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War As Aspirational

tankinaditch

I genuinely wish that more people, particularly people in positions of power, would take heed of Andrew Bacevitch’s LA Times op-ed. Here’s the meat of it:

The truth is something few people in the national security establishment are willing to confront: Confusing capability with utility, the United States knows how to start wars but has seemingly forgotten how to conclude them. Yet concluding war on favorable terms — a concept formerly known as victory — is the object of the exercise. For the United States, victory has become a lost art. This unhappy verdict applies whether U.S. forces operate conventionally (employing high-tech “shock and awe” tactics) or unconventionally (“winning hearts and minds”).

and his conclusion:

What then is to be done? That which Washington is least capable of undertaking: Those charged with formulating policy must think anew. For starters, that means lowering expectations regarding the political effectiveness of war, which is demonstrably limited.

Take force off the metaphorical table to which policymakers regularly refer. Rather than categorizing violence as a preferred option, revive the tradition of treating it as a last resort.

I have only one minor point of disagreement with Dr. Bacevitch in this. I don’t think we’ve “forgotten how to conclude” wars.

In winning World War II we killed about 10% of the populations of Germany and Japan, laid waste to their cities, and eliminated their ability to produce war material or even house and feed themselves. And there was a relentless propaganda campaign that supported that prolonged and intense program of killing and destruction. We didn’t have a great deal of choice with respect to that war in the case of Japan or, arguably, Germany. It was less chosen than thrust upon us.

Since then the circumstances have been different. We have not gone to war through necessity but because our political elite have chosen wars as ways of minimizing their own downside political risk, waging them in such a way as to continue to minimize downside political risk.

Although a substantial proportion of the American people, sometimes referred to as “Jacksonians”) continue to be willing to prosecute war to produce a clearcut victory, another substantial proportion of the American people just don’t care to think of themselves as the kind of people that will kill 10% of the populations of other countries in war or impose misery and privations even if it’s necessary to produce the sort of clearcut victory that Jacksonians long for.

Similarly, there’s a substantial proportion of the American people who reject our colonizing other countries even if that’s what’s necessary to produce a clearcut Jacksonian-type victory. We invade other countries with a primary objective being leaving again rather than staying on, a basic violation of the preconditions of counter-insurgent activity, one of which is that you believe that you have a right to remain there. For an example of this, consider the successful prosecution of counter-insurgency by the British in Malaya.

Consequently, I don’t think our reluctance to achieve clearcut victories is so much a case of “forgetting” as of a significant proportion of us not wanting to be that sort of people. For many of us war is distant from us and has, therefore, become aspirational.

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About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Eisenhower warned us. We did not listen to him, and we quickly forgot the lessons of Vietnam. Who is to blame? Got a mirror handy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Consequently, I don’t think our reluctance to achieve clearcut victories is so much a case of “forgetting” as of a significant proportion of us not wanting to be that sort of people. For many of us war is distant from us and has, therefore, become aspirational.

    Yep. It’s funny, isn’t it, that we call the WW2 generation “the Greatest Generation,” while sort of managing to forget that they deliberately burned down cities full of civilians. Little children were blown apart, burned, smothered by American bombs, something conveniently overlooked in the mawkish Brokaw-Ambrose hagiography. I suspect actually that our own false and sentimentalized understanding of that war made more likely our subsequent failures.

    We are no longer willing to be ruthless, as I discovered somewhat to my dismay, when Iraq happened. It was painfully obvious to anyone who had spent ten seconds thinking about war and regime change and occupation, that we would need to assume complete control, would need to occupy the country in depth so as to avoid creating a power vacuum, and ruthlessly tear down and build up or create from whole cloth, various institutions that would make the changes permanent.

    It was never “impossible” which is what the anti-war Left would have us believe. It was just impossible given that we are not Mongols or even 1940′s era Americans. It’s a good thing that we can’t see our way clear to becoming latter-day Mongols. But we need to align our national security goals with the character of the American people in this era.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  3. john personna says:

    The fundamental difference between WWII and The War On Terror is that WWII was fought against national entities. The War on Terror was famously a war on an idea.

    If fact, WWII enemies were so “national” that they invented a new word for it,.

    The folly of “nation building” was that tribal societies could be quickly reconstituted. They cannot. The two choices are: leave them to it, or embark on a long term colonial police state.

    We have never been the sort to do a long term colonial police state. See also Cuba and The Philippines.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  4. Tran says:

    Of course the United States reputation would be even more tarnished if it went into Iraq with the intent to remove nonexistent WMD’s and to do a regime change, and then proceeded to kill 10% of the population. Not to mention the reaction there would have been if the US had dropped nuclear bombs on Iraq as id did on Japan.

