Uncle Sam’s Losing Streak

A tendency to expand objectives mid-fight has seen America fail in its last four major wars.

uncle-sam-statue-liberty

My latest for The National Interest, “Washington’s Losing Streak,” has posted.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq on March 20, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that it has been nearly seventy years since America’s last successful major war.

On August 15, 1945, known as Victory Over Japan Day or V-J Day, the Japanese unconditionally surrendered, marking the end of the Second World War and establishing the United States as a superpower. Since that day, the United States has lost three major wars—Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq—and is counting down the months until its loss in Afghanistan.

The piece discusses common strategic deficits in all four conflicts and concludes:

The bottom line in all four cases, then, was that American war aims were unachievable given the available resources. It’s arguable that, in all but Vietnam, we achieved our realistic objectives quickly and at little cost—and then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by moving the goalposts.

 

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Next up…Iran.
    That’ll make five.

  2. Pharoah Narim says:

    You assume the objective was to win James. The objective was to either expand business access and/or spend truckloads of taxpayer money with the military industrial complex.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Too bad more politicains cannot remember to apply the Powell Doctrine to every military adventure. It would have a massive amount of money and many lives if the politicians would learn to focus of defining the end goal first and the commit overwhelming resources to achieving that goal.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Hard to describe Korea as a “loss.” Unless a tie = a loss. And South Korea even today is not occupied by the North and is a vibrant and successful democracy with a 1st world economy to boot. A major trading partner of ours. Not that details matter to academics. But it’s still a significant cost in manpower and money. And of course the North still is a pariah state and the world’s asshole. Or one of the world’s assholes.

    Perhaps Truman should have went with the MacArthur plan?

    Vietnam of course was a historical fiasco. A loss in every sense of the word. That’s also when the country on various levels started shifting to idiot leftism (BIRM). Not coincidental.

    The first Gulf War apparently has been airbrushed from history. Apparently it wasn’t a major conflict. Or it didn’t fit the narrative. Or whatever.

    The most recent Gulf War was the victim of insufficient ruthlessness, a hostile media, a dumbed down populace, airheaded academia and a retarded political class. IOW it was Vietnam lite.

    On a related topic, the country truly began jumping the shark tank in the mid-1960’s. The “war on poverty.” The Hippie generation. Rank leftism in the media and on college and university campuses. Overall since then we’ve been in severe decline, domestically and outside of our borders. Economically. Fiscally. Again, that’s not coincidental. There have been some bright spots here and there. But the overall trend is unmistakable. When leftism as policy takes root the long-term effects are catastrophic. People in Cyprus as we speak are learning that lesson, the hard way. And we’ve devolved into Europe West with higher crime rates. No bueno.

  5. Tony W says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Vietnam of course was a historical fiasco. A loss in every sense of the word. That’s also when the country on various levels started shifting to idiot leftism (BIRM). Not coincidental.

    Would that shift to the left have been under the Nixon or the Ford administration?

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @superdestroyer: Too bad Powell didn’t insist on applying the Powell doctrine to Iraq II.

    James – we did win Iraq I. An exception that proves the rule. We set out to drive Saddam out of Kuwait. We did. And we quit without widening the war into a drive on Baghdad to topple Saddam.

    In The Generals Thomas Ricks heavily criticizes Schwartzkopf. Claims the four day victory caught everyone flat footed and that Schwartzkopf was freelancing when he negotiated and accepted the quick Iraqi surrender. Apparently some in the administration did want to widen the war, and Ricks seems to feel they should have. I don’t know how true this is.

  7. Tony W says:

    @gVOR08: We won Iraq I, then squandered it into a loss by going back in and exacting revenge for “Daddy”. We have proven adept time and again at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

  8. Mikey says:

    @gVOR08:

    James – we did win Iraq I. An exception that proves the rule. We set out to drive Saddam out of Kuwait. We did. And we quit without widening the war into a drive on Baghdad to topple Saddam.

    Indeed, we won that conflict specifically because when we had met our stated objective, we stopped.

    Although I’ll tell you, those of us sitting in the desert northwest of Basra were all itching to make a hard left turn and head north. Thank goodness nobody listened to us.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: A week or two ago, in a thread on Juan Williams plagiarism, you joked about getting someone else to write your comments. There are days we think there are two of you, writing comments independently. I swear there had to be two of you writing this comment.

    You’re quite right about Korea. Our goal was to prevent a takeover of the South, and eventually we did. And yes, the blossoming of South Korea is vindication.

    On Vietnam, you have the causality wrong. The hippies didn’t cause Vietnam, Vietnam caused the hippies. When your government and the nation’s establishment are clearly insane, some reaction is inevitable.

    We crossed comments on Iraq I. Yes, we won. In that comment I mentioned Rick’s The Generals. He talks of the dependence of some division commanders on the three Fs; Firepower, Fear, and Force Protection. I’d be hard put to come up with a better policy for losing a counter-insurgency.

    And then you go off into hippie punching. This explains a lot. Thank you. The election of Reagan heralded a conservative ascendency. Conservative Republicans were largely in charge during your “severe decline”. Perhaps the moral decline had more to do with “Greed is good”. And Cyprus was apparently a model of fiscal probity until their oversized banking system went south.

  10. Boyd says:

    But Nick’s question truly does deserve an answer. If the Korean war counts as a loss, how can Iraq I not count as a win, James? It certainly reads like you started with your “70 year” conclusion, then crafted your analysis to fit it.

  11. Jay Dubbs says:

    I think you have to put both Iraq (the Original) and Korea in the win column. (Or at least the Not Lost column.)

    And I hate to even mention it, because it is hard to define, but we seemed to come out ok in that Cold War we fought.

  12. Rob in CT says:

    I’d say Iraq I was a win, Korea looks to me like a draw (albeit one where a draw was snatched from the jaws of victory, so to speak), and Vietnam, Afghantistan and Iraq II are losses.

  13. Murray says:

    IMO Iraq added an new factor to the moving goalposts problem. That of unprovoked intervention. Vietnam, Korea and Afghanistan were at least responses to an attack, whereas in Iraq we invented a cause for the conflict. I sure hope it’s not a new trend.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: I discuss why each was a loss in the piece.

    @Tsar Nicholas: @gVOR08: Yes, as I note in the piece, we won the first Gulf War. It wasn’t a major war by any reasonable standard.

    @Boyd: Read the piece.

    @Jay Dubbs: I also discuss the Cold War in the piece. It wasn’t a war–that’s why we call it the Cold War; the adjective negates the noun.

