afghanistan was part of the Obama election platform, the only possible tactic for him now can be to pretend to be planning to do something, or doing something superficial, while actually dithering.

I mean, even if Karzai agrees to a second ballot, and wins it even sort of cleanly, is the Afghanistan government going to be more legitimate? Maybe in the eyes of the foreign community, but for sure not in the eyes of the Pathans, and they are the players that count in this ball game.

I assume that the "let's go civilian" when decoded really means "get the military out now, civilians are cheaper than the military and if things get really bad we have to face up to incompetent civilian foreign policy, rather than straightforward military defeat."

Over and over during the Vietnam period you would here the flower children say over and over "Why don't we just declare a victory and get out? What if they gave a war and nobody came." Maybe the Americans will get it right this time, they'll just take their marbles and go home, and good riddance.

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Its odd that after 2 years of playing CMSF there's been no speculative discussion here of the regional results & consequences of our own virtual invasion of Syria.

The game backstory has a radicalized Syrian government being linked to attrocities in foreign capitals, which is likely to have horrified its own populace as much as the rest of the world. Would an occupied Syria be as accepting as ...let's say... Lebanon was towards the Syrian occupation? The Lebanese (initially) saw the Syrians coming in and halting an intractable civil war. Or would they be as intolerant as Sunni Ba'athists in Iraq? For them it was a matter of national honor. In that regard, it may have been a wise move to keep Israel out of it. A population that might accept Dutch and Canadian forces on its soil would definitely have rebelled against Israeli garrisons.

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Well I had made a story for a probably now cancelled campaign detailing how the troop buildup on the Syrian borders triggered mass mutinies in the army, led by the old Republican guard.

Breifly, as the reserves are called up for war, noone in the army wants gulf war Mk3 and are prepared to fight the unpopular government instead of NATO. In the campaign, a Republican guard commander defends Latakia from loyalist forces while the rest of the country looks on. If they are successful the country has a counter revolution encouraged by western intelligence agents and special forces. If they look like they will fail, NATO invades and the country is pretty screwed.

Unfortunatedly the very big map issue affects almost every map I made for the campaign so it doesn't look like it will ever see the light of day.

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I notice neither of us went to 'worst case scenario' land.

Syria's allie Iran is obliged to start sinking Europe-bound oil tankers in the straits of Hormuz, or worse start a 'second front' to our rear. Instead of a timeframe from May-August 2008 perhaps the game should've spanned May 2008 to Dec 21 2012 when the world ends!:eek: Remember, CM:Afghanistan is just around the corner and that goes from April(?) 1978 to... when? the Soviet pullout or the final Taliban takeover in '92?

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Yes Elmar, those are both possible explanations for the vid and the lack of a decision on a troop increase in Afghanistan. However, I would say that they are both improbable explanations. As far as the vid goes – and that’s really just a side issue – I would just say that attributing his remarks to a desire to have a strong intelligence service is totally inconsistent with the democratic party’s position of public record regarding the national intelligence services both recent and historical. Two seconds worth of internet searching should help dispel your theory on that front. Please also note from the podium seal that the speech was given before he became president and actually had nothing to do with Afghanistan. Talking about a stronger CIA probably wouldn’t be something he would be doing to fire up the democratic base in order to get elected because, for example, many in the African American community believe that US intelligence agencies are deliberately selling drugs to keep the members of those communities “down”.

With regards to the troop increase there is a problem with the ‘election’ explanation too. I agree in large part with BigDuke – something that seems to happen more frequently these days but rarely happened when first crossing verbal swords on the old General Forum. Whether he's moved my direction or I've moved his direction I can't say :). First of all, I will say that it is probably sensible to see what happens in the elections and to make an effort to reduce corruption in the Afghan government. However, there are really only three possible outcomes here. He can increase the troop levels, decrease the troop levels, or leave them unchanged. There are no other ‘options’ on the table regarding troop levels. Sure, there are different things that you could potentially be doing with the troops, but as far as the numbers go those are the only three options. Obama announced that he had a ‘new’ strategy for Afghanistan back in March. He replaced the then current commander in Afghanistan with General McChrystal so McChrystal is ‘Obama’s’ hand picked commander for Afghanistan. McChrystal then conducted a strategy review which was completed sometime in August.