    Besides, the cultures of Japan and Germany were different than those of Afghanistan and Iraq. Both states were powerful nation states who could command the obedience of their whole populace. Thus there was not much resistance after the state surrendered.

    Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan ever had a central government that was accepted by all their people. Saddam used brutal force to hold his ethnically diverse country together, while different tribal leaders had much authority even under the Taliban. Add their geography and these countries are made for strong insurgencies.

    And I really wonder how the US could have avoided leaving a country in which the ethnic/religious groups are burning to fight the others, short of partitioning the country or occupying it forever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    Interesting connection to your argument on partisanship on another thread. Not all Germans in Schweinfurt were Nazis. We no doubt killed some people who fervently hoped the Nazis would go away. It was national in the sense that our army was shooting at their army, but it gets muddier when civilians get killed, and a whole lot of civilians did get killed. They were lousy Krauts and dirty Japs to us, but many of them thought of themselves as enemies of their own regime.

    Basically we were making war on an idea: Naziism. And on militarism and fascism. Our propagandists said at the time that the peoples were not our enemies, just the tyrants and the ideas of those tyrants.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  6. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Isn’t WWI held up as a more extreme case? I am not an expert, but I’ve heard that the Kaiser’s Germany and George’s England were pretty similar in “innocence.”

    We just went in on one side because (despite more German immigration?) we spoke English, and the English famously “cut the cable,” telling us one side of the war from there on out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. john personna says:

    (On whether we were warring on “isms” in WWII, certainly, but in terms of easy occupation, the fact that they were national-isms absolutely helped in a practical sense.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:
    I do think the big problem with occupying Iraq is probably that their dominant “ism” is Islam, and it’s been in place for better than a thousand years. Not exactly as easy to excise as national socialism, which was quite a short-lived phenomenon, or Japanese militarism which was a sort of corollary to Emperor worship which we cleverly left intact. And of course the Italinas never gave a damn about Fascism, their core ideology was, “Want some more wine?”

    As for WW1, I’m not the guy to be able to parse that rat’s nest. Basically I think we went in with the Brits because it was the Germans who first crossed a border and went on the attack. However one wants to apportion blame for the run-up, it was the Germans who invaded Belgium and France, not the other way around. Then, too, it was German U-Boats sinking passenger liners, not the Royal Navy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If Iraq had a national unity in Islam it might have gone differently, right?

    As it is, disunity in Islam is what drives daily violence.

    (The wikipedia page on the causes of WWI shows how muddy the origins are, even today. Perhaps more so today. Also Atrocities in the First World War)

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    I suppose if we’d been serious about occupying and transforming Iraq we’d have needed to subsidize moderate forms of apolitical Islam, use non-politicized Imams and Mullahs to funnel oil money into health care and welfare as a prelude to a socialist state where individual Iraqis saw direct and tangible benefits from the central government.

    Then you’d want unions, both for government employees and for industrial and possibly agricultural workers. That’s one of the ways we controlled Japan. Of course George W. Bush was never going to go for this.

    You’d want to set up an occupation government heavy on Iraqi technocrats of whatever stripe, including former Baathists.

    Write them a constitution with strong minority rights protection. Set up courts. Take control of media and school curricula. Ruthlessly suppress violent opposition and corruption.

    Then sit on it all for 30 years knowing that it would cost us money and men. Could have been done, but not with the half-assed efforts of right-wing ideologues.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  11. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Sure, to transform Iraq we’d have had to build big prisons and fill them with Islamic “partisans” until there were no more. We would have had to been as racist, imperial, and xenophobic as the British were in India.

    We are not that sort of people, thank God.

    … and it’s not like it worked for the British in India either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. steve says:

    A lot of assumptions here. Germany and Japan had a history of functional government. Iraq had history of chaotic government and turnover by coup. Iraq had three factions in the country, created by colonial whims, not by natural geography (Japan) or common culture (Germany). We really dont know if 30 years of occupation would be long enough to turn Iraq into a peaceful, cohesive place since no one has ever done it before. Look at what happened in the Balkans as soon as the USSR stopped forcibly holding it together.

    We need to either be willing to conquer and permanently occupy or set goals differently. I think we mostly need to stay out of wars unless we have a very clear security interest and a clear goal. We need to understand that war is an economic loss.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    It did work in India to an extent, though. What’s the language they use for much of government? English. And what’s the form of the Indian government? Parliamentary democracy. God knows those people could teach Iraq a lesson in factions – they have more factions, faiths, languages and religions than one can easily count. But they’ve been a more-or-less functioning democracy for 60 odd years. And with the exception of the first Pakistan split, they’ve remained a single country as defined largely by the Brits.

