War, strategy and victory
War is a political act that cannot be conducted in a military vacuum. It is also polymorphous, irregular, violent and destructive, creating an escalatory dynamic as each side attempts to outdo the other. Every war is composed of elements such as intelligence, politics, ethics, doctrine, logistics, economics, geography, culture and technology. Thus strategy must be conceived and conducted on technological, operational, social and logistical levels. Strategy must make military activity meaningful beyond the battle, and victory must be defined and understood not just in military terms, but also in terms of political and policy objectives.
When the coalition re-entered the war in Iraq in August 2014, after the Islamic State had gained control of the provinces of Anbar and Ninewa and had already claimed a few thousand lives, what was the strategy? What were the objectives?
The objectives of force can be (a) deterrence (to dissuade an adversary from taking certain actions through the threat of punishment), (b) defence (to repel an attack) , (c) compellence (to persuade an adversary to act in a certain way through the threat of or actual infliction of pain), (d) posturing (to enhance the strategic reputation of an actor through a display of military power), (e) offence (to occupy, seize, exterminate, disarm, confine), (f) miscellaneous (to police, provide humanitarian aid).
What was the coalition’s strategy, what were its objectives in embarking on another military campaign of air strikes over Iraq? Compellence, posturing and, mostly, offense seem to be the objectives, all of which contain their own political, ethical, and economic strategic goals and implications. After 1,000 days of striking, at least 49,081 civilians have been killed in Iraq, of which over 26,000 have been killed by Islamic State forces and 5,318 by the coalition.
If the objectives were the extermination of IS, or their retreat, surrender, or confinement, the campaign has failed; if the objectives were the protection of civilians and the provision of stability, the campaign has failed; if the objectives were the demonstration of military might and political and technological superiority, the campaign has failed; if the objectives were the control of resources, finances and regimes, the campaign has failed. If on day 1,001 and on day 1,002 and on day 1,003, and every day, more civilians die from shelling, air strikes, IEDs, suicide bombers, car bombs or executions, the campaign has failed. No victory can come at such a human cost.