Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Belmont Club: The Usual Suspects

The Belmont Club: The Usual Suspects

This is the Belmont Club post to which I am referring!

Depressing Thoughts

A recent post on The Belmont Club talked about the importance of will in the war we are in, and referred to the works of Thomas Schelling. It's been too many years since I read Schelling, especially as he veered left in his later years. Serious study of game theory should be absolutely required in all colleges - not just the intuitive stuff, but (and this means the kiddies need to learn calculus) the real mathematics of it. But, I digress.

I hope that achilles jones and others are right when they say they believe we are no worse off than we were in 1939. Unfortunately, there is a very bad aspect to that analogy that people need to consider, and consider long and hard: and that is the example of the French in 1940.

While France is considered a military joke, it was not always so. Anyone with any knowledge of history knows the French military was the strongest in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries - through the Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire in the early 19th century, really.

The French reputation only began seriously to decline with their overwhelming defeat by the Prussians in 1870-71 in the Franco-Prussian War. The French then chucked out Napoleon III, cobbled the Third Republic together after flirting with reestablishing the monarchy, and rebuilt their military. They were strong in 1914. Will. Elan - spirit - was the word that was used constantly to describe French doctrine and purpose. And, for the most part, the French fought well in the First World War, even after they realized that massed infantry attackes wearing the red trousers Clemanceau once famously said "They're France!" were futile.

France and the French suffered terribly in WWI, and their victory in WWI led to great war weariness, and ennui and had a much more baleful effect in France than even it did in England, America or Germany. Even the military preparations for further war were primarily defensive and protective - the Maginot Line is the prime example.

French politics in the '30s were notoriously and bitterly divided, with strong socialist and rightist influence - this is a well-known story, but it was indicative of a sapped will in the society. It was far worse than in England or America, where we know it to have been bad.

The French military understood they would have to fight by '38, and by the time Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, the French public understood they would have to fight and France went to war.

Of course, as everyone knows, in 1940, once the Germans got serious and launched their attack, France collapsed in 8 weeks. An army with equipment at least as good as the Germans had - sometimes better - and more men, but poor leadership and backed by an evervated society with no will. You don't think the Arabs read history?

Britain, which suffered some of the same war weariness as the French, but was not directly invaded, did not collapse and rallied to fight. That's the example we all always look to - and the example of the US after Pearl Harbor.

Think for a moment, however, how the British who found the will to fight the Germans in 1940, essentially collapsed and gave up the empire after WWII, and after the disaster of Suez in 1956 (when the US was the dog in the manger), had completely withdrawn East of Suez by 1964. They stood their ground in the Cold War only because the US was standing strong.

Now, consider the US. We rallied from our pacifism and isolationism to fight WWII and win decisively, and then, after a brush with war weariness in the late '40s, rallied to defend the West through the Cold War - the very Cold War that occasioned Schelling's work on deterence. Our MAD and deterence generally was credible for only one reason: we had actually used atomic weapons, so when we threatened them, people 'knew' our threat to use them again had to be taken seriously.

Then came Vietnam and our own squandering of will. I won't recount that disaster where we fought bravely, if not often intelligently, and lost not on the battlefield but as a result of a loss of will at home due to the anti-war movement.

We again rallied to win the Cold War - displaying will and credible threats under Reagan - who scared the bejeebies out of the mullahs and the Russians - and again to fight and win Gulf I. But, that was done primarily by government will, because there was division politically. Reagan and Bush I were villified by the Democrats and the far left (not yet then entirely synonymous); the attacks only really stopped (for a while) when we won. And, after the feckless Clinton years, we rallied after 9/11 to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, throughout the post 9/11 world, we have had political polarization and sniping against the government's conduct of the war that is at least as bad as what the French faced between the world wars, and the notoriously short-attention-spanned American people are now weary of fighting a war that has not even caused inflation like Vietnam or cost us any really serious number of casualties. Our intial allies like Spain and Italy folded like cheap suits after the attacks in Spain, and the British people are really in trouble, with a huge Muslim 5th column and a population that would like to simply walk away from the whole thing.

So, the question becomes, will we be able, as the French did in 1914, as the British and we did in 1940/41, or will the American people lose their nerve and will to fight in the way the French did in 1940, the British did in the post-WWII era, and the US did after Vietnam? Remember the Carter years? Oh, yeah, that's exactly what we can expect if the Democrats win.

But this is more than about partisan politics, it's about the overall credibility of the society's will to survive. Can we make our military prowess credible? Given the fact that we are not prepared to field the conventional (that is to say people intensive) forces necessary to defeat Iran on the ground by invasion, the answer is depressing: not unless they believe we will use nuclear weapons.

What the Iraq War has demonstrated is that as good as our forces are - and they are very, very good - we do not have the conventional combined arms force-in-being, even if we fully mobilized, which we won't, to take on an Iran successfully. The 500,000+ ground troops we had in 1991 could have done it, but even though the 200,000 or so we could put on the ground in Iraq/Iran are not sufficient. Just not enough boots. Oh, we can bomb them and make life hard, but we can't win in the sense of destroying the enemy's leadership (bunkered up) and eliminating their capacity to make war and trouble around the world for us.

That leaves us with our national strategic means - the old euphemism for nuclear weapons. Does anyone really believe the US would use nuclear weapons against any attack other than a nuclear or very major CBW attack on the US? I don't. And, while I think Bush would respond to a WMD attack on the US with nuclear fire, I'm not sure it would be more than a demonstration attack. Tit for tat. Leading to another hudna. And, that's only the Bush administration. I'm not sure a Democrat could even do that much. So, why wouldn't the Arabs and Iranians wait?

A depressing thought, but my conclusion is that absent our actual use of nuclear weapons in the near future - and I'm agnostic whether a tactical nuke would do, or whether it would have to be a strategic weapon , no one who is making real decisions in the world about whether to confront the US or snipe at it is going to believe us. And, when we're attacked, I'm not even sure we'll have the will.

It will be the French in 1940 or far, far, far worse for civilization, the response of the Christian civilization to the initial attacks in the seventh century, when the bickering and infighting allowed militarily weaker Moslems, who had the will to go berserker on us, to conquer most of the Mediterranean world in less than 100 years.