Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Democracy is a strategic asset

Rob at LGM:
Implicit in most wingnut critiques of the anti-war left (and the anti-war right) is that democracy is a handicap in war. Dissent weakens a country at war, so we are told, and therefore democracies are at a disadvantage compared to autocracies. International relations theorists (Stam and Reiter in particular) tell us that this isn't empirically true; democracies, on the whole, tend to choose their wars better and fight better when engaged. There are certainly some examples of military organizations in authoritarian states performing very well (the US Army never matched the performance of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht, for example) but democracies do very well at the political and strategic levels, and some democratic military organizations (IDF, US Navy) have proven quite formidable.....

What Kingdaddy's example suggests is that democracies may be able to determine when and how to lose a war better than autocracies, as well. Democratic states have a built in system for re-assessing foreign commitments, while autocratic states don't.
This is relevant today in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It's become clear in the last year that our current approach in Afghanistan is failing, and we need to change course -- either withdraw entirely, or radically change our committment. (I'm leaning more and more towards complete withdrawal over time, simply because I don't think there's a reasonable chance that we'll commit the necessary resources to win, nor do I think we have a coherent idea of our strategic objective or the steps necessary to win. Yes, I blame the Conservatives and the Liberals for this state of affairs.) But the first step, no matter what we do, is to admit that currently we are failing. Politically, this is impossible in Canada today largely because Stephen Harper has so polluted the debate with catcalls of "soft on terror" and "hates the troops".

The admission of failure has, in fact, led to some incredible outright military successes: Lincoln famously tore through several Generals until he found men who would actually fight and win against the Confederacy. The Allies in WWII had to change their strategies several times during the war -- more than once in the land war in Europe alone! -- and still beat the ferociously competent Wehrmacht.

Even in the absence of an outright success, the admission of failure is important because it's the only way of lessening the disaster. Wouldn't Bush's approval rating be higher now -- wouldn't the country of Iraq be immeasurably better off -- if the US had left in 2004, or even 2005? I think so.

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