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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card January 11, 2004

Loyalty, Sacrifice, and War on the Cheap

We've had two recent publications that attacked President Bush's government -- one that matters, and one that doesn't.

The less important one is former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's The Price of Loyalty, in which he says that President Bush's Cabinet meetings had such a lack of real dialogue that it was like a "blind man in a roomful of deaf people."

Of course, this only shows that O'Neill had no idea how presidential cabinets have functioned for a century now. They are no longer a council of the President's closest advisers. Instead, it's a ritualistic meeting in which heads of completely separate organizations go through the motions of discussing policy and keeping each other informed.

Just as the real work of the houses of Congress is done in committees and back rooms, so also the real work of the White House is done by smaller groups than the unwieldy and largely irrelevant cabinet-as-committee.

Not that the individual cabinet members are irrelevant -- as heads of vast bureaucracies, they are very important and are expected to be experts on the organizations they head. But nobody cares very much what the Secretary of the Treasury thinks about labor policy or defense policy -- except insofar as those departments might tread into Treasury territory.

O'Neill seems to have managed to spend several years in the cabinet without noticing that he wasn't in the inner circle. So he actually thinks that what he saw in cabinet meetings reflected how President Bush governs!

Still, apart from grinding his own obvious axes -- this is a man who was fired by a leader who doesn't fire people very often -- he levels some interesting charges.

The most ballyhooed is the charge that the President was already considering war with Iraq even before 9/11.

What I don't understand is why this is news.

Remember what was happening in Iraq before all the controversy over whether to invade? During the entire Clinton administration and the first years of Bush's term, Iraq was constantly violating the ceasefire terms, firing at (or locking-on to) American airplanes, abetting terrorism, and committing atrocities against Kurds and Shi'ites in the north and south of Iraq.

By all legal standards, we were still at war with Iraq, left over from 1991. That war only ended because of a ceasefire; the moment Iraq violated that ceasefire, we had causus belli -- the right to resume combat at any time.

That's why I was so frustrated by all the nonsense about trying to get the U.N.'s permission to topple Saddam's government. We did not need it! We never needed it! We had the legal and moral right to invade Iraq as long as those actions continued.

But in the effort to build a coalition, President Bush ended up with a public relations fiasco as he used the threat of weapons of mass destruction -- which everyone believed Saddam had, by the way; no serious commentator was saying that they didn't exist -- to try to rally recalcitrant allies to our side.

Please remember that the war with Iraq did not begin on 9/11. Last year's invasion was finishing what had been left undone in 1991, out of respect for our Arab allies.

In fact, the only serious obstacles we've had in our combat in the middle east have come from being so sensitive to our allies that it has hampered our ability to act decisively and effectively to eliminate threats against American -- and world -- security.

However, that is the price one pays for having allies. Churchill used to groan over the need to bow to American political realities during World War II, and if Eisenhower had not already been bald, he would have torn out his hair over the fits the condescending British generals often caused him.

If you want allies, you put up with a lot of inconvenience to keep them.

But it is hardly a surprise that President Bush would be discussing an invasion of Iraq in Cabinet meetings prior to 9/11. President Bush had inherited a truly dangerous situation with Iraq and had to consider what to do about it.

The only thing that's really newsworthy is that O'Neill actually used the word loyalty in the title of a book that consists of demonstrating his own lack of loyalty to a President in wartime. And then people wonder why presidents tend to give high offices only to cronies they can trust....


The other recent publication is by far the more important one. A report from the Army War College, written by Jeffrey Record, warns that the U.S. Army is "near the breaking point."

"The global war on terrorism as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly ... its parameters should be readjusted." (Quoted from a Washington Post article by Thomas E. Ricks.)

It would be easy to dismiss Record as being an former aide to Sam Nunn, a Democrat, and say that this report is pure partisanship. And, in fact, there are aspects of the report that clearly show bias in the treatment of the evidence -- especially in Record's recommendations about what ought to be done.

Going after just Al-Qaeda instead of all of the interlocking network of fanatical Muslim terrorists, as Record recommends, is precisely the kind of selective targeting that made the Vietnam War impossible to win.

