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Old 04-26-2012   #1
davidbfpo
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Default OEF has it been worth the human cost?

I think this question has been asked before within a variety of threads, but the Lowy Institute have raised the issue - under a different headline. Questions that all of those nations involved need to ask, not just Australians.

Link:http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/...n-failure.aspx

The author starts with:
Quote:
Some good things have been achieved in Afghanistan, and some of them may even last once ISAF has gone. But for those of us interested in the decisions that governments make about the use of armed force, the fact that something has been achieved is not enough. The question that must be asked is whether the achievements have been worth the cost..(sentence removed)....But it is a question that we Australians cannot afford to duck.
Citing an Australian TV documentary, which cites retired Major General John Cantwell:
Quote:
: At its heart it's about supporting an alliance with the United States. That's what got us into this when the ANZUS Treaty was invoked. Is it worth it? I as a Commander asked myself that question many times. And I really really struggle with it. The only way I can see through this, so that I can sleep at night, is to differentiate - to say it's not worth it for the lives that you lose. You could never look at any soldier, sailor or airman and say, your life's forfeit for some political purpose. That's just unacceptable. But at the highest level of strategy, and in the dirty ugly world of international relationships, where it's you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, that those lives become less important. And taking that longer term view, that hardnosed, realpolitik view, that politicians do, and must, it's worth it. But not at the human level.
Link:http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stori...12/3476114.htm

He writes:
Quote:
...the decisions – including the moral decisions — to commit soldiers to combat are made at two different levels. There is the operational level, where the decisions are military, and the strategic level, where they are, to use his word, 'political'...He seems to argue the standards of morality at the two levels are different. At the strategic level the standards are lower, and 'lives are less important'.....

Everyone involved in such a decision has a responsibility to exercise exceptional diligence in contributing to it. All of them must meet the same moral standard: have they been sufficiently careful in ensuring that the potential cost in lives is justified by the potential policy benefits?

I believe Australian strategic decisions about Afghanistan failed to meet this standard. Soldiers were committed to dangerous operations when there was little prospect that those operations would achieve their policy objectives
He ends with an even more difficult passage:
Quote:
Military service in a society like ours is based on an implicit agreement. Soldiers agree to follow orders; to go where they're sent and fight who they're told, even at risk to their lives. In return, we – their senior officers, their ministers and ultimately the public – promise that we will not order them into danger unless really critical national interests are at stake, and the operations they are committed to have a reasonable chance of success. In Afghanistan I'm not sure we have lived up to our side of that deal.
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Old 04-26-2012   #2
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In my opinion, no, it's hasn't been worth the cost.
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Old 04-26-2012   #3
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One problem is how to measure the human cost. Sure, you can do so by lost lives (and standard of living for the wounded), but at what point does one more loss of life make it not worth it? If there had been only one KIA with the same outcome against the Taliban and AQ today, how is that one life worth less than the other 2,000+ that have also been lost?

The other problem is hindsight. The aim of war is to compel the enemy to accept our conditions by destroying his will or capabilities. This hasn't been accomplished, so the political outcome is uncertain. Naturally, this raises questions about why lives (and treasure) were expended in the first place. If we had achieved a more definitively favorable outcome, would this have altered perceptions about the lives lost?

I personally think war, while sometimes necessary, is a terrible waste of human potential. The original goal (destroying al-Qaeda) is laudable, but the rest is a mix of tragedy and farce.
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Old 04-26-2012   #4
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AmericanPride,

Such judgements are inherently subjective and therefore impossible to quantify. IMO, it is both foolish and distasteful (to use a polite word) to use accounting methods to add up KIA in order to determine if it was worth it or not. That's just my opinion - this is a difficult and sensitive subject and everyone has the right to deal with it on their own terms.
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Old 04-26-2012   #5
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Default Mixed bag...

I believe the original decision to commit was correct. The performance of the CIA and SF was more than satisfactory. However, the decision to commit the GPF was ill advised and the later decisions to stay and to attempt to rebuild Afghanistan were very bad errors with entirely predictable consequences.

We do not do these things well and have not since World War II -- the world changed and we did not; our Euro-centric focus has not served us at all well. Nor are we now capable of being mean enough; neither can we maintain focus due to our governmental processes. We should avoid such efforts in the future. Just go in, break things, leave quickly and let the locals and the UN fix it with our support -- from a distance...

