Swinging the War Fatigued

By KyleH Posted in Comments (14) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »

Things are looking better for our victory in Iraq. If the general trends continue through the end of this year, public opinion should also start to turn around. This is good timing for almost any Republican candidate in the upcoming presidential election next year. I am still worried, however, that we have lost some base support from war fatigue. Is there a way for our eventual nominee to win back some of these voters?

First, let's look at the opposition to the war. It can be placed in three broad categories: peaceniks, isolationists, and the war fatigued. It is hard to tell whether the peaceniks oppose the war because of Bush or whether they oppose Bush because of the war. Either way, they are the hard-core opposition. Even if we could turn Iraq into a perfect liberal paradise, they would still be opposed. They are the core of the Democratic support.

While peaceniks are mostly emotionally against war, the isolationists are primarily intellectually against it. Isolationists are attracted to the Libertarian Party and Him-who-must-not-be-named in the Republican primary. Of course some of HWMNBN's support also comes from peaceniks. There is probably even a good overlap between these first two groups. Not all libertarians or libertarian-leaning people are isolationists, for example Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. The isolationists tend to be the hard core libertarians. Even so, some might be attracted to the Republican candidate from other issues. It would be great if they vote Republicans but we cannot count on them.

Finally we have the war fatigued. These are the voters who mildly supported or had no opinion about Iraq at the start of the war, but who think it has dragged on too long. They have been bombarded with a steady stream of bad news from the MSM. Their opinion of Bush (and Republicans) has soured because of Iraq. These are swing voters who can be won back. Some might be persuaded by recent signs of victory, but not all and maybe not a majority.

The best political strategy of swinging them back is a careful distancing from President Bush. While the fatigued are not peaceniks, they are influence by them. Theses swing voters are the battleground between those of us who support victory in Iraq and the peaceniks. The vulnerability of peaceniks arguments is their hatred of Bush. For them Bush is Iraq but this is not necessarily so for the fatigued. If we can separate Iraq from Bush in the minds of the fatigued then the peaceniks will loose most of their persuasion. They will go on and on about how bad Bush is, but the fatigue will think, "so what, Bush is not running."

To do this, our candidate needs to criticize the original Bush (and Rumsfield) policy of the light footprint. They should not just embrace the surge but advocate an expanded military that can implement a heavy presence in any future conflict. After all we are still at war. Even with a future victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, A.Q. is still a deadly force to be dealt with for a number of years. Even with the future death of bin Laden this conflict isn't going away any time soon.

I have yet to hear any criticism of Bush from the top Republican candidates. Respectful criticism of policy would win some swing voters while retaining the base.

KyleH blogs:

"To do this, our candidate needs to criticize the original Bush (and Rumsfield) policy of the light footprint. They should not just embrace the surge but advocate an expanded military that can implement a heavy presence in any future conflict."

I respectfully disagree with KyleH's first point. I think the Surge has been much more about good tactics, applied with good timing to a more receptive Iraqi populace, than it is about US troop numbers per se.

The primary reason that the Iraqi population, once opposed to US forces, became receptive was the mindless brutality of AQI onslaught. The AQI onslaught may have been a consequence of the vaccuum created by the "light footprint".

Had the light footprint not been pursued, however, what alternative outcome might have occurred?

One alternative outcome I can think of is a much more protracted battle against the indigenous Iraqi insurgency. Without AQI, there would be considerably less downside to their continued fight against US troops. US forces could never match the brutality of AQI. And with no AQI, the indigenous forces may have felt the latitude to continue a pick-off strategy against larger numbers of US forces. Even at the same casualty rate, it would have produced higher US casualty numbers. More "grim milestones" might have accelerated war fatigue.

The Light Footprint allowed the US to maintain a lifeline to our allies in Iraq, while the unchecked brutality of AQI may have set the tipping point that forced a key decision on the part of factions of the indigenous Iraqi insurgency.

I'm not asserting this with certainty. I just think there is much more uncertainty about the "should have gone in heavy" school of thought than commonly observed. There was a patient caution to the Light Footprint strategy, aside from the "you go to war with the army you have" logic, that tends to be overlooked on the part of those whose ex post critiques have not been tested by the scortching heat of tested history.

I agree with your point about a larger military and sustainability, but I'm not convinced that larger numbers of forces early on would have prevented many of the problems in Iraq, or that troop numbers alone have been the key difference in the success of the Surge. In fact, I think the opposite may be true. That larger numbers of troops too early might have hastened "fatigue" and precipitated too early an exit.

You make a lot of good points that I have been thinking about also. I am still not sure whether the surge is working because of the change in tactics and the increase in troop levels or just because the Iraqi people have reached the breaking point. Probably a combination of both. It is a little academic right now but it will matter for the next time. I hope there is not a next time but we need to be prepared. One last thing to keep in mind. I am arguing more political than military strategy. It is dangerous to make military strategy too dependent on the political, but we can at least agree on the need for a bigger military. If we have the assets in place then the military leaders have more options.

the troop levels, as it was going to requie time for us to be trusted, Bush should have demanded a LARGE increase in the size of the military after 911. It was his biggest mistake.

Mike Gamecock DeVine @ The Charlotte Observer
"One man with courage makes a majority" - Andrew Jackson

When we invaded, we had the army we inherited from the Clinton-era downsizing.

