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Correcting the experts

It's not very often that I get to tell a so-called "think tank" that they have their basic facts wrong, but today is one of those days.

Today the Boston Globe published a piece from The Globalist discussing the war in Iraq in purely statistical terms. And as impressive as their piece might seem, I caught them comparing not apples and oranges, but apples and hand grenades.

They compare Iraq to prior wars -- Viet Nam, World War II, World War I, and the Civil War -- in terms of duration. It's been four years since we invaded Iraq, so that seems like a good time to look back at matters.

They say that the US involvement in Viet Nam lasted about eight years, World War II a little under four years, World War I 9 months, and the Civil War lasted four years. All indisputable. But then they start their little rhetorical three-card monte game.

Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941, and surrendered in May of 1945. Likewise, Japan declared war on the United States in December 1941 as well, and surrendered in August 1945.

But that was only the end of the formal war.

Both nations were occupied and rebuilt by the Allies before being granted full autonomy once more. Japan remained an occupied power until 1952, when it was formally recognized as a free, independent nation once more -- for a period of seven years.

Germany, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. It remained an occupied nation until 1949, when it was formally partitioned into East and West Germany. West Germany was a free nation, while East Germany was kept as a client state of the Soviet Union for another 40 years. The dissolution of East Germany and reunification of the two Germanys in 1990 could be considered the true "end" of the occupation phase of World War II.

Further complicating matters is that both nations still host large American military forces, the successors to the forces that defeated and occupied them over 60 years ago.

In the case of World War I, the fighting ended in 1918. But the consequences of that war, and the "punishment" of Germany, continued long afterwards, leading directly to World War II and, in many ways, the rise of militant Islam.

And then there's the Civil War. The war stretched from 1861 to 1865, with the reconstruction period officially lasting until 1877. But the legacy of the war lasted for about a century after the surrender at Appomattox, and it wasn't until the Civil Rights movement finally ended the tyranny of white supremacy in the South.

The United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, striking hard against the armed forces of Saddam's regime. President Bush declared an "end to major combat operations" on May 1. Since then, the fighting has been not a traditional "war," but a resistance to occupation and an attempt to shape the successive government.

So, in terms of the occupation, it has lasted about as long as that of World War II Germany, but has a ways to go to equal that of Japan or the Confederacy. And it is likely not to be as disastrous as the "settlement" of World War I -- the world learned a hard lesson that time, and is not likely to repeat those mistakes.

One of the problems of rebuilding Iraq, in contrast to that of Germany and Japan, is that we didn't "break" Iraq as thoroughly as we did the Axis powers. Those nations were utterly destroyed in the process of defeating their leadership -- millions killed, wholesale destruction and carnage rained down on the military and civilians alike, cities destroyed, the people reduced to abject despair. The sheer magnitude of the destruction made those nations far more malleable to being remade in our image.

That was not done by design, however, but by necessity. Due to the limitations of military technology and doctrine, we simply had no choice. That was the only way we had to defeat them.

Today, though, we had an alternative -- and we used it. Instead of the chainsaw approach of prior wars, we used the scalpel technique. We focused exclusively on military and government targets, and went to great lengths to avoid civilians and non-military infrastructure. As a consequence, we excised Saddam's regime without visiting wholesale destruction on the nation as a whole.

That could have been an error. By doing so, only Saddam and those closely and directly tied to his regime were forced to accept defeat and destruction -- and even among them, there were plenty of bitter-enders. We then attempted not to build a new Iraq from the ashes, but graft the accoutrements of democracy on to the still largely intact body of Iraqi politics, culture, and history -- many elements of which are antithetical to such notions.

Was it the right move? I don't know. It was the humane decision at the time, and certainly the defeat of Saddam's regime was considerably less bloody than it could have been -- or would have been, in years past. (For a pretty good example, witness the years-long Iran-Iraq war, which lasted just under eight years, killed almost a million people, and in the end achieved nothing of lasting import.) But could that short-term mercy have been a long-term cruelty? Could sparing lives at the outset end up costing far more lives in the long term?

I think it's too early to decide that, but it's absolutely something to be studied as the occupation continues.