We do short, sharp and anywhere, anytime pretty well -- we do not have the patience for long hauls. Not to mention that going in somewhere we are not wanted (or, often, needed...) and setting up fire bases or FOBs with large sandbag or Hesco RPG magnets from which we foray briefly (and ineptly, more often than not...) and throw money about with little focused thought is just dumb -- and wasteful. Going is often necessary , staying -- or, more correctly, overstaying -- is almost never even desirable, much less necessary. It was not in Viet Nam, it was not in Iraq and it is not in Afghanistan. As my son said on his fourth or fifth trip to the 'Stan -- I lost count -- "I don't know what this is but it isn't war..."

American Pride is correct, there are few things humans do that are more stupid than war but they are sometimes necessary and are certainly going to occur. As the Marines used to say "Nobody wants a war -- but somebody better know how to fight one." We seem to have forgotten both to 'not want one' and then when we blunder into one, the 'how.'
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Old 04-26-2012   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Entropy
Such judgements are inherently subjective and therefore impossible to quantify.
I agree, which is why I raised those questions. It doesn't make a difference if one life was lost or 10,000 lives since we cannot say that one life is worth any more (or less) than another; so there is no objective way to compare the lives lost with the outcome of the conflict. Even using the most basic rubric of war (did we win or not?) is problematic. I am only pointing out that unless we forgo our humanity, there is no objective method available to justify the loss of human life in wartime.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Entropy
this is a difficult and sensitive subject and everyone has the right to deal with it on their own terms.
I agree. It saddens me to think of the ones I did know, some closer than others, who were either killed or experienced the loss of a friend or soldier, as well as those who's standard of living was destroyed by the physical and mental toll of conflict. I think about it everyday. How can I, as an American and former Army officer, not think of this human cost and find some way to justify it? This is an answer, I think, that everyone must personally answer.
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Old 04-27-2012   #7
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Ken,

I think you covered it as succinctly and effectively as possible.

What deeply concerns me today is this "Atrocities Prevention Board" and all the talk of "Responsibility To Protect." I have a fear, that seems very reasonable, that this will transform into an open ended justification to go "... in somewhere we are not wanted (or, often, needed...) and setting up fire bases or FOBs with large sandbag or Hesco RPG magnets from which we foray briefly (and ineptly, more often than not...) and throw money about with little focused thought ..." And do so anytime the international community decides to isolate a particular bad guy for some random reason.

I'd love to hear someone explain why kicking out Saddam was the height of evil and folly, but not kicking out Assad or Qaddafi is/would have been the height of evil and folly. The only apparent criteria seems to have been the party controlling the Whitehouse, which is politically stupid and morally bankrupt. Until there's a satisfactory explanation of that distinction, then I'll stay opposed to any future intervention. The lives of US and allied troops are worth more than that.
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Old 04-27-2012   #8
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Default Atrocities plus: separate thread

John,

I have just updated the thread of atrocities, genocide and maybe R2P:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...?t=5598&page=2

If others want to purse those themes please post on that thread.
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Old 04-27-2012   #9
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Default Yes...

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Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
I'd love to hear someone explain why kicking out Saddam was the height of evil and folly, but not kicking out Assad or Qaddafi is/would have been the height of evil and folly. The only apparent criteria seems to have been the party controlling the Whitehouse, which is politically stupid and morally bankrupt. Until there's a satisfactory explanation of that distinction, then I'll stay opposed to any future intervention. The lives of US and allied troops are worth more than that.
Sadly correct...
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Old 04-28-2012   #10
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Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
I'd love to hear someone explain why kicking out Saddam was the height of evil and folly, but not kicking out Assad or Qaddafi is/would have been the height of evil and folly. The only apparent criteria seems to have been the party controlling the Whitehouse, which is politically stupid and morally bankrupt. Until there's a satisfactory explanation of that distinction, then I'll stay opposed to any future intervention. The lives of US and allied troops are worth more than that.
Maybe the penny is finally dropping?

Is there anyone other than USians who think the US political system of any value?
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Old 04-28-2012   #11
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Originally Posted by JMA View Post
Maybe the penny is finally dropping?

Is there anyone other than USians who think the US political system of any value?
Despite of its shortfalls, I do. Good old Albert would say all is relative and Winston might have a talk about democracy....
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Old 04-28-2012   #12
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Is there anyone other than USians who think the US political system of any value?
Compared to who? The enlightened denizens of this board? The people running the UK, the EU, Australia? Really?