  15. Mikey says:

    James, your statement here raises a question for me:

    And, yes, we won the first Gulf War. But, despite the perception at the time—and I say this as one who participated in the conflict as an Army officer—it was by not a major war in any meaningful sense. The whole conflict lasted less than seven months and the actual fighting took six weeks; the ground war famously lasted precisely 100 hours, with the last several taking place after a cease-fire went into effect. The U.S.-led coalition lost 482 personnel; of those, only 190 were killed by enemy action.

    The question being, what defines a “major war?” I mean, certainly the Gulf War was of brief duration and coalition forces suffered few casualties, but there were nearly a million of us and 650,000 Iraqis. The bombing campaign ran 100,000 sorties and dropped over 88,000 tons of bombs. The Battle of Medina Ridge was the largest tank battle in history, larger even than Kursk.

    Do we have to lose thousands of troops and be engaged in combat for months or years to define it as a major war?

  16. Barry says:

    James, one of the major reasons that you can get away with calling Iraq I not a major war was precisely because it was limited, for limited objectives, and run competantly. If we had run up that highway to Baghdad, it’d have been a major war (in terms of US casualties), with probably a nasty outcome (because anybody going up that road wouldn’t have cut a quick deal with the locals).

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mikey:

    The question being, what defines a “major war?”

    Let’s put the shoe on the other foot: What defines a turkey shoot?

    I believe it has to do with perspective. Notice that nobody is arguing for Panama or Grenada to be included.

  18. Boyd says:

    @James Joyner: My bad, I didn’t follow the link to your piece, since I assumed you’d covered all the salient points to support your contention in your quotes. I think you buried the lede, but that’s just my opinion.

    Having read it now, I have to agree with Barry’s response. It feels like you’ve got your thumb on the scales.

  19. Rafer Janders says:

    Let’s not forget that even World War II was not the unqualified win most people now remember it as. To begin with, we sat out more than the first two years of the war playing baseball and jitterbugging while the Canadians, Newfoundlanders, British, French, etc. were already fighting and dying. And in the European theatre, about 80% of German casualties overall were inflicted by the Soviets – only about 10% of German combat casualties were due to American fire. We were on the winning side, yes, but we were part of a larger team.

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    Here’s how I’m seeing the record for the last hundred years:

    World War I — on the winning side, but we sat out the first three quarters on the bench, so our role limited to a fourth quarter assist
    World War II — on the winning side, but we sat out the first quarter on the bench, and the Soviets ran up most of the points (in the European theatre)
    Korea War — tie
    Vietnam War — loss
    Gulf War — win
    Iraq War — loss
    Afghanistan War — loss

    Not actually such a great record when you zoom out….

  21. Mikey says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Notice that nobody is arguing for Panama or Grenada to be included.

    True, but the scale was orders of magnitude different. Urgent Fury (Grenada) was about 7,000 troops, Just Cause (Panama) about 16,000. Desert Storm was nearly one million.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: I also didn’t check the full article at the link, and you were there, I wasn’t. But I think I agree with Boyd and Barry. Looking at the Order of Battle on Wiki I see 26 Iraqi divisions plus reserves. Smaller than WW II or Korea, but I think the 100 hour victory proves that we did it right, not that it was minor.

  23. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    And in the European theatre, about 80% of German casualties overall were inflicted by the Soviets – only about 10% of German combat casualties were due to American fire.

    Because the Soviets were pretty horrible. Many Germans displaced to the west to avoid the Soviet advance–they wanted to get to the British and American zones because they knew we’d treat them like people.

    My wife’s grandmother and 10 kids pulled out of eastern Germany ahead of the Soviet advance, and made the trek through Dresden–somehow surviving the firebombing–ending up in Nuremberg. My wife’s grandfather was captured by the Soviets and is buried we know not where. I’ve no doubt if he’d been captured by the Americans instead, he’d have died of old age.

  24. C. Clavin says:

    A tweet from Rumsfeld today:

    “…10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation…”

    I thought the invasion was about ridding the world of the Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam had been amassing.
    The central problem with Iraq was that it was a war without a reason.
    Forget end goals or resource commitment or moving goalposts.
    THERE WAS NO REASON TO DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.
    You cannot win a war you shouldn’t even be in.
    We would have won if someone had convinced Rove and Cheney to not do it.
    Bush…well George could never say no to Dick.

  25. Boyd says:

    From gVOR08:

    …I think the 100 hour victory proves that we did it right, not that it was minor.

    ^^ This. ^^

  26. rudderpedals says:

    If you’re ever inclined to do so James I’d be interested in your take on what drives the goalpost resets in the failures vs what protected the goalposts from the resets in the wins.

    Is it contingency? An earlier commenter noted Schwartzkopf’s allegedly unauthorized negotiations preserved the original goal and win. In the Korea example MacArthur decided to exploit the win and drive all the way to the Yalu. But for these two individuals the results might have been reversed.

    Good read.

  27. patriot says:

    War is a racket- General Smedley Butler Google it. Government conducts war not to spread freedom but to spread influence and fear. Our’s is criminal in their pursuit of war profits. We have not been involved in a JUST war since 1776.

  28. Mikey says:

    @patriot:

    We have not been involved in a JUST war since 1776.

    Yeah, because the Nazis were such stand-up guys, it wasn’t JUST to keep them from taking over Europe.

  29. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    Because the Soviets were pretty horrible.

    No, that doesn’t make any sense. I’m talking about combat casualties, not civilian casualties. 80% of all Wehrmacht and SS battlefield casualties in WWII were on the Russian front. For every one German soldier killed by an American, eight were killed by the Red Army. That illustrates the relatively small part the US military played in degrading the German war machine

    And as to your other point, I’m German as well — but let’s not forget that while the Soviets were horrible, the Germans were equally horrible to the Soviet civilians and POWs, and it was the Germans who, after all, began the invasion. If you were a Red Army soldier captured by the Germans, you were as good as dead — and that’s not even to mention all the Jews and other Soviet civilians massacred and murdered by the German military. It was atrocity on all sides.

  30. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    Yeah, because the Nazis were such stand-up guys, it wasn’t JUST to keep them from taking over Europe.

    Though that’s not why we fought WWII. We fought because the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and then Hitler declared war on the US. If we’d actually been concerned about Nazis taking over Europe, why did we sit out for over two years while the French, British, Canadians and Newfoundlanders were fighting Germany? Had it not been for the UK holding on, the Nazis actually would have taken over Europe and we wouldn’t have done much to stop it.

