• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Most Americans Now See Iraq And Afghanistan Wars As Failures

Afghanistan Troops

If you start counting from October 7, 2001, when the United States began attacking al Qaeda strongholds and Taliban air defenses in Afghanistan as part of the initial round of the retaliatory response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Arlington, Virginia that had taken place less than a month earlier, then the United States has been at war for a longer period over the past 12+ years than at any other time in its history. Not only has our engagement in Afghanistan lasted that long, but in that same period we also fought a full-scale war in Iraq that lasted from 2003 until American troops left in 2011, and we’ve been fighting a far more secret war in areas around the Middle East and Africa sending out drone attacks against suspected terrorists that often end up causing civilian casualties. In the beginning, public support for all of these campaigns remained fairly high. Even with all the doubts that critics expressed, the public was highly supportive of the Iraq War at the beginning and only began turning negative when it became clear that the initial claims that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling WMDs turned out to be untrue and the anti-U.S. insurgency began sending American casualty rates soaring. With regard to Afghanistan, the relationship between that war and the general idea of retaliation for the September 11th attacks meant that public support for the war remained fairly high for a much longer period time, Indeed, when he was running for President in 2008, then Senator Obama made a big deal out of contrasting the conflict in Afghanistan, which he characterized as a necessary conflict, with Iraq, and suggested that obsession over the War in Iraq had caused the Bush Administration to take its eye off the ball in the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Over time, though, public support even for the war in Afghanistan began to slip precipitously to the point where majorities were expressing the opinion that the war was no loner worth it.

Twelve years after it all started, a new Pew Research poll shows that the American public views both wars as a failure

After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public does not think the United States has achieved its goals in either country. About half of Americans (52%) say the U.S. has mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan while 38% say it has mostly succeeded. Opinions about the U.S. war in Iraq are virtually the same: 52% say the United States has mostly failed in reaching its goals there, while 37% say it has mostly succeeded.

In both cases, evaluations of the wars have turned more negative in recent years. In November 2011, as the U.S. was completing its military withdrawal from Iraq, a majority (56%) thought the U.S. had achieved its goals there.

Similarly, the public’s critical assessment of U.S. achievements in Afghanistan stands in contrast to opinion in June 2011, shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed in neighboring Pakistan. At that time, 58% answered a forward-looking question by saying they thought the U.S. would achieve its goals in that country; the question in the current survey asks whether the U.S. has achieved its goals.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Jan. 15-19 among 1,504 adults, finds more positive views of the original decision to take military action in Afghanistan than about whether the U.S. has achieved its goals. About half (51%) say the decision to use military force was the right one while 41% say it was the wrong decision. However, the share saying the war was the right decision has fallen five points since November (from 56%) and 13 points since January 2009 (64%), shortly before Barack Obama took office.

While the headline grabbing numbers are the ones that show public dissatisfaction with both wars,  Ed Kilgore draws attention to another part of the poll:

Among Democrats and independents, there remains a sizable gap between support levels for the original Afghan and the original Iraq interventions (Democrats narrowly support the use of force in Afghanistan 48/45, while opposing the Iraq intervention 28/64; for indies, it’s similarly 47/45 for Afghanistan, 37/53 for Iraq). But Republicans support the Afghanistan engagement 61-31, and the Iraq invasion 55-33. That may just be a reflection of instinctive support of George W. Bush’s foreign policies. But now that we know there was zero connection between 9/11 and Iraq, and no imminent WMD threat, either, you have to wonder if the two military actions are merging in the minds of many Republicans as part of a generalized War With Islam that transcends the particular justifications made at the time.

I tend to think that what you’re seeing in those numbers is indeed a somewhat partisan response by Republicans in support of actions initiated by the Bush Administration. However, it strikes me that Kilgore is only looking at half the picture here. While it’s true that the poll seems to show GOP support for the initial decision to go to war in both Iraq and Afghanistan to be higher than it is for Democrats and Independents, there’s very little difference between the parties when it comes to the current evaluation that we have not achieved our goals in either wars. With respect to Iraq, for example, 36% of Republicans say that the U.S. succeeded in achieving its goals in Iraq, compared to 38% of Independents and 37% of Democrats. For Afghanistan, 39% of Republicans say that we’ve achieved our goals, compared to 42% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans. In other words, the partisan differences on the question of whether or not the two wars have succeeded or failed is, by and large, statistically insignificant.

