To the region, America’s apparently unconditional and unbounded support for Israel and its occupation of Iraq are part of the same picture. For a military historian, the question arises: will history see Iraq as America’s Stalingrad? If we kick the analogy up a couple of levels, to the strategic and grand strategic, there are parallels. Both the German and the American armies were able largely to take, but not hold, the objective. Both had too few troops. Both Berlin and Washington underestimated their enemy’s ability to counterattack. Both committed resources they needed elsewhere and could not replace to a strategically unimportant objective. Finally, both entrusted their flanks to weak allies – and to luck. ~William Lind, Antiwar.com

Some of the main themes in Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco are the complete lack of any sense of strategy among both civilian and military leaders responsible for the war in Iraq and the ignorance of what kind of war we were going to be fighting (and the persistence in ignoring the reality of that war when it was upon them).  In much the same way as we fought an unconventional war conventionally for years (there has been some improvement, but acquaintance with proper counterinsurgency doctrine only came on in later stages), we are supposed to be in an entirely “different kind of war” that we continue to organise and conceptualise as if we were Napoleon marching on the capitals of his enemies or Allied forces racing to Berlin. 

It is a “different kind of war,” but everything from the strategy (overthrow dictatorship, reconstruct country, establish democracy), such as it is, to the rhetoric (those Islamic fascists again) betrays an obsession with refighting WWII on the assumption that the valid strategy to win that war–the paradigmatic war of goodness and light, after all–must be the one that will triumph everywhere at all times.  It is the model: WWII seems to inspire and define the response of the administration and its backers in every situation, as if this were in any way helpful to fighting present-day jihadis, as if Jihadi Number One is hiding in his bunker as the Red Army closing in on him to finish off the resistance.   

The embarrassing obsession with this “fascist” language betrays real confusion about who and what we’re fighting and why, to say nothing of wreaking havoc with what we think the resolution should be.  When you fight “fascists,” Islamic or otherwise, you expect that once you topple the state apparatus the conflict is over.  If you are fighting jihadis, which we are, you do not make that sort of foolish assumption, since these people operate outside of any constraints or rules of the state apparatus.  But what is the typical administration focus?  They focus on particular states, to the apparent neglect of any of the things that fuel the political and ideological strength of jihadis.  There is no sense that the way that we have been accustomed to defining conflict and victory may need to be changed to meet changing circumstances.  Instead, and far worse than simply refighting old wars, victory has been defined in almost childish terms: make people free, stop fascists.  

The Stalingrad comparison is unfortunately accurate, particularly in the way that it has become a question of sheer pride and stubbornness to “hold” Iraq just as it became an obsession to hold Stalingrad, regardless of whether it was actually aiding the objectives of the campaign and regardless of whether holding the city was really necessary to obtain victory in the East.  It became a question of holding it in order to hold it, simply to prove that they could, which worked fine right until it led to complete disaster.  We are doing no different in Iraq.  But presumably the Daniel Henningers and David Brookses of the world would have advised General von Paulus to stay in Stalingrad, too, to show the nation’s resolve and show the enemy that we don’t “cut and run” (even when said running is manifestly in our self-interest).