Three of the most significant “Small Wars” since the end of World War II have all ended in defeat for the democratic nations which embarked upon them. The French in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the U.S. in Vietnam all suffered defeat, not at the hands of the enemy, but from within. Each war was very complex and had its own set of circumstances which eventually led to the defeat of the democratic nation involved. The lessons learned and debate about why each war was lost are lengthy and worthy of the volumes of material written about them. I’m not about to delve into the specific reasons behind each loss, simplify those reasons, or try to imply that I alone have sole insight into THE reasons those wars were lost. However, what does merit discussing are the three commonalities of those wars which shifted the center of gravity for the fight from the battlefield back into the democratic nation itself, leading to each loss, and how those circumstances contrast with our current situation in Iraq.
First, a high percentage of the involved troops were not regular and/or volunteer (willing) forces. In each of the 3 conflicts, reservists (French and Israeli) or draftees (French and U.S.) were unwillingly forced into the fight. Many of them served admirably, heroically. But, an unusually high number were disgruntled from being forced into the fight and/or went in mentally unprepared for even the basic violence of war. They returned from battle openly sharing what they knew, thought, or perceived was immoral activity conducted by their government (the military). It is noted that regular forces also participated in this during Vietnam.
Second; although war is violent by nature, excessive levels of brutality, whether real (French) or perceived (U.S. and Israeli) amplified the numbers and comments of those reporting actual or perceived abuses. This in turn fueled nation-wide anti-war sentiment. (The use of torture and summary execution by the French is well documented. A perception of brutality exists for the U.S. in Vietnam, but aside from the war crimes which unfortunately arise from such a conflict, any argument of it being widespread, endorsed SOP from the top can be met with fervent debate.)
Lastly, each country had press organizations which were predominantly left of center with anti-war, anti-military bias. They immediately latched on to those soldiers openly sharing the real or perceived immoral conduct of their government. The anti-war sentiment then grew until the calls to end the war could not be ignored or contained. (It can be argued that Ariel Sharon shifted the press against Israel with his open disdain for them, but in each case the press was either already on the “left” or philosophically ready to go there.)
Now, the center of gravity has shifted from Iraq back to the U.S. and our victory hinges on developments here at home as much as in the streets of Ramadi. But three things are different now which show promise for our victory in Iraq.
First, the forces fighting in Iraq are all volunteers; willingly and even eagerly accepting their role. The threat to the U.S. from abroad by various terrorist groups and sponsoring countries is entirely real. This tangible threat solidifies the perseverance of our troops to willingly fight. Additionally, improved training methods, including psychological preparation for battle has readied our warriors to fight at a level not seen before. Nothing can fully prepare one for the horrors of battle, and this war is not without cases of shell shock or post traumatic stress disorder. But, it has not exposed a large group of our warriors to situations in which we are forced to question the morality of the basic violence of conflict.
Second, there has not been an onslaught of servicemen and women returning from Iraq openly questioning the morality of how we conduct operations or reporting widespread inhumane treatment of citizens and detainees at the hands of U.S. forces. With the exception of a few criminals from a national guard MP unit at Abu Ghraib and isolated incidents of mishandling detainees, the incidence of immoral or criminal conduct is nearly negligible and is dealt with appropriately when reported. The professionalism and moral conduct of our servicemen and women has denied the left the “grist for the brutality mill” which they had in Algeria, Lebanon, or Vietnam. It is safe to say that if widespread inhumanity and immorality were taking place and being reported by those in uniform, the left would have found them by now, placed them front and center with a microphone, and used them to the fullest. As it stands, they had Abu Ghraib, tried to exploit GiTMO, and could only come up with Cindy Sheehan behind door number 3.
Lastly, none of the lost wars had the influence of the “new media” catering directly to conservative audiences. Talk radio programs, internet news sources, discussion groups, blogs, as well as a more balanced cable news source give the full story or at least the other side of the story. They have dramatically decreased the power of the left to influence. These information outlets have the ability to hold conservative Americans and influence those in the middle. They keep a critical mass from surrendering before the fight is won, keep them supporting the defeat of our enemies, and prevent them from being forced onto the anti-war bandwagon because the only news is bad news. Because we are winning the fight and conducting it morally, these new media sources are preventing the left from gathering the momentum and critical mass necessary to force our unneeded, unwarranted, irrational surrender.
The combination of willing, skilled, prepared, professional forces fighting with high standards of conduct against a very real threat, while alternative media outlets keep the news in perspective, all make Iraq different from previous Small Wars and make victory quite attainable.