The more important takeaway from a poll like this, I’d submit, is what it says about the way that the American public is likely to view calls for military intervention in the future. In the immediate wake of the September 11th attacks, support for the idea of retaliating against al Qaeda and the Taliban led government in Afghanistan that was providing it support and shelter was, understandably, quite high. When the Bush Administration came forward with purported evidence regarding Saddam Hussein and WMDs, the combination of public opinion in the wake of 9/11 and a history with Hussein’s Iraq that went back a decade no doubt contributed to the fact that, initially, public support for going to war was quite high and war dissenters were, at the time, a distinct minority.  Now, we seem to be at a point where more than a decade of war has had an important impact on the American public’s views on foreign policy. When President Obama committed American force to assist in the civil war in Libya, public opinion was strongly against the President notwithstanding America’s long-standing history of conflict with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Late last summer, when President Obama began to hint that he intended to take military action against Syria in connection with the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, public opinion was decidedly against taking any action at all. No doubt, public opinion about these wars was influenced by ten years of what the public views as two failed wars. The question is whether this skepticism about foreign intervention will last as the memory of Iraq and Afghanistan fades.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Me, to America: I told you so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  2. Rafer Janders says:

    but in that same period we also fought a full-scale war in Iraq

    More accurately, we fought a full-scale war ON Iraq.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  3. Brian says:

    It also seems that Republicans support the decision to go to war 61-31 (Afg) and 55-53 (Iraq) while saying we failed to meet our goals. That sounds interesting too. Could be reflexive support for a Bush-era launching, or could be a belief that the wars were the right thing to do but done the wrong way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. edmondo says:

    And it only took 13 years and 6 trillion dollars. Who says Americans are stupid?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  5. michael reynolds says:

    History is the pattern of silken slippers descending the stairs to the thunder of hobnailed boots climbing upward from below. Voltaire, I believe. And it’s probably a bit mangled. But nevertheless, we may be approaching that moment.

    In World War 2 the “greatest generation” set about the job of burning German and Japanese cities down around their civilian inhabitants.

    All through my childhood and beyond, American military doctrine held that should the Soviets launch a nuclear weapon, we would vaporize their military, slaughter a hundred million or more Russians, and bring civilization itself to its knees, rather than submit.

    And now we can’t crush Afghanistan. The greatest military power the world has ever known, in a war with probably the greatest disparity of forces in the history of war, and we lost.

    Would Genghis or Attila or Scipio or even Tecumseh Sherman have failed to subdue Afghanistan given this disparity in forces? Would Curtis LeMay have failed? Would Truman?

    It speaks well of us as humans that we refused to use even a fraction of our available destructive power. But if this is the way we are now, we need to acknowledge it, and stop pretending that we are capable of winning. We are no longer in the business of bludgeoning our enemies to death, we are in the business of pinpricks and assassinations.

    We have never won wars this way. The American way of war has been to apply overwhelming firepower and endless resources to crush our enemies through sheer weight of flying metal. Now suddenly we think we’re surgeons not butchers. We think we’re Israel at Entebbe. We approach war like a weak power that has to rely on its cleverness rather than ruthless brutality. So far we’ve lost four wars that way – Vietnam, Gulf War 1*, Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a pretty bad losing streak. We haven’t won a war in seven decades.

    *Yes, we lost Gulf War 1, as witness the fact that a decade later we were back at war against the very same regime.

    (Edited for bad math.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  6. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And now we can’t crush Afghanistan.

    Well, except, we’re not trying to crush Afghanistan. That’s not our goal. Afghanistan is a US ally, with a government friendly to us, and a large portion of its population wants us to be there. We’re only trying to crush a small guerrilla movement in Afghanistan, which isn’t at all the same thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    We have never won wars this way. The American way of war has been to apply overwhelming firepower and endless resources to crush our enemies through sheer weight of flying metal.