    Remember, the war started in September 1939, and we didn’t get into sea and air combat action against the Germans until 1942, and ground combat until 1943.

  31. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: You are, of course, entirely correct. My comment wasn’t meant to be a paragon of historical accuracy, but rather to point out the idiocy of the comment to which I was responding.

  32. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: True, didn’t the Soviets lose about 20,000,000 when all was said and done?

  33. stonetools says:

    I do think James has sort of defined his terms in a way that supports
    his thesis. The big post WW2 conflict was the Cold War (1946-1991) . The US and the West won that.
    Indeed, it could be argued that Korea and Vietnam-and Cuba and the
    various proxy wars in the Third World-were episodes in the greater
    conflict.
    Korea may be seen tactically as a draw. From the POV of long term
    strategy, though, it has to be considered a win. North Korea is a failed
    pariah state, whereas a South Korea is a thriving, modern democracy.
    That counts for more that the geographical circumstance of a still divided country. Eventually, too, the peninsula will likely be united and on South Korea’s terms.
    Vietnam is unquestionably a loss in tactical terms, but again, long term, Vietnam today is an authoritorian regime trying to become a
    modern capitalist economy. Had we taken the long view in 1954 or
    1963, we would likely have ended up in the same place.
    The Gulf War was a resounding tactical victory. Looked at
    strategically, though, it wasn’t victory since we had to pursue ” war
    by other means” -sanctions and no fly zones- to prevent Saddam’s
    resurgence. Had we simply left in 1991, Saddam may be still menacing
    Kuwait and Saudi Arabia today.
    The thing about Afghanistan is that usual Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan-its about Afghanistan’s neighbor-India in 19th century, Pakistan nowadays. And Pakistan really does matter. Strategically, one reason we are in Afghanistan is to prevent a jihadist takeover of Pakistan. We have installed a fragile, pro American regime in Afghanistan. It may be worth it to support the regime just to keep the jihadists from overrunning Pakistan.
    Now this isn’t unconditional surrender,rah-rah VICTORY, but historically, there are very few situations where you get that. Most of our wars going forward are going to have to be limited conflicts with uncertain long term payoffs. For a lot of folks, liberal and conservative, that’s distasteful. We yearn for the purity of WW2, the big decisive land battle, the flag flying over the capitol city, and the quick withdrawal. But most of our wars aren’t like that, and will never be like that.

  34. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: @Barry: @Boyd: I have no interest in downgrading the significance of the Gulf War, which I served in. But it’s obvious to me that it’s well below the thresholds of the world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

    Yes, it was fought competently. And, yes, the goals were limited. But a limited war against a vastly inferior competitor that’s over in short order is almost by definition not a major war.

    @Rafer Janders: But WWII was a total war and we achieved our objective—the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan—absolutely.

    @rudderpedals: I think Americans don’t like limited wars. If things are going well, we want to “go all the way” and achieve “real victory.” So, pushing the Communists back across the 38th parallel quickly led to “Hey, let’s just run the yellow bastards back across the Yalu.”

    In Iraq and Afghanistan, the goalposts were always murky. In both cases, regime change and punishment for transgressions were the proximate goals. We achieved those easily. But there was also a messianic “let’s turn them into shining cities on a hill” objective, too.

    The ghost of WWII hangs over us, I think. It was “The Good War.” We achieved total victory and then turned the countries into permanent allies. We’ve been trying to repeat that ever since but without anything like the resources.

  35. Moosebreath says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “I’m talking about combat casualties, not civilian casualties. 80% of all Wehrmacht and SS battlefield casualties in WWII were on the Russian front. For every one German soldier killed by an American, eight were killed by the Red Army. That illustrates the relatively small part the US military played in degrading the German war machine”

    On the other hand, it was a _World_ war, and the percentage of Japanese and Italian casualties killed by the Russians was far lower. Not diminishing the part the Russians played, but the US and British forces played a smaller role against the Germans in part because they were fighting elsewhere on the globe.

  36. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner:

    But a limited war against a vastly inferior competitor that’s over in short order is almost by definition not a major war.

    That was the initial situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq (2003). They could have been just as non-major as Desert Storm.

    But, then, I’m just making your point–the initial conflicts were resolved quickly, and it was only after the goalpost-moving (and awful lack of planning for post-invasion Iraq) that things went sideways and we ended up in major wars.

  37. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: @Barry: @Boyd: Indeed, I think part of the problem here is that I’m defining winning and losing in Clausewitzian terms. Harry Summers’ famous exchange, included in the piece, that America won every battle in Vietnam but that this is irrelevant, is telling. We fight wars to achieve political ends. We didn’t achieve them in any of the four wars in question.

  38. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: Exactly. He we simply changed regimes and gone back home, we’d look back at Afghanistan and Iraq about the same way we do Desert Storm.

  39. Rafer Janders says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Not diminishing the part the Russians played, but the US and British forces played a smaller role against the Germans in part because they were fighting elsewhere on the globe.

    Actually, most British forces were fighting in the European and not Asian theatre. And re the US, we had a policy of “Germany first” — we’d concentrate most of our force on winning the war in Europe first and then divert those troops to the Pacific. This was in part because we assumed we’d have to have a lot more soldiers and marines to invade the Japanese home islands, which thanks to the atomic bomb later became unnecessary.

  40. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    Exactly. He we simply changed regimes and gone back home, we’d look back at Afghanistan and Iraq about the same way we do Desert Storm

    Well I don’t know. you would have to game it out.
    AFGHANISTAN

    We install a regime in 2002, then withdraw. The Taliban overthrow the regime, and Al-Queda returns to Afghanistan by 2005. Would we be happy with that result? What if jihadist forces, with bases in Afghanistan, do much better in Pakistan after that?
    These aren’t unreasonable possibilities. Indeed, they are live possibilities today. The plain fact is that there is realist reasons for not withdrawing from Afghanistan as well. Its not all just “we’re wishing for shining cities.”

  41. Moosebreath says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I think we are talking past each other. Your comments read as if the US barely had a role in WWII, as the Russians killed 8 times as many German soldiers as we did. While the German casualties were roughly 2/3 of the Axis casualties, you are acting as if they are the whole of them.

  42. john personna says:

    I’m more or less fine with James’ score keeping. I think Iraq I was a major war, but no big.

    I think the main thing though is not to ignore the singular failure and cost of the Iraq II adventure.

    That war was different than other recent examples. It had less rational or moral foundation. It was “sexed up” and sold to the American public, and at great costs. You have to go back to Vietnam to find something similar. There, the cold war was real, but the hot Vietnam war was an unnecessary extension to it. (sold by Tonkin, etc.)

