Sanchez Delivers Democratic Party Weekly Radio Address (Updated)

Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, U.S. Army (retired) served as the commander of coalition forces in Iraq (CJTF 7 / MNF-I) from June 2003 to June 2004. He delivered the weekly Democratic radio address this morning. We begin with the transcript of Sanchez's address and follow with some background and what we term a "quick-look" reaction.

Transcript

"Good morning, this is Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, U.S. Army, retired.

"I speak to you today, not as a representative of the Democratic Party, but as a retired military officer who is a former commander of the Multi-National Force Iraq. In that capacity, I saw firsthand the consequences of the Administration's failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic, and military power of the United States. That failure continues today. At its base is the mistaken belief, despite years of evidence to the contrary, that victory can be achieved through the application of military power alone.

"Our Army and Marine Corps will execute as directed, perform magnificently, and never complain; that is the ethic of our warriors and that is what America expects of them. They will not disappoint us.

"The keys to securing the future of Iraq are aggressive regional diplomacy, political reconciliation, and economic hope. Yet, as our current commanders in Iraq have recently noted, the improvements in security produced by the courage and blood of our troops have not been matched by a willingness on the part of Iraqi leaders to make the hard choices necessary to bring peace to their country. There is no evidence that the Iraqis will choose to do so in the near future or that we have an ability to force that result. America lost that ability upon the transfer of sovereignty back in June of 2004.

"Under the Administration's recently announced plan, U.S. force levels in Iraq in July 2008 will be at about the same level they were in November 2006, when the American people demanded a change in direction in our Iraq policy.

"Our Army and Marine Corps are struggling with changing deployment schedules that are disrupting combat readiness training and straining the patience and daily lives of military families. It will take the Army at least a decade to repair the damage done to its full spectrum readiness, which is at its lowest level since the Vietnam War. In the meantime, the ability of our military to fully execute our national security strategy will be called into doubt, producing what is, in my judgment, unacceptable strategic risk.

"Although we cannot withdraw precipitously from Iraq, we must move rapidly to minimize our force presence. Shifting the primary mission of our troops away from combat will lead to a smaller U.S. military presence, and a greater obligation on the part of the Iraqis to take the lead in solving their country's problems. Having fewer American troops in Iraq will also allow us to devote more resources to refit our ground forces to respond to different contingencies in other parts of the world. However, for as long as we have troops in Iraq, the American people must insist that our deploying men and women are properly trained and properly equipped for the missions they will be asked to perform.

"The funding bill passed by the House of Representatives last week, with a bipartisan vote, makes the proper preparation of our deploying troops a priority and requires the type of shift in their mission that will allow their numbers to be reduced substantially. Furthermore, the bill puts America on the path to regaining our moral authority by requiring all government employees to abide by the Army Field Manual on interrogations, which is in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. America must accept nothing less.

"It is well past time to adopt a new approach in Iraq that will improve chances to produce stability in the Middle East. I urge our political leaders to put aside partisan considerations and unite to lessen the burden our troops and their families have been under for nearly five years now. Strengthening America's security is a burden that must be shared by all Americans.

"America must mobilize our diplomatic, political, and economic power to achieve the reconciliation necessary to roll back DeBaathification and to advance the political progress in Iraq. Anything less is a dereliction of duty.

"This is retired Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, and thank you for listening."

Background

Sanchez held the top military position in Iraq, June 2003 -- June 2004, during what many call the most critical period of the war - the year after the fall of Sadaam Hussein's regime and the time the insurgency took root and began attacks on military and civilian targets. Sanchez was the senior officer in Iraq when the abuse of prisoners occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama sums up Sanchez's Iraq tour quite nicely in And General Custer will Give the Response to the State of the Union.

Fairly or unfairly, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez will always be remembered as America's incompetent field commander in Iraq -- the lowly three-star thrown into what should have been a four-star position who reacted too slowly to the growing insurgency in the crucial twelve months between the summers of 2003 and 2004.