Quote:
I'd love to hear someone explain why kicking out Saddam was the height of evil and folly, but not kicking out Assad or Qaddafi is/would have been the height of evil and folly. The only apparent criteria seems to have been the party controlling the Whitehouse, which is politically stupid and morally bankrupt. Until there's a satisfactory explanation of that distinction, then I'll stay opposed to any future intervention. The lives of US and allied troops are worth more than that.
Not going to judge evil - I'll leave that to all those stellar moral exemplars out there. But in terms of pure folly - are you seriously arguing that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had the same costs or benefits as the operation that removed Qaddafi? That they represented the same risks or scale of investment on the part of the U.S.?

Last edited by tequila; 04-28-2012 at 07:54 PM.
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Old 04-28-2012   #13
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Originally Posted by tequila View Post
Compared to who? The enlightened denizens of this board? The people running the UK, the EU, Australia? Really?



Not going to judge evil - I'll leave that to all those stellar moral exemplars out there. But in terms of pure folly - are you seriously arguing that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had the same costs or benefits as the operation that removed Qaddafi? That they represented the same risks or scale of investment on the part of the U.S.?
I think this is the wrong thread for your question (see davidbfpo's post above). Do you want to post it here?
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Old 04-29-2012   #14
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Posted by Ken,

Quote:
I believe the original decision to commit was correct. The performance of the CIA and SF was more than satisfactory. However, the decision to commit the GPF was ill advised and the later decisions to stay and to attempt to rebuild Afghanistan were very bad errors with entirely predictable consequences.
Your statement pretty much captures my view on the situation for Afghanistan, but of course we needed GPF to topple Saddam and the GPF performed superbly at this task.

Quote:
We do not do these things well and have not since World War II -- the world changed and we did not; our Euro-centric focus has not served us at all well.
I agree we don't do these things well and acknowledge the world has changed, but I submit we have changed also, and in many ways for the worse. As the sole superpower we embraced a hubris that was not founded on reality. Somewhere in time we made the mistake of accepting political correctness as reality. I'm not referring to the small percentage of our nauseating left wing Nazis that love to people what they can and can't think, but our strategic level political correctness largely promoted by the so called neo-cons who desire to "impose" our political and economic systems upon others, and they remain perplexed on why the world is not conforming to our politically correct views.

While the world has changed, some things haven't changed, and I think we have carelessly dismissed many hard lessons about war and warfare and replaced them with unfounded concepts on how to force social and political change (transform the world to fit our vision) on other nations with 2 bits of military coercion, 4 bits of throwing money at the problem, and 3 bits of applying our political and economic models to societies where they are foreign and not welcomed, and somehow we're shocked when this approach doesn't work.

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Nor are we now capable of being mean enough; neither can we maintain focus due to our governmental processes. We should avoid such efforts in the future. Just go in, break things, leave quickly and let the locals and the UN fix it with our support -- from a distance...
Agree, and would add we need to dismiss former SECSTATE Powell's view that if you break it you own it. We also need to dismiss the false belief that we did not abandon Afghanistan after the USSR left. First off the political reality is that there was still a USSR sponsored government in place with the USSR pulled out. Second, the global Islamist movement was already alive after their years of jihad against the USSR, we just didn't realize what that portended for the world after the war, anymore than we can know where the movement will go in the future. We can't deny safehaven for terrorists globally through nation building, even if we had the money and the world was receptive to it the terrorists would adapt and find other ways to continue their war. We can make the world a more dangerous place for them to operate, we can pursue and kill them, and over time the majority of the Muslim world can erode moral support for the extremist view. This can all be done more effectively by not occupying other countries and providing more material for their propaganda, while simultaneously draining our economic resources.

Quote:
We do short, sharp and anywhere, anytime pretty well -- we do not have the patience for long hauls. Not to mention that going in somewhere we are not wanted (or, often, needed...) and setting up fire bases or FOBs with large sandbag or Hesco RPG magnets from which we foray briefly (and ineptly, more often than not...) and throw money about with little focused thought is just dumb -- and wasteful. Going is often necessary , staying -- or, more correctly, overstaying -- is almost never even desirable, much less necessary.
Precisely, we need clear and feasible objectives/goals before we cross line of departure. We need to accept that any military solution may well be temporary and we'll have to revisit some locations repeatedly with punative military expeditions.

Quote:
As my son said on his fourth or fifth trip to the 'Stan -- I lost count -- "I don't know what this is but it isn't war..."
A lot of what we do isn't war, which is why the "war is war mantra" isn't helpful. The problem now is we don't know how we're going to get out of the hole we dug. We defaulted to simple answers like: build up their security forces (attempting to transform a political problem into one that can be solved militarily), throw more money at the problem (knowing there is huge tax on that money that feeds political corruption and helps fund the enemy), and keep generating statistics that support these efforts. It sometimes seems to me our biggest challenge is a lack of honestly among ourselves. It really doesn't matter if we effectively build Afghan's security forces if the government isn't accepted by the people does it?