    Afghanistan had a rational and moral foundation, that we couldn’t let a nation state protect a terrorist without suffering the consequences. It just failed in mission definition. We should have made it about getting Bin Laden and anyone who publicly shielded him.

  43. gVOR08 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    If we’d actually been concerned about Nazis taking over Europe, why did we sit out for over two years

    FDR knew he couldn’t take the country to war until the country was ready to go to war, which we weren’t on Dec 6, 1941. Prior to that, he did a lot, quietly, including Lend-Lease and U Boat patrols in the Atlantic.

  44. Mikey says:

    @gVOR08: The Flying Tigers, too, were organized and trained prior to U. S. entry into the war, although they didn’t see actual combat until late December 1941.

  45. anjin-san says:

    Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq were all wins. They kept the endless river of cash flowing to defense contractors.

  46. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mikey:

    True, but the scale was orders of magnitude different.

    I agree, but that makes my point more valid. The orders of magnitude between the Gulf War and the Iraq war… I think what happened from 2003 to 2010 (?) pretty much dwarfs what happened in the spring of ’91. (and yes I deliberately leave out Desert Shield. It was a part of the run up to Desert Storm, but I find it hard to call sitting in the desert for 6 months polishing weapons “war”)

  47. Dave Schuler says:

    IMO the underlying issue since the end of the Second World War has been the absence of a predisposition against war. War is only justified as a last resort. When it’s a last resort you don’t run into the problem of changing objectives midway or loss of political will.

    In all four of those cases we shouldn’t have gone to war at all. If it’s argued (as it was in the case of at least two of the wars) that our treaty obligations required us to go to war under circumstances in which war was not a last resort, we need to re-think our treaty obligations.

  48. Mikey says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: See my response to James. I think we could split Iraq (2003) into two distinct parts–first being the invasion, capture of Baghdad, and ouster of the Hussein regime, and the second the horrendously bungled occupation.

    In the initial deployment of personnel, the Gulf War was nearly eight times larger, but what it didn’t have was the inclusion of successive “generations” of troops. It was a one-and-done, and if you weren’t already in an operational unit when the thing kicked off, you weren’t going. Iraq 2003 (and Afghanistan) were different, of course, because of their length. Kids who were in middle school when it started ended up serving in it.

    For my eight-year-old son, we have never not been at war in Afghanistan.

  49. Scott says:

    It is clear that the wars we did the worst in (Vietnam, Iraq) were those that were ideologically driven, not security or threat driven. Vietnam was sold on the Domino Theory to stop the spread of communism when it was really interferring in a nationalistic movement morphing intoa civil war. Iraq was driven by a vision of spreading democracy and a concept called preemption.

    When we got into a threat driven war (WWII, Gulf War I), then we stopped when we were successful in taking care of the threat. Korea and Aghanistan were somewhat between ideology and threat driven and the results were mixed.

  50. michael reynolds says:

    First, almost as an aside, I get very frustrated with arguments that devolve into attempts to find single rationales for wars. There is never a single rationale for anything. Humans are complicated, we make decisions based on multiple criteria.

    WW2 was an anomaly — total victory, total defeat, no doubt as to who won or lost. Wars before WW2 — 1812, Spanish-American with subsequent occupations, WW1 — were more ambiguous. The Civil War is a different animal. 1776 we won, if by “we” you mean the French. Mexican-American we won, although in the process we hastened the arrival of the Civil War.

    In Iraq and Afghanistan we didn’t lose the fighting, we lost the peacemaking. We no longer have the will or the skills or the brutality to occupy another nation. Did we in the past? Sure: Indian territory, California and Texas, the Confederacy arguably, Japan and Germany and Italy and Austria.

    What we’ve done well is punitive expeditions where we pop in, kill some people, knock off a regime and go home. Granada, Panama, Gulf 1, Libya.

    What’s interesting to me is that have essentially unlimited ability to topple or severely punish regimes. For example, we could have knocked out the Taliban, left, and informed them that if they crossed certain lines we’d be back. That reduces the danger to us while maximizing the threat to our foes. Why don’t we use that approach more often? We are the undisputed champions of the world at bringing massive firepower to bear. We can inflict astonishing losses while suffering nothing.

    I think we have a philosophical and political objection to that. We insist on trying to fix things, when what we really need to do is generally stop someone from attacking us, or influence them to cease a particular behavior.

    Take Iran. Can we blow the sh!t out of Iran? No question. Can we occupy it? God forbid. We can destroy the Iranian nuclear program. We can sink their navy, close their ports and oil facilities, denude their military, cripple their industry and economy and we can do it without losing a man. Can they rebuild? Sure. But would they if it were clear that we’d be back?

    To turn the famous Colin Powell remark around a bit, we can just break it, we don’t have to buy it. It would be the strategic equivalent of the drone war, or God’s wrath: death from the sky. You want it to stop? Then behave yourself. Libya would be an example.

    Obviously this isn’t some magic cure-all. The next Libyan or Afghan or whatever regime may also decide to start trouble. In which case we topple them. We could topple regimes from now until the next century at minimal risk. In theory at least this would result in our being somewhat disliked, but would also mean weren’t trapped in these decade long fiascos.

    We could resemble the caged lion. Peaceful, even sleepy. Unless you poke us and then it’s going to cost you an arm. Poke us with the other arm, we take that one, too.

  51. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There is never a single rationale for anything.

    It’s obviously been a while since you were a teenaged boy.

  52. C. Clavin says:

    @ Michael Reynolds…

    “….There is never a single rationale for anything….”

    Well you are certainly right about that, Ollie…there wasn’t a single valid rationale for our actions in Iraq.

  53. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I get very frustrated with arguments that devolve into attempts to find single rationales for wars. There is never a single rationale for anything. Humans are complicated, we make decisions based on multiple criteria.

    I agree that there are often multiple causes and motivations for wars. Sometimes, they evolve during the war based on the facts on the ground. But, ultimately, they’re fought to achieve political objectives and we either achieve those or not.

    In the case of the American Revolution, it was in some ways a reverse Vietnam: The superior fighting force lost because it couldn’t match the will of the inferior force–largely because it had more important interests elsewhere. So, the inferior force, the self-declared United States, achieved its political objectives: independence.

    In the Civil War, the Confederacy failed to achieve independence and the North preserved the union. They also achieved their shifted war aim of ending slavery. We can argue as to whether it was worth half a million dead to get there, but not as to who won.

    Yes, WWII is a historical anomaly that Americans somehow think should be the norm.

