Costly Foreign Lessons

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Cosima___J
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Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by Cosima___J » Tue Aug 16, 2011 7:52 pm

It's hard to argue with the logic presented in this article of Foreign Policy online. Can anyone think of anything good that has come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or has it all been one humongeous bummer?

Lessons of two wars: We will lose in Iraq and Afghanistan
- 12:23 PM SharePosted By Stephen M. Walt Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One of the things that gets in the way of conducting good national security policy is a reluctance to call things by their right names and state plainly what is really happening. If you keep describing difficult situations in misleading or inaccurate ways, plenty of people will draw the wrong conclusions about them and will continue to support policies that don't make a lot of sense.

Two cases in point: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are constantly told that that "the surge worked" in Iraq, and President Obama has to pretend the situation there is tolerable so that he can finally bring the rest of the troops there home. Yet it is increasingly clear that the surge failed to produce meaningful political reconciliation and did not even end the insurgency, and keeping U.S. troops there for the past three years may have accomplished relatively little.

Similarly, we keep getting told that we are going to achieve some sort of "peace with honor" in Afghanistan, even though sending more troops there has not made the Afghan government more effective, has not eliminated the Taliban's ability to conduct violence, and has not increased our leverage in Pakistan. In the end, what happens in Central Asia is going to be determined by Central Asians -- for good or ill -- and not by us.

The truth is that the United States and its allies lost the war in Iraq and are going to lose the war in Afghanistan. There: I said it. By "lose," I mean we will eventually withdraw our military forces without having achieved our core political objectives, and with our overall strategic position weakened. We did get Osama bin Laden -- finally -- but that was the result of more energetic intelligence and counter-terrorism work in Pakistan itself and had nothing to do with the counterinsurgency we are fighting next door. U.S. troops have fought courageously and with dedication, and the American people have supported the effort for many years. But we will still have failed because our objectives were ill-chosen from the start, and because the national leadership (and especially the Bush administration) made some horrendous strategic judgments along the way.

Specifically: invading Iraq was never necessary, because Saddam Hussein had no genuine links to al Qaeda and no WMD, and because he could not have used any WMD that he might one day have produced without facing devastating retaliation. It was a blunder because destroying the Ba'athist state left us in charge of a deeply divided country that we had no idea how to govern. It also destroyed the balance of power in the Gulf and enhanced Iran's regional position, which was not exactly a brilliant idea from the American point of view. Invading Iraq also diverted resources and attention from Afghanistan, which helped the Taliban to regain lost ground and derailed our early efforts to aid the Karzai government.

President Obama inherited both of these costly wars, and his main error was not to recognize that they were not winnable at an acceptable cost. He's wisely stuck (more-or-less) to the withdrawal plan for Iraq, but he foolishly decided to escalate in Afghanistan, in the hope of creating enough stability to allow us to leave. This move might have been politically adroit, but it just meant squandering more resources in ways that won't affect the final outcome.

More broadly, these wars were lost because there is an enormous difference between defeating a third-rate conventional army (which is what Saddam had) and governing a restive, deeply-divided, and well-armed population with a long-standing aversion to all forms of foreign interference. There was no way to "win" either war without creating effective local institutions that could actually run the place (so that we could leave), but that was the one thing we did not know how to do. Not only did we not know who to put in charge, but once we backed anybody, their legitimacy automatically declined. And so did our leverage over them, as people like President Karzai understood that our prestige was now on the line and we could not afford to let him fail.

The good news, however, is the defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and make no mistake, that is what it is -- tells us relatively little about America's overall power position or its ability to shape events that matter elsewhere in the world. Remember that the United States lost the Vietnam War too, but getting out facilitated the 1970s rapprochement with China and ultimatley strengthened our overall position in Asia. Fourteen years later, the USSR had collapsed and the United States had won the Cold War. Nor should anyone draw dubious lessons about U.S. resolve; to the contrary, both of these wars show that the United States is actually willing to fight for a long time under difficult conditions. Thus, the mere fact that we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan does not by itself herald further U.S. decline, provided we make better decisions going forward.

The real lesson one should draw from these defeats is that the United States doesn't know how to build democratic societies in large and distant Muslim countries that are divided by sectarian, ethnic, or tribal splits, and especially if these countries have a history of instability or internal violence. Nobody else does either. But that's not a mission we should be seeking out in the future, because it will only generate greater hatred of the United States and further sap our strength.

The United States rose to world power by staying out of costly fights or by getting into them relatively late and then winning the peace. It won the Cold War by maintaining an economy that was far stronger than the Soviet Union's, by assembling a coalition of allies that was more reliable, stable, and prosperous than the Communist bloc, and by remaining reasonably true to a set of political ideals that inspired others. Its major missteps occurred when it exaggerated the stakes in peripheral conflicts -- such as Indochina. Fortunately, the Soviet Union made more blunders than we did, and from a weaker base.