But ignore his conclusions, for the moment, and look at what he actually has evidence for.

The American military is seriously overextended. After years of neglect under Clinton, so that when Bush took office there was barely enough ammunition in stock to mount a panty raid, it took major ratcheting up of defense spending to get our army to the strength it supposedly had on paper, let alone increase its capability.

The problem with military power is that the moment you commit a significant part of the force to combat, then from that moment on, you have far less in reserve to deal with other threats that might come up.

Plus, combat requires an eruption of money, whether you win or lose. All those smart weapons that kept us from killing as many civilians as previous wars would have killed cost far more than the much cheaper dumb weapons.

Add to that the fact that with our forces committed to Iraq and a significant number also still involved in Afghanistan, we only have a reserve large enough to deal with one other major combat and that would mean a total commitment of all our resources. A third major combat would break us.

Record seems to be making the case that we couldn't even deal well with the one. I can't dispute his figures; they are not implausible.

One could make this a loyalty issue, of course -- to expose our potential weakness might encourage adventurism on the part of some of our enemies.

But Record was writing a report for the Army War College, not for Time or Newsweek, and if leaders and thinkers in the Army can't tell the truth to each other -- or even make a fervent case for a wrongheaded idea now and then -- we would soon lose any capability of daring and original thought, or even accurate assessment of our assets and liabilities.

So there's nothing wrong with Record's having written what he wrote, and we must face the facts that he presents.

Of course, being a military man, it is not his job to assess the political and foreign-policy pressures that shape military policy. Thus when he says that Iraq was the wrong campaign at the wrong time, I have to agree with him -- I've said so several times.

Iraq was not the most dangerous sponsor of terror -- Syria and Iran were and are, and the most important target to go after would have been Syria. It would have been as surely a war of liberation as the war in Iraq, and it would have cut off the immediate support of the most virulent anti-Israel terror groups, thus bringing some hope of peace to Israel and Palestine. And Syria would have had the advantage of being easily accessible to our forces, unlike the nightmare of trying to campaign against Iran from the sea.

But that's the way you think when you're ignoring politics and foreign relations. Politically, to most Americans it would have looked like we were invading Syria or Iran out of the clear blue sky. (Though I believe a President could have made the case for either war, either before or after 9/11.) Iraq had a famous monster at its helm; Iraq was shooting at our troops (and getting shot back at) several times a week; and Iraq had a whole series of U.N. resolutions that Saddam was ignoring.

How could President Bush have known that France and Germany would suddenly go berserk in their hatred and envy of America and try to tie our hands? Iraq looked like the easy case to make politically and abroad. Well, that was a wrong guess, but who knew? And if the original date for invading Iraq had not been blocked by Ariel Sharon's "invasion" of the West Bank in the spring of 2002, there probably would have been no serious international opposition to the move.

So in a sense Record was right. Iraq was the wrong war militarily, and while it looked like the right war politically, the delays made it less right with each delay in beginning the campaign.

But in another sense, Iraq was exactly the right war. No one could defend Saddam's government, even in the Muslim world, without essentially admitting that they don't care about the Iraqi people. So even in our present situation, we are not in a "quagmire" unless we choose to make it one.

Record's most chilling warning is the one about our lack of depth compared to the war we have taken on. Clearly the war in Iraq cannot end -- the country cannot be pacified -- until we have neutralized the three adjacent nations across whose borders the terrorists and their funding flow: Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

Could we attack Syria and Iran at the same time? Possibly -- but it would be a two-front war (and there's almost no chance that an attack on one would not be met by a military response from the other; they're not all as stupid as Saddam in the Middle East).

That's one reason why it was militarily wrong to attack Iraq first. Now we're in the middle with tenuous supply lines, especially with Turkey as an unreliable ally and Saudi Arabia barely more reliable. If we had attacked Syria first, the benefit to the anti-terrorist world would have been more immediate, and as we then subsequently rolled across Iraq and, if necessary, into Iran, we would have had far more secure supply lines and a single, if very broad, battle front, with militarily subdued territory behind us. The borders of the occupied territory then would have been with Israel, Jordan, Turkey, not with Iran and Syria.