    As noted in the piece, we achieved our immediate war aim in Korea, then radically expanded it, and spent almost three years dying to achieve our immediate war aim. I don’t see how you score that as other than a loss. It’s arguable the same is true for Iraq and Afghanistan, although it’s more likely true that the wild-eyed mission goals were always part of the plan.

    Vietnam was simply unwinnable given the constraints.

  54. Rafer Janders says:

    @gVOR08:

    FDR knew he couldn’t take the country to war until the country was ready to go to war, which we weren’t on Dec 6, 1941.

    Right, which means, as I said, that we did not actually care about the Nazis taking over Europe. Saying the country was not ready to go to war makes my point for me. Our neighbors Canada and Newfoundland (which was at the time a separate country) declared war September 1939, remember.

    Yes yes, Lend-Lease, blah blah, but ultimately, we didn’t care enough to go to war to stop it, and we would have gone on not caring until the war was over, had Japan not hit Pearl Harbor and had Hitler not then declared war on us.

  55. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    The Flying Tigers were about 100 guys total. Good for them for going, but it was a fairly insignificant effort and in no way makes the point that the US as a country was ready to fight to stop fascism until it was itself attacked.

  56. Ben Wolf says:

    Difficult to argue the first Gulf War was a success by any standard, as hostilities resumed almost immediately following the conclusion and continued for a decade as we maintained a massive presence in the Persian Gulf to contain Iraq, followed by an invasion. We have a track record of failing to understand war is waged in pursuit of political objectives and requiring a strategy intended to achieve them.

    @ Michael Reynolds,

    With all due respect there’s little to no evidence suggesting our problem is insufficient brutality. We showed no respect for life during the Vietnam War and killed three million Vietnamese. The Soviets shot anything that moved in Afghanistan, with no press or international human rights observes to make trouble for them. The Japanese piled up mountains of Chinese corpses in the 1930’s and 1940’s and couldn’t defeat the resistance. Nor could the Nazis defeat the Maquis. China spent centuries attempting to subdue the Vietnamese without success; can anyone honestly claim these nations and their armies weren’t brutal enough?

  57. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    In Iraq and Afghanistan we didn’t lose the fighting, we lost the peacemaking. We no longer have the will or the skills or the brutality to occupy another nation. Did we in the past? Sure: Indian territory, California and Texas, the Confederacy arguably, Japan and Germany and Italy and Austria.

    This misses the single biggest lesson of Iraq, and the one that drives decisions in Libya and Syria … that there is a great deal of difference between conquering a cohesive and functional nation-state, as opposed to one verging on disorder, kept in line only by force and oppression.

    We are not in Libya now, and don’t want to set foot in Syria for reasons internal to those countries. It is not very much about our “will,” and now we understand that.

  58. anjin-san says:

    death from the sky

    This was how, in large part, we achieved post-combat success in WW2. We bombed Germany & Japan until their societies became malleable – they were willing to do anything to make it stop, including change. This set the table for successful occupations, the Marshall Plan, & MacArthur’s success as the “Viceroy” of Japan.

    On the other had, we dropped insane amounts of bombs in the Vietnam war and did not break the will of our opponents. The fact that North Vietnam wass not an advanced nation with lots of juicy urban targes probably had a lot to do with that.

  59. Murray says:

    @michael reynolds: Although I understand your reasoning I am surprised by the overall tone of this comment. In particular regarding Iran.

    I am really not convinced we would militarily crush that country without losing a man and more importantly … why would we? Are we entitled to just go in and blast the hell out of a place because we are America? (Any suggestion that we would neutralize Iran’s military capabilities without inflicting massive civilian casualties is hogwash.)

    Besides, even if we did neutralize conventional forces, special ops targeted against civilians in this country would be the obvious and perfectly achievable response. What do you think would be the reaction of the American populace when faced with weekly terrorist attacks (a store blowing up in New York at rush hour one week, a cruiser sinking off the coast of Florida the next, a blast during a college basketball game in LA the next, etc etc etc), an experience we only had to face … once?

    The notion that we somehow have the capability, let alone the legitimacy, to inflict pain without having to face the consequences is what got us in the Iraq mess. Seems to me the lesson hasn’t really sunk in.

  60. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf: @john personna:

    The argument that brutality would not have succeeded in Iraq runs up against the fact that it was working quite well when the “occupier” was Saddam. It worked reasonably well when the party in question was the Taliban.

    Of course both had domestic support as well, but so could we have. (In fact, we did, we just didn’t know how to leverage it.) In Iraq we had the Kurds and we could probably have swayed the Sunnis who feared a Shia take-over. We disbanded the army that had held the country together and between that and our criminal undermanning of our own forces we created a power vacuum into which militias and Al Qaeda flowed.

    Most of the square footage of this planet is “occupied” if you extend history back far enough, including all of our own country. I’m not saying occupations always work, but neither do they always fail. We were not inevitably destined to fail, we left the door to failure open. We could have sent half a million occupation troops into Iraq, split the country into administrative districts with the implicit threat that these could be made into permanent divisions (dismember the country) and begun to fund trade unions, guilds, moderate mosques, tribes, all the levers of power. We could have warned the Iranians that we would retaliate directly if they sent so much as a single agent across the border. We could have appropriated the oil industry and paid the proceeds out only to the co-operative.

    A lot of things we could have done. Would it have worked? Who knows. But I reject as facile and a-historical the idea that under no circumstances could we have successfully occupied Iraq.

  61. michael reynolds says:

    @Murray:

    why would we?

    That’s a different question. There’s what can be done and there’s what should be done. We could rain nuclear weapons down on Iran and be done with them permanently. We shouldn’t, let me say clearly, but we could.

    But the fact that people conflate the two is telling to me. I like to start with knowing all the possibilities and then apply the filters of reason and even morality.

  62. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I am not sure where you want to go with that. Saddam was brutal, and there until (someone, turned out to be us) dragged him out.

    What are you suggesting now, that we stay forever, or that we stick in a Saddam clone and then leave?

    A Saddam clone would be good how? He’d be “ours” just like Saddam was and Karzai is?

    Not seeing much “win.”

  63. john personna says:

    (Again, and I think this is the real 10 year anniversary lesson, the big win was never to go.)

  64. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: No, we can’t and that’s the point. Other nations would be forced to band together and put us down like the mad dogs we’d become if we used nukes just because the locals got uppity. We do not have total freedom of action, not in the modern world, not like nations had prior to it.

  65. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I’m not suggesting a course of action, I’m discussing potentialities, not making recommendations.