It was well-known that Sanchez had a disastrous relationship with the civilian proconsul, Paul Bremer, and also that he never won his fourth star largely because of the Abu Ghraib scandal -- surely America's crowning moment in the short history of its empire.

Anyway, some of you revisionists may disagree with the yoke that's been hung around Sanchez's neck, but like it or not, his name is synonymous with failure.

Sanchez holds his association with Abu Ghraib responsible for his non-selection to four-star as reported by CBS News.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who served a tumultuous year as commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, retired from the Army on Wednesday, calling his career a casualty of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He said for a story in The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, "that's the key reason, the sole reason, I was forced to retire. I was essentially not offered another position in either a three-star or four-star command." He had been a candidate to become the next commander of U.S. Southern Command. But he was passed over after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal exploded into an international controversy. Sanchez has not been accused of any misconduct but has been criticized by some for not doing more to avoid mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.

Sanchez's discontent surfaced again during an address at a Military Reporters and Editors luncheon on 12 October 2007. After lambasting the press coverage he received while in Iraq he launched into criticizing past and current U.S. efforts in that country.

After more than four years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve "victory" in that war torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism. From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration's latest "surge" strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power. The latest "revised strategy" is a desperate attempt by an administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not communicated that reality to the American people. An even worse and more disturbing assessment is that America can not achieve the political consensus necessary to devise a grand strategy that will synchronize and commit our national power to achieve victory in Iraq...

Since 2003, the politics of war have been characterized by partisanship as the republican and democratic parties struggled for power in Washington. National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising effective, executable, supportable solutions. At times, these partisan struggles have led to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives. Overcoming this strategic failure is the first step toward achieving victory in Iraq - without bipartisan cooperation we are doomed to fail. There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope...

The SWJ will leave it to our readers to decide if General Sanchez's decision to deliver today's Democratic radio address was made out of a personal grudge against an administration he believes unfairly judged his record as commander of CJTF 7 / MNF-I. Note that he dropped all reference to what he described as "unscrupulous reporting that was solely focused on supporting your [the press] agenda and preconceived notions of what our military had done" at the Military Reporters and Editors luncheon. While any remarks critical of news media would be inappropriate for the radio address, it is interesting that while critical of a press he accuses of misrepresenting military operations in Iraq he appears to share many of those very same criticisms when they are directed at anyone else but him.

SWJ Quick-look Reaction

While we agree that Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase IV (post-combat operations) planning and execution were a fiasco, Sanchez's statement on his "firsthand account" implies that somehow he was a blameless bystander and not the one entrusted with day-to-day operations during the critical year following regime change in Iraq. Unless there was some backdoor dialogue occurring that we are not privy too, it appears Sanchez did not have a problem with the U.S. strategy at that time. Moreover, as the senior commander he had the authority to take measures that could have lessened the impact of a failed or non-existent strategy had he so desired. Although critical resources such as sufficient manpower and unity of command / effort with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) were lacking, had Sanchez recognized the nature of the emerging threat (insurgency) and planned and implemented a theater-wide counterinsurgency campaign with the resources at hand, we may have avoided some of the difficulties later encountered. This is but one example of what might have been done by Sanchez with some basic situational awareness and a desire to make a difference. More on the situation on the ground at this time by Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks.

The more you looked at it, in certain areas, in different areas, [there were] guys that had certain patterns of success. It tended to be commanders who had the intelligence and the courage to recognize that the U.S. military had not prepared them for the job and who could think independently and critically about the situation.

So up north, Gen. [David] Petraeus with 101st Airborne, out west Gen. [James] Mattis, later in that year in Iraq, Baghdad, Gen. [Peter] Chiarelli. Some colonels also said, "Everything the U.S. military has given me hasn't prepared me for this job." They start operating differently, and I think that's actually when the U.S. military starts doing better.

