Our Civil War military in Iraq

When we think of the deficits in Abraham Lincoln's strategic thinking we often fail to consider, as I have mentioned before, that strategy is death to political control of the military. This creates friction and disapppointment when such as McClellan or Grant have to deal with civilian contingency-lovers and their endless ad hockery.

I sometimes mention the insight by Civil War historians Jones and/or Hattaway, that the ideal Civil War "strategy," from the point of view of Northern politicians, would have been to have a series of incremental victories of increasing magnitude with these wins tallying up to a final triumph by draining off the enemy's political support and will. Thus, under this fuzzy logic, victories could be anywhere and lead to nothing, strategically. They would still have delivered steadily increasing public support for the war while decreasing enemy support; they would generate political capital through favorable headlines one battle at a time while draining the enemy administration of its goodwill; and they would demonstrate superior war management skills by the civil leadership. Matters of policy and spoils-of-victory could also be better managed on an extended timeline.

Today's de-professionalized officer corps has internalized the anti-strategic confusion of its civilian masters. Thus, recently, Colonel John Boyd's student William Lind observed while attending some Iraq war talks that "the assumption behind almost all the [military] briefings was that if we can only accumulate enough tactical victories, we are certain to win strategically as well." [Emphasis added.]

If Lind was dismayed then, he seems to be embracing incrementalism now.

In a new column, while talking to some Marine officers, he tells them:

There are two basic ways to design a strategy. The first is to set a single strategic objective which, if you attain it, is decisive. However, if you fail to attain it, you lose.
You are "McClellanized," to use Grant's term. But Lind is mixing up meanings. An objective is not a strategy.

Lind continues,

An alternative type of strategy is one where you have a series of objectives, one maximalist, but others that yield partial successes or at least avoid outright defeat. [...] My recommendation to the Marines was that they attempt to devise a strategy of this second type for the U.S. in Iraq. ... [T]he current all-or-nothing strategy, where the only acceptable outcome is a "democratic" Iraq that is an American ally, is likely to leave us with nothing.
But the Union had an all-or-nothing strategy, to force the surrender of every rebellious state. The preferred means of its politicians were victories incrementing over time. The ambitious aim can co-exist with anti-strategic means.

Politicians, however, set that kind of aim, not generals. And the cost of this sort of war is higher, of course, much higher.

Meanwhile, our Iraqi enemies strive, like Jeff Davis, not to win with a string of successes but to deliver one or two morale-shattering blows that will force a peace on their terms.

Because we think Lincoln was always right about everything and because it all worked out just fine, don't you know, we are fighting in Iraq with a Civil War officer corps that has no Civil War memory of the effects of an absence of strategy.

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P.S. They seem to be casting about for advice in the oddest quarters: James McPherson was recently booked to give senior soldiers advice. He compared Iraq with Dixie [my emphasis added]:
But the [Southern white] insurgency was potent and took more than 1,000 lives. Along with the Ku Klux Klan, there were underground groups such as "The White Brotherhood" and "The Knights of the White Camellia," determined to preserve the old regime’s power. White insurgents staged bloody riots in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866. The rebels also drew support from the remnants of irregular Confederate units such as Quantrill’s Raiders, which spawned the outlaws Frank and Jesse James. [...] By 1877, says McPherson, the North essentially gave up.
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P.P.S. I just noticed that Chris Cross already addressed this McPherson talk. I think McPherson's insights come across as happy hour talk at the officers' club. (Do they still have officers' clubs?) The take-away seems to be "Persist!" - as ignorant as the Radicals' "Attack!."

Meanwhile, Jay Winik is making a bundle of money month after month selling a book that reverses McPherson's conclusions: April 1865 - The Month That Saved America. Its point is that the losers laid aside their guerilla options and nothing like "white insurgency" followed the breakup of Davis's government.

Given the military's appetite for history, and given that Winik has been outselling McPherson's Battle Cry for a long time now, a few people in this audience must have been suffering "cognitive dissonance" during this talk.

(Which reminds me to do a post about the phenomenal sustained sales levels of Winik's book. As for the idea that we are served by a Civil War officer corps, that is explored here, here, and here.)