    We’re both sitting in a state that used to be Mexico, so sometimes occupations work very well. Nothing lasts forever, but our occupations of Japan and Germany were stellar successes by any standard. But another good example would be Islamic take-overs of “pagan” countries in North Africa. Depending on how you want to define it, “occupation” and “colonization” have been successful in a lot of cases. Other times not so much. No one ever kicked the Normans out of Britain, they just melded the Normans and other English tribes. You could probably make a case that every square inch of planet earth is currently held by someone whose ancestors came from somewhere else, very much including this entire hemisphere.

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  14. michael reynolds says:

    There are two things we did wrong in Iraq:

    1) Got in
    2) Fwcked up once we got there.

    Best would probably have been to avoid #1, and if we didn’t at least don’t compound it by screwing it up. Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld conspired in both #1 and #2.

    They were like athletes trying for one of the hardest moves you can attempt, but never bothering to train or practice. Triple backward somersault off the high board without spending 5 minutes thinking about it let alone training for it? Sure, what the hell, what could go wrong?

    Had we pulled it off though? Had we actually done it right and been willing to pay the price? Who knows. Imagine the impact of a genuine, multiethnic, multi-faith democracy in Iraq, right there in the middle of Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. It would have been an Arab Spring with teeth and staying power.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  15. michael reynolds says:

    Hubris plus incompetence. That was the Bush administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  16. Dave Schuler says:

    I would suggest that as soon as you can begin to do cost-benefit analysis about a war it’s a pretty good sign that war should be avoided.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    Sorry to filibuster, here, but I’m avoiding actual work. So: Thought experiment. Imagine Nazi Germany, circa 1940. They have the low countries, they have Poland, they have Czechoslovakia. And now they’re taking a hiatus from invading, but they’re busy slaughtering Jews, Gyspies, communists, gays, the handicapped, etc… They’re doing well economically.

    Now, under those circumstances, where neither we nor the Brits were directly and imminently threatened. Would it have been morally and practically a good idea to knock off the Nazi state, even at the cost of 10% of their population in order to bring about the Germany we have today?

    In other words, setting aside the occupation of France, the threats against the UK and the USSR and all that followed, wouldn’t it have been a good thing for the world for us to invade, occupy and transform Germany from a vicious, racist, totalitarian state into the hard-working, mildly cranky but harmless Germany we have today?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. JKB says:

    Of course, a vast percentage of that portion of the population who don’t want to be “those sort of people” are the very ones who protest and rabble-rouse for us to involve ourselves in situation that have no national interest for the U.S. Then they protest the fact that our military uses force.

    I’m all for taking a step back and not involving ourselves militarily in other nations. But that also means sitting by while some tyrant gases his poor “innocent” people.

    What we have is not lack of ability or will to win. What we have are Democrats who are for or against war depending upon their personal political fortunes. I’m afraid it will be this way until we regain a Democratic party that believes in America as a sovereign nation and a free Republic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 13

  19. MarkedMan says:

    I think we are missing the elephant in the room. Both Germany and Japan had a long standing top down hierarchy with generations of structure and clear responsibilities. We cut off the head and replaced it with Allied occupational leaders and the population fell into place. Iraq, Afghanistan, Viet Nam, Cambodia, not so much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    You’re rewriting history. First, it was a Democrat president who burned Tokyo to the ground, and a second one who did it to Hiroshima.

    Second, no Democrat forced Mr. Bush to go into Iraq with insufficient forces. That was all on Mr. Bush. And no Democrat forced Mr. Bush to be so utterly ignorant that he literally did not know there were Sunni and Shia in the country.

    And it was Republicans who were screaming about boots on the ground in Libya, and then working themselves up into obsessive hysteria over a handful of embassy and CIA emplyees.

    Really, conversations don’t work if you want to make up your own false reality.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  21. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My first principle is self-determination, that every people should have the chance to chart their own future, to shape their own government.

    I recognize that this has risk, and in extreme conditions it may be justified for the international community to intervene. Genocide being the big one.

    I don’t think though that unilateral, or mostly-unilateral, intervention should ever be supported. It is rife with agency issues. It is too easy for the intervening power to become preoccupied (to use a pun) with self-interested policies.

    Do you think you could get a guiding council, with a variety of nations and interests, to back an Iraq invasion, and to govern by public vote?

