View Full Version : Time Tables for War?

03-23-2007, 05:58 PM
I don't know if this question has been asked here before, I apologize if this is a rehash of some previous thread, but in light of the days events in the US House and proposed actions in Senate I believe it is a good exercise to review the History:

A simple question, all current politics aside--think historically, when has a fixed timetable or timeline for withdraw been effective?

What has been the aftermath of such evolutions?

Steve Blair
03-23-2007, 06:10 PM
It all depends on how you define success. If you want to define it as succeeding in meeting a domestic political need or agenda, there have been some successes (think Vietnam in 1972 or ending open warfare in Korea in the 1950s...there are, I'm sure, other similar examples...I'm going off the top of my head at the moment).

In terms of long-term effects, I don't know that you could call those examples successful. But it all goes back to the desired end-state, and if that end-state vision remains consistent over the long term. Using Vietnam as an example, Nixon's vision of supporting an independent South Vietnam clearly failed. The pull-out of advisors from Laos in the early 1960s also failed in that same sense, though it did accomplish a short-term goal of creating a "neutral" Laos.

I think in the historical near term, such withdrawals have usually resulted in a prolonged stalemate, the destruction of the government or state that was being supported, or general chaos.

Fixed schedules tend to be based more on domestic political needs and not necessarily the situation in the theater of conflict (at least this has been true for the past 50 years or so).

Tom Odom
03-23-2007, 07:38 PM
One of the more interesting cases of timetables was when the British essentially threw the towel at the UN over the issue of Palestine. The British left, Israel raised its flag and the war was on.

1960 Congo is another when the Belgians caved into international pressure and reversed course to give the Congolese independence in a matter of weeks versus decades. Within days the new Congolese Army mutinied against retaining white (Belgian) officers, civil war erupted in the country, and Katanga seceeded.

1963 Congo--at the time the largest UN peacekeeping effort in history drew to a close as donors were tired. True to form as the last UN peacekeepers left, the Simba rebellion and related troubles erupted.

1967 Sinai--one of the dumbest requests ever made was by Egypt to the UN to remove UNEF 1 from the Sinai--this pretty much guaranteed the 1967 6 Day War

There are any number of related or simliar examples, especially those related to collapse of colonial empires. I mean look at the British and India and the creation of Pakistan and later Bangladesh. The French in Algeria versus the French turnovers in Tunisia and Morocco. The Belgian reversal in the Congo was of course paralled by another reversal in Rwanda to place the former elite Tutsis under the Hutu.

In some ways you can make the case that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the timetables set for withdrawals ofSoviet/Russian forces repeated the collapse of colonial imperialism of the 1950s/60s in the 1990s.


John T. Fishel
03-23-2007, 08:47 PM
In our original study published as "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: Toward a New Analytical Approach" in Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol 3 No 2, Winter 1992, Max Manwaring and I looked at 43 cases of insurgency. Our model successfully explained/predicted the outcome in 38 cases. Three of the five cases where it predicted/explained incorrectly were close enough to 50/50 to be seen as toss ups. The other two cases were Cyprus, where British commander Lord Harding understood his unexpected victory in terms of his promise to the Queen not to lose Cyprus , and Aden. In that case the predicted probability of a loss by the British was .120, of a win, .880 and the British lost Aden. The reason: the British government announced that it would withdraw from "east of Suez" by a date certain. We quoted Julian Padgett's analysis in Last Port in Aden, "The announcement was a disastrous move from the point of view of the security forces, for it meant that from then onwards they inevitably lost all hope of any local support." Thus the rebels simply waited for the British to leave and then walked in and took over. My conclusion is that setting a date certain for withdrawal guarantees the enemy victory at little or no cost.(:

Mike in Hilo
03-24-2007, 03:29 AM
One rationale often cited to justify such a withdrawal has been that that certain prospect will "goose" the client state to "step up to the plate"--to take heretofore politically unpalatable steps or to adopt a level of military aggressiveness it has been reluctant to employ.

