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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Military Strategy for Democrats – Part 5 – How the Democrats Can Argue with McCain and the Republicans about Military Strategy and Win

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To summarize the argument thus far:
There is an important “pro-military, but anti-Bush’s war” voter group. Winning their vote is critical for Democratic candidates at every level of the 2008 election.
To win the support of these voters Democrats need do three things:

1. Democrats must demonstrate to these “pro-military” voters that they sincerely honor and respect the value system of the American military.
2. Democrats must distinguish and clarify to these voters that they completely support what most members of the armed forces see as their basic mission – protecting America from another terrorist attack. They must make clear that this is emphatically not the issue on which Democrats and Republicans disagree.
3. Democrats must learn how to express their ideas in the language and framework of military strategy – to win the debate with the Republicans within the “strategic” conceptual framework in which “pro-military” voters want policies regarding Iraq to be discussed.

In previous sections three basic ideas about America’s military strategy in Iraq have been presented.

1. That the conflict in Iraq is now a full-scale civil war, not an insurgency
2. That in many civil wars. short-term cease fires often just temporarily postpone deeply-rooted religious and ethnic conflict – and even make the ultimate violence even worse
3. That “staying the course” or “finishing the job” in Iraq implies not only refereeing the bitter civil war for many years but also profoundly changing the nation’s society and culture. These are objectives that will require long years, more soldiers, constant casualties and that – without using brutality, reprisals and direct US military rule – probably still will not be achieved.

Many “pro-military, anti-Bush’s war ” voters have already reached some version of these key conclusions by themselves, based on their own common sense and their daily observation of the news on TV. This is what underlies their view that (1) “the surge was a mistake”, (2) that Bush’s policies have “undermined America’s security” and (3) that we should “reduce the number of troops”.
So how can Democrats present speak to these voters — offering them an approach expressed in the language and conceptual framework of military strategy?
Most pro-military Americans will agree that there are three basic things any politician owes to the American people — and even more to the men and women of the armed forces themselves — before he or she proposes to send or keep American troops in combat.

1.A clearly defined mission and objectives
2. Sufficient resources to do the job
3. An explicit exit strategy