Gen. Casey goes out to implore Sanchez, and he says, "Let me pull in some counterinsurgency experts." They've kind of been disregarded and ignored up to this point. "Have them tell me what we're doing here." They come in and give him a report that says, "There are nine basic hallmarks of failure in this sort of war, and you guys are squarely meeting eight of them. You're not controlling the border. You're not focusing on the population. You are focusing on large-size operations. You are not treating your prisoners well." These are all lessons, again and again, the military has learned. Why are these being ignored?

In August 2004, for the first time, the United States military formally has a counterinsurgency plan. It's not until August 2004 where Casey actually has a plan and signs it. There was never a plan the whole time that Bremer and Sanchez were there for how the U.S. military was to operate. So really, you need to get Bremer and Sanchez out of there, it seems, to even have a strategy, let alone an effective strategy is to have a strategy.

Concerning his remarks on utilizing all instruments of national power, Sanchez is correct. The CPA, responsible for the non-military elements of that power, and its Chief Executive L. Paul Bremer, were a disaster -- inexperienced and political ideologues in critical jobs, disbanding the Iraqi Army, "de-Ba'athification" and inadequate financial controls come to mind here. This was all exacerbated by the hate-hate relationship between Sanchez and Bremer as described by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

Bremer and Gen. Sanchez hated each other. They barely talked. Their interactions were stiff, awkward, and that sort of filtered all the way down.

That relationship, for which Sanchez bears one half responsibility, affected military-civilian relationships at all levels and doomed any chance of unity of effort from the get-go.

What Sanchez fails to acknowledge is that things are different now. In all operations, especially those requiring an interagency approach, unity of command while desired is usually absent -- the best we can hope for is unity of effort. For maybe the first time in Iraq, we have two leaders, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker who are operating from the same sheet of music. The close cooperation they exhibit is a classic example of one of the most important fundamentals of successful counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. A more "boots on the ground" example is the interagency cooperation in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).

Concerning Sanchez's statement that a failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic, and military power of the United States is continuing today -- we take great exception.

While late in coming, the U.S. now has a proper strategy in place, a COIN strategy that is population-centric unlike earlier enemy-centric strategies that yielded little or no results. Former senior MNF-I COIN adviser Dr. David Kilcullen describes this strategy in his SWJ post Don't Confuse the "Surge" with the Strategy.

What matters here is not the size of forces (though the strategy will not work without a certain minimum force size), but rather their tasks. The key element of the plan, as outlined in the President's speech, is to concentrate security forces within Baghdad, to secure the local people where they live. Troops will operate in small, local groups closely partnered with Iraqi military and police units, with each unit permanently assigned to an area and working its "beat".

This is different from early strategies which were enemy-centric (focusing on killing insurgents), or more recent approaches that relied on training and supporting Iraqi forces and expected them to secure the population.

The new strategy reflects counterinsurgency best practice as demonstrated over dozens of campaigns in the last several decades: enemy-centric approaches that focus on the enemy, assuming that killing insurgents is the key task, rarely succeed. Population-centric approaches, that center on protecting local people and gaining their support, succeed more often.

While the jury is still out on the ultimate success of this new strategy it has had a significant impact in reversing the previous negative downward spiral of the security situation in Iraq, has provided at least a minimal sense of "normalcy" to Iraqis and, most importantly, provided the Iraqi government a window of opportunity to seek a national reconciliation.

Sanchez notes, and is correct, that so far there is no evidence that there is movement towards political reconciliation at the national government level. That said there is much going on at the local level as the SWJ noted in an earlier post - Last Call: An Opportunity is a Terrible Thing to Waste.

The SWJ has sat in on PRT roundtables and discussions and corresponded with other non-military personnel working issues that are not directly related to security. If we interpreted what we heard correctly, another trend appears to be taking root -- one of political reconciliation at the local level. This is significant (though it has not received the attention it deserves in the MSM) and in the cyclic relationship between political and military initiatives it contributes to increased security which in turn contributes to even further political gains. Still, this is at the local (provincial / city / tribal) level and given several years to play-out could very well force the hand of national political reconciliation.

