Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Has Iraq Really Made Us Look Weak??

I common "concern" I've been hearing from the left is that the "quagmire" we're now in, in Iraq, has made our military appear weak. One might reasonably respond that nothing could make us look weaker than the retreat from Somalia did, or that the dictators of Syria and Libya seem to have responded as though we appeared stronger, and I have.

The Academic Elephant points us in the direction of a much clearer and stronger rebuttal: this interview of a senior Chinese general, on what the lessons the Chinese military takes from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Short version: they're scared spitless.

Lt. Gen. Liu compares the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan with the American one: "Both the Soviet Union and the United States were superpowers, and when they fought wars with the same opponent, the results were totally different. The Soviet Union successively employed 1,500,000 troops in its war on Afghanistan, fighting mainly ground battles with that country for a decade, only to be defeated in the end, resulting in more than 50,000 casualties on the Soviet side. What was more, the power of the Soviet Union never recovered. While in the case of the recent war in Afghanistan, the US only employed a special force of 1000 some-odd troops—accompanied mainly by its air forces—and dismantled the Taliban forces in just 61 days, with only 16 deaths among the US troops (of whom none were killed in action)."

He is impressed with our advantages in military technology, but he is in awe of our ability to observe a need, invent new weapons systems, manufacture it en masse, and deploy them within a few months -- as with cave-busting "thermobaric" bombs in Afghanistan, and heavily up-armored transports to deal with IEDs in Iraq. In contrast, he points out that the Chinese military saw virtually no change in military technology between the Korean and Vietnamese wars.

He points out the extraordinarily rapid military progress the American military has seen in the last fifteen years: "In battle, a period of time was needed to complete the so-called attack chain, from discovering a target to conducting a precise attack on that particular target. And that process would have included the following steps: discovering, locating, targeting, attacking and operation evaluation. In the first Gulf War, the operation of such a “chain” took 100 minutes, while in the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan, it took 40 and 20 minutes respectively. In the Iraqi War, it took just 10 minutes, thus nearly realizing the goal of “discovering means destroying”." The difference between this and the speed and mobility of any other military in the world is like the difference between German panzers in WWII facing horse-mounted riflemen in Belgium. And our Naval power is even more dominant.

At the end of the first section of the interview, General Liu comments: "Due to the poor performance of the Iraqi forces, the real war capacity of the US force was not fully manifested in the Iraqi War." and goes on to predict that within a generation, the U.S. will have easily conquered the world. While I don't think he's right about that -- it's hard to argue that he's feeling contempt for our military weakness.

His take on the military philosophical "debate" between Powell and Rumsfeld at the start of the Iraq War (and his unequivocal statement that the War proved Rumsfeld right) also make fascinating reading. He writes: "Rumsfeld’s victory was... also over Russian military theory. Facts proved that a more flexible military, though smaller in size, would absolutely defeat a huge army bugged by outdated concepts." and "Military observers in Russia exclaimed, “The military paradigm has been rewritten. Other countries had better notice that the US has rewritten the military textbook.”"

The whole piece is interesting reading on how Beijing's high command is thinking about potential future conflicts with the U.S.


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