To be sure, Libya and Afghanistan in 2011 are not the same as Korea in 1951 in terms of American lives lost. However, as in Korea, committing just enough force not to lose but not enough force to win doesn’t make sense or deliver results, which is why Washington would do well to adopt the best of MacArthur—his single-mindedness about victory and unapologetic views on pursuing it.
“If not permitted to destroy the enemy,” wherever he may be, MacArthur explained in 1951, victory is simply not possible. “War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.”
In Libya, destroying the enemy means targeting the regime’s center of gravity, namely, Qaddafi and Tripoli. Yet ABC News has described the situation as “calm in the west, chaos in the east.” The recent strikes near Tripoli were noteworthy precisely because they are so rare.
If, as Obama has declared, Qaddafi can no longer be permitted to lead Libya, and if Qaddafi is directing the attacks against civilians that rightly outrage the world, then the objective must be removing Qaddafi from power. And the strategy and tactics must lead to that goal. As Gen. James Dubik, who trained up the Iraqi army in 2007-08, observes, “The charade is over: America has intervened in a civil war with the de facto aim of regime change in Libya….In war, leadership is not exercised from the rear by those who seek to risk as little as possible.”
In Afghanistan, destroying the enemy means eliminating safe havens in Pakistan, eliminating self-defeating rules of engagement, showing certain allies the door, and recognizing that “vital national interests” don’t have expiration dates.
MacArthur rejected the notion that advocating such a strategy makes a person a “warmonger.” To the contrary, he explained that incremental, indecisive strategies prolong war and usually delay the inevitable. “Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end.”
Can anyone argue that we are doing that in Afghanistan and Libya?
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.