The SWJ also noted that the excerpted opinion above might not work out as described. Still, if we subscribe to Sanchez's recommendation that we "move rapidly to minimize our force presence" we all but cede any chances of any type of reconciliation -- local -- national -- political or otherwise.

Dr. Adam Cobb addresses what is at stake here in his SWJ post Iraq: A False Choice.

The real choice before the American people is much starker than whether to act on General Petraeus' advice to Congress. Bottom-line: we have to accept the current situation and be realistic about fixing it or we cut our losses and get out...

Those who hope for US failure in Iraq know that they win when they do not lose. The deciding factor therefore is time, something America's enemies inside Iraq have in abundance. Time provides the space in which the low flame of insurgency can continue flickering against both US will, and the increasingly dislocated politics of Iraq.

However, it is to misunderstand the war to look to General Petraeus to buy America more time. He should be congratulated for his role in developing the new counterinsurgency doctrine and successfully implementing it on the ground. In counterinsurgencies, political stability follows reconstruction and reconstruction follows basic security. The problem is that General Petraeus is starting a long way behind the curve. A true soldier-scholar, he has made real inroads against the multiple insurgencies in Iraq. Security is improving in some provinces laying the foundation for reconstruction and political stability...

The real choice before the American people is much starker than whether to act on General Petraeus' advice to Congress. Bottom-line: we have to accept the current situation and be realistic about fixing it or we cut our losses and get out...

Perhaps the greatest irony is that the longer the US commits to staying the more likely it is to succeed. Anything short of a multi decade commitment is incrementalism that will change nothing...

Our bottom-line: General Sanchez should spare General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker the second guessing and Monday-morning quarterbacking he took exception to in regards to his tenure at CJTF 7 / MNF-I.

Update 1: Max Boot weighs in over at Commentary's Contentions blog with Sanchez's Chutzpah.

... The address was, as you might expect, a case study in chutzpah. Sanchez began: "I saw firsthand the consequences of the Administration's failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic, and military power of the United States." The criticism is fair enough, but there is a disturbing lack of a mea culpa given that Sanchez, as the senior general on the ground, shared fully in the failures of Bush and Rumsfeld and other higher-ups.

But what makes this far more disturbing than the usual attempt to deflect blame is that Sanchez didn't acknowledge that anything has changed. "That failure continues today," he went on. He makes no attempt to recognize the stunning successes scored by U.S. troops in recent months under the leadership of General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. Instead, Sanchez repeats the same old bromides about how "the keys to securing the future of Iraq" aren't military action but "aggressive regional diplomacy, political reconciliation, and economic hope"—the very same thinking that underlies the failed strategy of the past four years, including the year that Sanchez presided over U.S. operations...

Update 2: Victor Davis Hanson weighs in over at National Review's The Corner blog with When and Why Mice Roar.

... there is dismal pattern: a mediocre functionary keeps quiet about the mess around him, muddles through, senses that things aren't going right, finds himself on the losing end of political infighting, is forced out or quits, seethes that his genius wasn't recognized, takes no responsibility for his own failures, worries he might be scape-goated, and at last senses that either a New York publisher or the anti-war Left, or both, will be —to offer him cash or notoriety - but only if he serves their needs by trashing his former colleagues in a manner he never would while on the job.

-----

Blog Links

Duck Season, Rabbit Season - Abu Muqawama

Schizophrenic War Take 2 - Argghhh!!!