And it's just out-and-out stupid to compare Iraq with prior wars with simple marks on a calendar.


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Comments (41)

Jay, it's not "out-and-out"... (Below threshold)
ted:

Jay, it's not "out-and-out" stupid to make the comparison if your aim, as is that of the left, to sew the seeds of defeat of the Americans; it is downright clever.

Apples and oranges? Coming... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

Apples and oranges? Coming from the same people that compared the murder rate of a country (Iraq) with the murder rate of cities (DC and Philly) that is rich.

Hmmm. I wonder why you dis... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

Hmmm. I wonder why you dislike comparing 2 US cities that have been under single party rule for decades and Iraq?

You are correct. The US occ... (Below threshold)
david:

You are correct. The US occupied Germany and Japan and still does. US intent is to occupy Iraq as well. The purposes are: control central Europe via Gemany, control the East Pacific via Japan, control the Middle East via Iraq and Israel. The goals are strategic: prevent any other nation from controlling large parts of the world. But is occupying other parts of the world for 50 years (Germany) or 100 years (Philippines) a good idea?

"The United States invaded ... (Below threshold)
elisa:

"The United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, striking hard against the armed forces of Saddam's regime. President Bush declared an "end to major combat operations" on May 1. Since then, the fighting has been not a traditional "war," but a resistance to occupation and an attempt to shape the successive government."

This is the little detail that many can't seem to grasp. There was nothing disingenuous about declaring "Mission Accomplished" - the primary objective WAS accomplished. Only the naive thought that would be the end of hostilities. Had the war been properly handled after that I think we would have seen a much quicker end to hostilities. That it was grossly mismanaged at that point in no way diminishes the initial accomplishment.

Jay...I think you ... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

Jay...

I think you know that war opponents aren't ONLY concerned about the length of this war compared to WWII. As you note, our troops are being shot at by a variety of factions----in what many of us would call a civil war (though not members of the Republic Party)----while we are occupying. As far as conditions on the ground are concerned, the war is NOT over.

You think it might have been a mistake, that we perhaps should have "broken" the country. That reminds me of the old Vietnam idea of "we had to destroy the village to save it."

That might have worked. But I don't think it would have been the right thing to do.

This is the little... (Below threshold)
Publicus:
This is the little detail that many can't seem to grasp. There was nothing disingenuous about declaring "Mission Accomplished" - the primary objective WAS accomplished. Only the naive thought that would be the end of hostilities.

Yes, only naive people would have expected our invasion force to be greeted as liberators.

Hmmm. I wonder why... (Below threshold)
Publicus:
Hmmm. I wonder why you dislike comparing 2 US cities that have been under single party rule for decades and Iraq?

I've voted against the Democrats in my single-party city. I am wary of single party rule. It gets people drunk with power. That's what's happened to the Republican in the federal government. I say that I'm a Democrat, but I really follow Lord Acton: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I fear the same would happen with Democrats (or Whigs or Mugwumps) if they got ths same power for as long as the Republic Party.

Jay,Nice rebuttal to... (Below threshold)

Jay,
Nice rebuttal to the Globe article. Whenever someone trucks out the old "WWII lasted 4 years, Iraq lasted longer, why don't we leave" argument, I ask would they have us devote as much money to defense as we did during World War II? We were in an existential conflict then, and everyone realized it. We devoted 38% of our GDP to defense during the WWII, compared to 3.8% today. That's 1/10th the funding as we had then. Fighting wars on the cheap does not lead to fast results. Should we spend more to meet someone's demand that we get it over sooner?

Details here: http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2007/03/2545232

"Yes, only naive people wou... (Below threshold)
elisa:

"Yes, only naive people would have expected our invasion force to be greeted as liberators."

Heh. I have to agree with you there! That was one of the dumbest statements ever.

"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

That's why I'm always happier when the House and Congress are dominated by different parties.

pimfThat's why I'm... (Below threshold)
elisa:

pimf

That's why I'm always happier when the White House and Congress are dominated by different parties.

That's why I'm alw... (Below threshold)
Publicus:
That's why I'm always happier when the White House and Congress are dominated by different parties.

