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A Just War must be a War We Plan to Win

You know, we should never send our young men and women into harm’s way if we don’t plan to do all that it takes to win the conflict. We have a lot of good examples in the past few decades of how not to fight a war.

In our current so-called war—the one against Radical Islam in general and specifically against ISIS– is being conducted in a manner guaranteed to produce US causalities and success for ISIS.
For example, our current policies regarding rules of engagement–ROE, noncombatant casualties, and emphasis on body count greatly restrict the air campaign that we are conducting, and is guaranteed to lead to an endless conflict. It will also violate accepted principles of a morally justifiable war. These excessive restrictions literally prevent us from winning and stand in contrast to the strategy and rules used, for example, in the First Gulf War, Desert Storm—where we won the war.

Feb. 28 marked the 25th anniversary of the end of Desert Storm, the only major war since WWII that ended in a clear, complete victory, with all objectives met. Desert Storm should also be recognized for its remarkably short duration, only 42 days. The ground attack phase lasted only 100 hours. All this stands in sharp contrast to the current war against the Islamic State with its lack of clear—if any– objectives, a new emphasis on attrition, and its endless duration. Now, without any consensus on authority to wage this war and with attrition of ISIS forces as the measure of success, the war has degenerated into what is, to me, an inappropriate and immoral conflict.
Desert Storm was short and effective because President George H. W. Bush enunciated clear, specific military objectives and allowed the military, without White House interference, to enact a winning strategy with a relentless, overwhelming six-week air campaign that allowed Army forces to finish the war in just four days. President Bush also put together a strong coalition of Middle East, European and Asian allies, and gained the support of Congress and the UN—not that UN approval means anything.

The contrast between Desert Storm and our current war against Islamic State could not be starker. President Bush gave the military clear objectives, gained Congressional approval, formed a strong coalition, and won quickly and decisively with few casualties on both sides. None of these principles are present in our current war.

Instead of Bush’s logical and moral approach to war, our government has not provided any clear military objectives. Congressional approval is absent. Moreover, in its goofy goal to avoid even justifiable civilian casualties, the White House has provided excessively tight rules of engagement that greatly constrain our pilots from contributing to a quick or significant victory anywhere. Our combat pilots go into combat and 75% of the time, they are denied permission to engage identified enemy targets. Yes, the Pentagon has suggested that the ROE may soon be changed—but they have to be changed a great deal before they will make any sense.

While we carefully attack only legitimate military targets, the Geneva Conventions allow for collateral damage while attacking such targets– provided “civilian casualties are not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected.” The Air Force employs the most precise weapons and identification systems in history against ISIS targets; ours are the most accurate attacks in the history of air warfare. But, our current ROE do not allow attacks against legitimate military targets if ANY civilians are nearby. These restrictions deny us any possibility of victory.

The war against the Islamic State has degenerated into a war of attrition rather than a war to win. The experience of Vietnam taught the folly of using body count as a measure of success.
Consider these comments made last year by a deputy secretary of defense: “We have seen more than 10,000 losses since the start of the campaign.” And another by the commander of Air Combat Command: “We’ve taken about 13,000 enemy fighters off the battlefield.” And another by one of our commanders in Iraq: “We are killing more than 1,000 a month.”
Body-count now appears to be the measure of success. Body count, alone, is, to me—a Vietnam vet, an inappropriate and immoral objective and contrary to the principles of a just war.

Instead, the administration should step back, establish a clearly defined set of objectives leading to a final victory, and, again, seek the approval of Congress for authority to use military force. Ideally, Congress should declare war, so the entire nation will be openly and formally in support of our troops. Then, our civilian leaders must allow military leaders to plan and unleash a relentless air campaign against all valid military targets followed by a ground campaign a la Desert Storm to win quickly and decisively with as few casualties on both sides as possible—but understanding that there will be casualties; this is war.
These actions will turn the war against the Islamic State from one that is becoming more and more unjustified and immoral into one with a righteous cause and a winning strategy. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deserve no less.

Do you hear any presidential candidates discussing this? Ask them why they’re not.

Join the discussion

Further reading

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