Monday, May 03, 2004
Tactics and strategy. There's a reason why we have two different words: because you cannot automatically infer one from the other.
So, David Frum and Tacitus, we cannot conclude from the tactics deployed at Fallujah that America's strategy has changed, or failed, or is incoherent. So far as I can tell, Frum's idea of what our strategy should be is to do whatever Ahmad Chalabi says, and if that doesn't work do more of it. Such a strategy pretty much obviates the need for discussion of tactics. And so far as I can tell Tacitus' strategy is to kill the enemy, wherever he is in however many numbers with whatever consequences follow. That's certainly appealing, but such a strategy also obviates the need for discussion of tactics. Because for too much of the pro-war camp, tactics are increasingly simply deduced from strategy (which is, itself, deduced from first principles), it is natural to infer strategy from tactical maneuvers. And so they - along with much of the increasingly-respected anti-war right - have deduced from recent events in Fallujah that America is cutting and running and we are about to lose the war in Iraq.
This is obviously over-blown. If failing to reduce Fallujah means losing the war, presumably failing to reduce Tora Bora means so even more. Presumably, in fact, the entire Afghan campaign, where we relied on local proxies (some of them with nasty relationships and histories) to do the bulk of the fighting, was fatally flawed, and we need a massive occupation force for that country to make sure the Taliban know they are beaten. Presumably as well our failure to confront Taliban-allied elements in Pakistan directly, relying on Musharraf to do his fitful best instead, is a mistake, read by our enemies as weakness. Where does it end?
By the same token, the folks at the Belmont Club seem to have reassured people too much. I have no way of knowing from this distance whether the tactics being deployed at Fallujah are going to be successful or not, and frankly neither does anyone else blogging from the 'States. All that's clear is that our maneuvers there are tactical, and they may work or not. But just as tactics cannot be deduced directly from strategy, tactics are not a substitute for strategy. And the strategy is what is unclear.
I think we can confidently predict that the same corners of the pro-war right who are agonizing now about the betrayal at Fallujah will be crowing if the Fallujah Brigade gambit works out. This tactical decision will be hailed as more evidence of George W. Bush's sublime strategic wisdom, just as if the gambit fails the decision will be denounced as more evidence of how badly things go when the strategic vision of our leader is subverted by striped-pants types who opposed the war to begin with.
But what does that sublime wisdom consist of? Granted that the only appropriate exit strategy is victory. What is the strategy for victory? For that matter, how will we recognize victory when we see it?
The fear the Belmont folks are not addressing is that strategy has been subordinated to tactics, because the strategic vision on which the invasion was premised has proved hollow, but no other vision has been put forward to replace it. Here's the situation in sum: we thought Saddam had to go. We back a weak horse - Chalabi - to replace him. That hasn't worked out. We haven't found a strong horse to replace Chalabi, and it's not clear a strong horse can be found. And so we've got an open-ended commitment, and we're pursuing a variety of tactics to reduce the cost of that commitment, even as we lose sight of the strategic goal.