    Actually, that’s not really true at all. That was largely true of two wars we fought that way — the Civil War and World War II — but it’s not true overall. Perhaps we think that’s our way of war because those two wars were so well publicized, had so many movies and books made and written about them

    In actual fact, most of the wars the US has fought and won have been smaller, limited wars, wars that did not involve the nation mobilizing its whole resources but were instead fought by smaller armies with limited resources. The Chickamauga Wars, the Northwest Indian wars, the
    Creek War, the first and second Seminole Wars, Barbary Coast campaign, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the various Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the multiple incursions and occupations into Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the Korean War, the invasion of Grenada, the invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, etc. etc. etc. were all fought this way. We’ve always tried to do it on the cheap and not disrupt the normal flow of business.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Yes, we lost Gulf War 1, as witness the fact that a decade later we were back at war against the very same regime.

    Well, first, it’s only the Gulf War, not Gulf War 1, as there is no Gulf War 2 (that war is called the Iraq War), and second, we won. The fact that we were back at war against the same country a decade later was purely due to a personal choice made by Bush and Cheney, it wasn’t due to any sort of military or political necessity.

    Or, to put it another way, if I knock you out in a bar fight one Saturday night, and then the next Saturday I walk up to you and, unprovoked, punch you in the face again, it doesn’t mean I lost the first fight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    You’re saying we didn’t use overwhelming, brutal force in the Indian wars? Gatling guns vs. bows and arrows? Cannon vs. rifles? We engaged in ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Spanish American war was a modern fleet (ours) against a third-rate has-been power that was obliterated within hours. The rest was clean-up.

    And I’m sorry, but Afghanistan was our enemy. The Taliban regime backed Al Qaeda in attacking the US. You’re applying a very modern distinction that proves my larger point: we chose to define the enemy narrowly precisely because we couldn’t see ourselves in the role of old-school conqueror. Defining the enemy narrowly strokes our sense of ourselves as moral beings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. michael reynolds says:

    And the Gulf War was a classic example of winning a battle and losing the war. The enemy was allowed to leave the field with his soldiers,his weapons, his regime, and his economic base unmolested. That’s not victory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  11. john personna says:

    This has been a great lesson for me, relatively late in life, on the nature of democracy.

    Democracies get things right, the first time, less than I thought.

    Their only saving grace is that they can leave old leaders and old plans behind.

    Amnesia as a virtue, all else having failed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Your error, the error of Bush and Cheney, is in failing to understand what a military victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan purchased.

    The short answer is nothing we wanted to own.

    Nothing an enlightened democracy should want to own.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    If you go to war, your goal should be to win, and win convincingly. Now, before all that happens, you should do some deep thinking about whether you need to go to war. But once you’re in, you have to win.

    Failing to win, as we’ve been doing since Korea, is just providing instructions to your opponents on how to beat you. Right now everyone on earth knows how to beat the Americans. You have only to bleed us – even a relatively trivial amount – and show pictures of dead children on CNN. Then wait.

    Whatever the wisdom of various wars, this is a terrible message to send to the world. We look feckless. That invites more trouble down the road. Either get in and win, or stay out. Either is acceptable, but this thing of jumping into wars only to lose them is making trouble for ourselves down the road.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  14. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think opponents are bright enough to realize that we can easily crush them too, before we can’t decide what to do with them.

    The crush part is significant deterrent, if they have any sense of self-preservation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. Woody says:

    public support for going to war was quite high and war dissenters were, at the time, a distinct minority.

    Let us not forget the performance of our vaunted, independent, capitalist, watchdog Fourth Estate’s role in the Iraq War buildup.

    Thankfully, the naïvely credulous, the self-serving mouthpieces, and the treason-braying firebombers have suffered the consequences of their actions and are no longer considered worthy of employment nor attention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And I’m sorry, but Afghanistan was our enemy. The Taliban regime backed Al Qaeda in attacking the US. You’re applying a very modern distinction that proves my larger point: we chose to define the enemy narrowly precisely because we couldn’t see ourselves in the role of old-school conqueror. Defining the enemy narrowly strokes our sense of ourselves as moral beings.