Me too! I think the founders believed that power would be balanced largely because of institutional loyalties (i.e. members of a particular branch of government would be loyal to that branch.) Instead, loyalty to party is stronger than loyalty to the branch one is serving in.

The Dems have messed up the city I'm in (well, not really because the PEOPLE of the city are doing a great job, even though the gov't isn't!). Even good people need to be kicked out of power once in awhile...just to keep them good.

Please..disagree with the '... (Below threshold)
Patti:

Please..disagree with the 'experts' more often.

Spot on Jay.... (Below threshold)
robert the original:

Spot on Jay.

Jay, we have lost 2K soldie... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

Jay, we have lost 2K soldiers and at least 50K Iraqis since "mission accomplished" and there is no end in sight (as long as the Republicans call the shots). How many Americans died (by enemy fire) after the end of WWI, WWII and Korea?

Now, how many Americans died in the Kosovo war?

Barney, just how familiar d... (Below threshold)

Barney, just how familiar does this sound?

J.

How many soldiers lost in I... (Below threshold)
marc:

How many soldiers lost in Iraq barneyRUBBLE?

Jay I really don't see your... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

Jay I really don't see your point? Are you saying that losing most of eastern Europe to Communism is a good thing?

marc, thanks for the correction. We have not lost 2K since mission accomplished, we have lost 3K and the Iraqi deaths are well over 60K. Much better, right.

That's because you are a fr... (Below threshold)
jhow66:

That's because you are a frigging liberal DUMBASS barneypoo.

barneypoo for your info, we lost more then that in 2 hours on D-Day. Idiot.

elisa-Wars are not... (Below threshold)
Rory:

elisa-

Wars are not "managed". You can plan all you want the enemy isn't going to "follow" the play book.

Wars are not "mana... (Below threshold)
Publicus:
Wars are not "managed". You can plan all you want the enemy isn't going to "follow" the play book.

True, in this case. This war certainly isn't being managed; virtually every step of the way, this administration was surprised. Here's a thought----maybe the administration doesn't have a clue about how the various factions actually think and behave?

jhow666-b... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

jhow666-

barneypoo for your info, we lost more then that in 2 hours on D-Day. Idiot.

What's the point? Not enough casualties yet for you in Iraq? How many American casualties are you hoping for? Do we need to exceed the casualties of D-Day? Of WWII?

Pub-Wars aren't ma... (Below threshold)
Rory:

Pub-

Wars aren't managed. You're a victim of Hollywood's cleaned up presentation of wars that wrap up after two hours.

You are also comfortable in the smugness of thinking you could do better having the "gift" of 20/20 hindsight.


Sorry you rarely get do-overs of the exact scenario when people are fighting for their lives.

War isn't static it's dynamic and the variables are incalculable.

War isn't neat-it's about the messiest, most unmanagable thing on earth.


War is hell.

Get over your Hollywood conceived illusions. They've programmed you well.


While you are looking at ex... (Below threshold)
Burt:

While you are looking at extended occupations, you might note that Guantanamo Bay is actually left over from the Spanish/American War. And yes, we still have occupying forces at Biloxi MS.

Rory --Wars ARE pl... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

Rory --

Wars ARE planned and managed. Like all kinds of management, you need to have plans for the unexpected. But you don't improvise every step of the way.

These guys have made big mistakes...repeatedly. Cheney thought we'd be greeted as liberators. Bush was certain that there were weapons of WMD. (this is where you make noise about rusty old leftover weapons from before the first Gulf War.) Even now, they can't recognize that there's a civil war.

Let's put it this way: Eisenhower would have managed the war. A heck of a lot better than these guys...

Heh. WWED, What Would Eise... (Below threshold)

Heh. WWED, What Would Eisenhower Do?

Pub-War is partial... (Below threshold)
Rory:

Pub-

War is partially science but the best practitioners are also artists.

One example- Patton.

Patton didn't take orders well , he'd go off on whims, change direction and outrun his supply lines.

Patton because of those outside of the box "unpredictabilities" pulled the 28th Mech's posteriors out of the fire during the Battle of the Bulge.

If war was purely science we'd be able to win them all.

