Bring the Troops and the War Home?
One of the frequent anti-war criticisms is that there is no schedule or guideline for when the troops will come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Part of the reason there will never be a schedule or list of required accomplishments to trigger a withdrawal is that announcing your intentions in a war is stupid. We do not tell the enemy what our strategic objectives are because we do not want those objectives to be blown up. The acronym for this behavior is "OPSEC" which is short for "Do Not Be An Idiot."
The actual objective of this war, though, is the same as any other war. We are destroying the enemy's will to fight. Unlike previous wars where the enemy had a defined frontier, our current adversary is distributed around the world and in our own backyard. I have worked in the same building as an admitted Al Queda operative. Although our enemies are doing their best to destroy their own support by being really despicable sons of pigs, they are also very resistant to allowing reality to intrude on their thought processes. If it was easy, the war would already be over.
Unless and until we have destroyed the enemy's will to fight, discussions of bringing the troops home are ludicrous. All bringing the troops home does is bring the fight home. Part of being a successful military leader is making the battle take place on your choice of ground. Nobody in his right mind chooses to have a fight in his own home when they have the capacity to fight anywhere else effectively. Ask the French farmers who are still pulling plowing up artillery shells from ninety year old battles, battles should be fought as far from home as you can win them. One of the nice things about being the United States is that we can win battles a long way from home.
I am really sorry that a lot of decent people in Iraq are suffering for living where the United States can most effectively bring our enemies to battle. The only consolation I can give them is that we're using the minimum and most accurate force necessary to win the war. Part of that is keeping our troop levels down to the point where we can rotate them out frequently, so that they will be rested and trained. What a lot of people who claim to be concerned for the Iraqi's or winning the war don't understand when they call for more troops is that large numbers of exhausted troops does not mean that you can win the war more effectively. A lot of amateurs fail to comprehend the impact of endurance on military effectiveness.
About fifty years ago an American historian, S.L.A. Marshall, codified the rule of military endurance: fatigue is exactly equal to fear. When you get tired, you get afraid. When you get afraid, you get tired. Something else that factors in here is that exhaustion and fear also make you stupid. If we had gone in two years ago with all the troops in the US military and they were still there, our troops would be constantly exhausted and making stupid mistakes. By keeping our numbers down to where we can rotate regularly, we minimize our own mistakes. OK, everybody gets tired and makes mistakes, but the kind of routine grinding exhaustion experienced in previous wars is an unnecessary sacrifice we are avoiding making in this war. Combat fatigue is not something you hear a lot about in this war, that is not an accident.
It is hard to change the public perception of the military, and I'm not just saying that because I'm sick to death of hearing buggery in the Navy jokes. (It's really offensive to me when people tell me that I tolerate sexual assault in my workplace just because they read it happened centuries ago.) One of the misapprehensions that is functioning right now is the notion that bringing the troops home will mean and end to the conflict. While it is traditional for the war to be over when one side withdraws, we have no mechanism in this conflict to negotiate such a settlement. The enemy has shown abundant willingness to attack anywhere without a shred of compassion. Currently we have been able to focus the bulk of the struggle away from our homes, where we can fight most effectively, although this is at the expense of the Iraqi people.
It would be an impeachable offense for President George W. Bush to allow that struggle to refocus in the United States. Returning the troops before the enemy's will to fight has been substantially destroyed is a violation of the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That is just not going to happen with George W. Bush, if for no other reason than his opponents in Congress would impeach him in a moment. Talk of bringing the troops home is just noise, because nobody is talking about bringing a campaign of terrorist violence to their own neighborhoods. The troops will stop deploying when the enemy abandons their efforts to restore a global caliphate. Breaking the enemy's imperialistic design may take some more decades, but making noise about impossible returns won't speed that up.