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Posts Tagged ‘Nation Building’

That’s what they used to say about World War I:  you had armies of lions led by donkies.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear that the grand strategy–democratic nation-building in the Muslim world–will do little to make us safer from terrorism and requires an impossible tutelage of proud, xenophobic Muslims by secularized America and its military. 

Nearly ten years into Afghanistan, the place is what it has always been:  dangerous, anti-American, Muslim, and primitive.  Iraq is little better.  Yet conservatives remain optimistic, bragging even about the Iraq “victory.”  At the same time, the military plods onward, in spite of the strategic lunacy of our civilian leaders’ vision.  I confess, I was once more optimistic about the possible outcome.  Events have chastened me.  I have returned to my natural isolationism (coupled with a Jacksonian bias to the occasional, brutal retaliatory raid).  Ten years after these campaigns have begun, it’s clear that they are doing more harm than good, at least for our country and its security.

Lawrence Auster observed an important aspect of why this farce continues in a comment on the increasing focus of training Americans to build rapport with locals:

In Afghanistan and Iraq, as in Vietnam and Korea before them, the politicians assign the military a fundamentally impossible mission to accomplish. The military is told that they cannot defeat the enemy decisively, but must concede to the enemy an inviolable strategic sanctuary from which the enemy controls the tempo of combat. Moreover, the politicians place absurd restrictions on how the military must conduct operations even in the non-sanctuary areas where it is allowed to fight. Rather than resign or resist, the top brass accepts a strategy and operational restrictions that guarantee failure. This leaves the mid-level officers in the unenviable position of executing the impossible strategy under the ridiculous restrictions. Coming from a “can do” culture, the mid-level officers come up with incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plans to carry out the impossible mission. Mid-level officers who try to do the impossible are decorated and promoted; they know that if they salute, make no waves, and do their time overseas, their careers will stay on track. The few officers who realize they are executing a strategy that guarantees defeat either resign in disgust or are forced out. It is simply not in the Army’s institutional interest to lift its eyes above the level of the “intermediate steps” to the strategic level–among other things, this would bring about a profound crisis in civil-military relations, as the Army would have to refuse or resist political instructions that made no sense. As a result, the Army as an institution prospers even as it is defeated and even as the nation wastes vast amounts of money and lives trying to do the impossible.

Of course, mid-level officers are not supposed to conduct grand strategy; it’s healthy that they are subordinate to civilian leaders and also healthy and admirable that they are optimistic.  But there comes a time when some push-back is called for.  If a mission is unworkable, impossible, and will simply get soldiers and men needlessly killed, then it’s time to say something, whether in professional journals, in briefings to civilian leaders, or otherwise.  If nothing else, there is a time to say ” yes we can patrol here and there, meet with this or that village, and the like, but we do not have enough men to defeat the enemy, guaranty local security, and, further, we cannot and will not win hearts and minds, because our very presence in an Islamic land is repulsive to the people. And finally, none of these things will do anything identifiable to defeat al Qaeda or make America safer.” 

One unfortunate consequence of the incresaing “professionalism” of the modern military is its leaders’ absolute financial dependence on the government and, by necessity, prevailing political winds.  The old aristocratic volunteer officer might have been more inclined to speak out, whether against a losing campaing in Afghanistan or a meddlesome requirement to integrate women into his unit, not least because he could fall back on an inheritance and family wealth.  The modern major and lieutenant colonel is on the brink of a comfortable pension and is likely from a middle class background; to speak out to forcefully against the crazy directives coming from on high would result in penury, if not worse.  We sometimes wonder why Soviet engineers and soldiers and bureaucrats participated in their insane system year after year, in spite of the obvious lies, half-truths, destruction, and missed projections made by central planners.  There, as increasingly is the case in America, the state was everything.  In the Soviet Union, the withholding of a job, a pension, a license, a prescription, an apartment, or a degree was incalculaby destructive of the individual.   And there, as increasingly is the case in America, there were almost no resources outside the state, including private wealth, to fall back upon if one had earned the disfavor of the state.

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I read (but did not watch) the President’s speech on Iraq.  Of all the things he has done as President, stopping our mindless “stay the course” approach in Iraq has been something I generally approve.  I also think it’s a testament to his relative moderation on foreign policy that our withdrawal has been orderly.  I disagree with conservatives who say we’re “cutting and running” or that his failure to acknowledge the “success of the Surge” shows his bad faith.  The Surge, in fact, while it tamped down some violence in Iraq, has hardly been a success without qualification.  There is still a significant terrorist presence in Iraq.  Its politics are still corrupt, and its likely future will be as a Shia-led Iranian partner. And the Surge is often credited with a reduction in violence caused by the earlier Anbar Awakening, which itself was caused by the mistakes and oversteps of al Qaeda in Iraq.

The original mission in Iraq (of finding and destroying WMDs) turned out to be largely unnecessary.  Upon this, Bush elevated the secondary mission of installing a friendly democracy.  This led to a seven year counterinsurgency campaign that has ended inconclusively.  It likely created as many Iraqi nationalist terrorists as it destroyed Islamist ones.  And for its modest or nonexistent benefits, it did tie down our forces, cost many American lives, destroy much American equipment, and cost a great deal of money over the last seven years.  If the first part of the Iraq mission was defensible, the latter portion was clearly a mistake.