Plus and this is Jay's point-go ahead and pick Eisenhower, but that pick would be short-sighted.

You can't template the WW II experience over this war because Eisenhower rarely met an enemy whose goal was to die. The German soldiers wanted to live. They listened and behaved according to the basic human instinct for survival. WW II combatants also played within the parameters and borders of nation states.

The terrorist want to die. They are motivated by the indoctrination of their religion that promises them the rewards of the afterlife.

They are playing a long game, they aren't playing for the next day or even the next year like the enemies that Eisenhower was familiar with, and they have no respect for the ideas of nation states in fact that is one of their big advantages. The American public is incapable of making that adjustment in thinking. That hamstrings the President because he is by the nature of elections a hell of a lot more beholding to public opinion than rogue terrorist elements are.

It's a new idea too hard to grasp for most of the general public apparently. Most complain about Bush's lack of ability to convince the American public, but no other American President has had to compete with 24/7 American media interested in their new 'globalized" audience and that revenue. The last American Republican President was Reagan and his access to the American public was not inundated to the extreme that cable television counters Bush by. Reagan didn't have to deal with the media claiming that White House video was propaganda, while the same media is determining that beheadings, sniper killings of GIs and the burning of and dragging through the streets of dead US GI bodies is acceptable "news" and played over and over again.

That's why again it is ridiculous to template WW II and most other wars over this one.

Wars are where by neccessity the enemies adapt and change and react to that.

That is the reason why you don't see armies of Red Coats lined up to fire directly at each other anymore.

Today I got to retrace a fe... (Below threshold)
epador:

Today I got to retrace a few steps from the past. I went through the National Art Museum, then the Nation Archives. The lines weren't long at all. The Constitution and Bill of Rights are still there, but a little faded.

It was a chilly but clear day. I rode the metro to the town just outside of DC where I spent a few formative years. The bank my mom used to work at is still there, but now a Bank of America, rather than a Citizen's Bank. Our house is still there, kept up, still the same color, and someone repaired the porch swing too! My elementary school is now a community recreation center. The old Drug Store went through an iteration as a Video Store and now is a different local commercial establishment. They don't sell comic books there any more :-(

Walking through this DC suburb, about 1 out of four or five driveways were cluttered with imported cars with anti-war and anti-Bush stickers. Most of these imports were Japanese. I saw not one Republican sticker, and no "Support our Troops" ribbons.

After attending to some real work, and a restaurant dinner, I made the mistake of stopping by the hotel bar for a glass of Pinot Grigio. NCAA B-BAll completed and 60 Minutes came on. There was no NS4YS warning, and Haditha was there with Scott Pelley trying to play Frank Wuterich. It was appalling to see the attempts to pander to the left rhetoric by Pelley. Sadder still to see him ask something to the effect of "Even knowing all those women and children were going to die, would you do it again?" Amazingly, Wuterich answered thoughtfully but without hesitation as honorably as any Marine could - "Yes."

As many warriors in the past have had to ask themselves this same question in private, this young officer had the strength to answer in the jaded glare of a hateful media set to plunder his (and the victims from all sides of this conflict) grief for their actions and consequences.

Folks, this stuff happens in war. It has for centuries. It will happen in all future wars. Probably on much "grander" scales. All the hype and hand-wringing, disingenuous comparisons and editorializing, that's not new either. Its gone on for thousands of years too.

What also has consistently happened, is the losers lose a lot, and the winners lose too, but not as much. The question is, do we have the guts to be winners anymore, or are we about to be ground into the dust? If you look at the current economic war we're losing to China, as well as the media war we're just about handing to the Islamic Fundamentalists, whatever we accomplish on the ground in Iraq will be moot unless we change the tide on those other two fronts, and soon.

Whoops, Frank F's a honorab... (Below threshold)
epador:

Whoops, Frank F's a honorable SSgt, not someone with a commission. Must have been the Pinot giving him a field promotion.

PubSo you agree th... (Below threshold)
Screejay:

Pub

So you agree that the proper management of the war would have been to shoot the looters, right?

Eisenhower? which one? Mi... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

Eisenhower? which one? Mimi would have done a better job than Bush/Cheney/Rummy.