    Because if not, you are falling to just basic colonialism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. gVOR08 says:

    Huh? You think the problem is that the American people don’t have the will to kill 10% of a population? What conceivable goal of ours could have been furthered by killing 10% of the population of Iraq or Afghanistan?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  23. al-Ameda says:

    Once (unofficially) an establishment consensus has been reached that we must go to war, the public can be usually be counted on to support it. It’s only when things begin to go south – that is, the war seems interminable, ‘victory’ is not easily discerned – that the public begins to get restless and opposition becomes relevant.

    In my lifetime, the public has rarely been out in front when it comes to opposition to a proposed war. The reason is relatively simple – to oppose a a very possible and likely American military action as it is developing is very often perceived as unpatriotic, and opponents are characterized as weak on defense and national security.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  24. @michael reynolds: “We are no longer willing to be ruthless, as I discovered somewhat to my dismay, when Iraq happened.” and following.

    For which you can lay the blame precisely at the feet of Donald Rumsfeld. US Army chief of staff Gen. Erik Shinseki and the Army staff told him almost exactly what you explained, specifically stating that Rumsfeld’s force level was some hundreds of thousands too low to conclude the war and peace successfully.

    For that, Shinseki was ostracized and Rummy fired him. Rummy refused even to attend Shinseki’s retirement honmor cordon at the Pentagon, a stunning breach of long-established protocol.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    At the time of the now-infamous Shinseki slam I assumed Rumsfeld’s objection was political. In other words, I thought Rummy and Cheney and Bush all knew the truth but didn’t want Shinseki spooking Congress and the public. I just thought they were liars, not morons.

    Then came the post-invasion looting and the sickening realization that no, they really were just stupid. I knew Bush was stupid, but Rumsfeld wasn’t exactly a defense policy virgin. And Cheney had a reputation for ruthlessness.

    I thought it was all obvious. It literally never occurred to me that they could actually be that clueless. To this day I’m amazed. On a 1 to 10 scale of difficulty, what they proposed to do in Iraq was about an 8 or 9. This was not Granada or Panama. This was going to be hard. And they treated it with less study and preparation than a stoner sophomore getting ready for an English test.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I don’t think we’ve “forgotten how to conclude” wars.

    Thank you for this Dave. However I do have a quibble with this:

    It was less chosen than thrust upon us.

    The main difference between now and then is not that things were forced upon us then, but rather that the necessary solution was acceptable. Total war, with the inevitable death of millions of civilians, is no longer acceptable.

    Also I have to point out that

    Since then the circumstances have been different. We have not gone to war through necessity but because our political elite have chosen wars as ways of minimizing their own downside political risk, waging them in such a way as to continue to minimize downside political risk.

    There was no downside political risk to not invading Iraq. Afghanistan? Yes. We had just been attacked. If Bush did not invade, BIG political risk. (Invading was stupid, but NOT invading might well have made him a one term president) Iraq was something the GWB admin pulled out of their butts. A lot of congress critters went along with it because of the political risk of saying, “STOP!” but the Bush admin? They were not “downsizing” any political risk, they were cynically capitalizing on the patriotic fervor then rampant within the nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  27. Dave Schuler says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    There was no downside political risk to not invading Iraq.

    Their political calculation was that they needed to do something to someone and, since the perpetrators of the attacks were Arabs, those someones needed to be Arabs. They couldn’t attack the Saudis for a variety of reasons.

    Note that I’m not justifying the invasion of Iraq. I think it was both a tactical and strategic error, not to mention an illegal and immoral war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  28. Stonetools says:

    America goes to war, because war is painted as glorious in the abstract , and as the manly, decisive thing to do. The reality, of course, is a little different.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  29. john personna says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Don’t forget the hawks who complained about the cost of “containment.”

    I remember, perhaps in these very pages, that “taking out Saddam would be cheaper than maintaining no-fly zones.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  30. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It was never “impossible” which is what the anti-war Left would have us believe. It was just impossible given that we are not Mongols or even 1940′s era Americans. It’s a good thing that we can’t see our way clear to becoming latter-day Mongols. But we need to align our national security goals with the character of the American people in this era.

    Possibility has to include what we and our allies are willing to do. That we and our allies were not then and will not be any time in the foreseeable future willing to be modern day Mongols or even Romans means that it was and remains impossible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. Franklin says:

    This reminds me of when McCain said we could stay in Iraq for 100 years, and he was lambasted for it. But I guess that’s what it would have taken to achieve victory. But given that the whole premise of the war was faulty …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. john personna says:

    @Franklin:

    The Neocons wanted us to join the Israelis in “permanent war.”

    For a time there were US conservatives saying “heck, yeah.”

    Thank God that too has passed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  33. Andy says:

    War is inherently a political act and thus its utility as a means to achieve political ends is entirely situational. No amount of cruelty, violence and “decimation” of the enemy will guarantee success if the political objectives are not achievable by military means. CvC:

    War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will

    and

    The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy. But what constitutes defeat? The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough.

