Advice to a Generic Candidate
by Fred Reed: The
on the lobotomy box I encountered yet another candidate for the
presidency, a Mr. Sanctorum, threatening to make war on Iran. I
can't decide whether the idea is more frightening than fascinating,
or fascinating than frightening. I do suggest that the combined
candidates do not have the military competence of a stuffed bear.
Given that the principal business of the United States is war and
preparation for it, do we want a martial analphabetic in charge?
One does not let children play with chain saws. (From all of this
I exempt Ron Paul, who appears to be sane.)
To save the
republic, if any, from another routine military disaster, I offer
the following thoughts.
To begin, I
will ask the following questions of the candidates, and for that
matter of Mr. Obama, and of the Secretary of Defense, a generic
Can you explain:
Convergence zones, base bleed, Kursk, range-gate pull-off, artillery
at Dien Bien Phu, IR cross-over, Tet and queen sacrifice, Brahmos
2, CIWIS, supercruise, side-lobe penetration, seven-eighty-twice
gear, super-cavitating torpedoes, phased arrays, pulse Doppler,
the width of Hormuz versus the range of Iranian cruise missiles,
DU, discarding sabot, frequency agility, Chobham armor, and pseudo-random
are the small talk of serious students of the military. Here I mean
men like David Isby, author of such books as Weapons
and Tactics of the Soviet Army for Jane's, which
you likely have never heard of, or William S. Lind, probably the
best military mind (though, or because, not a soldier), that I have
encountered. If you are unfamiliar with them, and with the things
listed above, you are unfamiliar with the military. Yet you campaign
for possession of the trigger.
Perhaps a little
humility, perish the thought, and a little self-examination might
be in order.
your own depths, you will probably find that the humility does not
come easily. In my decades of covering the armed services, I noticed
among men a belief in their innate jockstrap competency regarding
wars. Men who would readily admit ignorance of petroleum geology,
ophthalmology, or ancient Sumerian grammar nonetheless believe that
they grasp matters military. Usually they do not. In particular,
they have an utterly unexamined belief in America's military invincibility.
should be wary of this. Instead, most of you propose ultimata to
Iran as one would threaten a three-year-old with a spanking. You
clearly think that the American flotilla would quickly thrash the
impudent Persians with no unexpected consequences. Do as we say,
or the fleet will teach you a jolly good lesson.
Philip II in 1588.
A little reading
wouldn't hurt. I would strongly recommend A Legacy of Ashes, by
Tim Weiner, on the CIA, and We Meant Well, by Peter van Vuren, a
former State Department guy on how Iraq actually works. You will
be most surprised. I accept in advance your gratitude for these
Once a candidate
from the relative bushes gets elected, as may happen, he becomes
a captive of Washington in about ten minutes. This too you should
bear in mind. You will be briefed by the CIA, which will spin things
so that you believe what it wants you to believe. The spooks will
radiate lethal charm and speak with the assurance of a higher order
of being. This will give you a sense of admission to a special tree
house where everyone has a Captain Marvel secret decoder ring (two
box tops and a dollar fifty). And, in Washington, you will have
access to no other view. Gotcha.
You will be
briefed by the Pentagon by generals with firm handshakes, steely
gaze, obvious intelligence, and a convincing understanding of the
world as consisting chiefly of threats. They are very good at this.
You do not become a general without expertise with Power Point and
the slick gab of a confidence man. Generals too are politicians.
They will carry you along like a wood chip in a spring flood. And
you will pay the price.
skepticism is here well advised. The belief that military men know
about war is beguiling. It is their trade, is it not? Surely they
must be authorities. Dentists know about dentistry. Soldiers must
know about war. But how often when you go to a dentist do you return
In fact career
officers live in a mental world not well adapted to winning today's
wars. You need to understand this. Theirs is a world of aggression
seeking an outlet, of institutionally inculcated confidence unrelated
to external reality, of suppression of dissent. Fatal bad judgment
is common, and recently almost the rule. If you think this implausible,
When the Japanese
attacked Pearl, their military thought it would win, Yamamoto excepted.
When the Wehrmacht went into Russia, it thought it would win. So
did Napoleon. When the Germans attacked in 1914, they thought they
would win, the Schlieffen Plan being infallible. When the Confederates
shelled Sumpter, they thought they could win. When the French took
on the Viet Minh, they thought they would win. When the Americans
went into Viet Nam, they thought they would win. When they went
into Iraq, Somalia, Beirut, Afghanistan....
now you, our newly elected, fresh-caught president, contemplate
a shooting war with Iran. Those who favor this idea will assure
you that it will be short and sweet. Shock and Awe. Duck soup. A
cakewalk. The Iranians will just take it, perhaps put up some slight
and hapless resistance, and roll quickly over. Our airplanes, after
all, say varooom and pow-pow-pow and boom.
Note that in
the foregoing list of wars, all were expected to end quickly. This
should not surprise. Military men live in the psychic world of the
cavalry charge, of decisive battle, of courage, heroism, and glorious
victory. Modern militaries are designed with short-and-sweet in
mind, with tanks ships and aircraft intended to fight other tanks
ships and aircraft. Unfortunately wars nowadays are more like dealing
with a recalcitrant bureaucracy. They go on and on. Concentrated
firepower doesn't work well against dispersed enemies. The treasury
bleeds, the public wearies. Quick victory seldom comes. The Pentagon
thrashes and thrashes every more desperately, a saber tooth in the
tar pits of La Brea. Just give us a little more time, a few more
troops, a surge....
the Pentagon hasn't won a war since 1945, unless you count titanic
eruptions like Granada. Yes, it usually wins the conventional battles,
as it did in Afghanistan, as it did in Iraq, Mission Accomplished,
but then the enemy deploys the most fearsome weapons of the last
half-century: the AK, the RPG, and the IED.
can bomb Iran with impunity, as it could Afghanistan. It thinks
it can keep the Straits open, as it thought it could do all the
things in the past that it couldn't. How many burning supertankers
does it take to discourage the rest?
Then the unexpected
comes. It turns out that the enemy is not as stupid as the strategy
required. Perhaps thousands of Iranian troops infiltrate into largely
Shiite Iraq, which blows again. Oh fun.
If you can't
win any war at all, start a larger one. And you, Mr. Sanctorum,
or Romney, or Gingrich, will hold the bag. Such a deal.
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Bem, Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au
Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet
Nam, and A
Grand Adventure: Wisdom's Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about
Mexico. Visit his
© 2012 Fred Reed
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