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THE MISUNDERSTOOD OBJECT OF WAR
by Gary Showalter

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2001 PDT

While politicians claim to be working to achieve a lasting peace, men, women and children continue to die, often brutally and in large numbers, as both sides make use of their deaths to improve their bargaining position.



"The object of war is to destroy the enemy's will and ability to wage war."

THIS STATEMENT has been the accepted definition of war since Von Clausewitz formulated it in his epochal work, On War, in 1832. According to this definition, one must destroy both the enemy's will to fight and his ability to feed troops and materiel into the conflict. That is how Alexander the Great marched to victory, how Caesar won his wars against the Gauls, how Napoleon very nearly conquered the world, how the Allies beat the Germans in two world wars, and how the Americans defeated the Japanese in the Pacific.

The Americans lost in Vietnam, the Russians lost in Afghanistan and the Americans lost (again) in Iraq because they ignored the realities inherent in this definition.

Machiavelli said, "War is politics by other means." U.S. President Lyndon Johnson understood this to mean that politicians should manage war as they managed negotiations, that war was too important to be left to the generals. But Lyndon Johnson proved to be a very poor student, of both Machiavelli and of the history of war.

When Johnson took office after Kennedy's assassination, he began to pour troops and material into Vietnam not to defeat the North, but because he wanted to use the conflict to force Ho Chi Min to the bargaining table. Johnson took over the management of the war. He specified targets for the Air Force, changed the rules of engagement for the troops, and set borders for the conflict. He surrounded himself with political advisors and ignored the advice of his generals, the men who could have brought the war to a successful conclusion.

The result was one of the most brutal, un-winnable conflicts in recent history. It was un-winnable because winning the war was never one of Johnson's goals. He refused to see the conflict as anything but an extension of politics. Ho Chi Min won the war in Vietnam because he understood war; he understood that only by winning the war before agreeing to negotiations could he be sure of getting what he wanted from the negotiations. War is not an extension of politics, as Johnson thought. War begins when politicians cannot achieve their goals through negotiations.

Johnson handed the initiative to Ho Chi Min on a platter. As long as Ho Chi Min refused to come to the negotiating table — which is what Johnson wanted—he could do anything he liked. Ho Chi Min fought the war on his terms, where and when he chose. He won the war because he refused to negotiate until the Americans sued for peace.

The Iraqis won the Gulf War because they never had a chance to loose it. It was never the intention of George Bush to destroy Saddam Hussein, or end his rule over Iraq. Bush's goal was to force Iraq out of Kuwait and dismantle Hussein's stockpile of advanced weaponry. While Bush accomplished the first part of his goal, that of forcing Iraq out of Kuwait, he failed miserably in the destruction of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, or the sanctions imposed on Iraq afterward.

In the case of the current Bosnian conflict, the Americans are trying desperately to get out — they see it as a no-win situation. This is because they did not go into the conflict with the intention of destroying the enemy's will and ability to wage war. They wished to manage the conflict to what they saw would be a successful compromise at the negotiating table.

The Allies won WW II because they had both the will and the ability to prosecute the war to the point where they succeeded in destroying the enemy's will and ability to wage war. The Americans out produced both the Germans and the Japanese in war materiel. The Americans had the economy and the manufacturing ability to sustain the conflict beyond the point where the Germans and the Japanese could replace their men and materiel in the field.

The USSR, the "Evil Empire" of Ronald Regan, collapsed for the same reason—America out-spent Russia in the arms race, and actually drove that once great nation into bankruptcy. Russia lost in Afghanistan because she could not support the troops who were fighting the war. Desertion, demoralization, and an inability to pay the wages of the military, coupled with an economy on the verge of collapse, forced Russia out of Afghanistan. Russia found itself without the will or ability to prosecute the war.

War is, and has always been, a very expensive business. Both Russia and the United States have won major conflicts, and both of them have lost conflicts they should have won. War, as we have seen, is a two-edged sword, and can cut both ways. Once you enter into a conflict it must be with the intention of destroying the enemy's will and ability to wage war.

If, for any reason, you fail to accomplish both of those goals, you will be defeated, no matter how large a landmass you control, no matter how numerous your population, no matter how powerful your economy. You will loose.

That is the position in which Israel finds itself today. While the Palestinian Authority (PA) has as its goal the destruction of Israel, the goal of very nearly all of the Israeli governments since the establishment of the state has been to negotiate a settlement of the conflict. In other words, while the PA (as the successor to the PLO and the proxy of the Arab states) has fought to defeat Israel, the Israelis have tried to manage the conflict in order to bring the PA to the negotiating table.

Israel cannot ever hope to win this conflict. Israel has fought Arafat and his terror gang since the inception of the PLO in 1964. During all of this time, Israel has not ever considered winning as an option. Even with the successful conclusion of the Lebanese war, that saw Arafat and his troops safely off to Tunis, Israel has never had as a goal the destruction of the enemy's will and ability to continue the conflict.

Shimon Peres brought Arafat to Gaza from Tunis, gave him weapons, arranged for a monthly infusion of cash from Israeli tax monies, and even stumped the world to arrange massive loans for the Palestinian Authority. After that, Peres and his associates made one excuse after another for the murderous acts of brutality of his men and the lies and hatred in the speeches of Arafat and his cronies. This was done so that Peres and Rabin could have someone with whom to negotiate a settlement of the Arab Israeli conflict.

But all the while that Peres and Rabin (and after them Netanyahu and Barak), negotiated one concession after another with the PA, Arafat never wavered from his goal—that of the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement by an Arab State. While successive Israeli governments have seen the conflict as an extension of the political realm, Arafat has been fighting a war.