So ... what now? Record's suggested solution is a worse nightmare -- it is essentially a surrender to terrorism and an attempt to turn a broad-based, winnable war into a selective unwinnable police action against an enemy that cannot be attacked directly because it hides in the shelter of terror-sponsoring states.

The real solution is quite different.

It's time for President Bush to do what should have been done starting on 9/11: Ask the American people to make real sacrifices to win this war.

Right now President Bush is doing a better job than Lyndon Johnson did on the military side, but he's making the same crucial mistake on the civilian side.

When you tell Americans to go about their business, we can't believe in the war and support it the way we did in World War II, where the entire country was mobilized in a life-or-death struggle.

We're trying to fight this war as if we could do it in our spare time. Record's accurate message is that it's a very dangerous way to fight and the risk of inviting adventurism from our other enemies is too high to bear.

What we needed on 9/11 was a President who did not tell us to go back to business as usual -- spending money to keep the economy going.

What we needed was a President who had said, I'm going to ask Congress to make the tax cuts permanent -- but then to add back a special war tax that will be assessed only until this war is won.

He should have said, We need a hundred thousand more young men to volunteer for service in the military over the next year. We need to build up our armed forces the way we did after Pearl Harbor, so that those who might think they can take advantage of our preoccupation with this war will have cause to think again.

He should have said, We're going to declare war on all the states that sponsor terror in the Middle East, unless they show immediate and verifiable resolve to rid themselves of terrorism permanently and completely.

We would have rallied behind him then. We would have accepted all kinds of sacrifices.

Here's the fundamental miscalculation that Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and now George W. Bush have made about the American people.

They all believed that asking people to sacrifice would turn them against the war.

The opposite is true. Asking them to sacrifice commits them to the war. Keeping them from sacrificing -- from feeling the pinch every day -- makes the war seem distant and unreal. People who are not sacrificing for a war do not feel or insist on solidarity.

Yes, victory makes a war popular -- for about twenty minutes. But you don't win a war by keeping it popular. You win a war by winning first the commitment of your own people -- and that commitment is only earned by making every area of society a part of the war effort.

Record is right, that as the American military stands today, we are seriously overextended.

But I am right in saying that right now, if we made a serious effort, America has the potential to field a military that will succeed, quickly, in striking down every government that sponsors terror; in short order, there would not be a nation on earth that was not flinging open its doors saying, Look at us! Nobody here but us anti-terrorists!

Instead, we have the spectacle of a piecemeal war, where we dither with negotiations for a ridiculously long time, and then after we invade, we do not act decisively against the nations that send guerrillas and terrorists into the occupied territory to kill our troops and any civilians who cooperate with us.

As I've been saying all along, this war cannot be won while the present governments continue in Iran and Syria.

The President needs to say so. He had the political courage to name our enemies once. He needs to do it again, with a firm emphasis that we will deal with the Muslim terrorist threat first, but must build up enough force to deter our other enemies from acting against us elsewhere.

And then he needs to tell us that right now, for the sake of the peace and prosperity of the American future, we need to make some sacrifices as a nation. We need more soldiers. We need vastly more military hardware. And that means cutting the budget in other areas, cutting back on other services, shrinking the other branches of government until the war is won.

He needs to mobilize the American people in order to rid the world of the plague of terrorism.

And if he does not do this, the risk of failure -- of colossal defeat, not mere embarrassment -- grows greater with every week of war on the cheap.


I didn't realize it until a friend pointed it out: In last week's column, I did not list The Economist among the publications that can be trusted. This is ironic, because I had decided to review the media I rely on most precisely because The Economist had joined the list!

Originating in Britain, The Economist lives up to its name and origin with extensive listings of economic data from countries around the world that are particularly important to the U.K. But the thoroughness, reliability, and balance of this publication are remarkable. In the news stories, there is remarkably little spin and slant for or against particular parties, though of course there is a definite bias in favor of business, for obvious reasons.

Because The Economist is a weekly, with far more depth and far less silliness and bias than the American newsmagazines, we finally allowed our nearly-thirty-year subscription to Time Magazine lapse.

Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.

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