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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Exit Strategy Myth

"No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory." Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Congress December 8, 1941.

What if that statement said that the American people, in their righteous might, will depose a foreign leader and then leave right away? Or that the American people will enter into this fray, this war, but only for say one year, or maybe two?

"Exit Strategy" has become a cliche and policy talk that has moved from the MBA classrooms of Wharton and Kellogg to the committee rooms of Congress to the editorial rooms of the New York Times and Washington Post. Our nation is looked to be the International Police and Bank, if there is a trouble spot the United Nations and other nations look to the United States to supply relief, be it troops, food or funds. But not too much and not too long, they want our money but not our values of liberty, freedom and democracy. As such, to keep them happy we must now always have an Exit Strategy before we begin any international effort. This mentality has emasculated the power of the United States and increased the danger to American troops serving on foreign soil.

I am not sure if the Exit Strategy mentality started in Korea or Vietnam. Certainly in the first American and allied troops pushed to win gaining ground until China, fearing a North Korea defeat, entered the war supplying North Korea. Eventually a truce was reached, the famous 38th Parallel becoming the dividing line between the Koreas. The war resulted in returning to the status quo before the United States, the United Nations and China entered the conflict with two Koreas un-peacefully coexisting. In Vietnam as American involvement escalated to defend South Vietnam and prevent the Chinese backed North Vietnamese from overthrowing the South Vietnamese government, and then extend control and influence into neighboring countries, opposition grew in the United States. As a youngster I watched the evening news at dinner with the news clips and the body counts telling the American people how we were doing. Much later I learned that the American military fought the war with its hands tied by Congress and Washington not committed to winning the war, but rather committed to how to get out of the war. As a result disaster occurred with American troops withdrawing, the Communist Vietcong easily over taking the country and the beginning of human atrocities in Vietnam and Cambodia.

When an enemy knows when you are leaving they have no reason to make you stay. When success is defined by when you leave a conflict rather than when your opponent leaves the conflict, or is removed from it, then success becomes defined by how you fail. Thus the Exit Strategy philosophy is ultimately a strategy of controlled failure.

President Bush is criticized for not having an "Exit Strategy" before the invasion of Iraq. What exactly would that have been: we overthrow Saddam Hussein and we leave? We overthrow Saddam Hussein and we arrest some of his guys and we leave? How does anyone know how a war will go when it starts? How can you know how to end a war without total victory, i.e. have an Exit Strategy?

Bush's mistake, in my humble non-military opinion--but hey if members of Congress and the New York Times editorial board can espouse theirs I can espouse mine--was not committing enough early enough. Bush seemed to understand the difficulty the war would create at home and wanted to mitigate some of that. Sure he had almost unanimous backing by Congress, but rightfully knew that would probably be fleeting once politics got back to normal. Going into Iraq the strategists did not consider the tremendous number of foreign fighters that would enter the country to reign terror on the population and target American troops. In retrospect, always the best way to fight and critique a war, U.S. and Allied troops should have been, and I feel still should be, massed on the borders between Iraq and Syria and Iraq and Iran to prevent the flow of fighters and weapons. Once the country is more isolated then the clean up work and rebuilding can begin. Exit Strategy? Win, stabilize, then see what the geopolitics of the region dictate.

Now we have an Exit Strategy in Iraq, we give up and leave whether the nation is stable or not sometime in 2011, ahead of the 2012 elections--campaign promise kept. Exit strategy result? Vacuum created by exit of U.S. troops filled by terror groups from Syria and Iran who restart religious wars between Sunni and Shia; my guess is the importation of many chemical weapons taken out of the country while the U.N. dithered in 2001.

Apparently we now have an Exit Strategy for Afghanistan as well. Wait six months, increase the number of troops by some seemingly arbitrary number and then pull them all out twelve months later, ahead of the 2012 elections. Our enemies must be pleased with the time frame. They can go back to their day jobs for a year or so, wait for the vacuum created when U.S. troops leave and then re-enter Afghanistan and set up camp(s). Wipe out the progress made in protecting women and girls from barbaric treatment, wipe out gains in educating children, especially young girls, wipe out progress in building water and electric plants delivering services to greater portion of the populace. Wipe out the fledgling democracy taking foot.

In business having an Exit Strategy can be smart using goals, objectives, plans, benchmarks, strategy and implementation for a singular end, usually selling the company. Parenting should have a semi-Exit Strategy: ensure my children are properly educated, have strong morals and values, are able to commit and complete tasks and duties, are prepared to be productive members of society and contributors to their communities, are able to be self-sufficient.

Having an Exit Strategy before or during a war that is not total victory, or "absolute victory," is very much like having a pre-nuptial agreement. Yes I want this to work out but if it doesn't here is my exit strategy so we know how much it will cost us when we fail. Instill the thought of failure before the commitment and what will happen? How many marriages with pre-nuptial agreements last decades compared to those that last a few years?

American foreign policy power has been weakened considerably. Our enemies know we are unable to commit to the absolute victory declaration of Franklin Roosevelt following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They know that any conflict we enter will be done with great trepidation and criticism that will dictate our less than total commitment to victory but a complete commitment to when and how we will quit. Wait long enough and we will leave the fields of battle.

We are the greatest nation in human history. Do we have flaws? Certainly. But who else would be better at policing our globe? At recognizing evil and acting to free and liberate whole populations from that evil? Who else was able to defeat the totalitarianism of fascism and communism? What happened when we gave up the fights against dictators who commit atrocities and wholesale murder? What happens when our official foreign policy philosophy is based on Exit Strategies rather than absolute victory?

It is my belief that everyone deserves to live under the natural Freedoms and Liberty given to us, everyone. I further believe that it is the Destiny of the United States to promote, protect and support those striving for Freedom and Liberty against evil and barbarous rule and dictators. Currently in the world there is an ideology based on religion that is committed to absolute victory. An absolute victory that requires every nation on earth become one. One nation ruled by religious leaders enforcing ancient laws, enforcing misogynistic policies allowing rape and murder of girls and women, stripping all Liberty and Freedom.

Our enemy is committed to Roosevelt's "absolute victory" while we are committed to Exit Strategies. Unfortunately our commitment to this philosophy also commits us to an Exit Strategy of Freedom and Liberty for all.

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