When Will We Admit We Have ‘Lost’?

Regarding Syraqistan, a while ago, I defined the word insanity as the U.S foreign and military policy establishment (boldface added):

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.

Well, if you don’t believe the Mad Biologist, maybe you’ll listen to James Fallows (boldface mine):

Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.

Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war….

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.” In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world. When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.

One point Fallows repeatedly makes is that, despite many Americans professed love for our ‘troops’, many Americans view soldiers as a them, not an us, so what I’m about to write is probably seems naive: forget the treasure–the lives we spent deserved better than our epic saga of failure. If we really valued their lives, those of us with the luxury to do so would be asking the hard questions about how things have gone so very wrong for so long.

One can hope anyway.

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