W. Thomas Smith, Jr

I know how to fight. Like most American boys – and perhaps a few girls – I learned the very basics of fighting on the playground in elementary school.

I’m not talking about specific fighting techniques, those would come much later: I’m talking about lessons learned about fighting that would shape my – and many others’ – understanding of fighting whether it be in a schoolyard, an alleyway, a boxing ring, or a battlefield.

The first, perhaps most important, two lessons I learned are that once committed to the fight, you have to see the fight through to its ultimate decision, and you have to win. The two are accomplished by: Fighting with skill and fury. Taking advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses. Never permitting the opponent to exploit your own weaknesses. And never wavering when tired, injured, or outmatched.

It sounds simple, and perhaps to some, simple-minded. But it is the only way to consistently win fights. And unfortunately, fighting is sometimes necessary.

Sure, there are some who would argue that in some instances, you should cut your losses and move on. True. There is some value in cutting losses, but usually very little in moving on. Fact is, fighters who regularly win almost never quit in the midst a fight. They don’t concede defeat while still engaged. They don’t waver or become disoriented when hit with a surprise left hook. Nor do they slow-up or let down their guard when their opponent is on the ropes. Because to do any one of those things means “game over” and rarely ever to the good of the quitter.

QUITTING THE FIGHT IN VIETNAM

Let’s look at the Vietnam War as an example of “game over” and without benefit to the quitter:

On April 25, 1975 – less than a week before the South Vietnamese capital fell to the Communists – a U.S. military delegation met with North Vietnamese officials in Hanoi to discuss the issue of Americans missing-in-action. At one point during the meeting, U.S. Army Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. turned to his North Vietnamese counterpart and said, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield.”

The Vietnamese official thought for a moment, then responded. “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

Now, we could argue all day about whether America’s involvement in Vietnam was right or wrong. But that too is irrelevant.

What matters are that we were initially committed to the fight. We ultimately lost the war. The lives of 58,000 Americans were sacrificed without gain. And there are several reasons why (all of which violate the basic schoolyard lessons for winning fights).

• We went into the fight with no real intention of seeing the fight through to a decisive end.

• We went into the fight with our proverbial hands tied.

• Though we often capitalized on the enemy’s tactical weaknesses (defeating him time-and-again in pitched battles), we permitted him to exploit our strategic weaknesses (our failure to arrive at a national consensus aimed at winning; and our inability to destroy the enemy’s extra-national sanctuaries, his supply lines, and the heart of his command-and-control).

• We allowed the American public – most of whom had no grasp of battlefield dynamics much less geo-strategic matters – force the direction of our national war policy.

• Then when the going got tough, we cut our losses and pulled out.

The Cold War, of which Vietnam was one of many sub-wars, also is over. Fortunately, our nation survived both.

Over the years, some military analysts have attempted to sugarcoat our ultimate disengagement from the Vietnam War. But by most standards and accounts, we lost. It took our nation and the military nearly a decade to recover from the war, and we will forever be scarred by it.

WHY WE CANNOT QUIT IRAQ

Iraq is another matter entirely. Quitting the fight in that country without successfully completing the mission would shift the balance of power in that region so dramatically it would literally change the world into something far more dark and dangerous than it already is.

In a recent piece for Family Security Matters, Peter Brookes, a Reserve Naval officer and Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow stated several reasons why cutting losses and moving on from Iraq would be disastrous.

Brookes says (and I paraphrase) that leaving Iraq before completing the mission would prove to the terrorists and countries like Iran and Syria “that America is nothing more than a paper tiger;” and that would only embolden the bad guys. He also says Iraq would devolve into something not unlike pre-9/11 Afghanistan, “where terrorists could freely meet, train and conspire to attack the United States like never before.”

Iraq would then fall under Iranian influence, creating what Brookes calls “an arc of instability” stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

Beyond that, perceived American weakness following a cutting and running from Iraq, would lead to instability worldwide.

Brookes is correct. After all one can only imagine how the likes of saber-rattling, potentially nuclear-armed North Korea, or even nuclear-armed China with its gargantuan army and massive reserve force capability, would perceive the world’s preeminent military force if it disengaged from a fight with several thousand car-bombing guerrillas.

So no matter how bad things may appear in Iraq (and when looking at the progress in most of the 18 provinces in that country, things are not as bad as they are being portrayed), failure simply is not an option.

Granted, it’s not pretty, but it’s the fight we are engaged in, and we simply must win.

I’m reminded of a scene in the 1970’s movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, in which Wales (played by Clint Eastwood) is instructing a family of homesteaders about to square-off with band of Comanche Indians. He says, “When things look bad, and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean: I mean plumb mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up, then you neither live nor win.

“That’s just the way it is.”


W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
 
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