    If violence by one political community cannot compel an enemy, then war, absent other factors, is a wasted effort.

    Secondly, the viciousness by each side is not a component of victory, but the result of the value of the political end. In other words, more brutality is not a route to victory in most cases. Again, CvC:

    “The degree of force that must be used against the enemy depends on the scale of political demands on either side. . . . But they seldom are fully known. Since in war too small an effort can result not just in failure, but in positive harm, each side is driven to outdo the other, which sets up an interaction.”

    The problem with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was simple: Our political goals were not achievable through military means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  34. An Interested Party says:

    What we have are Democrats who are for or against war depending upon their personal political fortunes. I’m afraid it will be this way until we regain a Democratic party that believes in America as a sovereign nation and a free Republic.

    Oh really? Nixon manipulated the Vietnam War for his own political fortunes and he was a Republican…Bush used 9/11 as an excuse to push his pet cause, the invasion of Iraq, and he is a Republican too…perhaps you might be taken seriously if you stopped peddling so much horse$hit…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. JohnMcC says:

    The first Gulf War was an unparalleled victory by any measure. And the “we” who forgot it’s lesson was, as mentioned by several of my peers above, completely restricted to the GWBush administration and a few talk-radio-hosts who had been excoriating GHWBush for failing to ‘take out’ Saddam Hussein over the intervening decades..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  36. Scott O says:

    @michael reynolds:

    wouldn’t it have been a good thing for the world for us to invade, occupy and transform Germany from a vicious, racist, totalitarian state into the hard-working, mildly cranky but harmless Germany we have today?

    Would that have even been possible without Germany’s invasion of Russia and the subsequent events? I have doubts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  37. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @michael reynolds: My father was once asked if he hated the Germans who fought against him. His answer was, “No. They didn’t have any more choice about being there than I did.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  38. Jim says:

    @john personna:
    I’d add that the wars in Vietnam and Korea the goal was not vanquish the enemy, but to contain that enemy within a geographic boundary.

    We speak of the success of WWII and the defeat and then re-integration of our former enemy as “good” world citizens. But isn’t WWII the exception, the war that resulted in total victory and provided the desired outcome?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Note that I’m not justifying the invasion of Iraq. I think it was both a tactical and strategic error, not to mention an illegal and immoral war.

    Never thought otherwise Dave.

    Their political calculation was that they needed to do something to someone and, since the perpetrators of the attacks were Arabs, those someones needed to be Arabs.

    But I still disagree. They invaded Iraq for reasons that… Whatever their reasons were. I think their political calculation was to use the whole “Axis of Evil” as cover for whatever cynical calculus they were using to accomplish…. I don’t know what. As I recall (maybe it is just what I “heard”) they made no connection between 9/11 and Iraq except in the vaguest terms: Arabs scary. Nuclear weapons scary. Arabs with nuclear weapons REALLY scary.

    Again, my memory may be faulty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  40. JohnMcC says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I partially agree, or perhaps have the same selective memory, my friend. But there was that whole ‘Saddam is sheltering AlQaida’ routine that those fools trotted out from time to time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: c’mon, you don’t remember what happened to get us into iraq in the first place? this country had been attacked and everyone wanted payback. of course once people start dying on the tv then things change…..so the dreaded “i was for the war before i was against it” types all banded together to express faux shock at what was happening . . .and began to do all they could to make it look like a gop assault on the world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  42. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @john personna: Exactly!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: I think you’re Bogarting that doobie a little too much, dude.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: Your father’s comment reminds me of something I recall reading long ago about the effectiveness of draftees for fighting wars–that they are effective primarily because they want to go home and are willing to do what is necessary to accomplish that goal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  45. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JohnMcC: Achhh. Your right. I had forgotten about that spin.

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  46. mattbernius says:

    @bill:

    c’mon, you don’t remember what happened to get us into iraq in the first place? this country had been attacked and everyone wanted payback.

    Thanks for exemplifying everything that was fundamentally *wrong* about the lead up to the Iraq war in two succinct sentences.

    We had already gotten “payback” in Afghanistan. What “payback” was there to get from Iraq?

    Yes, we were attacked. By people who HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IRAQ! And yet folks continue to justify going to war with Iraq based on the 9/11 attack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  47. john personna says:

    @mattbernius:

    Was bill talking facts or spirit of the times?

    I think there was an emotional aspect, that knocking down Afghanistan was too easy, and “we weren’t done yet.”

    In that sense the warmongering for Iraq did still benefit from “payback.”

