Friday, December 09, 2005

Center of Gravity

In my lifetime, the US has fought 4 major conflicts (Vietnam, The Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq) and engaged in various other major military operations (Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo). In each case, the US possessed overwhelming military superiority over its enemies. And yet, despite the military power of the US, three of these are seen -- rightly or wrongly -- as defeats for the US: Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia.
"The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam—and how they ran and left their agents—is noteworthy."

Ayman al-Zawahiri

"Our people realise more than before that the American soldier is a paper tiger, they're claiming defeat after a few blows."

Osama bin Laden
Opotho's comment from my previous post makes the point:
I only realized late in the game what some of you may have been hip to in the 90's - that our enemy had long ago grasped the reality that "only by way of a major blunder by the US -- withdrawing before final victory has been secured" could they hope to defeat the US in any theatre. I credit them for that degree of astuteness, though they be wrong in the end.
What our enemy has grasped is the US center of gravity. They realize that they cannot defeat the US by force of arms, but by force of will. If they can hold on long enough and keep inflicting casualties on the US military -- so the reasoning goes -- the American public will eventually turn against the war and demand a withdrawal. The US will lose its stomach for the fight.

Al Qaeda and the Ba'athist insurgents in Iraq certainly aren't the first enemies we have faced to reach this kind of conclusion about our will to fight. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in the belief that the US would eventually tire of war with Japan and sue for peace, thus leaving the Japanese in possession of their vast Asian-Pacific empire. They failed to heed the counsel of men like Admiral Yamamoto, who knew of America's industrial might and its resolve to win.

Was Al Qaeda wrong? Have the Ba'athist insurgents miscalculated? From the standpoint of identifying the US center of gravity, the answer is no. They correctly perceive our will to fight as the point against which they must make their maximum effort. From the standpoint of having correctly gauged our will to see this war through to final victory, we shall see. But the lessons of Vietnam cut both ways, and I for one am optimistic that we shall persevere.


Blogger Aaron M. Segal said...

You’re right, that’s how democracy works. The real question: is forcing stability on Iraq worth the lives of thousands of US soldiers and even more Iraqis and millions of tax dollars? Is it really victory of it costs this much?

6:49 PM  

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