The most tactically perfect army ever to take the field was the Wehrmacht of WWII. German soldiers (and often their equipment too) was so consistently superior that they could be relied upon to defeat any adversary, given roughly equal numbers. Thence sprang the belief that if you look after the battles, the war will win itself and the German army found itself fighting in North Africa, Greece, Cyprus, Norway, the Atlantic, in the Air over Germany and disastrously, Russia; all simultaneously. In losing sight of what the third Reich wanted to achieve (or never having a realistic vision of such) the supreme competence of the Wehrmacht led directly to overstretch and then being confronted by OVERWHELMING force deployed by countries who had thought strategically enough to deliver numerically superior, but technologically and motivationally inferior, forces in a hammer-blow which came quite unforeseen.
Nazi Germany thought tactically. Churchill was tactically naive, but strategically sound. Biff the Nazis where they can be found, in order to keep the Soviets onside and the Germans on their toes until we’ve gathered enough strength (ie get the USA into the war) to deliver the coup de grace in Normandy.
The strategic failure of Nazi Germany is similar to the that of ‘the West’. Western soldiers (since Korea, when the US at first fielded the worst army ever deployed by a democracy) have been better trained and equipped than any army or group they are likely to face. British, American, Dutch, and even French soldiers can be relied upon to prevail in any shooting match they go into.
As a result – a direct result – of this competence, the British Government for example though that fewer than 10,000 soldiers could pacify a querulous Afghan province, and NATO in General has completely lost sight of what it wants to achieve from its military adventure in Afghanistan in a global context. We’re bogged down in Tactics, as was the US in Vietnam, focusing on tactical-level measures and losing sight of the strategy. The AfPak ‘strategy’ for example is more a mantra than a reality.
Whilst this is of no great import when the maximum downside is the appearance of getting kicked out of a broken 13th century country, but in a dangerous world, if we lose sight of what the point of acting as a world policeman is, then the downside and cost could be much greater – catastrophic military defeat. Like it or not, we’re in a toe to toe fist-fight with radical Islam. To continue the boxing analogy, the Islamists are the smaller and less skilled fighter, but with an Iron jaw, he keeps getting up. Oh. And he fights dirty.
Thinking strategically, Iran’s nuclear bomb is a far bigger threat. If there’s a country asking to be invaded, like right now, it’s North Korea. But our armies are bogged down in Iraq (90 -odd thousand US troops) and Afghanistan (100-odd thousand Nato forces). That’s as near as damn it a quarter of a million fighting men who could be saving the world from a nuclear armed Iran or North Korea.
And the sad thing is that they would be better providing the means to deal with this threat with their feet up in Minnesota or Surrey than eating dust in Southern Afghanistan. After all, what’s scarier to Kim Jong Il: An Army at war in Central Asia, or an Army who could be on his border in 2 weeks? Whilst I have confidence the of the Strategy of ISAF in Afghanistan with respect to that conflict, in the big, global picture, that’s Tactics. We’re bogged down and overstretched and cannot therefore threaten great violence to those who deserve it. That is why nation building is so dangerous. It’s a nebulous concept, there’s no finish line where you can declare victory so it ties up troops, money and resources; and it stores up just as much resentment as colonialism. The temptation is to outstay your welcome.
The fact is the Neo-Cons were right. We shouldn’t do nation-building. We should go in, shock and awe, biff those we don’t like and then leave; leaving the aftermath to the locals and do-gooding NGOs to rebuild. Take sovereign bases if desirable, but otherwise fuck off once the shooting stops. American and British forces shouldn’t need to stick around to provide targets to suicide bombers, and so shouldn’t be in a war with anyone who can’t surrender on the deck of a battleship. If I was convinced that Iraq and Afghanistan were ‘clearing the decks’ before a Pincer-move on Iran, I could be persuaded, but I don’t think there’s the stomach for the fight.
That’s the reason the Boys should come home. Not because they “can’t win”, they can; but because they are better unused except as a threat.