Monday, April 23, 2007

Reinforcing failure and feigned retreat: Boring tactical stuff

Warning! The following is a post which more liberal politically minded readers may find tedious. I fancy myself a bit of a military historian. I make no pretense at professional qualifications for that title. My only understanding of the issue comes from many years of reading military history.

I wonder if the terrorists and insurgents played possum when the surge was announced in order to suck more American forces into a battle which can not be won militarily. There are two ways to look at this. First, we have been induced to reinforce defeat, which as a military axiom is something that should never be done. The correct tactical military aphorism here is to starve failure and reinforce victory. Next, we may have unwittingly played straight into the hands of the enemy as they made a feigned retreat.

Feigned retreat is one of the oldest tactics in the books. From as small as the basic squad level engagement with a small group of men, seemingly, fleeing from the enemy only to lead them into a trap, to as large as grand scale army movements. Robert E. Lee was famed for posting his undermanned army in such a way as to lead the hapless commanding Union general to confidently march his army into crushing defeat. Joseph Hooker was the unwitting victim of one of Lee's such stratagems. In carrying out his plans to crush Lee, Hooker thought his position was so advantageous that prior to the battle starting Hooker declared "may god have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none". This quote is Bushesque. Over the course of the following week Hooker's army would be soundly beaten by Lee, who had fewer men and defied conventional military understanding by splitting his force 3 ways in the face of a greater army.

Lee would follow that victory with another stunning victory over John Pope. Despite Pope declaring at various times through out the encounter that Stonewall Jackson's corps (which initiated the battle on it's own) of Lees army would be destroyed, it was Pope's army which ended the engagement streaming in defeat back to Washington. Pope's near Bushism was when he datelined an order from "headquarters in the saddle". Right until the fatal final hour Pope was convinced he had Lee right where he wanted him.

Modern day warfare provides examples of use of this type of tactic on a grand scale. The battle of Midway turned the tide of WWII in the Pacific. American forces led by Chester Nimitz ambushed the Japanese navy and destroyed 4 aircraft carriers. The Japanese were fed intelligence reports that there were no American forces in the area, and they planned to draw off any forces that would interfere at Midway with a feint into the Aleutian islands. They were sucked in unawares and the results of that battle changed the course of history.

So when the President announced his plan to surge the troops, and the Shiites very publicly called for the end to sectarian killings in Baghdad, and the first couple of months were a bit calmer than normal... was that the other side sucking us in deeper? This month is one of the deadliest for U.S. forces since the start of the war, and as I write this post there is news of a suicide bombing with 9 dead Americans. 9 more devastated families, and for what reason we must ask? To assuage George's ego so the final movement happens on the watch of his successor, rather than with him at the helm? History will note this and condemn this man as the disastrous failure he has worked so diligently to become.

I have no doubt that the President has reinforced failure. I just wonder if future historians will tell the tale of how we were induced to do so by a seeming moment of calm as we prepared the surge.

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