    However, as a practical matter, it wouldn’t be the first time we installed “our” SOB in lieu of “their” SOB. But in any case, that’s just one scenario. Another scenario is that we occupy directly with a MacArthur: dictate terms, pay bribes, subvert, manipulate, repress and eventually create facts on the ground more favorable to stability.

  66. Murray says:

    @michael reynolds: “That’s a different question” Well it is … THE question (i.e. what’s the goal). At least to me.

  67. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Oh, please. What other nations? For more than a thousand years various other nations tried to put the Romans down. It didn’t work. Everyone tried to put the Mongols down, and in the end the Mongols had to defeat themselves. Even the far more benign British Empire wasn’t “put down” so much as emulated by competing great powers. When the empire expired it was more a matter of economic changes than of their being put down by other nations.

    I don’t think Americans like it much (I don’t) but the truth is that the heroic resister is more myth than reality. Most of human history is the record of brutal regimes controlling people who didn’t much wish to be controlled. Brutality works. Rule by the consent of the governed is a recent innovation in historical terms, the norm has been Big Mean SOB with a Big Mean Army dictates the rules and people obey them.

  68. Ben Wolf says:

    Also@michael reynolds: Sadam maintained his regime with the willing cooperation of his people. Not all of them, likely not more than a minority, but enough in numbers and in key positions, with enough distrust of each other and other religious sects/ethnicities that he could exploit and play against each other. Americans are too stupid, arrogant and culturally ignorant to ever replicate such a feat. The Iraqis overwhelmingly hated us and wanted us out, even our supposed “allies”.

    And we tried the brutality card there. The reports have been coming out over the last two weeks we used the same brutal tactics of torture and death squads that we used in South America, where we helped murder 50,000 Guatemalans in the 1980’s. We’re the ones who made over 100,000 Iraqis get dead, with no discernible effect other than to inflame resistance against us.

  69. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    That’s just not true. First of all, if you think we were being brutal I refer you to the entire history of the human race. You want brutal? The Mongols killed between 30 and 50 million people. With swords and arrows alone. They had a lovely trick where they would take a city, kill everyone, leave, wait for a week or tow until the few survivors emerged, then return and kill them.

    Second, I refer you to polls of the Iraqi people. 60% of Kurds, 29% of Shia and 15% of Sunni Iraqis feel their country is better off as a result of our invasion. Our “popularity” with even the Sunni is higher than Congress’ popularity with American voters. This despite the incompetence of our effort there.

  70. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mikey:

    See my response to James. I think we could split Iraq (2003) into two distinct parts–first being the invasion, capture of Baghdad, and ouster of the Hussein regime, and the second the horrendously bungled occupation.

    I am sorry Mikey, but once you deposed Saddam, you were responsible for the occupation of Iraq. Or as Colin Powell once said, “You broke it? You own it.”

    In other words, you can not divorce the 2.

  71. Jib says:

    Good article James.

    I do think you are wrong on Korea. Once the war became internationalized, it was going to take a lot of fighting before everyone was ready to give up and call it a day. When we intervened, it internationalized the war but if we had not done that, there would not be any South Korea today.

    I think if we had stopped at the 38th going North originally, the NK would not have stop fighting. They were not ready to call it off. China and USSR would have poured in resources into NK who would have keep right on fighting. No matter what, it would have taken years of hard fighting before a cease fire could be signed.

    We would have avoided Chosin and the big bug out and that would have been very good. But that is a failed campaign which is quite a bit different than a failed war.

  72. michael reynolds says:

    One last point for my friends on the left. If you do not believe that occupations can ever work, or that brutality is ever effective, how do you explain the fact that a bunch of Celts, Saxons, Franks, Teutons and assorted other European tribes now control North America? Did we get it as a Christmas present?

  73. michael reynolds says:

    Not to mention Hawaii, an actual independent nation-state run by Hawaiian kings. How’s that occupation going?

  74. anjin-san says:

    China and USSR would have poured in resources into NK who would have keep right on fighting.

    The NK army was no match for ours, with or without outside support, and China was prepared to throw NK under the bus – but they did not want our army approaching their border. They sent backchannel diplomatic messages that we needed to put on the breaks 100 miles out from their border, and we ignored them. The rest is history.

  75. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Somehow michael started out as a voice of compassion and reason, and ended up as the guy handing out smallpox blankets. wtf.

  76. Pharoah Narim says:

    I don’t consider the Gulf War a major war. A major military operation yes–but in a war; both sides, you know, fight? The only combatants in that conflict was the million-person coalition vs Saddam’s Republican Guard. The hundreds of thousands of cannon fodder conscripts deployed to be the Republican Guard’s speed bumps surrendered to anything with a US flag flying on it at the first rifle crack. At least the Americans wouldn’t shoot them like the Republican guard would. Hence–a 100 hour war.

    To zero into the root cause of Iraq’s problems that gave rise to a Saddam character anyway–it all goes back to British colonialism. Iraq is really 3 countries that the British empire jammed into 1 and drew borders around for convenience. Before that it had been 3 Ottoman empire provinces for 400 years with a relatively tame internal history. When Joe Biden suggested splitting Iraq up in a primary debate in ’08–he was shouted down as looney. But people that know history knew that either he or an advisor had actually consulted a history book to develop that policy. Western media accused Saddam of gassing his own people—not from his perspective. These people’s primary identity is sunni, shia, or kurd–they aren’t nationalistic. They’re tribal. Now we’ve installed a puppet democracy that is going to have to become despotic to survive the ethnic unrest between these 3 mini-countries. The shia majority has already made up with their iranian majority cousins to the east. Some win—meet you new boss, same as the old boss (only twice as strong).

  77. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I separate analysis from my own personal preferences. First I want to know the facts, then I think about right and wrong. I think it’s a mistake to try to fit reality to one’s political/philosophical preferences. That’s us moving into our own version of the Fox bubble.

    I think part of the reason that people on the left (my side) don’t want to admit that Iraq was not especially brutal on the American end is that it undercuts the Bush-Cheney as war criminals narrative. I think the torture we carried out and sanctioned was heinous, but I can’t look at our involvement in the light of history and cast us as latter-day Nazis. I’m sorry, but we were not brutal, not by the standards of any number of historical comparisons. Romans would have laughed at us and called us pansies. Our own grandparents would have done the same.

    I suspect people on the left want to use Iraq and Afghanistan as examples that somehow close the book forever on invasions, regime changes, occupations, etc… They want to conclude that, “Well, see? That never, ever works.” But the facts just don’t support that case. The fact is that occupations often work. Regime change often works.

