Tuesday 21 Aug 2018 | 12:51 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 21 Aug 2018 | 12:51 | SYDNEY

How will we come to view these wars?

12 October 2011 10:17

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

Max Boot has published a review of a book, 'Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam', by Lewis Sorley. This book will re-ignite the long fought controversy over who lost the Vietnam War, but it also has great relevance to current wars.

Militaries involved in the Vietnam War have tended to blame political leaders and the media, while maintaining that the war could and should have been won, though there are divisions over the tactics.

The anti-war orthodoxy maintained that the war was immoral and unwinnable and so removed itself from any effective discussion over how the war should have been prosecuted. Sorley claims that the military, and especially Westmoreland, should be prepared to accept a fair share of the blame because it persisted with big unit actions in the highlands rather than building the Vietnamese state and protecting the people, both echoes of the Afghanistan approach.

I argued on the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan that it is not pre-ordained that we will lose in one of our current wars, Afghanistan.

I claim that there is a minimalist strategy at work in Australia which sees success in coalition operations as doing the minimum which does not attract overt US criticism. But a minimalist strategy is self-defeating in regard to overall coalition success in a campaign. In taking such a long time to achieve anything, it exposes our national resolve. Thus we defeat ourselves and weaken our ally by unfair burden-sharing.

I was joined in this commentary by a German general, Harald Kujat, who was instrumental in planning the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan. He said the intervention has failed and the Taliban will regain power within months of withdrawal. 'The mission fulfilled the political aim of showing solidarity with the US', Kujat told the German daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. 'But if you measure progress against the goal of stabilizing a country and a region, then the mission has failed.'

What I find of interest is the reasons he gives for potential failure: Kujat said that it was ignored for too long that 'the opponent was fighting a military battle and we needed to do the same.' In reference to claims from German political leaders, among others, he said 'the argument that it was a stabilization mission was maintained for too long.' The result, he said, is that soldiers were not given what they needed in order to effectively fight the enemy.

If and when we lose in Afghanistan (still not pre-ordained but an increasing risk because of ongoing mismanagement) the controversy over why we lost may go on for as long as the Vietnam controversy.

I notice that Dr Albert Palazzo from the Directorate of Army Research and Analysis is conducting a seminar entitled 'American Defeat — Australian Victory: Assessing the War in Iraq' at the Russell Offices in Canberra, based on his forthcoming book, 'The Australian Army and the War in Iraq'. According to the amazing Defence publicity email:

The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is now seen as misguided and the ensuing war so poorly conducted that the US has failed to achieve its purpose. What has been overlooked, however, is that for Australia the Iraq War has been an unmitigated success — in a war that by most accounts has been a catastrophe, Australia has emerged as its only winner. Dr Palazzo believes that this was not merely due to luck, but was the result of sound strategic thought on the part of both political and military leaders of the time. Although a junior member of the US-led Coalition, Australia nevertheless defined its own unique purpose for going to war, selected a strategy by which to achieve this aim, and maintained its focus on the objective throughout its conduct. The result for Australia, unlike the US, was the achievement of its war aims.

Such a narrow view of our strategy-driving self-interest, and a public airing of such a cynical attitude to coalitions, risks harming our real strategic interest, which must be the long-term US relationship. Otherwise, we might actually have to provide for our own defence and security.

Photo by Flickr user User#136.