Iraq = Gallipoli?
CDR Salamander has a thought-provoking post up discussing grand strategy in the Global War On Terror; I recommend it highly. I recently finished one of the books he mentioned -- Cobra II. While the book tends to focus on what went wrong with Iraq rather than what went right (which, to be honest, is the submariner way of doing things -- anyone who's ever been to a drill debrief can tell you that), I think that it is probably the most accurate of any book I've read in detailing the problems that went into pre-war decision making and planning (based on what I saw when I was a CENTCOM staff weenie). Basically, the idea was good, the people executing the plan did the best they could, but the plan, in hindsight, just didn't work.
This reminds me of another campaign of the last century -- Gallipoli. This campaign gets a bad rap from history, but in actuality it came pretty close to being a great success that could have shortened the war; in addition, an unforeseen benefit was the subsequent liberalization of Turkey under Ataturk. The Gallipoli campaign was born from an Allied desire to look for a better way to break the deadlock on the Western Front that sending men against prepared German positions. Had the invasion been better planned, the Allies could have knocked the Ottoman Empire out of the war fairly easily, freeing up Russian troops to attack the Germans and Austrians, which would have forced the Germans to pull troops out of the Western Front. As it was, the initial invasion wasn't strong enough to destroy the Ottoman resistance, which allowed the Turks time to find a way to fight the Allies on roughly equal terms; for the rest of the campaign, the Allies basically threw brave soldiers into the fray without a real hope of making a strategic difference in the war. Eventually, they realized they needed to pull out and look for another place to fight the war from -- this re-deployment required skill, though, and wouldn't have worked had it been done haphazardly.
Is Iraq the Gallipoli of the GWOT? I don't know. While I'm convinced that we just can't pull out -- or set ourselves up with a "deadline" to withdraw, which will lead to increased attacks against our forces so the terrorists will be able to claim that they "forced" us out -- I'm starting to think that we need to start looking beyond Iraq, and maybe find a better place for our forces to fight the war. CDR Salamander makes a good case about the dangers of the Balkanization of Iraq, but I'm starting to think that might be our best of several bad options. In Gallipoli, the Allied forces lacked the physical ability to overcome their opponents. In Iraq, we as a society lack the moral mindset to allow our troops to do what they need to do to "win" militarily -- I think it's a good thing we're not there yet. We can still win this war without using the tactics of our enemies. A partitioned Iraq won't be the "shining beacon" of democracy we might have hoped for when we went in, but at this point I don't think it turn into that no matter what we do. Sometimes, in a long war, the smart move is to end one unprofitable battle and get ready for the next one.
This doesn't mean that the brave men and women who were lost in that battle gave their lives for nothing; it means that we're doing our best to win the war as a whole, to honor their sacrifice. In WWI, the final victories were won in the easternmost portions of France, where the Allies really hadn't expended much offensive effort after 1914 -- (Verdun was defensive). In the GWOT, the climatic battle may be well be in some other country, or it may be an economic victory, or even us just standing aside and watching our enemies implode. No matter how it happens, though, our inevitable victory will justify the efforts of our dedicated men and women in Iraq. Then, we can hope that some future leader of whatever Iraq becomes will be able to echo the words of Ataturk to veterans from Britain, Australian and New Zealand in 1934, at Gallipoli:
Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives...
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly Country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours...
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well