    And as awful as it is, brutality often works. Before we began our humane occupation of Japan we incinerated tens of thousands of Japanese civilians. This wasn’t accidental. We knew there were innocent people in the cities we fire bombed and nuked. We burned children to death by the thousands. It worked. You don’t like it, I don’t like it, but I’m not going to deny facts just because I don’t like them.

    Iraq and Afghanistan are not the wars to end all wars. There will be more wars. There will be more invasions and occupations. I think we need to learn — but not just some politicized moral lesson. I think we need to learn what works and what doesn’t. We need to know what we’re getting into. That requires us to look honestly at the aftermath, without presuppositions, without leaning this way or that, and hope to at least do a better job next time. Because there will be a next time.

    Most of all we need to be able to understand what works so that we can make informed moral choices. When we went into Iraq I wrote that we would be making orphans and widows. I knew that we would burn children. I knew that we would be leaving veterans disfigured and forgotten in VA hospitals. We need to know what we’re talking about, we need to know the truth and accept the truth. Then we make our decisions in full knowledge of what we’re doing.

    Somewhere in Afghanistan or Iraq tonight there’s a child whose body is scarred by burns and injuries we inflicted. He has no father because we killed him. His mother is desperate because we left her alone and without support. It is fwcking awful. It is fwcking despicable. It doesn’t bear thinking about because how can you be a decent human being and allow that to happen? How can you pay for it?

    That’s what we mean when we say we’re going to war. We mean that we are going to kill bad men and good women and helpless children. Knowing that we then decide what we must do.

    For me morality begins with honesty. Complete honesty. That includes a realistic assessment of our own actions, even when the actions were carried out by our political opponents.

  78. michael reynolds says:

    This is what we do in war: Final letter from dying Iraq vet.

    And this: WW2 dead.

    And this: My Lai.

    The reality is sufficient. The facts don’t need to be squeezed into a political narrative. But we also need to remember what our enemies do.

    This: Saddam victim.

    And this: Auschwitz.

    And yes, this: 911 falling man.

    We all wish there could be no more war. But that’s wishing that evil would cease, and I don’t hold out a lot of hope. So, we should understand it. Honesty is the very least we owe the people who are no longere here to engage in academic conversation.

  79. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Hard to describe Korea as a “loss.” Unless a tie = a loss. And South Korea even today is not occupied by the North and is a vibrant and successful democracy with a 1st world economy to boot. A major trading partner of ours. Not that details matter to academics. But it’s still a significant cost in manpower and money. And of course the North still is a pariah state and the world’s asshole. Or one of the world’s assholes.”

    I have to partially agree, while pointing out that this does support the small war theory. The initial objective was achieved; enlarging the war was the failure.

    “Perhaps Truman should have went with the MacArthur plan?”

    And Tsar is back to dumbf*ck.

    “Vietnam of course was a historical fiasco. A loss in every sense of the word. That’s also when the country on various levels started shifting to idiot leftism (BIRM). Not coincidental. ”

    And plunges deeper into the dumbf*ck manure lagoon.

  80. Barry says:

    @Mikey: Somebody pointed out that the first Gulf War was not won because it was ‘small’; it was ‘small’ because we won. If we had driven Iraq out of Kuwait at the cost of thousands of American lives, people wouldn’t be calling it ‘small’.

  81. rodney dill says:

    I find myself agreeing with most of michael reynolds comments on this subject.

  82. Barry says:

    @Mikey: “The Battle of Medina Ridge was the largest tank battle in history, larger even than Kursk. ”

    According to Wikipedia, Kursk involved 2,928 tanks on the German side, and 7,996 on the Soviet side.

  83. Mikey says:

    @Barry: You’re correct, I should have said “American history.” And left out Kursk.

    Why did I think Medina Ridge was bigger than Kursk? I have no idea. Probably a mis-information I read years ago that stuck.

  84. grumpy realist says:

    It has been said that in WWII the people we were really pissed at were the Japanese. Supposedly wouldn’t have ended up fighting in Europe had not Hitler obligingly declared war on the US.

    Has anyone written an alternate history on what could have happened had Hitler decided to keep quiet? Interesting gedanken-experiment. I sort of feel that we probably would have ended up going after the Nazis at some point (although there is the argument that Hitler over-extended himself when he attacked Russia.)

    The only clear view I have is that in such a case, it’s quite possible that the first atom bomb would have been dropped on Berlin, not Hiroshima.

  85. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t think one can really make an “abstract argument” that “eggs must be broken to make an omelette.” Period.

    To do so is to accept the devil’s bargain that you will go out and practice avoidable evil to achieve a greater good. You, know the German answer, that while there might be some short term disruption, the world would really be better off as a Reich.

    There is a key difference between that and accepting the lessor of two evils. In the second case loss is unavoidable. Peace is not an option. You are forced to choose what kind of war you want.

  86. john personna says:

    (To apply my moral standard to Iran, you would not go in because you’d just like a different or better Iran, or even because you think Iranians would ultimately be happier as a result of your murders. You’d only do it if you thought peace was not an option, and it was down to what kind of war.)

  87. rudderpedals says:

    @grumpy realist: “Fatherland” by Robert Harris is an alternate history sort of close to what you’re looking for. A fun read – highly recommended

  88. john personna says:

    BTW, here are two “priors” for my position:

    1. Peace is an abstract good.

    2. If you believe in the concept of self-determination, you must accept other people’s self-determination.

    The failure in Iraq happened in part because peace, even as no-fly zones, was undervalued, and because it was not really recognized that Iraq had the government it deserved.

  89. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    Yes, peace is good. So is self-determination. Had the people of Iraq been practicing “self determination?” Through what mechanism? Free elections?

    It’s a huge leap to assume that because a people occupy a particular space — the land of Iraq — that they have self-determination.

  90. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Well, we used to ask why the Iraqis could not get rid of Saddam. Collectively they had the power, they chose not for a variety of reasons, but principle among them was surely the lack of a reasonable alternative.

    I think self-determination is a wider net than (our external judgement of) pure democracy.

    It was self-determination that the Iraqis did not rise up and revolt. It was self-determination that the Iranian Green Revolution failed, sad as we (and some subset of them) may think think that to be.

  91. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Mikey: What you say is true, but it’s not like the Germans were angels in their invasion of the Soviet Union. It’s regrettable that so may innocents perished when the Red Army took vengeance for what the Germans had done. It’s not the first time in history that such things happened.

