WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) was once quoted as saying that war is far too important to be left to the generals. Given the enormous implications that going to war comprises, this might well be true, but with all due respect to Monsieur Clemenceau, war is also far too important to be left to politicians alone.
The generals, at least for the most part, have experienced war, and are familiar with all the uncertainties and dangers that accompany such a venture. They, more than anyone else in the decision-making circles of power, know what horrors war entails. As the current saying goes, "they have been there, done that."
Alas, the same cannot be said of armchair wannabe generals who are banging away on war drums, surrounded by all the comforts of a Washington office.
It is indeed ironic that among the few voices of wisdom that prevail in the Bush administration -- those who have experienced war, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and several of the Pentagon's top brass -- are the ones who today remain the most opposed to starting hostilities with Iraq.
On the other hand, the men who have never experienced that awful smell of battle, those who have never seen the ugliness of human bodies being torn to pieces by hot piercing metal, and who never had to listen to the agonizing cries of dying men begging to be put out of their misery -- these are the most hawkish, and the most eager to engage in a new war.
It's a crying shame that if, and when, war does break out, we could not give those warmongers a rifle, a helmet, a few hand grenades and place them in the first wave of assault troops. I would be willing to bet they would quickly change their views. It would not take them long after the first bullets are fired, or the first deafening mortar shells explode around them to consider a more peaceful solution.
I have yet to meet a war veteran eager to see renewed fighting with the vigor shown by the flock of hawks currently circling over the Washington Beltway. With few exceptions, war veterans tend to be the most dovish of men, because they know first-hand of the horridness of war. They know that nothing else comes as close to hell on earth as war.
The great Chinese general warrior, Sun Tzu, wrote in the "Art of War" almost 2,300 years ago that war is governed by five constant factors to be taken into account when seeking to determine the conditions for battle. These are: Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, The Commander and The Method. These five points, Sun Tzu said, are "a road to safety or to ruin."
The first point, covering Moral Law is of great importance; it requires the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, and will allow them to follow him, regardless of their own safety.
Reading op-ed pages and following the ad-nauseam debates on the television talk show circuit, "complete accord with the ruler" is obviously not the present case. A large percentage of the American people -- not to mention the rest of the world -- remain concretely opposed to an eventual attack on Iraq. Clearly, the administration appears to be far from a consensus for a Mesopotamian campaign.
Sun Tzu's second point, Heaven, signifies the times and the seasons. But is any time ever a good time to wage war?
Earth, the third point, takes into account the distances and dangers. The dangers in such an undertaking are as humongous as they are obvious. There can never be fixed scenarios in war. Nothing is constant in the planning of war. Engaging in war halfway around the globe adds all the more to the danger.
The Commander stands for virtues of wisdom and courage. Numerous are those who -- even within the president's own administration -- question the wisdom of this proposed campaign.
Finally, The Method stands for the marshaling of the army and control of military expenditure. Start a war, and there is no telling where it will take you, or the expenditures involved. For one, think of the escalating price of oil in a prolonged conflict.
Sun Tzu said: "He who knows not these five points will fail."
Powell, who served under Caspar Weinberger when he was secretary of defense, (and one of the most hawkish members of the Reagan administration) adopted a similar doctrine. James Mann, the senior writer-in-residence at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in Sunday's Washington Post that Powell's doctrine, in fact, is merely an updated version of the Weinberger doctrine.
Mirroring Sun Tsu's philosophy, Powell believes that U.S. troops should not be sent into conflict unless vital U.S. interests are at stake, and then only with strong public support. The objectives should be clearly defined and limited, and overwhelming force must be used to accomplish the objective.
Four-star Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, a decorated Vietnam veteran with a tremendous amount of war experience, who before his retirement from active duty was head of Central Command, an area the includes the Middle East, said in a radio interview that he, too, questioned the wisdom of an attack against Iraq.
When it comes to making decisions regarding this war, my money is on the generals.
(Claude Salhani is a senior editor at UPI and has covered a dozen conflicts around the world. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)