As a work of rhetoric, however, Obama’s speech was uninspired.  He never seems tremendously comfortable in the commander in chief role.  He keeps our troops’ sacrifices and honorable work on the same plane as jobs for steelworkers or healthcare reform. In other words, he misses some of the romance of the soldier’s life that Bush and Reagan understood.  This is one of many reasons a great many Americans view him as an alien figure, who does not share their values.

Where Obama does not get points from me and where he seems particularly confused is on Afghanistan.  He disagreed with Bush and pulled out of Iraq because he surmised, correctly in my opinion, that the mission was a counterproductive loser.  But why then should the same type of mission be pursued in Afghanistan so many years after the 9/11 attacks? Unlike 2001, there are not significant terrorist training camps there; we are dealing there, as in Iraq, with a nationalist and Islamic insurgency fueled by our presence and the various petty and major grievances Afghans have with our lumbering presence.  The main part of the enemy have fled to Pakistan, which is an on again, off again, partner in the war against al Qaeda.  The mere presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan should not be enough to justify an extended nation-building campaign; al Qaeda is also in Iraq, not to mention Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and, for that matter, Germany, France, the UK, and the US.  It’s not clear from Iraq that replacing corrupt dictatorships with corrupt, sectarian democracies does anything at all to fight terrorism at a strategic level.  Once again, look at Pakistan, a functioning, long-established Islamic democracy, where large elements of its military and intelligence infrastructure support Islamic terrorists.  In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, limping along with a smaller, but still significant presence, hardly seems the kind of serious change Obama made such a show of in the campaign.  It looks more like hedging his bets in an area in which he is supremely unconfident.  And this course promises to continue blood-letting, expense, and meaningless accomplishments like slightly reducing the daily car-bomb count in countries that have nothing to do with us.

How to use the military to fight terrorism is not an easy question.  But part of the answer seems like focusing on the terrorists themselves and not being terribly concerned with changing the environment that incubates them.  That environment is fueled by a combination of Islam and typical Third World corruption, and it cannot be easily changed.  But what our military can do is blow up camps, lavish informants with cash, use drones to blow up terrorist leaders, bomb terror-supporting countries, sink ships, and otherwise engage in our own version of “hit and run” tactics rather than conventionally, and expensively, trying to transform ancient peoples into good liberal democrats.

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Lawrence Auster has an interesting post today that notes that one of the prime engines of neoconservative folly is this idea that everyone “deserves” liberty and that we, therefore, having the ability, owe it to strange peoples to “give them freedom.”

His post reminded me of something I read long ago in the Liberty Fund’s collection of John C. Calhoun’s works, which is now generously available on line. While often a callous defender of slavery (which had little regard for justice and the interests of the people it was supposedly civilizing), like most free people in slave societies, Calhoun had a very detailed and nuanced sense of what it meant to be free and was, accordingly, a thoughtful defender of freedom at least for his own people.  He writes something here of universal application that shows the inherent folly of the neoconservative utopianism:

[T]he worst form of government, is better than anarchy; and that individual liberty, or freedom, must be subordinate to whatever power may be necessary to protect society against anarchy within or destruction from without; for the safety and well-being of society is as paramount to individual liberty, as the safety and well-being of the race is to that of individuals; and in the same proportion, the power necessary for the safety of society is paramount to individual liberty. On the contrary, government has no right to control individual liberty beyond what is necessary to the safety and well-being of society. Such is the boundary which separates the power of government and the liberty of the citizen or subject in the political state, which, as I have shown, is the natural state of man—the only one in which his race can exist, and the one in which he is born, lives, and dies.

It follows from all this that the quantum of power on the part of the government, and of liberty on that of individuals, instead of being equal in all cases, must necessarily be very unequal among different people, according to their different conditions. For just in proportion as a people are ignorant, stupid, debased, corrupt, exposed to violence within and danger from without, the power necessary for government to possess, in order to preserve society against anarchy and destruction becomes greater and greater, and individual liberty less and less, until the lowest condition is reached, when absolute and despotic power becomes necessary on the part of the government, and individual liberty extinct. So, on the contrary, just as a people rise in the scale of intelligence, virtue, and patriotism, and the more perfectly they become acquainted with the nature of government, the ends for which it was ordered, and how it ought to be administered, and the less the tendency to violence and disorder within, and danger from abroad, the power necessary for government becomes less and less, and individual liberty greater and greater. Instead, then, of all men having the same right to liberty and equality, as is claimed by those who hold that they are all born free and equal, liberty is the noble and highest reward bestowed on mental and moral development, combined with favorable circumstances. Instead, then, of liberty and equality being born with man; instead of all men and all classes and descriptions being equally entitled to them, they are high prizes to be won, and are in their most perfect state, not only the highest reward that can be bestowed on our race, but the most difficult to be won—and when won, the most difficult to be preserved.

They have been made vastly more so by the dangerous error I have attempted to expose, that all men are born free and equal, as if those high qualities belonged to man without effort to acquire them, and to all equally alike, regardless of their intellectual and moral condition. The attempt to carry into practice this, the most dangerous of all political error, and to bestow on all, without regard to their fitness either to acquire or maintain liberty, that unbounded and individual liberty supposed to belong to man in the hypothetical and misnamed state of nature, has done more to retard the cause of liberty and civilization, and is doing more at present, than all other causes combined. While it is powerful to pull down governments, it is still more powerful to prevent their construction on proper principles. It is the leading cause among those which have placed Europe in its present anarchical condition, and which mainly stands in the way of reconstructing good governments in the place of those which have been overthrown, threatening thereby the quarter of the globe most advanced in progress and civilization with hopeless anarchy, to be followed by military despotism.

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