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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #22 (May 31, 2005), page 16.
Victory without success, war without end
Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire
By General Wesley K. Clark
PublicAffairs Books, 2004
Paperback, 240 pages, $15.00
By Andrew J. Weber
Drawing on his deep military experience at home and abroad, General Wesley Clark analyzes the U.S. invasion, occupation, and rebuilding of Iraq and its relationship to the struggle against global terrorism in Winning Modern Wars. According to Clark, the American war machine is a dominant force unlike any the world has ever seen, except perhaps the Roman Empire at its apex. Yet the mess in Iraq should be a clear warning that we have much to learn about wielding our power effectively.
The problems addressed by Clark build on his earlier book Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Conflict, released in 2001. Although the battleground has shifted from the Balkans to the Middle East, many of the central themes are the same: how to fight unconventional battles against asymmetric forces, how to coordinate U.S. efforts and objectives with those of other nations, and how to manage the flow of information in the media.
In this age of embedded reporters, Internet bloggers, and instant news, "Public opinion itself has become a weapon of war," Clark explains early on. Winning Modern Wars shows that this supposedly retired general is still ready to fight, delivering a "Take no prisoners" assault on the post-9/11 foreign policy of the Bush administration.
General Clark knows what an effective military force looks like, and has nothing but praise for the amazingly competent American soldiers who delivered the decisive victory over Saddam Hussein. But if success results from the work of soldiers on the ground, it is unfortunately errors at the highest levels of leadership that lead to ultimate failure. According to Clark, victory has eluded us in Iraq because of the absence of an effective postwar plan, an oversight that can be blamed only on President Bush and his advisors from the Pentagon. The administration famously predicted the Iraqi people would lay flowers at the feet of the invading U.S. army. They got everything right except for one detail; the Iraqis replaced the flowers with bombs.
Worse, the whole fiasco in Iraq was nothing but a grave misjudgment by the Bush administration in the first place. There should have been no need for a postwar plan because there should have been no war in Iraq at all. On top of a laundry list of American mistakes laid out by Clark, including spurning of allies, lack of focus on Al-Qaeda, and coddling of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, President Bush’s September, 2003, statement that Iraq constitutes "The central battle in the war on terrorism" encapsulates everything that has gone wrong with the American response to 9/11.
Mirroring the old cliché, the U.S. won the battle in Iraq but is nonetheless losing the war. Victory in combat is meaningless if it cannot be linked to "The follow-through operation to accomplish the aims and intent of the plan," according to Clark. Given that the goal was the elimination of the threat of global terrorism, we are a long way from success.
Most of Clark’s criticisms have been raised before, first from protestors on the street and later from disaffected staffers at increasingly higher levels inside the U.S. government. But Clark is no partisan shill, and has real credentials to back up his arguments; he has served as both European Supreme Allied Commander and Director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the Pentagon. The knowledge he displays of the tactics, weapons, and capabilities of the U.S. Army is so thorough that anyone who wishes to understand the campaign in Iraq and the larger war against terror has to sit up and take notice. We can choose to ignore Clark only at our own peril.