Dems: Getting Smarter? - Abu Muqawama

Dems, Stay Away from Sanchez - Danger Room (Wired)

Good Advice - World Wide Standard (Weekly Standard)

The Democrats' Saturday Radio Address Confuses Me - Say Anything

A Response to the Sanchez "Response" - PrairiePundit

Sanchez and the Democrats - QandO

News Links

The Failures of Lt. Gen. Sanchez - Jack Kelly, Real Clear Politics

Political Odd Pair: Sanchez and Democrats - Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post

As Democrats See Iraq Gains, a Shift in Tone - Patrick Healy, New York Times

Former US Commander Criticizes Bush on Iraq - Scott Stearns, Voice of America

Former Iraq Commander Backs Democrats on Pullout - Josh White, Washington Post

Retired US Iraq Commander Speaks Out for Democrats - Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters

Bush Extends Thanks to Troops Overseas - Associated Press

General Who Led U.S. Forces in Iraq During Detainee Scandal Hails Democrats Withdrawal Plan - Roxana Tiron, The HIll

Discuss at Small Wars Council

Sanchez Delivers Democratic Party Weekly Radio Address - SWJ's Discussion Board

Recommended Reading

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq - Thomas Ricks

Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq - Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone - Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Counterinsurgency -- US Army Field Manual 3-24 / Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 33.3.5

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Comments

I think there are a couple things worth considering. Full disclosure -- I served under (far under) Sanchez during his tenure in Iraq. I didn't like him.

1. With respect to the anecdote from Chandrasekaran's book, the fact that Bremer and Sanchez despised each other is somewhat irrelevant. Sanchez was always going to be the interim guy, between Franks and whoever turned the light out. We were told not to bother unpacking our B-bags -- we'd be home by August (2003). So Sanchez was not vested with the authority that Bremer was, since Bremer was Bush's guy and Bremer was going to ensure that the Bush vision was imposed on post-Saddam Iraq.

2. That there was no top-down Phase IV plan left a lot of initiative to local guys like me, but also left little for Sanchez to do. Could he have taken command, in the metaphorical sense? At best I think we can offer only a qualified "maybe" -- again, he had no juice. Franks was the hero and Bremer was the ideologue. Sanchez was simply there to ensure military chain of command.

3. I suspect that future research -- assuming the documents ever become available -- will show that CFLCC itself very quickly lost interest in Iraq after the regime takedown. The beauty of standing-up CJTF-7 was that it absolved CFLCC of daily command-and-control problems.

4. Sanchez' comments were certainly ill-advised though, I think, generally correct. Max Boot is about the last person to flaunt the word, "credibility," when he's been about 180-degrees past wrong since D-1. The fact that the surge has worked militarily is beside the point -- as the president himself has long argued. The REASON for the surge -- its objective, its goal, its very reason for being -- was creating a space for national political reconciliation. That hasn't happened, and the Iraqis themselves tell us that it won't happen. Whatever the tactical success, then, the surge is a strategic failure.

5. PRT observations of local reconciliation are important, but not that important. To expect them to "force the hand" of national reconciliation is to ignore the history of the nation-state in the Middle East. The mere fact that Sunni tribesmen and paramount sheikhs are willing to make common cause with the US, and even with local Shi'i leaders, to oust foreign jihadists says more about Iraqis' innate xenophobia than it does about the prospect for a US "win."

6. As for A. Martin's observation that the Democratic leadership -- and as a Democrat I use that term literally -- isn't "frightened of giving in" to the weak on security frame. That ship sailed long ago. What they're looking for is credible military sources to counter the administration's continued happy talk -- they certainly didn't find it in Sanchez.

The Democratic 'leadership' (I use that term liberally, ha ha) is so frightened of giving in to the beltway media frame of "Democrats soft on national security" that they're casting about desperately for military officers to give them legitimacy. My guess is they didn't use Gen. Clark because he's already endorsed Clinton, so they needed some general to put in there to say bad things about Bush.

If LTG Sanchez is not speaking as a representative of a political party, then why is he giving the Democrat response to the President's weekly radio address? And why is it necessary to "respond" to the President's address every week? This seems to presuppose an inherent opposition between parties being the dominant feature of our government, rather than checks and balances between branches. Now LTG Sanchez is contributing to it. That is a bad example for other servicemembers who are leaving the Army and to those who join with the intent of leaving after one enlistment. Increasingly, I think that many see military service as useful resume padding to help fulfill political aspirations. The military is healthier when we remain apolitical. The example being set by LTG Sanchez will only encourage people to be both politically motivated and partisan.