There is no sense in negotiating with an enemy while he retains the will and the ability to wage war. Opening negotiations before the conflict has been brought to a successful conclusion places the enemy in the position of dictating the terms. Terms, by the way, which stipulate your surrender to him.

The misuse of war as an extension of politics (today called "low-level" war) is a very brutal and cynical affair. While the politicians claim to be working to achieve a lasting peace, men, women and children continue to die, often brutally and in large numbers, as both sides make use of their deaths to improve their bargaining position.

Contrary to the protestations of every politician who involves himself in conflicts of this sort, there is an alternative to negotiation under fire. Put in the plainest words possible, the only solution is to take the initiative out of the hands of the enemy, and kill him. Overwhelming force applied against the enemy in a short, brutal maneuver whose goal is the destruction of the enemy's men and war material, followed up by the capture (or death) of his leadership, will bring an end to the conflict. It is, in fact, far more merciful than allowing the conflict to drag on for years.

Allowing "low-level" conflicts to continue without resolution perpetrates the brutality and horror of war beyond anything required from a military standpoint. The Arab-Israeli conflict exists because the politicians—including the Americans, the British, the French, Germans, Russians, and those of the Arab state—find it to be a very useful tool in negotiations (that often have only a peripheral bearing on the State of Israel) amongst themselves. This conflict serves no military purpose.

Many acts of mercy in time of war have found their way into history, and stand today as shining examples of the greatness to which man can aspire. But there is no mention of a single act of mercy in all the history of politics.

<<
Gary Showalter is a novelist and independent journalist, specializing in political issues surrounding the Middle East. Recent articles by the author include:
Strategic Terror Attacks within the United States
Tactical Terror Attacks within the United States
Peeling the Onion
The Long View
A Rumor of Democracy

Article copyright © Gary Showalter; all rights reserved
related resources

| r e a d i n g |

On War; Karl Von Clausewitz, Carl Von Clausewitz, Anatol Rapoport; ISBN: 0140444270

The Art of War; Sun Tzu, Samuel B. Griffith; ISBN: 0195014766

A Book of Five Rings; Miyamoto Musashi, Victor Harris; ISBN: 0517415283

The Prince; Niccolo Machiavelli, Daniel Donno; ISBN: 0553212788

Strategy; Basil Henry Liddell Hart, B. H. Liddell Hart, Basil H. Liddell-Hart; ISBN: 0452010713

Combating Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Terrorism: A Comprehensive Strategy (A Report of the Csis Homeland Defense Project); Frank J. Cilluffo, Sharon L. Cardash, Gordon Nathaniel Lederman; ISBN: 0892063890

Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland; Anthony H. Cordesman; ISBN: 0275974278

How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War; Gideon Rose, James F. Hoge Jr.; ISBN: 1586481304

The Age of Terror: America and the World After September 11; Strobe Talbot, Nayan Chanda ; ISBN: 0465083560

Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland; Anthony H. Cordesman; ISBN: 0275974278

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare; Bard E. O'Neill, Edward C. Meyer; ISBN: 1574883356

What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response; Bernard Lewis; ISBN: 0195144201

Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox; Jonathan B. Tucker; ISBN: 0871138301

The New Face of Terrorism: Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction; Nadine Gurr, Benjamin Cole; ISBN: 1860644600

Holy War, Inc.: Inside The Secret World of Osama Bin Laden; Peter L. Bergen; ISBN: 0743205022

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine; Joan Peters; ISBN: 0963624202

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society); Mark Juergensmeyer; ISBN: 0520223012

Economic Sanctions and American Diplomacy; Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations; ISBN: 0876092121

Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy; Paul R. Pillar, Michael H. Armacost; ISBN: 0815700040

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare;Bard E. O'Neill, Edward C. Meyer; ISBN: 1574883356

The Ultimate Terrorists; Jessica Stern; ISBN: 0674617908

The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism; Simon Reeve; ISBN: 1555534074

| u s e n e tg r o u p s |

alt.military

alt.war

sci.military.moderated

sci.military.naval

soc.history.war

soc.veterans

us.military

| w e b s i t e s |

Lessons of War (thinkQuest)

Lessons of War: Discussion Forum (thinkQuest)

The Thirty-Six Strategies of Ancient China

An Introduction to Sun-tzu and the Art of War (Univ of Florida)

The Sun-tzu in English and Chinese (the China Page)

Strategic Information Warfare: A New Face of War; Roger C. Molander, Andrew S. Riddile, Peter A. Wilson; Rand Publications

The Korean War (Air University Library Publications)

The Cold War Science & Technology Studies Program (Carnegie Mellon University)

. . . . . . . . . .

US Commission on National Security

Securing the National Homeland Discussion Forum (US Commission on Nat'l Security)

National Security Agency

Office of Homeland Security (White House)

Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security (US Gov)

Defense Technical Information Center (US Dept of Defense)

DefenseLINK (Official Website of the US Dept of Defense)

GAO Reports: Homeland Security (US General Accounting Office)

US Immigration & Naturalization Service (USINS INS)

Jane's Information Group

Jane's Regional Security Digest

Homeland Security and Defense (Business Week publication)

Center for Security Policy

ANSER Institute for Homeland Security

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Center For Strategic & International Studies

Regional Centre for Strategic Studies

The Henry L. Stimson Center

Adm. Blair on Regional Security, Fight Against Terrorism (US Dept of State)

The Army and Homeland Security: A Strategic Perspective... (US Army War College)

(*see our resource directory for add'l resources)


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