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Right War, Right Time...

Three weeks ago the National Security Council released its National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. Since then much of the public debate has revolved around its three integrated strategic tracks -political, security, economic- and its eight strategic pillars for success. In some ways the merits of the Strategy are not at issue. Time, of course, will demonstrate with brutal clarity whether the Strategy succeeds or not. It is true, as some commentators have noted, that strategy is normally developed before a military campaign and fine-tuned as the campaign progresses. This raises the question of whether the Strategy is truly a forward-looking strategy or whether, with its release more than two and a half years after the United States invaded Iraq, it is no more than a backward-looking justification of what has already been done.

The main issues for this posting, however, are: First, are we confusing the War in Iraq with the War on Terror? They are not one and the same. Second, are we on the verge of repeating the strategic mistakes of Vietnam? It may be that we are closer to doing so than we think.

In Vietnam, the United States expended the majority of its strategic military effort against the Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam which it viewed as the main North Vietnamese effort. Although the United States military succeeded in destroying the Viet Cong, it did not prevent North Vietnam from attaining its strategic objective of defeating American public support for the war and forcing the United States to withdraw from South Vietnam in defeat. In actuality, destruction of North Vietnam's regular forces, which ultimately overran South Vietnam, should have been the main strategic military objective of the United States. In the War on Terror, the United States is currently expending the majority of its strategic military effort against an insurgency in Iraq. However, it has not clearly defined its adversary, nor its strategic objectives for the War on Terror. The insurgency in Iraq is likely not the main effort against the United States, and it is not certain that in its military engagement against it the United States is winning the War on Terror. In a manner reminiscent of Vietnam current public opinion polls reflect that while the American public continues to support the War on Terror, it is growing increasingly disenchanted with the War in Iraq.

Two immediate points come to mind regarding both the War on Terror and the War in Iraq:

First, we should keep in mind Clausewitz' dictum that "The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish...the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive." We need to define both the War on Terror and the War in Iraq and not mistake them one for the other.

Second, with ruthless self-interest we need to examine our overall effort and ensure that we are not violating General Bradley's caution during the Korean War that "Frankly -this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

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