Most Americans, whether pro-military or not, will agree that if a politician cannot or will not provide these three things, he or she simply does not deserve the support of the American people.
Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1. A clearly defined mission and objectives
John McCain defines the mission and objectives he proposes to achieve in Iraq as follows:
“…The establishment of a peaceful, stable, prosperous democratic state that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists”.
Fredrick Kagan, a leading architect of the surge, offers an only slightly less utopian formulation of the same vision:
“…a stable, representative state that controls its own territory, is oriented toward the West and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism”
In either case, however, the basic mission is awe-inspiringly ambitious and at the same time very vaguely defined.
The Democrats, in contrast, can propose a very clearly defined and focused set of missions for US forces in Iraq – one that follows directly from the fundamental mission of all US forces since 9/11 – to protect America from another terrorist attack.
Specifically, there are three key missions for US air and ground forces in Iraq
(1) Applying overwhelming destructive force against any active anti-US terrorist training camps, headquarters, staging areas and other sites in the region.
(2) Occupying, neutralizing or destroying any nuclear weapons or other WMD facilities in the region that fall into terrorist hands or otherwise present a clear and present danger.
(3) Deterring any conventional armor/infantry attack on Iraq that might be launched by Iran or any other nation in the region.
Along with these key missions, US forces in Iraq should also perform a variety of non-combat missions (such as providing support and training for Iraq armed forces, conducting intelligence gathering operations, disrupting terrorist infrastructure, organizing and recruitment and providing protection for US forces and installations).
On the other hand, Democrats can and should specifically reject any of the following missions for US forces:
1. Supporting one side or another in Iraq’s ethnic and religious civil wars
2. Westernizing Iraq’s society and culture
3. Protecting privileged or low cost US access to Iraq’s oil
4. Remaking the societies of the Middle East
5. Maintaining and garrisoning enough troops in Iraq to be able to successfully invade and occupy Iran and/or Syria
This two-part formulation of the appropriate mission for US forces is essentially consistent with the positions of the two Democratic candidates. It differs by expressing the ideas in terms of the mission or missions that we are asking the men and women of our armed forces to perform rather than the exact number of months withdrawal should be allowed to take or the exact number of residual forces that should remain. For anti-war Democrats, of course, these latter numbers have now become fundamental litmus tests of the sincerity of candidates’ promises. But it is worth emphasizing that they became so only because the Bush administration kept continually changing their definition of the mission that America was trying to accomplish.
For pro-military voters, this strategic, “mission-oriented” way of talking about this subject is far more persuasive then debates over seemingly arbitrary deadlines or troop numbers because they see the fundamental question as follows:
“What is the mission that you are asking our brave sons and daughters to risk their lives for, to fight for and possibly to die for? You owe it to the men and women of the armed forces as well as to their husbands, wives, parents and family to give Americans straight, honest and concrete answers”
Democrats will have no difficulty on this score. Most fully support an absolutely firm and decisive military response to any threat of actual terrorism like 9/11. But they do not support putting our soldiers in harms’ way to achieve the five other goals noted above.
Republicans, on the other hand — and particularly the neo-conservative strategists behind the Republican strategy in Iraq for the last five years — will find this way of framing the issue extremely inconvenient. The essence of their political strategy has consistently been to describe the mission they propose as “defending America from terrorism” while in fact actually trying to use the men and women of our armed forces to achieve one or more of the five other goals listed above. Being asked to explicitly avow or disavow these additional missions will place them on what General Sherman once famously called “the horns of a dilemma”.
2. Sufficient resources to do the job
The resources that are needed to carry out any military mission are determined by the nature of the mission itself. John McCain’s vaultingly ambitious mission requires a correspondingly vast allocation of resources. To remake Iraq as a peaceful, stable, prosperous democratic state will require vastly more troops, funding, resources then are currently allocated or available.
Even now US troops in Iraq are stretched thin, serving excessively long tours of duty and leaving many other vital security interests of the United States unmet. Newspaper articles regularly report the growing shortfalls and degradation of the nation’s military equipment and supplies. A fully honest discussion of the resources McCain’s mission will require would involve giving serious and honest consideration to reinstating the draft and approving significant new taxes. In the absence of this kind of honest discussion, the only option is a consistently underfunded and undersupported mission that cannot possibly achieve its objectives.
The Democratic mission, in contrast, — even returning to Powell doctrine of insisting upon using overwhelming and disproportionate force — would still require much less than the current troop levels – by some calculations, perhaps only one-third – and would therefore reduce the stress on the armed forces and allow a return to normal troop rotations, the reestablishment of proper strategic reserves in other areas of the world and still also allow significant forces to be redeployed to Afghanistan where there is a better case for their utility.
3. An explicit exit strategy
The mission John McCain proposes is explicitly designed to not have a clear exit strategy –– we must remain until a massive transformation of Iraqi culture and society is achieved. It is a war that can and will require generations to complete.
The Democratic mission, in contrast, implies a steady redeployment of our troops away from patrol and guard duty in dangerous, contested areas and to more easily defensible positions in bases detached from highly populated areas. The issue is not exactly how long this redeployment should be planned to take, but it that it is established as a clear and explicit military objective.
Many Americans will not support the Democratic position. Some will genuinely believe that American men and women should indeed fight and die to achieve the neo-conservative missions noted above. Others will assume that, even if the Democratic position appears to make more sense, Republicans are still better suited to make decisions about military mission and strategy. Some will simply support the slogans of “victory” and “finishing the job” without questioning their meaning.
But based on the opinion data, these people could easily be a minority by next November. A substantial group of Democratic voters are firmly anti-war and will vote for any Democrat on that basis. Another group may disagree on Iraq but choose to vote for Democrats on the basis of other issues.
But for a critical swing group of “pro-military, anti-bush” voters the approach outlined in these pages may play a significant role in convincing them that – although they have long distrusted Democrats on military matters – simply as matter of military common sense, the Democratic strategy for Iraq is better than John McCain’s. The Democratic approach is supported by many people within the military, it is endorsed by many major military thinkers and it also corresponds with the common sense conclusions of most ordinary Americans. It is simply a better military strategy.

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