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View Full Version : van Creveld on Western armies



Paprika
03-31-2015, 05:59 AM
For several decades now, Western armed forces—which keep preening themselves as the best-trained, best organized, best equipped best led, in history—have been turned into pussycats. Being pussycats, they went from one defeat to the next. True, in 1999 they did succeed in imposing their will on Serbia. But only because the opponent was a small, weak state (at the time, the Serb armed forces, exhausted by a prolonged civil war, were rated 35th in the world); and even then only because that state was practically defenseless in the air. The same applies to Libya in 2011. Over there, indigenous bands on the ground did most of the fighting and took all the casualties. In both cases, when it came to engaging in ground combat, man against man, the West, with the U.S at its head, simply did not have what it takes.

On other occasions things were worse still. Western armies tried to create order in Somalia and were kicked out by the “Skinnies,” as they called their lean but mean opponents. They tried to beat the Taliban in Afghanistan, and were kicked out. They tried to impose democracy (and get their hands on oil) in Iraq, and ended up leaving with their tails between their legs. The cost of these foolish adventures to the U.S alone is said to have been around 1 trillion—1,000,000,000,000—dollars. With one defeat following another, is it any wonder that, when those forces were called upon to put an end to the civil war in Syria, they and the societies they serve preferred to let the atrocities go on?

By far the most important single reason behind the repeated failures is the fact that, one and all, these were luxury wars. With nuclear weapons deterring large-scale attack, for seven decades now no Western country has waged anything like a serious, let alone existential, struggle against a more or less equal opponent. As the troops took on opponents much weaker than themselves—often in places they had never heard about, often for reasons nobody but a few politicians understood—they saw no reason why they should get themselves killed. Given the circumstances, indeed, doing so would have been the height of stupidity on their part. Yet from the time the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C were defeated by the outnumbered Greeks right down to the present, troops whose primary concern is not to get themselves killed have never be able to fight, let alone win.
The whole is worth attentive reading.

Boxing Pythagoras
03-31-2015, 06:13 AM
That seems to be a rather skewed view of the facts, to be polite.

Paprika
03-31-2015, 06:41 AM
That seems to be a rather skewed view of the facts, to be polite.
Perhaps. But he is a preeminent contemporary military historian and theorist, so I believe that his unconventional views deserve a hearing, so I have posted it here.

If you disagree with his views, you are free to explain why.

Darth Executor
03-31-2015, 09:54 AM
Libya - Why is this example even here seeing how there was no ground fighting and the intent of the mission was just to provide support for the rebels?
Iraq - The US military demolished the Iraqi military in record time.
Afghanistan - The Taliban controlled nearly the entire country. The US pushed them out of most of it and left because there wasn't much left to do. Complete defeat of the Taliban by Western standards would require genocide, which is an entirely different matter from lacking military competence.

The author appears to be one of those nutjobs who thinks that you don't "really" win a war unless the other guy formally surrenders and submits or you erase him from the face of the earth (IE: follow western cultural protocols, which a lot of countries, especially in the middle east, obviously don't). I can guarantee that the Taliban or the Baathists don't see themselves as the winners, no matter what propaganda they might spew to tickle the ears of the Van Crevelds of the world.

Paprika
03-31-2015, 10:11 AM
Libya - Why is this example even here seeing how there was no ground fighting and the intent of the mission was just to provide support for the rebels?
To forestall obvious rejoinders?


Iraq - The US military demolished the Iraqi military in record time.
Because the war ended right then, as Bush declared.


Afghanistan - The Taliban controlled nearly the entire country. The US pushed them out of most of it and left because there wasn't much left to do. Complete defeat of the Taliban by Western standards would require genocide, which is an entirely different matter from lacking military competence.
They lost: they failed to stabilise the government they installed and couldn't or wouldn't do what was necessary to do it. So they retreated.


The author appears to be one of those nutjobs who thinks that you don't "really" win a war unless the other guy formally surrenders and submits or you erase him from the face of the earth (IE: follow western cultural protocols, which a lot of countries, especially in the middle east, obviously don't).
The author is one of those people who thinks that war is not won merely by defeating the conventional forces and gaining formal control of the state. Given that strategic objectives included stabilisation of the occupied areas it is very clear that they were not only massively misguided but failed.


I can guarantee that the Taliban or the Baathists don't see themselves as the winners, no matter what propaganda they might spew to tickle the ears of the Van Crevelds of the world.
Pray tell.

One Bad Pig
03-31-2015, 10:55 AM
Afghanistan - The Taliban controlled nearly the entire country. The US pushed them out of most of it and left because the Commander in Chief wanted to get out ASAP, regardless of conditions.
Fixed that for you.

