Thursday, August 17, 2006

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.


At 8:31 AM, Blogger Das said...

Cato bravo on the fine postings - this was a very able recap of where we are at with appropriate analogies. I also appreciate your posts over at Belmont. I fear we have entered those interesting times that the ancient Chinese called a curse. Our leadership, the intellectual left, the official media refuse to equate Islamic terrorism with an attack on our civilization.

I've given up arguing with the bonehead Seattle left; the nature of our enemy will make itself known to us. A while back NPR interviewed inconvenienced passengers waiting in airports thanks to the London terror sting. Not once did the reporter, the interviewees or the voice over mention the word "Islam"; amazing. As an institution the press has suffered horribly from Islamic terror. Kidnappings, torture, ransoms outright murder and strict censorship when allowed into their sancutaries, yet they continually shower the terrorists with boundless equanimity. Where are we at? the 17th century or the 7th as you suggest or at 1939 (my own view is 1450 with Israel standing in as the West's "gimmie" for Constantinople.)? Well we are definitely not at that phase of advanced peaceful Islam 10th century thereabouts. We're in some kind of war/ Cheers.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger CS said...

FYI...the germans had more men than the French did...Indeed, the birthrate was one thing lamented by French leaders who saw another show down coming.

For a very good historical analysis, check out Diplomacy by Kissinger.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Arthur Dent said...

I've given up arguing with the bonehead Seattle left;

It does seem that an interesting cosmic chess game is in play.

I look back to Germany, Japan and Britain in WW2 and wonder how three fairly small nations, with little natural resources, could become so strong and technologically capable so easily.

I'm comforted that whatever those small ww2 nations had then seems to have eluded nations like Iran and N. Korea today. I don't mean to minimize Iran and NK but I see both as lacking innovation and thus potentially a far smaller threat.

Perhaps the lack of world unity with regards to containing rogue nations will cause some of us to covertly terrorize the terror regimes.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Van said...

I'll chime in on the kudos’s for a fine posting (and your screen name too).

Something else to note on the downward progression of the French, and later English, and what we're still circling over here in the USA.

In the mid 1800's, there was a contentious debate which determined whether or not the philosophies that would become Marxism & Deconstructionism would be thoroughly injected into the French soul, and the physical arena which would affect the behavior of all subsequent Frenchmen, was in economics.

One of the last great Frenchmen, Fredrich Bastiat, tried his darndest with a series of essays & pamphlets (most of which are available online) to turn the tide towards Individual Rights and away from statism & collectivism, by explaining and advocating the economic system of Individual Rights - Capitalism.

Sadly his arguments didn't win the day, and I think that daily sapping of independence & spirit that follows closely behind statism & collectivism (to say nothing of the related philosophies behind Marxism & Deconstructionism), resulted in the final collapse of France.

The British began to make that same economic decision in the early 20th century, and their decline - not just the battering of war, but the spiritual decline - has followed. But for the rallying of Thatcher, they might have disappeared altogether.

We are still waging that battle for our souls, our modern day Bastiat's such as Thomas Sowell & Walter Williams are plugging away, but as you say, our spirit is weakened. It will be interesting to see how we come out of this current conflict. The Islamist's are fueled by the short term sugar burst of energy derived from ignorance and fervor - can we outlast and crush them?

If we have the will to, we certainly will prevail.



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