    The Taliban regime which controlled Afghanistan in 2001 was our enemy, and we destroyed the regime and installed a new, US-friendly government in that country in 2001. By 2002, the Taliban was reduced to a remnant of a few hundred men. It was only in later years, when Bush got distracted in Iraq, that the Taliban became resurgent as a military force, but that still doesn’t make the government of Afghanistan our enemy — it’s officially our ally.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    What evidence is there of our ability to crush people? We have not crushed anyone since Nagasaki. What we have is an amazing arsenal. But that does not mean we’ll use it, as Al Qaeda and the Taliban and the Vietnamese before them all figured out.

    What we are now is a very well-armed guy with very sweaty hands.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Yeah, and it was the Nazi regime not the German people, and the Japanese militarists not the people. These are choices we make for propaganda reasons, for reasons of morality, but they are choices, not hard facts.

    Right now we could have 100 drones constantly on station over Pashtun territory, targeting every single adult male they see. True? And this would still be far gentler than what we did to the Japanese. Also true?

    You want to argue that not all Pashtun males are our enemies? That will be true. But it will also be a choice to lose the war.

    We make a series of choices when we go to war. I’m arguing that if we go to war there should be one overriding choice: to win. That needs to be job 1. Otherwise don’t go to war. That’s fine, too. Just don’t halfway go to war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  19. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Any tyrant would surely put himself in the shoes of a Saddam, a Qaddafi, a 2001 vintage Taliban. They would all see countries ripped from their grasp, and a “best case future” involving seal teams and drones.

    Our negotiations are with the tyrant, not with and follow on rabble.

    (And where the foreseeable outcome is a broken country, a failed state, we should ask whether a tyrant brought to heel, as in GW 1, is not the better outcome.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If you go to war, your goal should be to win, and win convincingly.

    If you go to war, your goal should be to achieve the political goals you went to war to achieve. War, as Clausewitz wrote, is the continuation of politics by other means, and thus should not be undertaken for its own sake, but for the sake of a larger goal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Our larger goal is global stability. We are the status quo power. In order to maintain the status quo, the status quo power has to have actual not theoretical power. Losing war after war is not a great way to demonstrate your power.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    Any tyrant would surely put himself in the shoes of a Saddam, a Qaddafi, a 2001 vintage Taliban. They would all see countries ripped from their grasp, and a “best case future” involving seal teams and drones.

    And yet Assad seems not to have gotten the memo. Neither have Iran’s theocrats. The memo they got says, “The Americans aren’t brutal enough to win fast, or patient enough to win slow.” That’s what we have taught the world: that we lose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  23. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You want to argue that not all Pashtun males are our enemies? That will be true. But it will also be a choice to lose the war.

    What war???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And yet Assad seems not to have gotten the memo.

    When has Assad attacked the US?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    The war the American people think we’ve lost. The one we got thousands of our people killed fighting. The one the Taliban will be pretty sure they won when they march back into Kabul as Karzai flees to his bank in Switzerland. That war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  26. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    As much as I might support stand-off inducements in Syria, given a choice between a war weary liberal democracy and a warlike and chauvinist colonial empire … I’ll take the liberal democracy.

    For Assad to fear us in the way you mean, we’d have to be something dark, antidemocratic, colonial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. Dave Schuler says:

    Too soon we get old, too late we get smart.

    War is not justified if there is an alternative to it. If you can walk away without having accomplished your goals, clearly there was an alternative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  28. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If that’s the choice, then I’m totally fine “losing” that war. If that’s how you win, then it’s not worth fighting in the first place.

    But it’s a false dichotomy, because the choice isn’t actually between (a) massacre everyone to win and (b) don’t massacre everyone and lose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We have not crushed anyone since Nagasaki.

    Nor have we needed to — and that’s a good thing.

    We haven’t been at all-out war with any country since World War II, haven’t faced any existential threat to our way of life. Most of our wars have been wars we chose to get into, wars far away from our shores against people who never attacked us or were any real danger to us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  30. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And the Gulf War was a classic example of winning a battle and losing the war. The enemy was allowed to leave the field with his soldiers,his weapons, his regime, and his economic base unmolested. That’s not victory.

