(h/t Heather at VideoCafe)
They say that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. Certainly, over the decades, we've had more than a few people warn us on the dangers of the US using warfare as a solution. From Thomas Paine to Dwight D Eisenhower, we've been warned that war is not the answer. But sadly, we've ignored that lesson, opting instead to "prove" America's supremacy via warfare. But what is rarely discussed is what this bellicosity has cost us.
Andrew Bacevich wrote an op-ed based on his book Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War that has stuck with me since I read it, because it lays out some cold hard truths about exactly what is our objective in the Middle East.
Among nations classified as liberal democracies, only two resisted this trend (of realizing that warfare did not solve problems). One was the United States, the sole major belligerent to emerge from the Second World War stronger, richer, and more confident. The second was Israel, created as a direct consequence of the horrors unleashed by that cataclysm. By the 1950s, both countries subscribed to this common conviction: national security (and, arguably, national survival) demanded unambiguous military superiority. In the lexicon of American and Israeli politics, “peace” was a codeword. The essential prerequisite for peace was for any and all adversaries, real or potential, to accept a condition of permanent inferiority. In this regard, the two nations -- not yet intimate allies -- stood apart from the rest of the Western world.
So even as they professed their devotion to peace, civilian and military elites in the United States and Israel prepared obsessively for war. They saw no contradiction between rhetoric and reality. Yet belief in the efficacy of military power almost inevitably breeds the temptation to put that power to work. “Peace through strength” easily enough becomes “peace through war.”
It's downright Orwellian, but it's hard to argue that the nation's leaders have been sucked into a mentality where war is the answer, even when they don't really know what is the question.
If any overarching conclusion emerges from the Afghan and Iraq Wars (and from their Israeli equivalents), it’s this: victory is a chimera. Counting on today’s enemy to yield in the face of superior force makes about as much sense as buying lottery tickets to pay the mortgage: you better be really lucky.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. economy went into a tailspin, Americans contemplated their equivalent of Israel’s “demographic bomb” -- a “fiscal bomb.” Ingrained habits of profligacy, both individual and collective, held out the prospect of long-term stagnation: no growth, no jobs, no fun. Out-of-control spending on endless wars exacerbated that threat.
By 2007, the American officer corps itself gave up on victory, although without giving up on war. First in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, priorities shifted. High-ranking generals shelved their expectations of winning -- at least as a Rabin or Schwarzkopf would have understood that term. They sought instead to not lose. In Washington as in U.S. military command posts, the avoidance of outright defeat emerged as the new gold standard of success.
That's it in a nutshell, isn't it? When we hear politicos talking about "victory" in Afghanistan, I've yet to hear anyone explain what victory looks like. And yet Obama has committed 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan so that we may "win." Meanwhile we allow the Republicans to frame the debate internally on the size of the deficit, not mentioning that the biggest drains on the deficit are these seemingly endless wars with muddled and impossible-to-benchmark objectives.
As Steve Hynd at Newshoggers puts it:
And thus, by the tortured logic of the Beltway, we cannot admit we are nation-building in Afghanistan because we are obviously failing at it - even as we are unable to consider any options that don't involve nation-building. Madness.