From Churchill’s lips to Trump’s ears

Se­crecy should be part of U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Richard M. Lang­worth

In the third and fi­nal pres­i­den­tial de­bate, Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump claimed that U.S. for­eign pol­icy reg­u­larly fails to en­gage “the el­e­ment of sur­prise” when it comes to en­gag­ing the Is­lamic State, or ISIS. Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Trump, our en­e­mies “have all left” the Iraqi city of Mo­sul be­cause ISIS was given warn­ing months in ad­vance.

ISIS’ lead­ers may have in­deed emp­tied Mo­sul, though their sub­or­di­nates have been fight­ing a no-holds-barred bat­tle for the city for a month. Mr. Trump’s com­ments raise a valid point, how­ever, about how much se­crecy should be part of U.S. for­eign pol­icy. While he cited Gens. Dou­glas MacArthur and Ge­orge Pat­ton in the de­bate, say­ing they are “spin­ning in their graves when they see the stu­pid­ity of our coun­try,” it is per­haps another World War II leader from whom Mr. Trump, now the pres­i­dent-elect, should take ad­vice.

More than 70 years ago, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill led his be­lea­guered na­tion to vic­tory over Nazi forces that had over­whelmed Europe. Cer­tainly, in­vad­ing France and Ger­many were crit­i­cal to vic­tory then, just as re­tak­ing Mo­sul is both sym­bol­i­cally and strate­gi­cally im­por­tant for U.S. and Iraqi forces to­day.

Churchill did not ex­plic­itly an­nounce his plans like a ca­ble news pun­dit. Un­con­cerned about alien­at­ing the press, he fo­cused on his mil­i­tary goals — some­thing the 45th com­man­der in chief should also do as he faces mul­ti­ple over­seas con­flicts.

Churchill’s thoughts on this mat­ter are per­haps no bet­ter ex­pressed than in “The Churchill Doc­u­ments, May-De­cem­ber 1944,” to be pub­lished by Hills­dale Col­lege Press next year: “I have re­cently been per­turbed at re­ported state­ments from Naples, one in the Cor­riere, ex­plain­ing that we are about to at­tack. Is it re­ally nec­es­sary to tell the en­emy this? Of course, he may pos­si­bly think we are such fools that it is an ob­vi­ous blind, but this is a dan­ger­ous chance to take.”

Crit­ics of Mr. Trump’s com­ments told The New York Times that at­tack­ing Mo­sul has long been a ma­jor pri­or­ity for the U.S. and Iraq. Ac­cord­ing to the Times, “It would be im­pos­si­ble to hide a force of about 30,000 Iraqi and Kur­dish troops that have been mass­ing for weeks on the out­skirts of Mo­sul, grad­u­ally en­cir­cling the city while con­duct­ing ar­tillery fire and airstrikes to soften up en­emy de­fenses in ad­vance of the main ground of­fen­sive.”

But as Churchill noted, why erase any doubt of the com­ing at­tack and its time­line? His thoughts are fur­ther ex­plained by a sce­nario sim­i­lar to that of the Mo­sul of­fen­sive. In a let­ter crit­i­ciz­ing a press re­port about pre-DDay bomb­ing “in North­ern France,” he urged Air Chief Mar­shal Sir Traf­ford Leigh-Mal­lory to “take spe­cial steps to en­sure that all those con­cerned re­al­ize the ex­treme im­por­tance of pre­vent­ing the is­sue of any state­ment which might give the en­emy any as­sis­tance in his ef­forts to dis­cover our fu­ture in­ten­tions.”

It was quite clear at the time of the let­ter — May 25, 1944 — that Al­lied forces were go­ing into France in the near fu­ture. But Churchill was un­will­ing to give Axis forces any in­for­ma­tion they hadn’t earned them­selves prior to the at­tack.

This is not a strat­egy just use­ful in war. To act as The New York Times ad­vises would be as fool­ish as the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots hand­ing over their game plan to Bal­ti­more next week. After all, the Ravens know that Tom Brady will throw the ball, and some­times he’ll hand it off.

In­stead, Bill Belichick un­der­stands and ap­plies the Churchill prin­ci­ples. As Churchill noted, it “is a dan­ger­ous chance to take” to as­sume the en­emy knows all.

As we in­au­gu­rate a third ad­min­is­tra­tion that will over­see bat­tles in the Mid­dle East against Mus­lim ter­ror­ists, it is in­cum­bent upon Pres­i­dent-elect Trump not to re­peat the mis­takes of the last two pres­i­den­cies, and to re­mem­ber that war is war, first and fore­most. Richard Lang­worth is se­nior fel­low for the Churchill Pro­ject at Hills­dale Col­lege.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY ALEXAN­DER HUNTER/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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