    [I was fine with some saber rattling at Iraq, to get the UN inspectors in, but wanted inspection and disarmament to be the real endgame. That saber rattling was prelude to war, to such an extent that WE'D ask the UN inspectors to leave was a complete disaster.]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  48. merl says:

    @michael reynolds: Passenger liners carrying munitions in violation of the law, you mean.

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  49. Tony W says:

    @michael reynolds: There is not a chance under that scenario that WWII starts. Period. Hitler overreached invading Poland, becoming overconfident – but without that cycle of events, we simply wring our hands of the situation and tolerate it for a very long time. Cambodia, most of Africa, and a great deal of central America will back up my opinion on this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  50. stonetools says:

    Dan Carlin has another idea on why we might not want to conclude” wars- one which is considerably less self-congratulatory. He argues that its may not be a matter of us not willing o dish it out-rather, it may be that we are not willing to take it. He argues that we just may not be as tough as our grandfathers.
    He points out that when we suffer a dozen casualties in Afghanistan, that’s a really bad day for us, whereas in WW2 that was nothing. A couple of examples:
    In D Day, a great Allied victory, we suffered over 4000 Allied KIA.
    In one USAAF raid on Schwienfurt, 600 American airmen were lost, most dying as their aircraft exploded or burned up.
    In the fabled Iwo Jima campaign, the USMC suffered 20,000 casualties in five weeks of fighting.

    He poses the question of whether the present day USA is willing to take that kind of punishment to win wars.
    Again, though, this is the case of WW2-itis. WW2 was a total war against an existential threat, so we were willing to suffer more and to inflict more. Most US wars aren’t like that, and I add, most future US wars won’t be like that. We are only going to be willing to give out and take a limited amount of punishment, so we should be careful about what it is we want to accomplish when we go to war.

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  51. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “…that we would need to assume complete control, would need to occupy the country in depth so as to avoid creating a power vacuum, and ruthlessly tear down and build up or create from whole cloth, various institutions that would make the changes permanent.”

    We *did* ruthlessly tear down almost all institutions in Iraq.

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  52. Barry says:

    @john personna: “The folly of “nation building” was that tribal societies could be quickly reconstituted. They cannot. The two choices are: leave them to it, or embark on a long term colonial police state.”

    It wasn’t ‘reconstitution’; it was the fact that the US didn’t want to deal with the groups and organizations on the ground, but didn’t have the force, competency or desire to build new ones.

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  53. J-Dub says:

    @michael reynolds: Cheney knew exactly what would happen if we invaded Iraq. He laid it out almost perfectly in a speech in 1992 when he said it was not worth it:

    http://www.seattlepi.com/national/article/Cheney-changed-his-view-on-Iraq-1155325.php

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  54. Scott O says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    They invaded Iraq for reasons that… Whatever their reasons were. I think their political calculation was to use the whole “Axis of Evil” as cover for whatever cynical calculus they were using to accomplish…. I don’t know what.

    I think the goal was to bring democracy and free market capitalism to the middle east. To drag the region kicking and screaming into modernity if you will. There was the line going around at the time that no country with a McDonald’s has ever attacked another country with a McDonald’s. Iraq seemed to some like a good test bed. We would overthrow Saddam, be greeted as liberators, foreign investors would rebuild Iraq’s oil fields and infrastructure, wealth would trickle down, Iraqis would become more prosperous buying big screen TVs and new cars, citizens in neighboring countries would start saying “Hey, we want that stuff too” and demand changes in their governments. As an added bonus increased oil production in Iraq would make the world less dependent on Saudi oil so we could start pressuring them to make changes.

    Would have been great if it worked. I never bought the part about us being greeted as liberators.

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  55. Rob in CT says:

    Similarly, imagine what it would really take to turn Afghanistan into a functioning country in which the central government actually controlled its territory and there was at least some semblance of proper governance. Seriously imagine it. We’d be at it for decades, at least, and it would take a full-on occupation, suppression of the of the local powers (complete with copious amounts of spilt blood), and a massive aid programme.

    Could it be done? I suppose the answer is yes. But it would be insane. Many things could theoretically be done at great cost. We don’t do them, though.

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  56. Rob in CT says:

    @Scott O:

    The problem with all that, as wonderfully illustrated by the McDonalds thing, is that it’s a “sitting around the dorm after taking bong hits” level of thinking. Yeah, man, we’ll like transform the middle east, man. It’ll be great.

    Total stoner quest. Usually you wake up the next day and realize the grand schemes you and your buddies were on about the night before were impractical.