  92. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Mikey: The Eagle Squadron in the RAF (Americans all) fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940, IIRC.

  93. Mikey says:

    @john personna: I’m not sure people who had experienced the level and duration of oppression that the Iraqis had under the Hussein regime are capable of anything approaching true self-determination.

  94. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    It is an idea that was slow to form for me, but it has to do with the willingness of societies to accept dictatorship, and the conditions that make them revolt to more … well.

    Should I even say the natural progression is to democracy?

    Are Israel or Egypt founded on principles of one-man-one-vote?

  95. Rafer Janders says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Has anyone written an alternate history on what could have happened had Hitler decided to keep quiet? Interesting gedanken-experiment.

    We would have fought World War II only in the Pacific, and defeated Japan around the same time, assuming we developed the atom bomb. Alternately, without having to send forces to the European theatre, we would have advanced through the Pacific quicker and then invaded the Japanese home islands in 1944, resulting in a far bloodier end to the war. However, we would have prevailed, and would have been left as unquestioned masters of the Pacific. Since the Soviet Union would never have entered the war on our side in 1945, North Korea would not have gone communist, and neither might have China as we worked to keep our sphere of influence and propped up Chiang Kai-Shek.

    In Europe, Hitler and Stalin would have continued to slug it out, until the weight of numbers gradually turned in Russia’s favor. Germany, not having to waste forces on the Italian and Western fronts, would have had more men to throw at the Red Army, but in the end the Soviet Union would have prevailed, and their forces would have conquered not only Germany, but also Italy, the Low Countries, Denmark, Norway, France, Greece, and, eventually, Spain and Portugal. All of Europe, in the end, would have come behind the Iron Curtain, with the exception of the British Isles, which would have been turned into an American-allied aircraft carrier of the coast of the continent.

    No Israel in this scenario, by the way.

    Also, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. doesn’t die in a plane crash in the English Channel, so he becomes president instead of his younger brother Jack, whom he names as Secretary of State.

    End result? A decades-long cold war between the Western bloc of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China on the one hand, and the Soviet bloc of Europe and Eurasia on the other. With, probably, lots of proxy wars in the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and the Middle East.

  96. Rafer Janders says:

    Forgot to add, the Pacific part of the war ends in 1944, but the German-Russian part of the war doesn’t end until 1946 or 1947. This gives the US two to three years of peace to consolidate its gains.

  97. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:
    Arguing that Iraqis exercised self-determination by failing to throw off an oppressive and murderous regime snacks of blame the victim. How is it different from saying a rape victim consented when she failed to die resisting her attacker?

  98. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think that whenever anyone jumps to a wholly disconnected “parallel” it is confirmation that the original argument has been won.

    If you want to fight through that, using all the moral criteria you have established in this thread, tell us why the US should not colonize west Africa, for their own good?

    I mean, they cut each other’s arms off, right?

  99. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    I think that whenever anyone jumps to a wholly disconnected “parallel” it is confirmation that the original argument has been won.

    I can think of no reason why that should be the case. We’ve slipped from the initial discussion to one of morality. I think my comparison was entirely apt.

    If you want to fight through that, using all the moral criteria you have established in this thread, tell us why the US should not colonize west Africa, for their own good?

    Why should we offer food aid to Sudan? I mean, they’ve made their own choices, so if they starve, hey: self-determination. Right?

    You choose the deliberately inflammatory word “colonize” why not “intervene?” Can you not imagine a situation where the human rights crimes were so vast and terrible that we’d be justified in intervening? A second Holocaust? A second Killing Fields?

    Let’s examine the principal. Let’s say the government of Nation X is exterminating all the women in his country. He’s killing them all, 10 million women, right down to the last woman. We own a device that can make this tyrant’s head explode. Push a button and no more holocaust. Do we push the button or not?

    Would we ship them food and medicine so that they’re well-fed before dying? Is that the more moral position?

  100. Mikey says:

    @john personna: I don’t think we can make a true judgment of their “willingness” to accept dictatorship, because the conditions and duration of their oppression have rendered them incapable, individually or collectively, of making a truly self-determined choice. Their actions will always be determined, in part or in whole, by the oppressor.

  101. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Can you not imagine a situation where the human rights crimes were so vast and terrible that we’d be justified in intervening? A second Holocaust? A second Killing Fields?

    Rwanda, 1994. And we didn’t. And a million Tutsis were hacked to death with machetes.

  102. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    To our shame.

  103. Stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Of course, the recent Somalia debacle had soured us on humanitarian intervention. Which leads us to another rule: there is no one size fits all set of rules that can govern how we intervene in foreign crises going forward. James would have us intervene only if the goal is limited and never change the goal going forward. Unfortunately, war has a dynamic of its own and it might just be the case that we should change the goal – example, the Civil War, where a war to preserve the union later became also a war to end slavery. Doug would never have the US intervene abroad for humanitarian purposes , in which case he is Ok with Rwanda and would not have intervened in Bosnia, Kosivo or Libya- successful interventions all.
    I think every foreign crisis has to be taken on its merits. As candidate Obama put it, we can’t be against all wars or all interventions- only dumb ones. What’s dumb or smart depends on the circumstances, the resources we have at end, the level of public support , the level of international support, and maybe above all the quality of our foreign policy team.
    We like to talk about a particular “doctrine” or set of rules which we should follow in all foreign policy crises going forward, but the real world doesn’t work like that. What works in a particular crisis doesn’t work in the next one.. That’s why good judgment is of paramount importance in selecting for any foreign policy leader. President Obama, whatever his faults, does have that. Those of us who voted for him have been vindicated there.

  104. jukeboxgrad says:

    michael:

    What’s interesting to me is that have essentially unlimited ability to topple or severely punish regimes. For example, we could have knocked out the Taliban, left, and informed them that if they crossed certain lines we’d be back. That reduces the danger to us while maximizing the threat to our foes. Why don’t we use that approach more often?

    Simple: because that approach fails at maximizing profit. A long war is much more profitable than a short war. It goes back to the second comment on this thread: “spend truckloads of taxpayer money with the military industrial complex.” If you’re going to have a war, you might as well make sure it’s long and expensive.

    The only thing more profitable than a long war is permanent war, which is why GWOT was invented.

  105. michael reynolds says:

    @Stonetools:

    I think every foreign crisis has to be taken on its merits.

    I absolutely agree. People seem to need one-size-fits-all policies. I think that’s foolish. We can’t delegate our decision making to charts and tables and policy papers. In the end each case has to be looked at in light of our moral obligations, but also in light of practical realities.