Wednesday, May 29, 2002

MCCLELLAN V. GRANT: Our military has always had McClellans and Grants. McClellans carefully conserve their armies' strength, constantly worry about what their enemies will do to them, and bide their time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, which never comes. Grants are the opposite: their enemies worry about what Grants will do to them. It's not that Grants don't conserve their armies' strength, or try to anticipate their enemies' reactions -- like any good generals, they do both. But to Grants, armies are weapons, which must be finely honed and lovingly maintained, but ultimately must be used to attack the enemy, rather than shield against him. Last week's Pentagon leaks claiming that top Pentagon brass don't think we can or should go to war against Iraq illustrate the ongoing tension between the military's McClellan and Grant wings. The Washington Post reported that some military officers oppose war on two grounds: that "Hussein, if faced with losing power and likely being killed, would no longer feel the constraints that during the Persian Gulf War apparently kept him from using his stores of chemical and biological weapons," and "the danger of becoming bogged down in bloody block-by-block urban warfare in Baghdad that could kill thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians." The Pentagon leakers fit the McClellan mold: having spent billions to build the world's most powerful army, equip it to resist chemical and biological attack, and arm it with nuclear weapons to deter the same, they worry about the contingencies of the enemy's strategy and tactics to the point of paralysis. These McClellans are so fearful of what Saddam might do to them that one wonders whether they'd prefer another Afghanistan ("Comes WMD-free and complete with a proxy army to do the ground fighting!"), as risky a military campaign every fought by American soldiers. By fearing the enemy's reaction to the point of inaction, these McClellans would let Hussein win without fighting: once you get WMDs, we won't touch you. How would Grant approach this situation? He wouldn't ignore the risk of chemical or biological attacks; no competent military or civilian planner would. But having assessed that risk, he would calculate the threat of force necessary to deter such an attack and communicate that threat to the enemy, and make the enemy worry about what we would do to him. Iraq is a dictatorship, but even dictators need aides and soldiers. Even if a clear and credible threat of nuclear annihilation wouldn't deter Hussein from ordering a chemical or biological attack, it would deter his aides and soldiers from launching the attack. Hussein's minions aren't automatons; they're human beings with families who have rationally calculated that they're better off serving Hussein than trying to kill him. The threat of national holocaust would change that calculation. Grant would approach the risk of urban warfare in the same way. He would avoid it altogether in the large swathes of the country populated by Shiites and Kurds hostile to Hussein and friendly to the United States. He would besiege cities, cutting off their water and electricity, and offering generous terms of surrender. But when necessary, Grant would order his soldiers to fight block by block and accept responsibility for the ensuing American and civilian casualties, because armies are weapons, not shields. Grant would know what Gen. John M. Keane told the 101st Airborne Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan: "We can't defend an open democratic society of 285 million people. The only way we can protect Americans is to kill those who would kill them." (AP, via Best of the Web.) Armies must be used as weapons because they can't be shields. Wars begin with McClellans in charge, because the peacetime military, like any bureaucracy, favors the cautious. They end, and end well, when Grants take charge. But the military won't make that transition on its own; it takes presidential leadership. As Rich Lowry argues, the civilian leadership must set military policy and either see that military commanders execute it, or promote commanders who will. The Civil War began with McClellan and ended with Grant because President Lincoln made it so. President Bush must do the same in this war.

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