I was thinking how quickly the US won the 2001 war in Afghanistan and the 2003 war in Iraq, but underestimated the how tough winning the peace would be. Reconstruction and rebuilding governments and countries seemed to be a lot more difficult and expensive then first thought. On the other hand, has reconstruction ever been easy and cheap?
World War I was a decisive victory; the Allies defeated Germany, the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungary. The losing nations were defeated: the Ottomans and Austro- Hungary were crushed and broken. Germany was defeated but not broken. On the battle field and at the home front, these countries were no longer capable supporting a war effort. Prior to the Armistice, starvation and civil disturbances were common place. The enemy had lost its will and capability to fight. There was no reconstruction for the losers- only surrender, humiliation and reparations to be paid, regardless of the social cost. Needless to say, there was a lot of resentment and the Germans did not forget, leading the world into a Second World War, bloodier then the First.
Without a doubt, WWII was a complete, total, ‘in your face’ victory. The Allies crushed the Japanese and German military and destroyed most of their national industrial base. Italy was on the winning side so not sure how to categorize them. There was no doubt who won and lost WWII. After the victory, the Allies reconstruction efforts rebuilt Germany and Japan, resulted in two of the worlds strongest economies.
Desert Storm was an American and Ally military victory over Iraq. The goal, reasonably clear: remove Iraqi Military forces from Kuwait. This was accomplished after a six month build up and a four day ground war. Some might argue toppling Saddam should have been the goal, making Desert Storm a true ‘decisive’ victory. Were the critics were right, 12 years later we needed to ‘complete the mission’? To that I say poppycock!– the Coalition formed and UN resolutions were only for liberating Kuwait. Beyond the UN resolution, the Arab and other Coalition Allies would never have supported the war. That was America’s last decisive victory.
Korea, Viet Nam and even my two wars- Iraq and Afghanistan were really ‘Incompletes’. Starting with the Korean War- push back the invading North Korean army and fight to hold a line, the 38th parallel. The US and UN forces fought for four years at a cost of around 50,000 US killed plus hundreds of thousand wounded. In the end, the war finished where it started. That might have been the final mandate- the 38th, but initially we had the opportunity to unify the country and establish a democracy in a land that has only known brutal dictatorship since the end of the Korean War. The North Korean people lost an opportunity.
Viet Nam started out the same- hold a line, the 17th parallel and stop the insurgency- the Viet Cong[VC]. The war escalated from American advisers to full scale military operations. After the 1968 Tet Offensive, the VC was destroyed and the North Vietnamese Army[NVA] were more involved. The war was long and costly and most importantly, not supported by the home front. In the end, we left South Viet Nam in 1973: ‘peace with honor’- maybe, but not a victory. The North Vietnamese army attacked South Vietnam in 1975, unifying the country, just not in the way the US had wanted or maybe even expected.
So far, and it has been a long ‘far’, Afghanistan and Iraq are ‘Incompletes’.
Afghanistan- America with its Northern Alliance and European Allies defeated the Taliban and in theory were able to establish a central government in the traditional capital of Kabul. After the US left and handed the mission to NATO in 2002, the Taliban reqrouped and returned to the fight.
The Taliban, Al Qaida and other Anti-Afghanistan forces rebuilt and began more combat operations against NATO, requiring a Surge in 2010-11. So much for NATO being a fearful war machine. In western Afghanistan, the Spanish and Italian combat forces never patrolled at night due to ‘lack of helicopter medical evacuation capability’. I am not sure how hard they patrolled during the day. Causality figures are a good indication of the combat operations tempo, the Spanish and Italians lost very few troops, if that says something to their countries’ commitment.
Iraq has been somewhat better. The US and Coalition partners soundly defeated the Iraqi military, toppling Saddam in just over 20 days. However, it is safe to say we lost the peace. As winning the peace became more expensive in blood and money, some of the Coalition partners began to leave. No one wants to be a loser. The long and costly reconstruction will over shadow what ever pseudo pro-west democracy establishes itself. The near 5000 US killed in action, the tens of thousand wounded[physical and mental] and the billions of dollars spent will off set any success that unfolds as Iraq establishes a functional semi-democratic government.
The rise of ISIS has put Iraq back into a civil war mode with many more Iraqis killed or wounded. The Tikrit massacre of over 1000 Iraqi soldiers still boils my blood – we did nothing to help.
Maybe total war is a thing of the past; fighting smaller, less costly wars might make financial and political sense, but if the end sate of the war is not achieved, then why fight?