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  57. Stonetools says:

    It’s easy to conclude in hindsight that the Iraq invasion was unwinnable and a disaster. But I think that to be honest to all sides, we have ask the alternate history question of, Would we have been bettered served by letting Saddam remain in place , contained by a leaky sanctions regime that many liberals were uncomfortable with?
    I remember a lot of concern pre 2003 that the sanctions were too tough and tan they unduly punished the Iraqi people. I remember others concerned that it was jot tight enough and that SAddam was secretly building a nuclear capability.
    What do you think of a counter factual of Saddam still being in power and plotting to get an atomic bomb in 2013?

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  58. john personna says:

    @Barry:

    What, are you saying a new Baath state was the path to sustainable democracy?

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  59. john personna says:

    @Stonetools:

    We had UN inspectors in Iraq, and a disarmament agreement.

    The Cost of Ignoring UN Inspectors: An Unnecessary War with Iraq

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  60. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Perhaps not, but I think it indisputable that the de-Baathification of the Iraqi civil services and disbanding of the Iraqi army were terrible decisions that contributed greatly to our subsequent challenges and eventual failure to build a truly stable Iraq.

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  61. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    Riigh, but it leads to the question of how different an improved Baath party is from a contained Baath party.

    Either way behavior was shaped.

    The UN sanctions had .. well, do you know who I know who loves George W Bush more than anyone else? An Iranian from the southern marsh regions.

    He loves George Bush for changing the dynamic from one of deadlock to one of Iranian dominance.

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  62. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    As for WW1, I’m not the guy to be able to parse that rat’s nest. Basically I think we went in with the Brits because it was the Germans who first crossed a border and went on the attack.

    No, we didn’t really care about that.

    However one wants to apportion blame for the run-up, it was the Germans who invaded Belgium and France, not the other way around.

    While it was Germany who invaded Belgium first, France would have invaded Germany had it been able to.

    No, the real reason we sided with the Allies rather than the Entente was (i) money and trade issues and (ii) the German U-Boat campaign, particularly the sinking of the Lusitania.

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  63. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It was never “impossible” which is what the anti-war Left would have us believe. It was just impossible given that we are not Mongols or even 1940′s era Americans.

    But there are real world counter-examples we must take into account. Perhaps we didn’t “win” in Afghanistan because we weren’t savage enough in our prosecution of the war, but the Soviets didn’t have that problem. They fought for nine years, including the last five in which it was policy to shoot anything that moved and still they lost. Maybe if they’d nuked the entire country into a cinder they could have declared victory, but that wasn’t an issue of will so much as a political impossibility given the Chinese and U.S. ICMBs pointed at their head.

    The Chinese repeatedly “subdued” Vietnam through the centuries only to find the region blowing up in their faces no matter how harsh they were. Culture and geography play a significant role that I think needs to be taken in consideration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  64. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It was never “impossible” which is what the anti-war Left would have us believe. It was just impossible given that we are not Mongols or even 1940′s era Americans.

    So it was impossible, given that precondition you’ve set yourself.

    We can do X if and only if we do Y, but we’ll never do Y, which means…we can’t do X.

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  65. Rafer Janders says:

    @Tony W:

    Largely correct, except your line that “there is not a chance under that scenario that WWII starts” since the war had already started in September 1939 with the invasion of Poland and Britain and France’s subsequent declaration of war. But had Germany not then invaded the USSR and declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor, the US would never ever have gotten involved — nor would it have been able to knock out Nazi Germany on its own (or in alliance with Canada and Great Britain).

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  66. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    We would have had to been as racist, imperial, and xenophobic as the British were in India. We are not that sort of people, thank God.

    Sure we are. We just did it much closer to home, to the Indians, Mexicans, and to African slaves. We don’t think of ourselves as colonizers only because we colonized more successfully.

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  67. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Stonetools:

    It’s easy to conclude in hindsight that the Iraq invasion was unwinnable and a disaster.

    Well, I concluded it in foresight. And I am no genius, just a reasonably intelligent human being with the capability of looking at available facts and seeing bullsh!t. I had a voice that said in a crowded bar, “Fwck Bush.” on that night, and when somebody much taller and much wider said, “Who said that? I’m gonna kick their ass!” I jumped up from my table and said,

    “I DID! AND I HAVE 2 SONS WHO COULD END UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS SH!T! WHAT DO YOU HAVE???”

    I was seriously so pi$$ed off I didn’t care anymore. I was sick and tired of having BS shoved down my throat. Is it easy to say I was right then? Sure. But it wasn’t hard at all to say it then either. And for the record, I did not get my ass kicked that night which I most certainly would have if he had decided to push it. But the truth is, it would have been worth it.

