Tuesday, August 16, 2005


No Exit Strategy, Please

Joe Katzman, writing at Winds of Change, links to an excellent article by Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Jeff Edwards (Retired), that stands as a must-read for all those who even use the words, "exit strategy."

Edwards notes the rapid introduction of the word "quagmire" from the Vietnam era lexicon almost immediately at the start of military action in March 2003. Not long after, there were the hardly unexpected calls for an "exit strategy." Edwards neatly sums up both the underlying meaning behind those calls, and the naivete such thinking reveals:
The implication attached to those words is clear. No government should ever enter a military conflict without a comprehensive blueprint for getting out. Buried in that idea lies the assumption that the master plan ought to include a detailed timeline. The sheer orderliness of the concept is so seductive that Senators, journalists, and private citizens are drawn to it in droves.

If we were talking about an undertaking with a high degree of predictability, that might be a reasonable demand. But fighting a war is not like building a house. You can not plan for every contingency, for the simple reason that you can't even identify every contingency. In any competition, your adversary will do his or her best to hit you from an entirely unexpected angle. This is a truism in everything from chess to tennis, but it's doubly true in warfare.
And even assuming perfect omniscience to create one, why would we ever communicate such a plan to our enemies? To do so would cause calamity, and hand our enemies the very key to our defeat. As Edwards explains:
Even if we could create a comprehensive Exit Strategy and timeline, we could never make them public. As soon as we set an ironclad date for withdrawal of forces, we have communicated the limits of our endurance to our enemies. We've given them a date to mark on their calendar -- hold out until this date, and you win.
However naive or misbegotten the desire, it is nonetheless understandable that even supporters of this war grow frustrated with the seeming slow pace of progress towards ending it. No one wants an unnecessary war. But war against unrelenting, unforgiving evil is a war of self defense.

We must beware -- and make every effort to educate the public -- that ending a war is a really bad idea if by ending it we surrender to forces of evil, and forces that will take our surrender, not as the final act of war, but the beginning of a wholly new and savage campaign to exploit our weakness and lack of resolve.

What do we need now in Iraq? Edwards has the answer:
We need a plan of action, not an Exit Strategy. We need a strategy for achieving the objective. Luckily, we've got one. We've had it since March 19, 2003. Assist the Iraqi people in forming stable and secure self-government.
Joe Katzman confronts those opposed to the war in Iraq, those calling for an exit strategy, those clamoring for us to withdraw, to admit defeat. He challenges all these to consider their motivations, their intent, their desired end state. For Katzman, and for all of us who have a primary goal of winning the war, we're left with not much more than, "You're either with us, or against us." I recall President Bush declaring a similar truth in confronting state sponsors of terrorism. Because the stakes really are that high, the enemy is really that ruthless, and the cost of defeat really is too great a cost to bear.

Katzman boils it down to its essence:
Nothing wrong with being a critic in a time of military conflict. The question is, are you offering alternative plans of action and critique, combined with a clear and shared commitment to victory as the goal? Are you asking for a plan of action and the terms of victory? Is victory your starting point, and your first demand?

Or are you simply offering defeatism by focusing on a foolish "exit strategy" whose only effect will be to encourage the nation's enemies and up the odds that your country will lose?
Some would look at the very public spectacle of Mother Sheehan and say, "This is what each death can teach us." I would like to suggest something else the dead can teach us.

In Carl Sandburg's Lincoln, Sandberg described a vivid encounter during the bloodiest, costliest days of the Civil War:
In a little wilderness clearing at Chancellorsville, a living soldier came upon a dead one sitting with his back to a tree, looking at first sight almost alive enough to hold a conversation. He had sat there for months, since the battle the year before that gave him his long rest. He seemed to have a story and philosophy to tell if the correct approach were made and he could be led into a quiet discussion. The living soldier, however, stood frozen in his foot tracks for a few moments, gazing at the ashen face and the sockets where the eyes had withered -- then picked up his feet, let out a cry and ran. He had interrupted a silence where the slants of silver moons and the music of varying rains kept company with the one against the tree who sat so speechless, though having much to say.
Exit strategies are tangents to avoid the obligation to the dead. They render hollow any devotion to their cause. These dead in Iraq, such as Casey Sheehan, who died a hero for a cause he believed in, no less than the dead of battles past, deserve our attention. They do have much to say.

Abraham Lincoln knew that the struggle he would undertake, that he would play so prominent a role in marshalling our will and resolve as a nation, was much bigger than any one man, and far more than the work for any one generation. So is our Global War on Terror. Lincoln, writing at a low point for him politically in 1858, foretold the struggle that began in earnest in 1861, ended a phase in 1865, yet continued to progress even into the historic struggles for civil rights in our 20th century:
I have not allowed myself to forget that the abolition of the slave-trade by Great Britain was agitated for a hundred years before it was a final success; that the measure [abolition] had its open fire-eating opponents; its stealthy "don't care" opponents; its dollar and cent opponents; its inferior race opponents; its negro equality opponents; and its religion and good order opponents; that all these opponents got [elected] offices, and their adversaries got none. But I have also remembered that though they blazed, like tallow-candles for a century, at last they flickered in the socket, died out, stank in the dark for a brief season, and were remembered no more, even by the smell ... I am proud, in my passing speech of time, to contribute an humble mite to that glorious consummation, which my own poor eyes may not last to see.
Would that we muster that resolve. For we must.

Links: Mudville Gazette, Wayne's World, Cafe Oregano

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