Mickey Glantz in Tokyo
22 May 2009
“End Run Wars” are not only for the weak, OR Know your enemies before you act!
When I was in graduate school back in the second half of the 1960s, the heart of the Cold War rivalry between the USA and the USSR, I took several classes on conflict. The conflicts that captured my attention were hot conflicts, wars particularly, and especially revolutionary wars. Such wars at that time were being carried out by political, cultural or ideological groups wanting to gain independence from the control of a larger hegemon whom they felt did not care for the well being of the people they claimed to represent.
At that time certain books were fairly prominent, but at least to a graduate student the writings of his or her professor took on an added value (such as higher grades for citing their works in an essay exam in addition to the value of the usable information within the books). One title that I recall that had a lasting influence on me apparently was a book by Dr. Robert Strausz-Hupe entitled “Protracted Conflict”. I recently perused the book in order to see if more than the title was still relevant to an enhanced understanding of today’s post Cold War conflicts. Many of the writings before 2000 seem to be lost among young researchers today as they were written “in the last century” and there is a feeling (I suffer from it too) that if the publication was not done after the turn of the millennium than there must be better, more current and more relevant stuff written today. Of course this is a dumb assumption, given that by now we are likely to be reading the latest book’s summaries of summaries of original works. In other words, as a result of this process we are highly likely to be losing information, as each summarizer is like a filter that sifts out what he or she feels is relevant for access by future readers.
The truth is that I did not re-read “Protracted Conflict” closely but I felt it did not really have a lot of direct relevance to an improved understanding of today’s conflicts, like the ones in Iraq and in Afghanistan. So, I went to the Internet to search for a definition of a concept I heard somewhere in those Dark Ages of graduate school. The concept — an end run war — has been popping into my mind of late, and I am not sure why. So today, in a Tokyo Starbuck’s I could not find commentary on end run wars. So, now I have to wing it (lest I be forced, oh no!!! to go to a gasp, real library and do old-fashioned search).
As I recall the concept of an end run war, it was a war started by a weaker power who perceived that the stronger power was involved in some sort of quagmire — political, financial, military — and that it would be a good time to attack in order to gain some long sought after gain. That is what I recall as being an end run war. While perhaps successful at the outset, over time the weaker power tends to show up as just that, weaker, and the early gains on the battlefield are reversed as the major power regains its focus and rallies to pushback, if not overrun, the weaker power that attacked it.
Fast forward now to the present: Looking back at the origins of the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the attempt to topple Saddam Hussein from power, one could argue that the US-Iraq war was an end run war precipitated by a strong power in the belief that the weaker power would collapse. All signs looked that way as US troops (or the troops of the so-called “coalition of the willing”) made their way so quickly to Baghdad with little military opposition. It appeared and was presented to the public that Hussein’s army had collapsed in short order. Of course, that led to the premature disastrous and embarrassing ‘photo-opportunity’ by President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” staged event on a US carrier. And then the real war began. The infusion of foreign fighters joining Al-Queda, local dissidents, abandoned army and police members, rivaling ethnic groups caused a military backlash against the allies that converted what seemed like a quick-victory end run war and into a 6-year nightmare for the US President, his administration, the Republican Party (and fellow-traveling Democrats) and the American and Iraqi people.
Now we have a new president, He has inherited the falling out of the worst outcomes of what was to have been a successful end run war. While the war effort in Iraq winds down and the US government tries to put a happy face on it as it prepares to leave in the next couple years, that smiley face will begin to frown as the US troops are not sent home to American soil but into harm’s way in Afghanistan to fight the growing number of Taliban who in the last few months have spilled into neighboring parts of Pakistan. The region is in turmoil with Iran emerging as a regional superpower, Iraq unstable and a war in Afghanistan that is increasingly intractable.
It seems that end run wars regardless of whether weak attack strong or strong attacks weak, victory is not so assured for the perpetrators. Wars as we now are reminded are often easier to start than to finish. The escalating engagement in Afghanistan will be no different.