|September 29, 2001||atimes.com|
Have Gun, Will Travel
In September 1957, a soon to be popular Western debuted on the American CBS television network. Richard Boone played "Paladin" in Have Gun, Will Travel, the Man in Black awaiting calls to mete out justice. The title survives, the show's long gone. Is US President George W Bush planning a remake?
Already prior to the first shot being fired in the "war on terrorism", the title of the operation has been changed. What was "Infinite Justice", now is "Enduring Freedom", we are told. And unfortunately, that's not the only difficulty the producers are encountering. Most notably, the whereabouts of the targets of the operation remain unknown, as do its precise objectives and an exit strategy, as no one seems quite certain what would constitute victory.
This must make especially US Secretary of State Colin Powell uneasy. In 1991, as head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, he directed the highly successful Gulf War operations in accordance with the "Weinberger Doctrine", a set of excellently thought-out and enduring principles on the conduct of war laid out in a 1984 speechby Reagan administration Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. In honor of Powell's campaign success, the doctrine came to be widely renamed the "Weinberger-Powell Doctrine". What happened to it? How, if at all, is it being applied at this point?
The third of the doctrine's tenets is that, "if we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas, we should have clearly defined political and military objectives. And we should know precisely how our forces can accomplish those clearly defined objectives. And we should have and send the forces needed to do just that. As Clausewitz wrote, 'no one starts a war - or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so - without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war, and how he intends to conduct it'."
But on these issues, the Bush administration has remained largely silent or vague at best in its pronouncements. We appreciate the need for secrecy in military operations. We fully appreciate the difficulties in bringing the surviving operatives and controllers of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US to justice. But merely to say that this is a "new type of war" and that its goal is to "allow us to walk without fear again of being hit by a truck bomb", as US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has done in recent press briefings, is woefully inadequate and a recipe for disaster.
In the presidential campaign last year, and again last week, President Bush warned against the arrogance of outsiders engaging in "nation-building" in the developing world. But the more one sees of the preparations for this "new war" and listens to the pronouncements of those to conduct it, the more one must fear that not just key elements of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine, but also Bush's own warnings are being set aside.
Five years ago, nearly to the day, on September 27, 1996, the Taleban, a band of former religious students, drove the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani (now nominal head of the Northern Alliance) out of the Afghan capital of Kabul and captured and executed the country's former leader, Najibullah. Now it appears that reversing that Taleban victory in alliance with the forces gathered under Rabbani and installing a new government in Kabul, perhaps to be headed by Afghanistan's long-exiled king, is a key aspect of US strategy.
How did we get from bringing terrorists to deserved justice to remaking Afghanistan? It is a mad undertaking that could well result in a Vietnam-style quagmire, and insert another intractable conflict between long-warring Pakistan and India into the equation. Note that the Weinberger Doctrine was inspired by lessons presumably learned by the US in its involvement in Vietnam (where Powell had served). He would do well to re-read Clausewitz's On War, which he studied during his time at the National War College in the early 1970s; then sit down with Bush and Rumsfeld and brief them on that and his wartime experiences.
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