There is a list of things that polite people don’t talk about, and I don’t mean sex: for that, we have The New York Times.
One of those subjects is attrition. A word that conjures up the grisly squalor of trench warfare in the west during World War One, or William Westmoreland’s idiot assurances that we had reached North Vietnam’s crossover point: we were killing North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops faster than the NVA could replace their losses.
The US Army was supposed to be done with attrition, especially in the aftermath of the Gulf War: we’d out-maneuver the enemy, get inside his OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act), dislocate and decapitate his command structure. Of course, none of these ideas was without virtue in the hard world of war, but looking back upon them after nearly four years of pure attrition warfare in Iraq, they seem…quaint.
But attrition—casualties and broken equipment—is inherent in all sustained combat operations. The wise strategist will try to use make attrition work for his troops, not against them, or treat attrition as if it is a dirty word, or pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Now we’re learning that attrition warfare doesn’t have to look like Verdun or Hamburger Hill to be just that.
Our leadership, civilian, and, yes, military too, has not been wise. Two decisions that were made shortly after 9/11 have haunted this country ever since.
The first was President Bush’s decision to tell Americans to go shopping, rather than ask them to buy war bonds. So we are charging the cost of the Iraq War, at least $1.2 trillion and counting. But of course, the true cost of the war in Iraq is all the opportunities foregone here in the United States to invest in our own infrastructure. And since we owe the money to foreigners, chiefly China, there is no possibility of that money being returned to this country with interest, to be invested here at home.
The second was the President’s decision not to call for volunteers, much less a draft. We have no replacement system, as veterans from either World War II, Korea, or Vietnam, would understand it. Our replacement system is the recruiting pipeline, which means that casualties extend far beyond the killed and the wounded, often horrifically. They also include families fraying under the strain of continual deployments, as well as all the good people who might have made potential recruits, watching the President attempt to run out the clock of his term with other people’s lives, while his party refuses to stop him, and the opposition party, elected on an anti-war platform, also lets him squander the nation’s blood and treasure.
The President and his party chose not to involve the American people in what they knew would extend far beyond the very necessary war in Afghanistan to a war of choice in Iraq, because doing that would have meant to open their strategy and planning to serious public scrutiny. They asked to be given the benefit of the doubt, were, and promptly betrayed that trust.
Now, the enemy watches our national leaders’ bankrupt policies and continues to bleed us: to drain our treasury in a way that threatens this nation’s future for decades to come, and bleed our military to death.