Since 1992, the United States has squandered some of its margin of superiority by mismanaging its own economy, by allowing 9/11 to cloud its strategic judgment, and by indulging in precisely the sort of hubris that the ancient Greeks warned against. The main question is whether we will learn from these mistakes, and start basing national security policy on hard-headed realism rather than either neo-conservative fantasies or overly enthusiastic liberal interventionism. Unfortunately, the first shots in the 2012 presidential campaign do not exactly fill me with confidence.

http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/201 ... fghanistan

lennygoran
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by lennygoran » Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:04 pm

>Can anyone think of anything good that has come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or has it all been one humongeous bummer?<

I think you got your hands on a good article--Iraq is far from settled--Iran is making trouble there every day. Regards, Len :(

BWV 1080
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by BWV 1080 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:27 pm

good article,

too bad we re-elected Bush in 2008 and now the GOP front-runner in 2012 going full hawk

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by living_stradivarius » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:04 pm

nothing good can ever come out of this unless we establish security and rule of law using overwhelming military force. any half-assed occupation will fail.
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by John F » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:32 pm

Two powerful and evil men are dead: Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Thanks to us, Iraq is no longer an autocracy but a democracy, kind of. Whether this regime change served any American national purpose is another matter; many of us believe it did not, and that the Iraq War was foisted on the American people by the Bush administration for false reasons, while the real reasons still have not been given. For Walt to say the U.S. lost the war in Iraq depends on a special definition of winning and losing that seems very dubious to me. But I agree with him that win or lose, we had no business invading Iraq.

However, there's no serious question that neutralizing the terrorist organization behind the 9/11 attack, which publicly and repeatedly said it was going to attack us again, was and is about our national defense and security. You can only fight your enemies where they are, and al Qaeda was based and sheltered in Afghanistan, and its leadership is still just across the border in Pakistan. Al Qaeda has been deeply wounded and its effectiveness sharply reduced, if perhaps not fully neutralized. Afghanistan's government, however corrupt, no longer provides a haven for our enemies; whether or not we've made Afghanistan a better place for the Afghans is by the way. Our war aims, then, have largely been achieved. The question is whether we've yet done enough to protect ourselves, and whether our achievements will last. OK, two questions. :) Only time will tell.

Again, Walt defines winning and losing in a special way that lets him say we are losing in Afghanistan, or have lost. I've just defined winning and losing in terms of whether we achieve our war aims. My definition is better.
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by HoustonDavid » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:48 pm

I tend to agree with you John, but my agreement will only last as long as it takes
for a terrorist organization by whatever name uses Afghanistan as a place of refuge
and training for its next attack on the non-Muslim world. If that place becomes
Pakistan (Afghanistan's neighbor) instead, we are, as Korean vets used to say, in
deep Kimshi (pronounced KIM-SHEE and spelled s**t in English). Nothing in this
world could be more dangerous than a Muslim country with nuclear weapons
dominated or ruled by a terrorist group such as al Queda, and Pakistan is very close
to becoming that country.
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by living_stradivarius » Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:00 am

We could have eliminated Osama in Tora Bora in 2004 had we not diverted our attention towards Iraq. Ousting Saddam created a power vacuum that simply made Iran stronger - and now they have nuclear technology.
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by John F » Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:34 am

HoustonDavid wrote:I tend to agree with you John, but my agreement will only last as long as it takes for a terrorist organization by whatever name uses Afghanistan as a place of refuge and training for its next attack on the non-Muslim world. If that place becomes Pakistan (Afghanistan's neighbor) instead, we are, as Korean vets used to say, in deep Kimshi (pronounced KIM-SHEE and spelled s**t in English). Nothing in this world could be more dangerous than a Muslim country with nuclear weapons dominated or ruled by a terrorist group such as al Queda, and Pakistan is very close to becoming that country.
No solution can be permanent. Terrorist organizations have existed for a very long time and have grown and thrived in many different places. The best we can do is take on those that attack or threaten us and fight them where they are, and/or get our allies to do so. Nobody is proposing that we invade Pakistan, our nominal ally, or given persuasive reasons why we should.

There has been something in the world far more dangerous than a nuclear Pakistan become our enemy. It was the Soviet Union, with a far more dangerous nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver it anywhere in America. We lived with that for two generations and more, and eventually the threat ceased. Israel certainly needs to worry about a Pakistan ruled by anti-western terrorists, but why do we?

By the way, during my time in Korea their national dish was pronounced kim-chee, and that's how it's spelled in the Korean alphabet. But maybe you have a particular dialect in mind?
John Francis

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by HoustonDavid » Wed Aug 17, 2011 1:23 am

Never got to Korea, only my best friend (later in life) seemed to pronounce it the
way I anglicized it. You were there my friend, so I bow to your intimate acquaintance
with that fermented cabbage delicacy.

