Playing with fire on an international stage

The history of the Iraq War for many has been a lesson in what not to do. It is not good policy, for instance, to enter a war without having a plan for how to get oneself out in the end.

Similarly, the way certain pieces of intelligence were kept and prisoners were held, leaves much to be desired in the civilian perspective. Normally I might find myself on the sidelines, cheering a certain political stance that claims war should have all the civility of a game of chess.

But perhaps that view could use some pragmatic overhaul in how we view the military itself. It is no guarded secret that two nations at war will eventually not be at war.

Barring the “1984” counter-example, I think that history is quite clear on this point. The trick in the modern world, however, is that these nations will then have to function civilly with each other when the conflict ends.

Immediately, I see at least two alternate, and perhaps ultimately conflicting, goals when one enters a war: to win, and to act in such a way that the loser (not to mention the rest of the world) will still engage in politics with you.

Fortunately, the burden of monitoring the progress of these two goals does not lie in the hands of a single body.

Specialists exist whose job and training prepare them for these specific goals. Military commanders have been trained in the history of war and the current weapons and strategies of the day.

Similarly, most modern politicians have at least one thing going for them: electability. Politicians’ training and practical experience, indeed their even having a job, relies on their ability to persuade and to weigh the acceptability of certain actions. The two goals that I established above are forever at ends with one another as a military commander might easily win a war were he or she able to use all the tools at his or her disposal.

The problem therefore is not the ability to win a war, the problem is to do it in such a way that people can still look you in the eye afterwards. The military in our country, therefore, ultimately works under the eye of the executive branch. By doing so, the military is forbidden from acting in certain ways and using certain tools.

The fundamental job of any strategist is to take an infinite number of starting positions, and turn them into victory (or a necessary retreat). One starting position may be lower ground and to be outnumbered. Another may be prohibition of certain tools. As the clich’eacute; goes, you cannot have your cake and eat it, too. In the middle ground of the conflict between winning a war and keeping your actions civil lies varying levels of efficiency.

The general rule, intuitively, is that the more tools you take away from the military, the less the efficiency and feasibility of victory.

That is to say that when you start to dictate what the military can and cannot do, you must expect their job to be less efficient than it could be. It is saddeningly plain from my perspective that there is a fundamental inconsistency in one end of the political spectrum. To continually take away tools from the military seems to necessitate greater strain and inefficiency in military undertakings. It seems counter-intuitive not to expect a decrease in military effectiveness. Yet, we do not live in a world of dichotomies. We do not have the luxury of fighting a war against evil. The conducting of wars by “any means necessary” is a sentiment of that just does not fit in contemporary international politics.