Humanly speaking, war is an unfortunate consequence of being human. The animal kingdom has conflict, but it is usually on the one on one level, until we get up to the higher order primates. We, on the other hand, have developed tools, and have spent much of our collective creativity finding new ways to dominate an opponent. Starting from rocks we have progressed to where we are today, where a few members of a dedicated group can kill thousands.
If we are to survive as a nation there are times we must fight, and there are other times we should seek a diplomatic solution. For, as Baron von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu note, the use of military force is truly an extension of politics.
If we look back on our rather limited (237 years) history we have seen our military used and misused, to support those political decisions, and we have seen our own shortcomings in the military application. There are times we have been extremely successful because we have the national commitment, and times we’ve failed because we didn’t. But in all cases, our success depended on a strong political leadership, comfortable to give mission guidance and allow a committed set of Generals with the vision to create a sound operational strategy that would be executed by strong and capable force.
As we have seen in Afghanistan and then Iraq, our military has the ability to overthrow a government, but without the strategic vision and political support to fill the vacuum we create, what comes next is very, very, painful. Or as we saw in Vietnam, when the politicians make the tactical decisions and limit the military authorities and options we end up with a situation we can’t win and that will have long-term international implications.
I’ve have listened to how the Syrian’s have violated the international norm, and how the UN is paralyzed; so therefore we must punish the act to reinforce the norm so other’s will not violate it. If this is to be the criteria for our international actions then I foresee a troubled future for us. With due respect to Senator McCain who has said repeatedly there will be “no boots on the ground,” I am convinced that surgical strikes from the air cannot prevent a future use of chemical weapons. Airpower is critical to any successful modern campaign, but putting aside the bomber studies of post WW II, alone it cannot effect change.
I am hopeful our President can explain to the nation what a successful conclusion to any hostility would look like, for as I try to explain to my subordinates, if you don’t know what success looks like, how will you know if you have or have not achieved it?