As for the administration's failure to devise a strategy in Iraq, perhaps LTG Sanchez could have contributed by devising some kind of coherent plan at his own level. There was either no coherent guidance coming from the senior leadership or the subordinate commanders were blatantly disobeying it. As new units from 1st AD rolled in to relieve us, each one of their battalions had drastically different rules within their sectors and responsibility for sectors changed repeatedly. One day, a family could own an AK in their home. The next day, a new battalion took responsibility for their neighborhood and confiscated weapons. The next week, that battalion moves someplace else, the neighborhood is unarmed and unguarded, and thugs from Sadr city roll in. Some people call that gross incompetence or even ethnic cleansing. I wonder what LTG Sanchez would call it. I'm guessing he would call it, "not my fault."

Yes, I agree with donsmith7777. George Bush is a terrible CINC. If he hadn't stolen the election from Al Gore all would be well. Gore would have formed a multi-nation UN force to deal with Iraq. He would have drawn on his and Bill Clinton's successful experience in Somalia and uh, er, uh.. No, wait, wait... Al Gore would have drawn on his and Bill Clinton's successful experience in Kosovo and uh, er, uh... Aw, fugitaboutit!

So is Gen. McClellan er, Sanchez, looking to be our new SecDef? Hope not.

When the man's first words in giving the Democratic address are: "I speak to you today, not as a representative of the Democratic Party, ..." I knew I could not realistically expect either intellectual honesty or moral fairness.

My point was supposed to be that Petraeus and Crocker need to toughen up and accept criticism. I never doubted SWJED's toughness.

I just disagree with your bottom line. There was some great information and analysis in your blog. I got a whole lot more out of it than Sanchez needs to pipe down.

I think the editors bottom line is baloney. George W. Bush is CinC and is responsible for how this war was planned and fought.

Well, obviously I do not agree with the baloney part, unless you are referring to Italian mortadella. I agree with your 'the buck stops here assessment. The Commander-in-Chief is ultimately responsible and there is enough blame left over for many others - both civilian and military in regards to how OIF was initially planned and executed and the justification for war in the first place.

For several years after the invasion, Bush resisted putting more troops on the ground and fighting this war in a different and new way. Only after it was politically impossible for him to 'stay the course' did he make any changes.

No argument there.

Now that things seem to be better on the ground in Iraq with 'the surge' I can't help but wonder: how many lives, American and Iraqi, could have been saved if Bush would have made a change sooner.

No argument there.

Sanchez spoke the truth. And if that's Monday morning quarterbacking, well, that comes with the quarterback's job. Toughen up.

Sanchezs comments yesterday projected what was into what is. That is where I took exception. Keeping with sports metaphors - Sanchez is not on the field, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are. Sanchez is doing exactly what he had heartburn with when he actually was the starting quarterback. Tough enough for you?

I think the editors bottom line is baloney. George W. Bush is CinC and is responsible for how this war was planned and fought.

For several years after the invasion, Bush resisted putting more troops on the ground and fighting this war in a different and new way. Only after it was politically impossible for him to 'stay the course' did he make any changes.

Now that things seem to be better on the ground in Iraq with 'the surge' I can't help but wonder: how many lives, American and Iraqi, could have been saved if Bush would have made a change sooner.

Sanchez spoke the truth. And if that's Monday morning quarterbacking, well, that comes with the quarterback's job. Toughen up.

But I understand how his supporters think, no one get to be a critic of this administration's miserable planning of this elective war.

That type of logic baffles me. Disagreeing with LTG Sanchez's remarks does not equate to supporting the initial planning of OIF. Did you actually read the post above?

President Bush as Commander in Chief has been nothing but a disaster for America.

That's completely understandable looking at his and his his Vice-President's military service histories... amazingly, not even Donald Rumsfeld saw a day of combat.

But I understand how his supporters think, no one get to be a critic of this administration's miserable planning of this elective war.