Darth Executor
03-31-2015, 11:50 AM
Because the war ended right then, as Bush declared.

Yeah, it did. Saddam was replaced with a democratic government. That insurgents kept fighting is immaterial. It's no different from Vicky France. Germany beat France even if the French Resistance kept fighting and the existence of the French Resistance does not change that, nor does anybody seriously claim France "won" that fight just because they didn't all give up.


They lost: they failed to stabilise the government they installed and couldn't or wouldn't do what was necessary to do it. So they retreated.

What are you talking about? The government of Afghanistan is still the one they installed.


The author is one of those people who thinks that war is not won merely by defeating the conventional forces and gaining formal control of the state. Given that strategic objectives included stabilisation of the occupied areas it is very clear that they were not only massively misguided but failed.

You don't need to meet every strategic objective to win a war. The primary objective was to replace Saddam with a democratic government which they succeeded.


Pray tell.

What is there to tell? They had empires and ruled over other peoples. After the US was done with them they barely control their homelands. The author has to twist himself into a pretzel to pretend they "won". Imagine if Canada invaded the US and conquered everything except DC. Would anyone in the right mind think the US government "won"?

Paprika
04-01-2015, 06:05 AM
Yeah, it did. Saddam was replaced with a democratic government. That insurgents kept fighting is immaterial. It's no different from Vicky France. Germany beat France even if the French Resistance kept fighting and the existence of the French Resistance does not change that, nor does anybody seriously claim France "won" that fight just because they didn't all give up.
Right, they won many battles but not the war. Did Germany win WWII?


What are you talking about? The government of Afghanistan is still the one they installed.
For now. It's only been what - 4 months?


You don't need to meet every strategic objective to win a war. The primary objective was to replace Saddam with a democratic government which they succeeded.
A government that would rule the land stably, which it hasn't managed to. I'm really noticing a pattern of short-term evaluation here.


What is there to tell? They had empires and ruled over other peoples. After the US was done with them they barely control their homelands. The author has to twist himself into a pretzel to pretend they "won". Imagine if Canada invaded the US and conquered everything except DC. Would anyone in the right mind think the US government "won"?
If there was sufficient attrition of Canadian forces so that the Canadians gave up trying to occupy the land, it's not a loss for the US at the very least. Suppose the Canadians had installed a puppet government in the meantime, and therefore it takes time to retake the land lost. Would it be too early to conclude that the US haven't won? Yes.

And given that the puppet Afghan government is very unlikely to survive on its own (cf. Iraq's) it may be a little early to declare a victory from the Taliban merely on the basis of the retreat of US and NATO after attrition but I don't see how they'll lose. They've won because as they've managed to get the occupiers to leave, achieving their own strategic objectives, leaving the rest of the land ripe for recapture, which would completely prevent the ex-occupiers of achieving their objective of a stable puppet government..

Darth Executor
04-01-2015, 03:14 PM
Right, they won many battles but not the war. Did Germany win WWII?

No but they beat France, which is the analogy being made. The rest of the war is irrelevant for the purpose of the analogy.


For now. It's only been what - 4 months?

And? If they lose it the loss won't belong to the US, who won't even be involved, it would be the loss of the Afghani government. The US won the war.


A government that would rule the land stably, which it hasn't managed to. I'm really noticing a pattern of short-term evaluation here.

You don't need eternal dominion to win a war.


If there was sufficient attrition of Canadian forces so that the Canadians gave up trying to occupy the land, it's not a loss for the US at the very least. Suppose the Canadians had installed a puppet government in the meantime, and therefore it takes time to retake the land lost. Would it be too early to conclude that the US haven't won? Yes.

If the Canadians achieved their objectives and left then no, it wouldn't be too early to conclude that the US haven't won. Claiming "victory" after your enemy beats you into a bloody pulp and then leaves is not victory.


And given that the puppet Afghan government is very unlikely to survive on its own (cf. Iraq's) it may be a little early to declare a victory from the Taliban merely on the basis of the retreat of US and NATO after attrition but I don't see how they'll lose. They've won because as they've managed to get the occupiers to leave, achieving their own strategic objectives, leaving the rest of the land ripe for recapture, which would completely prevent the ex-occupiers of achieving their objective of a stable puppet government..

