View Full Version : Rationalizations and Warfare

09-10-2006, 11:47 AM
Posted by John Robb at his Global Guerrillas blog - Rationalizations and Warfare (http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2006/09/rationalization.html).

Rationalization is something we all do (often daily) when confronted with events that go against our plans and desires. The process is simple. We take a complex event, replete with unknowns, and put it into a framework where everything makes sense to us. The usual output of this process is "if only we had (or not) done this or that..." or "if we had taken this approach (substitute your pet theory here) things would have turned out grand."

We are now at the start of a long process of rationalization over the US defeat in Iraq. The most common of these rationalizations include: if only we had "...not disbanded the Baathist army," "...sent in more troops," or "...become better at nation-building." However, in each case the approach is one dimensional, since we tend to view ourselves as the only actors on the stage. The actions and reactions of the opposition are discounted and explained away as fluff and background noise (those pesky terrorists...).

A better, and more sane approach, is to embrace the concept that war is a conflict of minds. There are two sides. For every change in approach there will be counters mounted by the opposition. In the case of Iraq, that opposition was extremely difficult to beat since it was organized along the lines of open source warfare. This organizational structure gave it a level of innovation, resilience, and flexibility that made it a very effective opponent. Given this, the simplest explanation for the outcome in Iraq is that we were just beaten by a better opponent (the Israeli's seem to be getting this, why can't we?).

The real question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not our maximalist goals in Iraq could ever have been achieved given the capabilities of the opposition and the limited levels of commitment we were able to bring to to bear on the problem. I suspect the answer is no. The goals didn't match our capabilities and there weren't any simple tweaks to our strategy that would have changed the outcome. This was a difficult way to learn this lesson, but given our tendency towards rationalization, I doubt that it will be learned at all...

Merv Benson
09-10-2006, 04:38 PM
Robb makes an excellent point about the "if only" school of looking at the enemy reaction to our victory in the major combat operations phase of the war. It actually took the enemy a few months to come up with an uncoordinated plan of attack that had little to do with how they were treated by US forces and had a lot to do with their own need for survival as a minority that had brutalized the majority. The suggestion that we created the insurgency seems to rest on the idea that because we were not always nice to to people who wre resisting we created enemies that joined the insurgency. If that were the case in Iraq, then Saddma would have been fighting a much worse insurgency whicle he was still in power, since his brutalities for exceep anything that happened at Abu Ghraid, much less the "looks" given by troops from the 4th ID.

I disagree with his suggestion that the war in Iraq has been lost. The enemy is much weaker today than it was before the Iraqi elections. It has been reduced to killing non combatants, because it is too weak to fight government troops. If there is a "civil war" it is the most unusual one in history since the competing forces rarely fight each other. Just because what remains of the enemy has not quit fighting, does not mean he has won, unless, of course, we want to quit fighting.