Now then, we can make a few assumptions about McChrystal’s report. One thing we know that he recommended was an increase in troop levels for Afghanistan. He also stated publicly that the option Joe Biden favors would result in ‘Chaosistan’ – that option being a decrease in troop levels with a reliance on drones to kill ‘terrorists’. We also know that McChrystal recommends this increase irrespective of the election results (and in fact Gates says as much here http://www.reuters.com/article/newsMaps/idUSTRE59J08M20091020), so by Obama and his advisors using the election results as a pretext to a decision they are simply reconsidering something McChrystal has already taken into consideration when making his recommendation. Remember that there are only three outcomes here – increase, decrease, or unchanged.

If we assume that McChrystal did not consider the political circumstances present in Afghanistan or the well known presence of massive corruption then Obama waiting for the election results might make some sense. However, I find it improbable that McChrystal did not take the Afghan political situation into consideration when making his assessment because the presence of massive corruption was well known and the apparent fraud in the election shouldn’t have come as a big shocker to anyone on the ground in Afghanistan. If the fraud did come as a big shocker then NATO is being ill served by all the diplomatic, military, and humanitarian organizations that are present in great numbers there. It should also be obvious that McChrystal has a certain troop target in mind when he came up with his ‘new’ strategy and he feels that the troop levels he is requesting are necessary to get the job done within the confines of his recommendation. Therefore, I think it’s probably good to assume that a rejection by Obama of McChrystal’s troop request is either the equivalent to a rejection of his strategy, or possibly the conscious decision to go forward with that strategy with a lack of resources to properly carry it out.

So what could Obama be deciding here? The only thing Obama can be deciding is whether he wants to stay in Afghanistan at all. In my opinion the only ‘real’ option that he has is to remain undecided forever, thus leaving the current forces and strategy in Afghanistan unchanged by default. So why do I think this? His political base will not allow him to increase the troop levels in Afghanistan. It’s simply not going to happen. Obama hasn’t bucked his political base on anything yet and I don’t expect that he will do so on this decision either. Time will tell on this of course, but I would say that the probability of Obama increasing troop levels in Afghanistan is very very low. Equally, he also can’t announce a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Even though the US public is more against the war now than in favor, I think it’s fair to say that a withdrawal at this time would be a political and diplomatic disaster. If, on the other hand, the military feels that the situation will become irretrievable if the troop levels remain unchanged then that does give the president an option to withdraw later on when the political and diplomatic climate has changed a bit – say sometime in 2011. So the Afghan election is not a ‘tipping point’ because there are only three outcomes – troop increase, troop decrease, or unchanged and the election results really won't change a thing in that regard. Troop levels can’t decrease because that would be political and diplomatic suicide at the current time. Troop levels can't increase because he won't buck his political base. The only option left on the table is to ‘dither’ and hope the conditions for a withdrawal later on become more favorable. Doing nothing and then blaming the Afghan elections and rampant fraud is a good place to start paving the way out if that is your intention, so I guess as far as tipping points the elections can serve his purpose in that way. Probably not immediately though.

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McChrystal has a war to wage so otherwise can't see past the end of his nose. He asked for 40,000 because he figured we could perhap eek out 40,000 without breaking the military entirely. If we had 200,000 fresh troops available he would've wanted 200,000. One commander in Afghanistan suggested 600,000 would be the ideal number! Commanders aways want 'more', whether its McClellan, Montgomery, or Schwarzkopf. Two years ago they were begging Cheney for more troops for Afghanistan. Eventually the Marines shifted theaters.

About "delaying the decision until after the election is finalized". You've got to admit that got Karzai's attention! One fresh runoff election on the way. Any other president, the neocons would now be applauding it as classic "hardball negotiating" with the regme.

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