The endless assertions that the US wants "puppet governments" in either Afghanistan or Iraq are usually the product of conspiracy theorists who view the US as some sort of omnipotent all-present evil. There is zero evidence the US wants anything more than a government that doesn't give them trouble and it's unlikely the Taliban will be stupid enough to cause them trouble again anytime soon considering the mass military sodomy they've been subjected to over the past decade even in the unlikely case that they re-take Afghanistan. They never conquered it on their own in the first place anyway, they had Pakistani backing. The Taliban just doesn't have the military forces to re-take Afghanistan anymore.

Paprika
04-01-2015, 06:38 PM
No but they beat France, which is the analogy being made. The rest of the war is irrelevant for the purpose of the analogy.
The point of the analogy is that the long-term evaluation matters especially regarding opposing long-term strategic goals.


And? If they lose it the loss won't belong to the US, who won't even be involved, it would be the loss of the Afghani government. The US won the war.
Given that one major US strategic goal was to establish a stable alternative government to the Taliban, if it falls it would be a failure of the long-term military strategic objective.


You don't need eternal dominion to win a war.
You need long-term dominion to win a war when the major strategic objectives after the first ousting of power are respectively the stabilisation of the land under a new government and the thwarting of such efforts.


If the Canadians achieved their objectives and left then no, it wouldn't be too early to conclude that the US haven't won. Claiming "victory" after your enemy beats you into a bloody pulp and then leaves is not victory.
That (and the above) assumes a very narrow perspective on victory where 'victory' is merely defined as being 'beaten up' worse compared to the achievement of the strategic goals.



There is zero evidence the US wants anything more than a government that doesn't give them trouble and it's unlikely the Taliban will be stupid enough to cause them trouble again anytime soon
So, leaving aside all the logistical issues, the US should be willing to reinstate the Taliban because they're unlikely to give trouble?

Darth Executor
04-01-2015, 08:02 PM
The point of the analogy is that the long-term evaluation matters especially regarding opposing long-term strategic goals.

France was saved by foreign powers. It didn't save itself. There's no USSR or USA equivalent that will save the Taliban. The point of the analogy (which I made, so I think I get to decide its point) is that when the enemy overruns your country and turns you into kebab, you lost.


Given that one major US strategic goal was to establish a stable alternative government to the Taliban, if it falls it would be a failure of the long-term military strategic objective.

You need long-term dominion to win a war when the major strategic objectives after the first ousting of power are respectively the stabilisation of the land under a new government and the thwarting of such efforts.

I disagree that it was a major strategic goal, and furthermore it's not a goal of war at all. I don't see what diplomatic or political failures (which, I should note, haven't actually happened) have to do with military failures (which is what the OP was about). The author's thesis simply doesn't pass the laugh test since the US military can and does mop the floor with third world armies, both formal and informal. To make matters worse, even under your view the author's claim is frivolous as it's based on what might happen rather than what has happened so far (the Taliban's crushing military defeat).


So, leaving aside all the logistical issues, the US should be willing to reinstate the Taliban because they're unlikely to give trouble?

Of course not. They already have a friendlier government, why reinstate the Taliban?

Paprika
04-02-2015, 11:00 AM
France was saved by foreign powers. It didn't save itself. There's no USSR or USA equivalent that will save the Taliban. The point of the analogy (which I made, so I think I get to decide its point)
Sorry, but I get to use the same analogy for a different point: the long-term decides who wins the war.


when the enemy overruns your country and turns you into kebab, you lost.
As above, that's only if you define winning only in terms of a certain control of the disputed land, and view victory only in the short-term. And the Taliban saved itself from those who were trying to eliminate it or drive it out from all its regions of control.


I disagree that it was a major strategic goal, and furthermore it's not a goal of war at all. I don't see what diplomatic or political failures (which, I should note, haven't actually happened) have to do with military failures (which is what the OP was about). The author's thesis simply doesn't pass the laugh test since the US military can and does mop the floor with third world armies, both formal and informal. To make matters worse, even under your view the author's claim is frivolous as it's based on what might happen
When a strategic goal is to stabilise the land the military has an indispensable role against enemies that try to disrupt it. Politics and military are in this aspect inextricably bound: one reason why the military is weak because the political will is weak. Furthermore, iirc driving out or eliminating the Taliban was one of the key goals during the occupation. They couldn't stop the Taliban from making continued attacks, let alone eliminate them, and had to retreat.


rather than what has happened so far (the Taliban's crushing military defeat)
The Taliban lost greatly in many battles, but that doesn't necessarily mean they lose the war. When the occupying army leaves, and one major factor is attrition taking its toll on the military, that is a major victory for those who have been fighting to make them leave.


Of course not. They already have a friendlier government, why reinstate the Taliban?
Because the land would be more stable and presumably they- :lmbo:

Sorry, couldn't keep a straight face.