BarneyYou couldn't... (Below threshold)
Rory:

Barney

You couldn't even manage a play date between three year-olds. Even if you had your purple dinosuar suit.

PIMFdinosaur... (Below threshold)
Rory:

PIMF
dinosaur

"The last American Republic... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

"The last American Republican President was Reagan" rory

Actually, I staged a play for 8-year olds last month. None the less, at least I know our last Republican President before Bush the Dumb was Bush the Elder.

You don't sound too smart, Rory!

You can't template... (Below threshold)
Publicus:
You can't template the WW II experience over this war because Eisenhower rarely met an enemy whose goal was to die.

Ummm...the Japanese weren't afraid to die. They crashed their planes into our ships at Pearl Harbor. You may have heard...Now, I know Eisenhower wasn't stationed in the Pacific, but I think HE was up to the job.

The American public is incapable of making that adjustment in thinking. That hamstrings the President because he is by the nature of elections a hell of a lot more beholding to public opinion than rogue terrorist elements are.

Ummm...yes. The president is supposed to be beholden to the people. It's called democracy. So, the President has to convince us that Iraq--which didn't attack us and had no usable WMDs--that it's worth sending our sons and daughter over there to come back in body bags...if he wants to have his war.

All these years later, the American people are having second thoughts.

BTW...I think Rory... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

BTW...

I think Rory IS smart, and she's read some history. She needs to read more; but I absolutely respect her.

"I think Rory IS smart, and... (Below threshold)
BarneyG2000:

"I think Rory IS smart, and she's read some history." by Pub

Pub, rory thinks our last Republican President was Reagan, and then she/he makes this statement:

"Reagan didn't have to deal with the media claiming that White House video was propaganda, while the same media is determining that beheadings, sniper killings of GIs and the burning of and dragging through the streets of dead US GI bodies is acceptable "news" and played over and over again."

The "White House Video"? What WH video? Played over and over? What is she/he talking about? I have not seen one beheading on any "media" broadcast. Not the Big Three, not cable.

War isn't managed? What the hell is she/he talking about? Why do we and every other half ass nation in this world have War Colleges? Why do we have logistics? Why do we have war plans. That has to be the most uninformed statement I have read on this blog.

No, I take that back, mikesc, kim, marc, scrapie, jhow are much worst, and on almost every comment, but I digress, Pub you should reconsider.

Ummm...yes. The presiden... (Below threshold)
Screejay:

Ummm...yes. The president is supposed to be beholden to the people. It's called democracy. So, the President has to convince us that Iraq--which didn't attack us and had no usable WMDs--that it's worth sending our sons and daughter over there to come back in body bags...if he wants to have his war.

Right Pub, did that, it was called ATUF.

Iraq didn't attack us? Why were they trying to shoot down US aircraft trying to enforce the NFZ?

Barney,Since you k... (Below threshold)
Screejay:

Barney,

Since you know so much about war colleges, please explain asymmetrical warfare. Also explain the part where you are a direct participant in American defeat in asymmetrical warfare against a foe that cannot win a set piece battle.

Jay Tea, implying armed con... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

Jay Tea, implying armed conflict lasted through the occupation of Germany and Japan is ridiculous. Japan IMMEDIATELY accepted the Emperor's Wish that U.S. forces be allowed entry to Japan (being assured that McArthur would halt the Soviet Red Army's advance (diplomatically) at the Sahkalin Islands of Japanese territory). As for Germany, the Werewolves were exterminated after Adenaur's was threatened with replacement as head of state. All quiet by 1946. And if the Globalist is counting US casualties from the marines' 1965 LZ, they're not worth shit as a resource. The army had KIAs from at LEAST 1961. Many of these were incommunicado and weren't acknowledged until 1975. They need to update.

Pub and Barney (I hate Bush... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Pub and Barney (I hate Bush Always) needs to check their history. We are a democratically set up Republic. There is a difference, and it is that difference that corrects your crazy statement. Learn boys, learn. You cannot go on just hating. Oh, by the way, even though it was short lived, we were greeted at liberators. Your lies will not change that. ww




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