    Of course that’s a victory, since the enemy was no longer a threat to us, and we’d achieved our goals. Contrast the Gulf War — a quick, fast victory that left us feared and adored — with the Iraq War — an eight year quagmire that destabilized the entire region and cost us trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of casualties that left us hated.

    The kind of “total war” you’re talking about is a relatively recent phenomenon, historically speaking. Most wars between states have tended to be limited in time and space, fought for discrete objectives and broken off when those objectives were either met or discovered to be beyond the cost of fighting for.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If you go to war, your goal should be to win, and win convincingly.

    The War in Afghanistan and in Iraq were asymmetrical conflicts, basically because the Iraqis and Afghans were more willing to face causalities than the Americans. It´s the classical war where the side that has more causalities wins.

    That´s not so different from the classical colonial war. The big difference is that Britain and France during the 1800´s had a large number of extremely poor young people that were willing to die in a senseless conflict in Congo or in Crimea. It´s much more complicated to convince large number of middle class young people to do the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. al-Ameda says:

    Iraq was – from the beginning – a war of choice and not of necessity. Bush and his team ran that one up the flag and gave us, the public, the full “Threat to the Red, White and Blue Treatment” and the public bought in. Clearly, one of the biggest foreign policy failures since LBJ used the Gulf of Tonkin Incident to get us full in on Vietnam.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  33. Rafer Janders says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    The War in Afghanistan and in Iraq were asymmetrical conflicts, basically because the Iraqis and Afghans were more willing to face causalities than the Americans.

    I don’t even think they were “more willing” to face casualties than the Americans — I think it’s just that they had no choice, given (a) the disparity in power and (b) the fact that the wars were fought in their countries and not the US. No one is actually willing to take casualties, it’s just something that you sometimes have to endure because you have little other choice.

    I think we often tend to lay a false sort of ethno-cultural viewpoint over things that can more easily be explained as a matter of simple fact — if someone invades your house and attacks your family, it’s not that you’re “more willing” to take casualties than the attacker is, it’s just that much, much more is at stake for you and so you’ll fight a lot harder, or at least with more desperation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. michael reynolds says:

    Look, let’s take as a given that we should not have done Iraq and even that we should have perhaps just launched punitive raids on Afghanistan. Okay? So the entire liberal critique is hereby accepted for the sake of argument.

    Now, with all that agreed to, we still need to be able to win wars if we’re going to fight wars. The worst of choices is to fight a war and lose it. That way you have war, which is bad enough obviously, compounded by defeat which just leaves the situation less stable and is antithetical to our core goal of stability.

    You’re mostly all still talking about whether we’re making an omelet. I’m saying if we are making an omelet, then we will be breaking eggs. You don’t want an omelet? Fine. But if you do want an omelet, steel yourself to the necessity of breaking eggs. One or the other. Do or don’t do.

    And if the answer is that we will not break eggs then I have to wonder why we keep buying so many expensive spatulas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  35. Andre Kenji says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I don’t even think they were “more willing” to face casualties than the Americans — I think it’s just that they had no choice,

    Yes, but note that they even resort to suicide bombings and any causality in the American Side can have large political effects.That´s still the largest difference between Iraq and the 1800´s Congo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. Mike says:

    @michael reynolds: we broke a shit ton of eggs. There are tens of thousands of dead and injured innocent Iraqis that would attest to this

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @Mike:

    We did not kill tens of thousands of Iraqis. Iraqis killed tens of thousands of Iraqis. Had we broken more eggs ourselves, they’d have likely broken fewer. Germans did not spend years murdering other Germans after we occupied Germany because we’d done all the killing. In Iraq we killed just enough to create a power vacuum that led to far more deaths.

    How would that all have totaled up? I don’t know. But we did the worst of everything – we left the Iraqi army almost intact, then fired them. We overthrew the regime, then left Iraqis on their own to come up with a replacement. We destroyed stability and refused to provide stability ourselves. We fought half a war and provided a fraction of an occupation and what came of it was very close to being a civil war and mass slaughter.

