Has America Lost?
War Doctrines Of Kutusov vs Clausewitz May Help Explain Iraq War
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article, July 3 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
By Subroto Roy
Has the United States lost the war in Iraq? How would we tell if it has or not? If American commanding officers of general rank, once they go into retirement, say the Iraq war is lost or if the vast majority of the American people say it is not worth fighting, does that mean the USA has lost? When someone loses someone else wins ~ there are no “draws” or runners-up in war. If America has lost, does that mean Saddam won? How can a man who was hanged in sight of the whole world win a war from beyond his grave? It is all very strange in this most abominable of all wars.
Battle of Borodino
In the Battle of Borodino in 1812, the Russians under Marshall Mikhail Kutusov withdrew and the French held the field of battle at end of day ~ the single bloodiest day of warfare in modern times with between 66,500 and 125,000 casualties including several dozen generals. Though the French won, it signalled the end of French power and fall of Napoleon. Borodino was a Pyrrhic victory.
Marshall Kutusov, against his generals’ advice, and courting extreme unpopularity with St Petersburg, continued to withdraw after Borodino and declined to give battle to defend Moscow itself. His remaining forces and most of the civilian population withdrew beyond Moscow. The city was emptied and allowed to burn. The French took it without a fight, Napoleon entered and tried to feel himself its ruler, his generals tried to create a cooperative local government from among the remaining residents.
Kutusov waited, waited and waited some more without giving battle. Then one day, some months later, just as Kutusov had been praying, news came that Napoleon and the French had gotten up and left. Napoleon’s retreat was the biggest catastrophe his Grande Armée suffered, and they were harassed by Russian attacks all the way to the border.
Saddam was reported to have had two Russian generals advising his army, who quietly left before the Anglo-American attack occurred. Russian generals learn about Kutusov on mother’s knee. Even Stalin invoked Kutusov’s name when his 1939 pact with Hitler had failed and Hitler attacked Russia on 22 June 1941. (Iraq had both Nazi and Soviet influences: Stalin tried to appease Hitler in June 1941 by recognising the then pro-Nazi Government of Iraq.)
Saddam’s propaganda spokesmen in the early stages of the March 2003 invasion alluded to a Kutusov-like defensive doctrine: “the US and British administrations have depended on their strategy and planning based on the information obtained from the traitors, whom they call opposition, and from some intelligence services of some Arab countries…. They said: ‘Let some missiles be fired for the maximum of three days and then everything would be over.’ Therefore, we find them in a state of confusion. They prevent the media from having access to the facts about the military operations under security pretexts. They say that they are heading towards Baghdad and that they covered more than 160 or 180 km towards Baghdad. I would like to tell them, that in the course that they are following, let them continue up to 300 km and let them mobilise all the tanks and marines they have, and we will not clash with them soon. We will give them enough time. However, in any contact with any Iraqi village or city, they will find what they are now witnessing in Umm Qasr and Suq al-Shuyukh.” Iraq’s Army did a vanishing act, men and materials disappeared, Baghdad fell without fighting.
By contrast, the USA has followed textbook doctrines from Baron Clausewitz’s On War ~ a work influenced by Napoleon’s successful campaigns though Clausewitz himself fought at Borodino as part of Kutusov’s armies. Like Napoleon and now the Americans, Clausewitz was unable to reconcile his notion of war as aggression and destruction with his notion of war as a means of politics. Clausewitz’s “Absolute War” is “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will…as each side in war tries to dominate the other, there arises a reciprocal action which must escalate to an extreme”. Hence “disarming or destruction of the enemy … or the threat of this…must always be the aim in warfare”. But Clausewitz’s “Real War” sees war as “a political act… an effective political instrument, a continuation of political commerce and a carrying out of this by other means”
What we may have been witnessing ever since the Bush/Blair attack on Iraq is the outcome of a clash between the doctrines of Clausewitz on the American side and Kutusov on the Iraqi/ Russian side.
