The Definition of Insanity, Also Known As the U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment

The old saw “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results” certainly applies to our Middle East foreign policy. Regarding the increasing drumbeat for another war in Iraq, Lance Mannion asks:

Should we do nothing? Why or why not? What should we do and how would that work? And what I want to know, more than that you were right about Iraq in 2002, is if you think Bill Clinton failed morally and geo-politically when he did nothing about Rwanda.

Also what are your thoughts on Kuwait, the Kurds, Kosovo, Tora Bora, killing bin Laden, and Libya?

So I’m going to build on a comment I left over at Lance’s joint. Over the last 20 years, every time (with one exception) we have intervened militarily (and airstrikes are an intervention–just ask those on the receiving end), we have ended up making things worse, especially over the long-term (Kuwait*, Iraq, Syria, Libya). The one exception to this was piracy in Somalia, where our allies were sincerely on-board (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) with stopping piracy–that is, our allies were allies, not ‘allies’ (nobody really liked those guys). In that limited situation, we were successful in stopping piracy, even though Islamic militancy can still be found there. Might be a lesson in there somewhere.

Our long, glorious epic of failure suggests that our foreign policy establishment, including government officials, the chattering classes, and many foreign policy ‘experts’ has no #$%^&! clue as how to conduct a foreign policy initiative with a military component. Since this establishment has a cycle time far longer than than a presidential term, to a considerable extent, Obama isn’t the issue here.

Obama, to his credit, has had a notable success in removing weapons of mass destruction (gas weapons) from Syria–just in time it would appear. But that was mostly a diplomatic initiative, not a military one.

At some point, we need to realize that our foreign policy establishment simply can’t ‘win a war’–or at least the wars they want to fight. I want to repeat that key point: even though the average U.S. battalion, with appropriate air and artillery support, can unleash far more devastation than the Roman Legions could have ever dreamt of, we have failed spectacularly in the Middle East. Even when we have been successful in the short term (‘militarily’), in the long-term, the consequences have been disastrous.

Why would we expect the same foreign policy establishment to be right this time? We should recognize that it is fundamentally incapable of advancing U.S. interests (I’m working under the naive assumption that perpetual war is not a U.S. interest…). Leaving aside the various moral and ethical questions, there is no evidence that suggests we will be any more successful this time.

Perhaps then, we should stop fighting these wars?

*As a result of the first Gulf War, the U.S. stationed troops in Saudi Arabia which greatly angered Wahabiists, including a guy named Osama bin Laden.

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2 Responses to The Definition of Insanity, Also Known As the U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment

  1. Mike, thanks for the link. Not to make us both feel old, but Kuwait was 24 going on 25 years ago not 20. Also, I’m still including Kosovo in my question. And as far as Iraq goes that wasn’t something “we” did. It was George W. Bush’s personal misadventure and like everything else the Bush Leaguers put their hands to, it was one giant screw-up from beginning to end, so I think including that war as part of an argument for not interfering in the Middle East is like including New Orleans as part of an argument for not responding to hurricane warnings.

  2. Gav says:

    Not insanity so much as theatre of the absurd. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

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