    It was like performing half a heart transplant because halfway through the operation we got upset at all the blood. Either do it or don’t do it, but don’t half do it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  38. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Rafer Janders: Uuummm…against that I’ll place the Thirty Years War in Germany and the Hundred Years War between France and England. You may be talking of more modern history, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. Mike says:

    @michael reynolds: I agree that we set up the conditions for a slaughter when we disbanded the army and fired the Baathists and then spent a few yrs acting like all was well
    Directly or indirectly our govt’s action (or inaction) lead to a lot of injury and death

    And those precision munitions we use aren’t so precise

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. Rafer Janders says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Yes, but note that they even resort to suicide bombings

    They only resort to suicide bombings because of the disparity of power — they’ve got home-made bombs, and we’ve got jets and drones and tanks. If the US were occupied by a superior power, I’m sure we could get more than a few hundred angry young guys to blow themselves up in order to strike a blow at the hated occupier — and we’d regard those guys as heroes. We already laud soldiers, sailors and marines who “gave their lives for their country.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. Rafer Janders says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    Uuummm…against that I’ll place the Thirty Years War in Germany and the Hundred Years War between France and England.

    Those were actually both examples of limited wars — neither one was in fact a single “war” at all, but collection of several smaller wars. They were marked by frequent truces, pauses, breaks in fighting, negotiations, switching sides, treaties, etc.

    By total war I mean, basically, an existential war, a war in which the entire society mobilizes itself in a fight to the death with a hated enemy, a war in which you have to prevail or you’ll be destroyed. Look at Germany or Russia or Japan in World War II, or even the US during that same war, when 50% of all economic spending went by and through the government for war needs.

    The Hundred Years War, by contrast and by example, was a war between two sovereign states for power and influence, but it wasn’t a war in which they were trying to destroy each other utterly, but were jockeying for position in France. There were years without war, frequent treaties, the area of fighting was limited, the number of troops was limited, etc. It was not total war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  42. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: You keep talking about “winning” and “losing” wars as if these are clear, objective things. They’re not. You can only win a war if you have a definition of what winning is.

    In the case of WW2, there was a very clear meaning: To eliminate the regimes that were attempting to take over the world, and to roll their countries back (at least) to their pre-war borders. That’s why our winning that war didn’t involve doing what you define as winning in Afghanistan — obliterating every human being who didn’t like us. We firebombed Dresden, yes — but we didn’t keep firebombing once the Nazis fell and Germany surrendered. We had achieved our goal.

    The trouble with the Iraq war is that we had no real goal. We claimed we wanted to topple Saddam — but that war we won in days. At that point, we could have gone home victors, having accomplished our sole objective. The same in Afghanistan — we took out the Taliban regime just as surely as we took down the Nazis.

    But then we stayed — and we stayed without a goal. And without a goal, there’s no way to “win.” The closest thing we got to a goal was the notion that we’d build strong democracies in both those countries. But you don’t do that by fighting a way. (In Germany and Japan, no one was trying to build up democratic institutions while fighting was still going on.)

    Hell, in Iraq it seemed like our goal was to be loved by the Iraqi people. If that’s the goal, well, then your means of fighting a war is about as unproductive as possible. People feared the Nazis, people were ruled by the Nazis… not too many non-Germans ever came to love the Nazis.

    So even if our military had been under your command and we’d done all those Genghis Khan things you so admire, if we killed every male in Afghanistan — we still wouldn’t have “won.” Becuse there was nothing there that we wanted.

    You can’t win a war if you don’t know why you’re fighting…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  43. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    Now there we agree. It’s vital to know what winning would look like. Our stated goal in WW2 was to topple fascist regimes and to make the world safe for democracy. Did Part 1, kinda did Part 2. We certainly made (west) Germany and Japan safe for democracy.

    Our stated goals in Iraq were 1) Topple Saddam and 2) Find those pesky WMD’s. But I think we had a secret goal, as evidenced by the fact that we didn’t just leave six months later. I think we meant to create a functioning democracy in the heart of the ME that would be a game-changer for the region.

    We started work on that. . . and then fwcked it up beyond all recall. So I think the way winning looked to Bush-Cheney was a Turkey let’s say, in Iraq: reasonably secular, somewhat pluralistic, more or less tolerant. I think we had kind of that same idea for Afghanistan. I think we meant to pull a Germany/Japan thing, but we hadn’t prepared the American people, or apparently done a single goddamned bit of planning.

