Friday, September 07, 2007

Killing the unborn

So this has been kicked around by a few people, notably Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum:
Stephen Biddle, a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a key proponent of the patchwork-quilt strategy. But even he emphasizes that the idea would be a political nonstarter if it resulted in a lot more American deaths. The American public, he said in a phone interview, will support overseas deployments of troops—even for many years—as long as not many get killed. For instance, 64,000 U.S. troops are still in Germany, 60 years after the end of World War II and 16 years after the end of the Cold War. American soldiers have been keeping the peace in Bosnia now for more than a decade since the defeat of Slobodan Milosevic. In both operations, virtually no American soldiers have died as a result of hostile fire. (Biddle is a member of Petraeus' advisory panel, but he emphasized that his views here are entirely his own.)

Biddle also said (again, expressing his personal view) that the strategy in Iraq would require the presence of roughly 100,000 American troops for 20 years—and that, even so, it would be a "long-shot gamble."
I wrote recently that I'm skeptical of the retrospective look on Gen. Shinseki's famous "hundreds of thousands" testimony, which a lot of progressives (including myself, for a time) took to mean that Shinseki was simply saying the war in Iraq was a bad idea. I don't think we can say what Shinseki meant. As Biddle makes clear here, it's totally possible to say that "victory" is nearly impossible, but still believe that something should be done.

But imagine that the US did, in fact, stay in Iraq until at least 2027. That would mean that a sizeable chunk of the soldiers fighting in Mesopotamia would have been born in 2009 (or possibly later) -- that is, they would have been born after George Bush left office, and the war is expected to last 20 years more. Given the state of the Democratic Party, it's not out of the question...

Here in Canada, we've had a number of generals say, essentially, that victory in Afghanistan requires a committment of decades. Generals can say what they like, but the rest of us should realize what this means -- we've lost. There's no way that Canadians will maintain a sizeable force of soldiers in Afghanistan for decades. It's simply not going to happen. Comparisons with peacekeeping, or even with better-known counterinsurgencies (Ireland) are meaningless for a variety of reasons. If "victory" requires 20 years of war, Canadians simply are not going to accept those costs. And if the payoff is so small, there's no real reason for them to do so.

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