IIRC, the 150,000 troop-count that was chosen was the most mathematically available (and sustainable) based on :

t = # of total troops not specifically tied up elsewhere (SK,DE)
i = months possible for unit to stay in Iraq
o = months months required for unit to rest/refit/retrain, etc

count = t * i/(i+o)

if t = 600,000, i = 6 mo, o = 18 mo,
c=600,000 * 6/24 = 600,000 * 1/4 = 150,000

We have worn out equipment and various specialties of people, had casualties, retirements, recruits, etc shifting around the population of combat and support troops ... but IIUC, decreasing t.

In order to maintain the original 150,000, DoD has had to extend tours-of-duty (increasing i), decrease refit time (shrinking o) and shift people from the USAF / USN, issue stop-loss orders, etc.

In retrospect ... mathematically the original 150,000 was based on the erroneous assumption of a Germany/Japan-like occupation, not the ongoing proxy-war with Iran/Syria/Wahibbi-Saudis, double proxies of Russia and China ... we assumed t would stay higher and that i and o would be stable.

By this standard, the original 150,000 seems unsustainably too-large, not too-small.

Which brings us to the other argument ... that GWB should have asked for a doubling of the Army after 9/11:
1: the anti-militarists in the Senate would have fillibustered
2: each new division would have been ready N years after being authorized and started (2? 3?) and they would not have started simultaneously, so new divisions might be ready starting 3 years out, one-every-6-months at maximum optimism
3: the army recruiting rate was IIRC maxxed-out when they tried increasing by a few tens of thousands post-9/11 to fill in the incomplete ranks of the divisions they already had.
4: increasing the ranks already was/is requiring adjusting of age, iq and stability limits on recruits
5: adding 500,000+ troops would require drafting reluctant soldiers and the army does not want involuntary soldiers
6: adding more troops and their equipment would strain the military-hardware procurement system and budgets, especially if by recruiting and not drafting (i.e. paying MUCH more in sign-on bonuses)

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had.

More accurately: you go to war with the army you inherit.
The army you build is left to the next president.

Given the facts available at the time of the collapsing Iraqi sanctions in the UN while France, Russia and China were being "unhelpful" ... GWB made decisions that were reasonable at-the-time, not knowing (CIA failure) that Iran, Syria, Russia and China were intending to tie us down by an Afghanistan-vs-USSR proxy battle.

..'I have yet to hear any criticism of Bush from the top Republican candidates'

excuse me, but John McCain has been making EXACTLY the same point that you are making here -- and has been since (if memory serves) since about 2005 ..

I misspoke. I was thinking more about Bush criticism in the debates. McCain has definitely been criticizing Bush before the Surge but I haven't heard as much since it started or even since the presidential campaign began. Even so, I am still on shaky ground as I have been paying only little attention to the debates.

And here I thought it had been bumped into the archives.

Finally we have the war fatigued. These are the voters who mildly supported or had no opinion about Iraq at the start of the war, but who think it has dragged on too long. They have been bombarded with a steady stream of bad news from the MSM.

Until the MSM ceases to be disciples of Joe Goebels and stops thinking of Hearst as a guy that was too early and on the wrong side, theres nothing that can be done except decisive victory. Distancing from Bush won't help and it will rightly make those that do look disloyal.
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

I disagree with your characterization of a significant part of the opposition as "peaceniks". While there is no doubt a relatively small group of "peaceniks" in opposition (the Quakers for example) a substantial portion of the opposition on the left are actively in favor of an American defeat. At least two polls I have seen indicate this is the position of about 20% of Democrats, hardly an insubstantial number.

Here's one cite from a Fox News poll:

There is a huge difference between genuine pacifists and those actively seeking a US defeat.

As Podhoretz points out in his book "World War IV", this group is the nucleus of the hard core opposition to the war. They emerged shortly after 9/11 with statements and editorials about how America "deserved" 9/11 for a variety of reasons and gradually blossomed into a full fledged "antiwar" opposition. They are not "antiwar", they are anti-American in the purest unemotional descriptive non-pejorative sense. There are a lot of them, and they are well funded and well organized. They are undeserving of being considered "peaceniks" because they do not want peace, they want an American defeat.

I deliberately used the term "peacenik" instead of pacifist. I had in mind the people you are describing. I don't know if I would go as far as characterizing them as "...actively seeking a US defeat." They are more passively seeking the defeat. The term is just what happened to pop into mind when I was writing. I am not sure if there is a better descriptor.

As it happens I run an internet political discussion group which is a pretty wide open forum. We have several posters who are quite open about wanting to see an victory by the Iraqi "resistance" who they call "freedom fighters". A number of prominent Democrats including Michael Moore have used the same terminology. True, I don't think they are in Iraq building IEDs, but they are not passive at all about their outlook on Iraq and they want an American defeat. Their fear is that a victory will be used to validate future military 'adventurism'.

I think you've got a blind spot if you really believe this is some kind passive secret hope. I'm not saying that to start a fight, but because I hope that you will think about it and if necessary seek these folks out and learn more about them.

My question is "Can you name any war in history where absolutely no mistakes were made?" The trend right now looks much better than it did in 2006. It is complicated stuff to put a country back together again after you topple the government. We have been in this spot before in 1945 Japan. We just need to allow for this to to take awhile.

Now there's no more oak oppression,
For they passed a noble law,
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw.

Whining would be counter-productive for our eventual nominee. I am trying to emphasize respectful criticism. You need to give Bush credit where he deserves it AND constructive criticism where he has made mistakes.

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