    The goals morphed. Started out being punitive raids or regime changes, morphed into nation-building, which we didn’t have the stomach or resources for, and finally became anti-terrorist efforts before just petering out. If you don’t know what you’re trying to do, it’s hard to do it.

    One of the approaches we could take could be called the “Try Again,” approach. Rather than rebuilding after we topple a regime, we just sit back, wait, and if we don’t like the results, topple the next regime and say, “Try again.” We could have done that in Iraq or Afghanistan. I have no idea if it would work. But it fits well with our capabilities and with our general lack of patience.

    To me the most damning charge against Bush-Cheney is that they were bumbling amateurs playing a game that was way over their heads. If we meant to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland we should have told the American people that, not act as if we were just there for some quick pay-back. Knocking off a regime is easy, building a new one is orders of magnitude harder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  44. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Our stated goals in Iraq were 1) Topple Saddam and 2) Find those pesky WMD’s

    The WMD´s were always an excuse, not the goal. I remember that Paulo Coelho was mocking the idea of WMDs in Iraq in 2003. Paulo Coelho, not a former member of the CIA or a former General, but a writer of new age books that says that he does not correct grammar errors from his books because he says that brings bad luck..

    I confess that at the time I did not believe that Bush would be SO stupid to declare war on Saddam.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  45. Andre Kenji says:

    @Rafer Janders: Yes, but I think that the problem is that much more difficult to convince a teenager that has a comfortable life in Texas that he should risk his own a* on the other side of the world than it was to do so with a cash strapped teenager in Victorian Britain. That´s the problem with the Michaelreynoldisian idea of “total war”.

    By the way, the reason that Bush attacked Iraq and the reason why so many people(Including many Democrats) supported him on that was precisely because everyone thought that it would be easy. It was the same reason why bullies beat the crap out of small children.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  46. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “Knocking off a regime is easy, building a new one is orders of magnitude harder.”

    And building one that counters thousands of years of a culture’s history is harder still. The Soviet Union was able to create a “united” Yugoslavia essentially by threatening to kill anyone who didn’t go along with the plan. Same way Saddam could keep the warring tribes of Iraq as one country.

    But that, too, counters the fantasy of building a new Democratic ideal. You can’t build a self-governing democracy under an iron heel — and as soon as the iron was removed, the various tribes return to their first priority, which is killing each other over grievances that go back centuries.

    What Bush and Cheney wanted was a colonial occupation with none of the icky parts — they wanted the people of Iraq to gratefully and happily offer us their natural resources out of love. It was an insane fantasy that went far beyond the megalomania of Napolean or Alexander. At least they knew that they would have to conquer and rule…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  47. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: crushing Afghanistan is easy- dealing with the toll, not so much. we’re not into the whole conquering/rebuilding thing anymore for some reason?!
    most of these people have no idea that we’ve been “occupying” japan and a good chunk of europe for the past 70 yrs., and paying their defensive bills all along.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. Console says:

    Iraq is a fake country and the concept of a nation-state simply doesn’t apply to Afghanistan. Comparisons to WW2 are pointless and a great way of fooling yourself into thinking nation building is some real thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  49. Stonetools says:

    Fully agree with Rafe Jander’s comments, and would add that the solution is not that we should never fight limited wars. The inescapable fact is that in the future we are going to fight limited wars at some point, if past American history is any guide. Nor is it that we should fight EVERY war as if it is total war. That won’t and can’t happen.
    Rather the solution is that when we get into limited wars in the future, we should have a very clear idea of what our political objectives are and what the costs will be, and that we should clearly tell the American people what the objectives and costs are.
    Right now, the American people see these wars as failures, in part because they were failures and in part because the Bush Administration lied about the objectives and the costs. Maybe future administrations can be more honest and can execute better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  50. Andre Kenji says:

    Total wars are part of the past. Unless we are talking about total war waged by robots, a really frightening future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  51. Grewgills says:

    We won the wars, but lost the occupations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0