We are where we're at, we can't re-create history, and there are no easy answers for the way forward. However, looking beyond the current situation, if we take the right lessons from our efforts over the past decade, and in the future we are more careful not to get ourselves involved in a way that we can't extract ourselves with honor, then not all is lost.

I'm not an isolationist, I do think there are times (many times) we will need to provide assistance, to include stopping mass atrocities (if we desire to remain a global leader), but doing so in a way where we don't own the problem, and setting realistic and limited objectives, and if the people we're assisting fail to address their own problems we leave (Somalia, Lebanon, etc.) as painful as that can be, we need to cut our losses sooner rather than later.

As most have said, we can't "measure" whether our effort to date was worth the cost in lives, yet if we learn from our missteps and become a better nation and military because of it then not all is lost.
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Old 04-29-2012   #15
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Compared to who? The enlightened denizens of this board? The people running the UK, the EU, Australia? Really?
Predicable knee jerk reaction... sad really.
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Old 04-29-2012   #16
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As the Marines used to say "Nobody wants a war -- but somebody better know how to fight one." We seem to have forgotten both to 'not want one' and then when we blunder into one, the 'how.'
This is the crux of the matter... or as George Orwell said:

"We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."

Now if the politicians want to misuse the military and the generals don't have the balls to stand up to them when we get Vietnams and Afghanistans... and not the human cost is not justified.

The thing about Stalin was that he knew how to deal with incompetent generals.
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Old 04-29-2012   #17
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The thing about Stalin was that he knew how to deal with incompetent generals.
No, if he fired an incompetent general, then because he fired (killed, jailed) so many that some incompetents had to be among them.
Plus: The incompetents rose in the ranks under Stalin's regime, often because of Stalin's regime.

IIRC Marshall was a much better example for how to get rid of incompetents (Colonel and above).
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Old 04-30-2012   #18
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No, if he fired an incompetent general, then because he fired (killed, jailed) so many that some incompetents had to be among them.
Plus: The incompetents rose in the ranks under Stalin's regime, often because of Stalin's regime.

IIRC Marshall was a much better example for how to get rid of incompetents (Colonel and above).
Good for Marshall then (assumming you are talking of George Marshall)

Anyway it is not only colonels and above who need to be fired. The requirement goes right down the rank structure to include NCOs. The problem seems to be that the policy to reassign non-performers results in the problems being passed around the military rather than out the back door. Not a smart policy.
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Old 04-30-2012   #19
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High level leadership should not bother with firing junior leaders. Many of them still need to learn, and the hopeless cases should be handled by mid-level leadership.

An inept and hopeless lieutenant should be reported by his captain and be removed by the Bn commander unless the Bde Cdr vetoes the decision after deliberating with his S-1.

I would not want to have any higher ranked leaders involved (even if it's about a failure that went into national media) because higher ranked leaders usually don't have repeated contact with the junior leader and could only judge based on a file or one-time observation.

I'd extend this at the very least to Coy leaders (captains).


Not sure how this is being handled in most armies, but I have little hope for a sensible regulation. Most personnel systems treat a soldier afaik as an asset that should not be written off if avoidable - until the end of the term.
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Old 04-30-2012   #20
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High level leadership should not bother with firing junior leaders. Many of them still need to learn, and the hopeless cases should be handled by mid-level leadership.

An inept and hopeless lieutenant should be reported by his captain and be removed by the Bn commander unless the Bde Cdr vetoes the decision after deliberating with his S-1.

I would not want to have any higher ranked leaders involved (even if it's about a failure that went into national media) because higher ranked leaders usually don't have repeated contact with the junior leader and could only judge based on a file or one-time observation.

I'd extend this at the very least to Coy leaders (captains).

Not sure how this is being handled in most armies, but I have little hope for a sensible regulation. Most personnel systems treat a soldier afaik as an asset that should not be written off if avoidable - until the end of the term.
Yes of course.

All I am attempting to say is that it is not only a number generals who (after being held responsible for the lamentable conduct of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan) being fired but also a number of all ranks right down the line who deserve not to be reassigned but fired. Fired by whoever their two-up commander is. Can't pass all the buck onto the generals.
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