American forces began with “Shock and Awe”, followed by disbanding Iraq’s Army and banning the Baathists. Then came “Light Footprint” or “War Tourism”, where American forces left their bases only for specific jaunts outside, while attempting to create a new “Iraqi” Army in an American image. Recently, the purported strategy has changed again to “Clear, Hold, Build” requiring the current infantry “surge” of 30,000 extra troops to try to pacify specific Baghdad neighbourhoods and then “build” political institutions.
Thirty years ago, Professor WB Gallie pointed to the contradiction Clausewitz had been unable to reconcile: “All commentators are agreed that Clausewitz’s greatest difficulty was to explain the relationship between (Absolute War and War as a Political Instrument)”, Philosophers of peace and war, Cambridge Univesity Press 1978. War-making as destruction and war-making as politics are incompatible. The cruelties of Iraq may explain and demonstrate the root of this contradiction most clearly: defeated, disarmed and destroyed victims of an Absolute War are hardly going to feel themselves agreeable to then being manipulated into any political institutions or agreements designed by the perpetrators of the violence. You cannot declare “Absolute War” on Fallujah, kill or arrest every able-bodied male citizen there, and then expect Fallujah’s women, children and old people to participate happily in town hall meetings you wish them to hold. “America has lost because it has not behaved like a great nation”, said one ordinary Iraqi initially in favour of Saddam’s overthrow. America’s retired generals are saying Iraq has been America’s greatest strategic defeat.
The result of the clash between the two doctrines of war has been 30,000 American casualties (dead and wounded at about 1:8), while Iraqi dead exceed 650,000 with millions more wounded, rendered homeless or made refugees. Future historians may speak of a genocide having occurred in Iraq.
Did Saddam win if the Americans have lost? Of course not. Iraq had its Mir Jafars, and Saddam was at most a Shiraj, not even that given his odious past. Iraq now has its Tippus, Bhagat Singhs and Khudi Rams as well.
“The Resistance is the natural reaction to any occupation. All occupations in history faced a resistance. Occupation is not for developing people and making them better. It is for humiliating people, and chaining them and taking their freedom and fortunes away. These are my convictions which make me feel that this occupation is an insult to me and my people.” Such was what an anonymous Resistance officer told the Australian journalist Michael Ware.
It seems impossible for one nation to govern another in the 21st Century. The cycle of imperialism followed by nationalism and socialism/ communism may merely restart. What Iraq needs urgently is for its Tilaks, Gokhales, Jinnahs, Gandhis, Jawaharlals and Vallabhais to arise, or it may be condemned to extinction and being consumed by its neighbours. As for the United States, its military may find a need to revise its war doctrines.
When will normal political philosophy replace personality cults?
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, June 11 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
A decade after Solzhenitsyn’s classic 1962 memoir One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch, an ambitious young Delhi photographer published a hagiography called A life in the day of Indira Gandhi. Indira was shown gambolling with her little grandchildren, guiding her dutiful daughter-in-law, weeping for her father, greeting her loyal subjects from around India, reprimanding her ingratiating sycophants, imperiously silent during political meetings, smiling and scolding alternately at press conferences, and of course standing in victory at Shimla beside the defeated Bhutto. “Indira is India” the sycophantic slogan went, and the cult of her personality was one of showing her as omniscient and omnipotent in all earthly matters of Indian politics.
She had indeed fought that rarest of things in international law: the just war. Supported by the world’s strongest military, an evil enemy had made victims of his own people. Indira tried patiently on the international stage to avert war, but also chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to fight if it was inevitable and how to win. Finally she was magnanimous (to a fault) towards the enemy ~ who was not some stranger to us but our own estranged brother and cousin.
It seemed to be her and independent India’s finest hour. A fevered nation was thus ready to forgive and forget her catastrophic misdeeds until that time, like bank-nationalization and the start of endless deficit-finance and unlimited money-printing, a possible cause of monetary collapse today four decades later under Manmohan Singh whose career as an economic bureaucrat began at that time.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao
Modern personality cults usually have had some basis in national heroism. In Indira’s case it was the 1971 war. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were seen or portrayed as war heroes too. Because there has been leadership in time of war or national crisis, nervous anxious masses extend their hopes and delusions to believe such a leader has answers to everything. The propaganda machinery available as part of modern state apparatus then takes over, and when it is met on behalf of the citizenry with no more than a compliant docile ingratiating mass media, the public image comes to be formed of a parental god-like figure who will protect and guide the community to its destiny.
