Sunday, February 11, 2007

Updates + History = ?

The War in Iraq is going to outlast three United States Presidents. Two Republicans, one Democrat. This war has been going on since 1991. It has been a shooting war, and we can't seem to find the end game. Seventeen years so far, this has dominated United States foreign policy towards the rest of the world. By the time Bush 43 leaves the White House, we will have been dealing with the Iraq war for a generation. In total years at war, we could have fought the Revolution (1775 - 1783), the War Between the States (1861 - 1865) and World War II (1941 - 1945) in the time that the Iraq question has yet to be settled, and we could have taken a year off in the process. Perhaps it is because, as some suggest, that we are fighting multiple wars in Iraq and none of them are the ones we invaded for in 1991, attacked for in the interim, and re-invaded for in 2003.

In other news, the ramifications and results, the history and reasons, the significance and divisiveness that was Vietnam are still being fought over today. (HT: Cracker Squire) From the halls of the United States Senate to the social investigations. Vietnam was started, in a cursory way, under the Eisenhower administration, expanded under Kennedy and spiraled out of control under LBJ. This lack of control destroyed the Democratic Party's credibility of foreign policy (with the notable exception of some Southern Democrats), ripped the party in half, and kept open American societal wounds festering from the Civil Rights Movement at home. Nixon was able to extricate us from Vietnam, but by that time, Vietnam had done more damage to the United States - in terms of national identity - than any enemy other than the Confederate States of America.

We're still dealing with that damage today. Iraq is not Vietnam. Comparisons are inevitable due to both being wars fought in the media, both being wars that took well over ten years to settle, both being wars where no formal Declaration of War was adopted, both being wars where political ramifications were too highly considered, both being wars that sharply divided the American public, and both being wars where - despite our overwhelming advantage in technology - we were unable to project enough power to end non-traditional warfare. And, of course, the rhetoric from both sides being eerily similar.

But Iraq is not Vietnam. Iraq is the continuation of Vietnam: an ideological cul-de-sac of foregin policy that leads us to open ended military campaigns that we should win going away but don't, because the strategy at the top is unclear and 'leaders' fear making rational and tough decisions that are required to settle the question. Until that ideological cul-de-sac is closed, we will continue debating the ghosts of Vietnam and Iraq and never settling the question.

2 comments:

Dante said...

"Seventeen years so far, this has dominated United States foreign policy towards the rest of the world. By the time Bush 43 leaves the White House, we will have been dealing with the Iraq war for a generation."

The Iraq conflict is not only similar to Vietman and Korea, but it is also similar to any number of conflicts both post-imperial Great Britain and post-mercantilist France has dealt with. Send troops in until the public grows weary of the conflict (and weary with paying for the conflict) and then pull out. Handling this sort of conflict in the manner we're handling it may be a natural post-expansion reaction. Just like post-industrial society is a natural progression of an industrial revolution.*

In the case of France, they've let our form of conflict system die down. Great Britain however has not. We could go either way on this but I'd be very surprised if we deviated from Great Britain's course since we do so love following in their footsteps on foreign policy.

If you really want to see the US stop this "ideological cul-de-sac of foregin policy that leads us to open ended military campaigns that we should win going away but don't", you should try to convince the US's older sibling to stop it first. We'll naturally follow within 20-50 years.

* Note that I'm not trying to evaluate the morality or sense of such a progression, only that it may exist and may possibly be very hard (though not impossible) to escape.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I don't think the US is too into following the older sibling's lead. Britain was a hyperpower at one time, but they had colonies. The US, despite what many left leaning academics think, does not have colonies.

Projecting power is an expensive proposition. Successful empires get locals to do the dirty work for them, in order to make the burden cheaper. Eventually, the burden of having empire and projecting power becomes more expensive than it is worth, the people tire of carrying that burden. The empire contracts.

The United States is different in many ways from the older two siblings. First of all, our people actually want to project power further than the government is willing to. Half the population wants to destroy the Middle East and France, the other half wants to force the rest of the world to sign environmental treaties. Both sides, inexplicably, love being hated by the other side.

Second, the United States is a more inclusive cultural force than either of the other two.

The ideological cul-de-sac comes from Cold Warrior academics who take rhetoric and examination personally while putting the business interests of their buddies ahead of realpolitik defense of home. What else explains the US aid to China - our greatest economic and military rival - and to Saudi Arabia - while more natural possible allies Iran & Cuba are seen as imminent thread enemies?

We need a lot more utilitarianism and less sentimentality when it comes to foreign policy, is what I'm sayin.'