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  68. JohnMcC says:

    @Stonetools: Well, just to pick one little piece of that counterfactual, if Saddam still was controlling Iraq, the Iranian contribution to the Syrian rebellion would be very deeply cut — possibly to zero. Since Iraq and Syria, Saddam and Assad were both Baathists (altho not especially friendly because of the Sunni/Shia split) and had common interests it’s possible that the Revolution in Syria would never have gotten a start. That may or may not seem like a good outcome but in any case a terrible foreign policy problem for the U.S. might never have happened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  69. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    Riigh, but it leads to the question of how different an improved Baath party is from a contained Baath party.

    We ended up with neither. We turned 30,000 civil servants, many of whom were decent people who had joined the Baath Party out of necessity, out into the street when we could have gotten them–and their knowledge of the mechanics and bureaucracies of the country–invested in a successful reconstruction. We made them idle and angry instead of putting them to work in the reconstruction. Then, too little too late, we tried to bring them back into an “improved” Baath party, but it was a hapless effort and doomed to failure.

    There were many errors in the aftermath of the invasion, but de-Baathification was one of the most ill-advised and damaging.

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  70. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    After the first big error, of fighting a war we clearly did not need, then yes, a secondary error was de-Baathification.

    But really the Downing Street Memos and the story of the UN inspectors tell the tragic arc to war.

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  71. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Seriously? We with the black President have made no progress?

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  72. john personna says:

    @this:

    Dear Idiot Down-voter, every culture in the world has had past evils. To paint them all (us all) as therefore equally evil today .. actually discards moral argument.

    It matters not what we do under such a framework, because some other assholes, 100 years earlier, did worse.

    It is a bit more sophisticated to think about what we all do today, and how it will impact those around us.

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  73. john personna says:

    @this:

    lolz, I actually enjoyed the first down-vote. It teed up the ball for me.

    But this one is only sad.

    What, you don’t want “to think about what we all do today, and how it will impact those around us?”

    Poor you.

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  74. john personna says:

    We all, actually, make our moral choices in the present.

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  75. john personna says:

    And … The Golden Rule is down by 2.

    You guys are amazing.

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  76. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    Sure we’ve made progress…but so have the British. It seems a bit odd to laud Americans in 2003 as being morally superior to the British in 1853, without noting that:

    (a) Americans in 1853 were as racist, imperialist and xenophobic as the British of 1853, in fact in many cases even more so, and;

    (b) the British of 2003 progressed to be largely less racist, imperialist and xenophobic than the Americans of 2003.

    Rather than the comparison you made, I think the fairer statement could have been “We would have had to have been as racist, imperial, and xenophobic as we used to be in the 19th century. We are no longer that sort of people, thank God.” Why knock someone else for our own sins?

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  77. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Why would you possibly think “but so have the British” is a rebuttal to me?

    Rather than the comparison you made, I think the fairer statement could have been “We would have had to have been as racist, imperial, and xenophobic as we used to be in the 19th century. We are no longer that sort of people, thank God.” Why knock someone else for our own sins?

    That’s a rather artificial distinction, and it misses that what we did in the continental US was not actually colonialism, in the true meaning of the word:

    Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous population.

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  78. john personna says:

    (The European nations set up many colonies in the New World, but as soon as they revolted, each of them, they were not colonies anymore.)

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  79. john personna says:

    I mean, you don’t think the US was proposing mass migration and conversion of Iraq to a new US territory, do you?

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  80. john personna says:

    Note: the reason I mentioned Cuba and the Philippines above was that they show where the US decided explicitly not to become a colonial power.

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  81. john personna says:

    Put it this way, in a true colonial situation, the home population never intends to move, to occupy the subjugated lands. They just want to own, control them, from afar.

    THAT is why Britain/India was an appropriate parallel to Neocon/Iraq.

    The Neocons didn’t want to move into Iraq and call it home, make it a new US State.

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  82. john personna says:

    @this:

    I guess, Idiot Down-voter that if I’d figured out earlier what hair Rafer wanted to split, I would have handled it differently.

    I certainly didn’t want to be hard on him, but I see no reason to apologize for the British in India example, which seems a prime fit for the Neocon vision in Iraq.

    Looking back I was a bit harsh on the (needless) digression to US subjugation of internal populations.

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  83. john personna says:

    @this:

    The Teller Amendment was an amendment to a joint resolution of the United States Congress, enacted on April 20, 1898, in reply to President William McKinley’s War Message. It placed a condition on the United States military’s presence in Cuba. According to the clause, the U.S. could not annex Cuba but only leave “control of the island to its people.”

    What I said about rejecting colonialism in the true meaning of the word.

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