You and I both fought in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and I know only too well
just how close we got to nuclear Armageddon - I was as close as a whisper to providing
President Kennedy with the information necessary to send nuclear armed planes to bomb
Vladivostok in Soviet Siberia, as you know.

I really believe that the Soviets were willing to use nuclear WMD's only in national self
preservation, not interest. The 1962 showdown was a great bluff to test a new American
President perceived by Premier Nikita Khrushchev as weak. The concept of "mutual assured
destruction (MAD) worked very well in that circumstance.

You are right about the comparative dangers of - then - Soviet Russia, and now Pakistan
with comparatively few nuclear weapons. The difference in my mind is that terrorist Muslims
have Jihad against non-believers, and believe the United States is the Great Satan, and
should be obliterated. If they had WMD's, I greatly fear they would use them with careful
planning but without much hesitation; there would be no "mutually assured destruction"
with a Muslim terrorist nation.

I'm afraid they would believe it was worth it to the glory of the Allah (God) they believe in.
After all, there are Muslim states all over the globe and we couldn't reasonably obliterate
them all without destroying the world entire, as in the MAD of the Cold War.

That is my greatest fear for the decades yet to come: nuclear WMD's in the hands of a
terrorist Muslim state and I am very sure it will eventually come. I hope I am gone, but
God help my children.
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by lennygoran » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:06 am

>in deep Kimshi <

I like a lot of the Korean food but hate kimshi--it's just too hot! There's a whole street on 32nd st near the big Macys in NYC that's sort of a Little Korea. Anyway what's going on with Al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, al-Shabaab, is just sickening. Regards, Len

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by lennygoran » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:12 am

>Never got to Korea, only my best friend (later in life) seemed to pronounce it the
way I anglicized it. You were there my friend, so I bow to your intimate acquaintance
with that fermented cabbage delicacy.<

We were there as tourists--a trip subsidized by Korean airlines--we traveled to Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand--in Korea with some friends we attended large banquets--half the dishes--they just kept coming at you like an Indonesian rice table-- were delicious and half were so hot I think that just one taste of them did serious damage to my taste buds! Regards, Len :)

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by RebLem » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:38 am

I detect a doublethink process going on re: Afghanistan.

On the one hand, the Russians lost because Afghanis are incredibly fierce fighters and implacable foes. Its where empires go to die, as Pat Buchanan says. It has frustrated empire builders from Alexander the Great to Leonid Brezhnev.

OTOH, the Afghans on our side are incredibly weak, poorly trained, and unprepared. Do you suppose it could be because most of them are really not on our side? Hmmm?
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by RebLem » Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:24 pm

living_stradivarius wrote:We could have eliminated Osama in Tora Bora in 2004 had we not diverted our attention towards Iraq. Ousting Saddam created a power vacuum that simply made Iran stronger - and now they have nuclear technology.
I believe Osama was let go deliberately because if he had been captured, the stated rationale for Iraq would have fallen apart.
Don't drink and drive. You might spill it.--J. Eugene Baker, aka my late father
"We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."--Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S. Carolina.
"Racism is America's Original Sin."--Francis Cardinal George, former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago.

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:38 pm

RebLem wrote:
living_stradivarius wrote:We could have eliminated Osama in Tora Bora in 2004 had we not diverted our attention towards Iraq. Ousting Saddam created a power vacuum that simply made Iran stronger - and now they have nuclear technology.
I believe Osama was let go deliberately because if he had been captured, the stated rationale for Iraq would have fallen apart.
I can't let that one go, Rob. It sounds too much like the kind of conspiracy notions that I (and I expect you also) detest when coming from others. Sorry, old friend.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by lennygoran » Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:08 am

>I believe Osama was let go deliberately because if he had been captured, the stated rationale for Iraq would have fallen apart.<

Usually you're pretty good but this is your worse slip up since your call for the city of Seoul to be abandoned! Regards, Len :)

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by Cosima___J » Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:29 am

Reb, I believe the stated rationale for Iraq was WMD, not bin Laden.

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by karlhenning » Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:44 am

Cosima___J wrote:Reb, I believe the stated rationale for Iraq was WMD, not bin Laden.
I remember the slide show . . . .

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by RebLem » Thu Aug 25, 2011 12:01 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
RebLem wrote:
living_stradivarius wrote:We could have eliminated Osama in Tora Bora in 2004 had we not diverted our attention towards Iraq. Ousting Saddam created a power vacuum that simply made Iran stronger - and now they have nuclear technology.
I believe Osama was let go deliberately because if he had been captured, the stated rationale for Iraq would have fallen apart.
I can't let that one go, Rob. It sounds too much like the kind of conspiracy notions that I (and I expect you also) detest when coming from others. Sorry, old friend.
Cosima J wrote:Reb, I believe the stated rationale for Iraq was WMD, not bin Laden.
lennygoran wrote:Usually you're pretty good but this is your worse slip up since your call for the city of Seoul to be abandoned!
Let me take these in reverse order. First of all, lenny, the word you were looking for is "worst," not "worse." I do not recall ever calling for the city of Seoul to be abandoned. I do remember opposing the idea of reducing our troop presence in Korea on the ground that if the North Koreans were to advance over the border, we might have to abandon Seoul as we had in the Korean War, before we could begin to mount a serious defense without nuclear weapons. But it was clear from the context that I found such a procedure unacceptable.

