Retired U.S. Army Col. Peter R. Mansoor will be fresh off a tour of World War II sites and brimming with information when he presents “A Remembrance of D-Day” at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Clark County Heritage Center.
But Mansoor, the Raymond E. Mason Chair in Military History at the Mershon Center for Strategic Studies, says that after celebrating on the anniversary of the invasion, those who want to be prepared to think about current American strategic interest would be better off retreating from the Normandy coast.
“People look back on (World War II), perhaps, too fondly,” said Mansoor, an Ohio State University professor.
“As messy as the ending was — it lead to the Cold War,” he said, World War II “was a clear-cut victory, and most wars don’t end that way.”
Nor, he said, do they often end with the sense of the moral certainty that emerged after Allied forces discovered the Nazi death camps.
A 26-year Army veteran, Mansoor has the experience to back up his opinions.
The Yale Library of Military History soon will release his book “Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War.”
He also is the author of “Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq” and organized a conference titled “Hybrid Warfare: The Struggle of Military Forces to Adapt to Complex Opponents.”
While serving in Iraq, he said, “One thing I saw was the difficulty of these endeavors.”
“You realize how strong foreign cultures are,” he said, and that making headway is “very difficult unless you find viable partners.”
Mansoor said he considers circumstances in Afghanistan such an obstacle that the prospects of accomplishing any lasting good there is “a bridge too far.”
“In that war, I just think we’re fueling the corruption which is part of the huge problem that prevents resolution to the conflict.”
He is wary of U.S. involvement in Syria for the same reasons.
“Is there a good opposition that is secular and democratic and will work with the United States?” he asked. “I haven’t seen any indication of that.”
With the inevitability in all foreign wars that American forces will be leaving, he said, “to change the local politics and the local attitudes through the barrel of a gun or (even) good works” is very difficult.
“We’ve had a tendency since 9/11 to overuse the military instruments of our national power, and in the process we’ve lost a little of our moral authority,” one of the other important instruments, Mansoor said. “My theory is that war should always be a last resort.”
One reason is obvious.
“It’s an endeavor in which both sides have input,” he said. “And you can plan to fight a short, sharp technologically based conflict and end up in a 10-year counterinsurgency effort.”
In invading Iraq on spurious strategic grounds, he said, “we lost 5,000 soldiers and lots of treasure for very little if any gain.”
That doesn’t take into account “north of 100,000” Iraqi civilians.
Although a certain segment of Iraq saw its conditions improve, Mansoor said, the war “plunged the country into a generation of bloodshed that continues today.”
Mansoor said there’s a lot of history to be unpacked regarding President George W. Bush’s administration and its justification for its aggressive policies. But he’s also critical of those who opposed the surge, and of President Barak Obama for his withdrawal strategy.
“Though the war was started for dubious strategic reasons and was terribly executed for the first three years, that doesn’t mean you just give up,” Mansoor said.
“I think (the surge) put Iraq on a path to a political solution to the conflict,” he said, but Obama “blew it by not supporting the winner of the election in 2010.”
Mansoor said that that even if they don’t seem as dramatic to the public, the nation’s “soft power or moral authority,” combined with “the diplomatic levers of power and the economic levers at our disposal” are the more standard and effective tools of foreign policy.
“Certainly force plays a part in diplomacy,” he said. “If you don’t have force to back up your commitments, they’re pretty idle.”
“When you get beyond that, the military is very good and can be used to strengthen other nations’ militaries” by providing advice and training, he said. “It helps other nations. It strengthens other nations and lets them fight their own conflicts. It does them very cheaply and at very little cost and risk to U.S. forces as well.”
Mansoor also says that military willingness to carry out any mission that arises should be taken with a grain of salt by policy makers considering options.
The military “has the attitude that given a mission, they’re going to do their best to accomplish it,” he said. “But there’s a sense that the military can do more than it can.”
And that may be a sense that’s strengthened by America’s nostalgia for World War II.