Anson Burlingame, fellow blogger, retired Navy Captain, ex-nuclear-submarine skipper, has proposed an online discussion of the nature of war, with the context being America’s controversial strategy for the Afghan War.
As an opening post for a continuing discussion of indeterminate length I
now ask what I believe to be a pertinent hypothetical question: If the United States had followed the Powell Doctrine after WWII, how would that have changed the nation’s war experience up to the present time? I am hoping that some agreement on this aspect of war might facilitate further discussions.
For convenience I list here the questions required to be answered affirmatively by the Powell Doctrine before taking military action (as found on Wikipedia):
- Is a vital national security interest threatened?
- Do we have a clear attainable objective?
- Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
- Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
- Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
- Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
- Is the action supported by the American people?
- Do we have genuine broad international support?
I will omit questions in each war where I believe the answer to be YES, and will list only the “NO” answers, along with a brief rationale:
Korean War. [36,000 U.S. KIA, 92,000 wounded]
- 3. Risks and costs fully analyzed? No. (Red China, USSR)
- 5. Exit strategy? No.
- 6. Consequences fully considered? No. China, USSR
- 7. People support? No. Not attempted and no declaration of war.
Vietnam War. [58,000 U.S. KIA; 153,000 wounded]
- 1. Vital national security interest? No. The Domino Effect, relative to communism, was later discredited.
- 3. Risks and costs fully analyzed? No. Strong support for North Vietnam by both the USSR and Red China should have been evident, especially after the experience of Korea.
- 5. Exit strategy? No.
- 6. Consequences fully considered? No. The capabilities of North Vietnam for guerilla warfare were badly underestimated and the potential for conflict with two nuclear-armed super-powers not adequately considered.
- 7. People support? No. The war was entered into gradually, finally being justified on a bogus naval attack, the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
- 8. Genuine broad international support. No. Throughout the conflict there were only relatively-small contributions from allies.
Gulf War. [240-392 U.S. KIA; 776 wounded]
7. People support? Uncertain. There was open discussion in the press and diplomacy before the war. Congress acceded, but there was no declaration of war.
Iraq War. [4,739 U.S. KIA; 32,244 wounded]
- 2. Clear, obtainable objective? No. Had our objective been limited to destruction of specified military capabilities, it might have been, but the complete subjugation of the country left us with no plan for the “peace”.
- 3. Risks and costs fully analyzed? Obviously not.
- 5. Plausible exit strategy? Obviously not.
- 6. Consequences fully considered? Obviously not.
- 7. People support? Yes, but. The national mood was warlike because of 9/11, although it was determined later that there was no direct connection between Saddam’s regime and 9/11. There was open discussion in the press and diplomacy before the war. Congress acceded, but there was no declaration of war.
From the above opinions, which are entirely mine, I submit that, had the Powell Doctrine been followed, all of the conflicts except for the Gulf War would have been avoided and as a result, so would have 98,000 American or Coalition combat deaths. South Korea would now look like North Korea, economically and politically and Saddam would still be in power, but in an Iraq seriously weakened. Otherwise the world’s national boundaries and conditions would be pretty much as they are.
I invite any and all readers to comment on this straw man for discussion.