Beneath this public image, the cunning play of self-interest by anonymous underlings in the allocation of public resources continues unabated, and so it is possible some truth attaches to the idea that an individual leader is not as responsible for evil misdeeds or depredations done by “the party” in his/her name.
In the Indian case, hero-worship and ancestor-worship are part of the culture of all our major religions. Hence we have parades of parliamentarians garlanding or throwing flowers and paying obeisance at this or that statue or oil-painting or photograph regularly ~ though as a people we have yet to produce rigorous intellectual biographies of any major figures of our own modern history, comparable to, say, Judith Brown’s work on Gandhi or Ayesha Jalal’s on Jinnah.
Indira continued to dominate our political culture until her assassination more than a decade later, but there was hardly a shred of political or economic good in what she left the country. Her elder son (leaving aside his blunders in Sri Lanka, J&K etc.) did have the sense to initiate fundamental change in his party’s economic thinking when he found a chance to do so in the months before his own assassination.
Rajiv was the son of Feroze Gandhi too and a happy family man; he seemed not to have psychological need for as much of the kind of personality cult his mother clearly loved to indulge in. It is not clear if his widow is today trying to follow his example or his mother’s ~ certainly, the party that goes by the name of Indian National Congress would like to relive for a second time the worst of the Indira personality cult around Sonia Gandhi. And Rahul Gandhi, instead of seeking to develop or display any talent as befits a young man, has shown disconcerting signs of longing for the days of his grandmother’s personality cult to return. He may have been more effective pursuing a normal career in the private sector.
The Congress’s perpetual tendency towards personality cults has extended by imitation to other political parties in New Delhi and the States. Atal Behari Vajpayee at his peak as PM did not find it at all uncomfortable to be portrayed by his sycophants as a wise, heroic and loving father-figure of the nation ~ an image shattered when, immediately after perfunctorily commiserating the Godhra and post-Godhra horrors, he was pictured fashionably on a Singapore golf-cart sporting designer sunglasses.
India’s organised communists make a great show of collective decision-making since they most intimately followed the details of Kruschev’s denunciation of Stalin’s personality cult. It has not stopped them routinely genuflecting to China’s communists. There also has been a communist tendency to deny individual merit and creativity at junior levels and instead appropriate all good things for the party bosses. New brilliant faces will never arise in the Left and we may be condemned to see the usual characters in perpetuity. If personality cults around Jyoti Basu or Buddhadeb Bhattacharya have failed to thrive it has not been through lack of trying on part of the publicly paid communist intelligentsia and their docile artists, but rather because of resistance from Bengal’s newspapers and a few clear-headed journalists and well known opposition politicians.
Tamil Nadu has seen grotesque rivalry between Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha as to whose personality cult can alternately outdo the other, supplanting all normal political economy or attempts at discovery of the public interest. In Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, J&K, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (but not Gujarat or Rajasthan lately), two-party democratic politics has succeeded in limiting tendencies for personality cults to develop. The North Eastern States have had inadequate coverage by modern media, which, fortuitously, along with tribal traditions, may have restrained personality cults from developing.
Facts explode cults
Facts are the most reliable means by which to explode personality cults. It is not a coincidence that facts are also the source by which to develop modern political philosophies, whether conservative, classical liberal/ libertarian, or socialist. Facts have to be discovered, ferreted out, analysed, studied and reflected upon by those civil institutions that are supposed to be doing so, namely university social science, economics and related departments, as well as responsible newspapers, radio and other mass media. Julian Benda once titled a book The Treason of the Intellectuals. India will begin to have a normal political philosophy when the treason of its modern intellectual classes begins to be corrected.
It is not a treason in which the state has been betrayed to an enemy. Rather it is one in which the very purposes of public conversation, such as the discovery of the public interest, have been betrayed in the interests of immediate private gain. This may help to explain why there is so little coherent public discussion in India today, and certainly almost nothing on television, or in the business papers or what passes for academia.