Monday, August 28, 2006

We need to defend the Muslim world from the Muslims

Rob at LGM has a good catch about how the rhetoric surrounding America's "necessary" wars never changes:
In Vietnam, hawks relentlessly argued that the aims of Democratic Republic of Vietnam were dominion over all of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Moreover, the North Vietnamese were supposed to be the vanguard of international communism, the doormen for Soviet and Chinese imperialism. In short, the United States was fighting against forces who had regional and global imperial ambitions, and showing weakness in the face of those forces yada yada yada. In Korea the same claims were made, with the presumed victim of the aforementioned imperialism being Japan and a terrified Europe...

There's certainly a strong argument to be made that Iraq is more strategically important today than Vietnam was in 1968, but to make that argument by hyping the goals and capabilities of the enemy is a tactic that we've seen before.
Indeed. The article that Rob is responding to is in - where else - the Weekly Standard, who've taken time off from hyping the coming war with Iran, to reinforce the left flank in Iraq:
There are three plausible grounds for pulling out of a war. First, the status quo might be both acceptable and stable... Plainly, this condition doesn't hold in Iraq today. Iraq isn't stable; it's radically unstable. A pullout now risks a regime controlled by radical Shiites like Moktada al-Sadr--another ally for Iran, to add to Baathist Syria and Hezbollah-ruled Lebanon. That isn't near-victory; it's total defeat.

Second, success may be worth too little to justify the effort. A good many opponents of the Vietnam war argued that our side was no better than the Viet Cong, that the fight was between two sets of thugs--and the thugs on the other side had more popular support. The "our side is no better" line pops up a lot these days in connection with Iraq, but it simply isn't true.
I'd actually like to see - apart from nutpicking comment threads at DailyKos - a serious war critic who's said "the US Army is no better than X", where X is whatever label you affix to the "other side" in Iraq (insurgents, baathists, etc.) Or, you know, the Weekly Standard could just stop burning straw men and actually engage the substance of criticism of the Iraq war.
...There is one more possible reason to head for the exits in Iraq: Victory is either impossible or (what amounts to the same thing) prohibitively expensive.
You know, the funny thing is that the author of this piece (one William J Stuntz) and I agree on two out of three elements to his argument. 1) As Stuntz says, the current state of affairs in Iraq amounts to a total defeat of America's war aims. 2) Stuntz states, as I have before, that the lives of soldiers lost in the pursuit of failure are wasted. See this passage:
Because the Israeli Defense Forces fought halfheartedly (more the politicians' fault than the IDF's), few Israeli soldiers died in the recent war. But those who did appear to have died in vain. In assessing war's costs, the pointlessness of deaths matters more than their number.
An excellent point, one I wholeheartedly concede to Stuntz. But while I would prefer America cease wasting lives in this futile endeavour, Stuntz believes that it's possible to turn around this - in his words - "total defeat" and pull out a win.

You know, I've been thinking pretty hard, and I'm unable to come up with an example of a war where one side flirted with "total defeat" and still managed to pull out a win, when it's forces were already fully extended. Israel took a while to get fully in to the game in 1973, but once it did the war turned quickly. MacArthur landed at Inchon and managed to send the DPRK reeling backwards. But in both cases, that was possible because both sides had huge reserves to draw upon quickly. Today in Iraq, the US has no reserves to draw upon quickly. There is no precedent I can think of where an embattled nation was able to - absent a massive increase in manpower - turn around a disastrous war.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of precendents for the war's leaders and supporters insisting that victory was just around the corner, even as the endgame was near. Sadly for those people, Steiner's 11th division never shows up.

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