Nov 12 2014
LTG Daniel Bolger (Citadel Class of 1978) has a very good book out chronicling the truth that a whole lot of people don't want to admit. For them, the wars were lost when the President of the United States decided to :1) not hang US troops out to dry with a worthless Iraqi government when they refused to negotiate on a SOFA treaty and 2) the day Obama gave a speech at West Point that acknowledged what many Americans already knew-that there was a limit to how much we could do for people who over the last 8 years had proven themselves completely worthless and unworthy of the sacrifices being made on their behalf. And that a lot of Americans were sick of it.
Fortunately for us, there are some military professionals, who actually fought in the war, who know better:
As a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80 soldiers. Despite their sacrifices, and those of thousands more, all we have to show for it are two failed wars. This fact eats at me every day, and Veterans Day is tougher than most.
As veterans, we tell ourselves it was all worth it. The grim butchery of war hovers out of sight and out of mind, an unwelcome guest at the dignified ceremonies. Instead, we talk of devotion to duty and noble sacrifice. We salute the soldiers at Omaha Beach, the sailors at Leyte Gulf, the airmen in the skies over Berlin and the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and we’re not wrong to do so. The military thrives on tales of valor. In our volunteer armed forces, such stirring examples keep bringing young men and women through the recruiters’ door. As we used to say in the First Cavalry Division, they want to “live the legend.” In the military, we love our legends.
Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story. (Emphasis mine-SS)
Clearly this will get many "surgeaholics" riled up. Devotees of the theory of ever continuing warfare, and of never blaming the people of Iraq or Afghanistan themselves for the mistakes they made, just does not fit the narrative. Troublesome facts are not the things they wish to hear:
We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that. What went wrong in Iraq and in Afghanistan isn’t the stuff of legend. It won’t bring people into the recruiting office, or make for good speeches on Veterans Day. Reserve those honors for the brave men and women who bear the burdens of combat. That said, those who served deserve an accounting from the generals. What happened? How? And, especially, why? It has to be a public assessment, nonpartisan and not left to the military. (We tend to grade ourselves on the curve.) Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens
Reviews for Bolger's book, Why We Lost, are mixed-I agree with his conclusion- while I agree also with those who think he doesn't place enough strategic blame with our top level civilian leadership. Furthermore, its clear he thinks we had to invade-and that is a conclusion that is not borne out by history. The invasion of Iraq is the biggest Foreign Policy mistake in the last 30 years. Nonetheless he gives an objective and necessary telling of how we far exceeded our original needs and objectives after 9-11 and plunged into a global rat hole. That alone makes it worth the read.