There were all sorts of rationales for Iraq War II, because while there were all sorts of folk in the Cheney Administration who wanted to invade Iraq, they all seemed to have different reasons. The one stated by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was that it would attract al-Qaeda to Iraq. This he3 deemed desirable because Iraq seemed to him a friendlier terrain for the American style of warfare than Afghanistan. This is the stated theory I was referring to. If we had gotten bin Laden in Afghanistan, that reason would have fallen apart. Now, it is true that this reason was only stated in the internal councils of the Cheney Administration and not publicly, though it leaked out. Why was it not stated? Because it would have been impossible to sell to the Iraqis. Here we would have been, saying, essentially, "Better in Iraq than on our own streets. But you Iraqis are going to have to expose yourselves, your children, and your families to profligate violence in your streets in this struggle which we could have avoided bringing to your country. But its a struggle for freedom and the American Way, and we think you should feel privileged to have been chosen for this task!" Somehow, I don't think the Iraqi people would have bought that.

Another reason proposed by some was to depose a brutal and sociopathic dictator, Sadaam Hussein. Of course, there are all sorts of brutal governments all over the world, and if just deposing brutal governments were our goal, the place to start would have been, and still would be, Burma, aka Myannmar. There you have a clearly elected government which was never allowed to take power. No search for a successor government, like we had in Iraq, would have been necessary. But, of course, Burma has very little oil. It has some, but not enough for anyone to get excited about.

And yes, there was the phony flurry about WMD. All the right wingers were attacking the UN inspectors as enemies of freedom and covering up for Sadaam, and although they have been proven right, none of their slanderers has ever had the common decency or good grace to apologize to them.
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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by lennygoran » Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:16 pm

( I do not recall ever calling for the city of Seoul to be abandoned. )

Not meant for you-I thought I was commenting on Strad's message. I'm using my clumsy blackberry because of today's storms so maybe I mixed up the messages. Len

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by lennygoran » Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:27 pm

Now I see what happened-I thought Strad was claiming that bin laden was purposely let go but it was you-here's where I got confused:

RebLem wrote:
living_stradivarius wrote:We could have eliminated Osama in Tora Bora in 2004 had we not diverted our attention towards Iraq. Ousting Saddam created a power vacuum that simply made Iran stronger - and now they have nuclear technology.
I believe Osama was let go deliberately because if he had been captured, the stated rationale for Iraq would have fallen apart.


Len

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:48 pm

RebLem wrote:Let me take these in reverse order.
You never got to me. :wink:

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by RebLem » Thu Aug 25, 2011 5:59 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
RebLem wrote:Let me take these in reverse order.
You never got to me. :wink:
I believe my eminently rational exposition on the other points answered your post without the need for a specific mention of it.
Don't drink and drive. You might spill it.--J. Eugene Baker, aka my late father
"We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."--Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S. Carolina.
"Racism is America's Original Sin."--Francis Cardinal George, former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago.

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:42 pm

RebLem wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
RebLem wrote:Let me take these in reverse order.
You never got to me. :wink:
I believe my eminently rational exposition on the other points answered your post without the need for a specific mention of it.
Bending history to explain catastrophic events we would prefer to wish away is an unattractive if understandable phenomenon of human psychology that leads us, unfortunately, to conspiracy theories. Without supporting evidence that it happened, the idea that the US let bin Laden go at Tora Bora on purpose to advance some agenda is right up there with the notion that Roosevelt was complicit in Pearl Harbor because he was eager for a reason to enter WW II. It is perhaps the liberal counterpart to Corlyss' absurd notion that the Iraq invasion was justified because there really were weapons of mass destruction that are now hidden in Syria. As with the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 (which has its conspiracy theories too), we cannot easily accept the plain truth that human stupidity, depravity, and moral obtusneness, unchecked by the successful preventive action of good people who in retrospect we think should have been forarmed, blundered into a victory for evil.

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Re: Costly Foreign Lessons

Post by lennygoran » Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:06 pm

>Bending history to explain catastrophic events we would prefer to wish away is an unattractive if understandable phenomenon of human psychology that leads us, unfortunately, to conspiracy theories. <

Common you're just jealous--my reply needed responding to--even a spelling error--your reply needed nothing! Regards, Len [fleeing]

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