I certainly heard the argument made often enough when I was with CORDS. Then, the main issue we, in our parochial province team, had vis a vis the Gov't of VN (GVN) was the problem of accommodation with the enemy. There were situations involving territorial forces operations, but especially intractible was accommodation as the impediment to neutralization of the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI). (Aside: No, Phoenix was not a sterling success in this regard.) Anyway, some of my colleagues thought that, given no choice, the GVN would take those unheard of steps, viz., roll up the VCI legal cadre, and disrupt the Shadow Supply System. In the event, the opposite happened. Once sure knowledge that the US military was withdrawing sank in, this fact ushered in a period of unprecedented dealmaking with the enemy--- at all levels. The psychology of defeatism took hold and many who had not previously done this scrambled to placate the future victors; ensure that they themselves were not the last heroes to die in a losing fight; and, consummate deal makers that they were anyway, ensure that they raked in enough in bribes to give them a nest egg to start a new life in exile after their country was overrun.

Given that human psychology probably transcends a particular culture, there may be a truism here that can be applied beyond just Vietnam. Not to sound flippant, but something along the lines of, say, "As long as we are carrying the ball, the indig can well afford not to step up to the plate. And once we've passed the baton to them, they can ill-afford to do so."


John T. Fishel
03-24-2007, 11:36 AM
Mike in Hilo clearly and effectively makes the case that for Vietnam a date certain was disaster. What our data showed was that the single most powerful explanatory dimension (Factor - as in Factor Analysis) was the one we called "Supporting Actions of the Intervening Power." This included NOT setting a date certain for withdrawal. (Of course, the entire model was much more powerful than any of its individual dimensions.) That said, as Mike and Tom have shown, along with the Aden case, the evidence is overwhelming that setting a date certain for withdrawal of the forces of the Intervening Power practically guarantees victory for the forces opposed to the Interveining Power and its local ally.

J Wolfsberger
03-24-2007, 12:48 PM
So, TROUFION, in answer to your questions:

...when has a fixed timetable or timeline for withdraw been effective?

Pretty much never.

What has been the aftermath of such evolutions?

The wrong side usually wins.

In the current context, and granting the the Ba'athists, al Qui'ida, et. al. an I.Q. above room temperature, they bide their time, stockpile arms, and wait until the last helicopter departs the roof of the U.S. embassy.

03-24-2007, 05:29 PM
Ok, I see a lot of 'conflict' knowledge incapsulated in the contributors to this site and of the 6 who have replied to this thread question all 6 seem to agree that a scheduled, announced timeline for withdrawal is a bad idea. One that only encourages the opposition to hunker down and wait for the last helo to leave before uncorking hell. The history of such actions is clear. Why then do we persist with this foolish thought? I am not eliciting an answer here, the answer is simply Politics.

The question now asked is how, again historically, has the Politics of such a proposed action been countered? What can be done to rationally educate the decision makers, the legislators and the influencers as to the folly of a timeline?

Further, what is the alternative? Can set objectives be publicly laid down to achieve the same goal of withdrawal without jeapodizing the operation as a whole?

03-24-2007, 05:58 PM
Hi Troufion,

The question now asked is how, again historically, has the Politics of such a proposed action been countered? What can be done to rationally educate the decision makers, the legislators and the influencers as to the folly of a timeline?

Forget "rationally educating" politicians: hit them in their own terrain - "moral rectitude". For example,

The Democrats will succeed where Al-Quaida has failed - in bringing America to defeat. Indeed, the decision by General Nancy Pelosi to withdraw all American troops from Iraq has not only guaranteed the embarrassment of America in the global community but, at the same time, will inevitably lead to the deaths of millions of innocent Iraqi's.

General Pelosi's decision is, as we all have all heard ad nausium, based on her belief that the life of one American (voter) is worth an infinite number of Iraqi's. I am certain that every American is delighted to know that te enlightened Speaker of the House has, finally, defined her actual position on Human Rights; to whit, that every human has rights as long as they are American voters and she will be glad to let them know what they are.

Further, what is the alternative? Can set objectives be publicly laid down to achieve the same goal of withdrawal without jeapodizing the operation as a whole?

Actually, they can be: Rome did it, Britain did it (the Boer War), Canada did it (the Second Riel Rebellion). It has to be defined by specific socio-political metrics and those have to be communicated to the home front.


Plains Cavalryman
03-25-2007, 03:11 AM
To my knowledge timetables for mission completion are asking for trouble. My opinion, for what it may or may not be worth is to press on, win and call it good.