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3:18AM

Great Powers deleted scenes: Chapter 2


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The truth is that Desert Storm didn't cure our Vietnam syndrome. It merely exacerbated it because that syndrome wasn't about defeating traditional armies but our unwillingness to master far harder counter-insurgency operations and nation building. Afghanistan alone would not have provided a tipping point. But our difficulties in Iraq have, finally forcing the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to learn. No one wants to hear this, but that alone makes our difficult sacrifices there worthwhile. Slowly, but surely, Iraq forges the military we need for this long war. The question isn't whether America will change but how much pain will be involved. Iraq can either make us madder or it can make us smarter.

 

Admittedly, the surge's several tactical successes in 2007-08 were largely disconnected from any strategic progress in either strengthening the central government or stemming the opportunistic meddling by neighbors. Iraq is slowly separating into its three constituent parts (Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni), with Baghdad becoming increasingly irrelevant to that reality. When push comes to shove, there is no "Iraq" any more than there was a "Yugoslavia." America's military surge thus effectively played midwife to this Balkans done backwards, in which we removed the dictator first and then presided uncomfortably over
the ethnic cleansing that killed Iraq as a unitary state. Iraq's soft partition was preordained by the first Gulf War's inconclusive outcome: Saddam survived to mercilessly crush a Shiite revolt but was subsequently prevented by American air power from strangling the emergent Kurdish nation. Now, as a result of our strategic choices, neither Kurds nor Shia accept anything less than a future free of Sunni domination. President George Bush and the neocons entered office in 2001 bragging that real superpowers don't do nation-building, and yet they have unwittingly created the modern era's first Kurdish nation and first Arab Shiite state--two lasting "big bangs" that future presidents will manage for decades.

 

What wasn't inevitable in this storyline was the amount of casualties we've suffered along the way, but let's be honest with ourselves here, because the Bush administration was by no means solely to blame, even if it deserves the lion's share. America's political system and defense-industrial complex were fundamentally incapable of adjusting to this long war against radical extremism absent the sort of undeniable failure represented by our post-war mismanagement of Iraq. Long addicted to the Powell Doctrine's central tenet of avoiding another Vietnam at all costs, we went into Iraq with the force we'd been building for the previous quarter century. That military didn't do post-wars; it didn't plan for them or equip for them or even have a credible doctrine for them. Led by political masters who openly disdained all of those requirements, it was a match made in hell.

 

...

 

 

Finally, America needs to admit that all this talk about Iraq being America's worst foreign policy disaster ever is pure hyperbole. Portraying Iraq as another Vietnam is a tough sell, but it's one our Boomer leaders can't help but make, since they are sad products of their upbringing. Because America faces no superpower rival today, it's hard to see how our current difficulties in Iraq, no matter how we exit or stay, portend an irreversible loss of respect for U.S. military power globally. All we've proven is that: 1) America alone can't stabilize--much less rebuild--a country of Iraq's size following regime change, and 2)
providing more than 90 percent of the postwar ground forces inevitably cripples our military. But think back a mere decade to America's successful participation in the dismantling of Yugoslavia, to include positive regime change in malevolent Serbia. There we waged war and then peace in a near-casualty-free environment, leaving both Bosnia and Kosovo more stable and internationally connected than we found them. The difference? President Bill Clinton took the time to build a significant international coalition, allowing the U.S. to lead in war but largely follow in the peace, providing less than 10 percent of the peacekeeping force left behind. Now, NATO actually sends into former Yugoslavia fewer peacekeeping troops than the surviving countries provide NATO in post-conflict situations elsewhere, making these states de facto security exporters. Imagine how long it will take before we see Iraqi peacekeepers serving alongside Americans outside of the Persian Gulf. So, sure, Iraq may define the floor of our capabilities for post-conflict reconstruction and stability operations, but it hardly sets the ceiling.

 

It's tempting to assume any pullback from Iraq signals the end of messy nation-building efforts, but recent history says otherwise. During the Cold War, America engaged in nation building once every decade, but since then it's been closer to once every couple of years, especially when you consider the inevitable splintering of fragile states. Iraq, for example, is logically considered three separate efforts: the good (Kurdish region), the bad (Shiite provinces) and the ugly (the Sunni triangle). This higher frequency in what the Pentagon calls "post-conflict reconstruction and stability operations" corresponds to the sharp rise--since Bush 41, mind you--in the use of American forces in both crisis responses (e.g., civil strife, disaster relief) and regime-toppling exercises designed to round up bad guys (e.g., Panama's Noriega, Serbia's Milosevic & Co., Afghanistan's Taliban and Al Qaeda, and Iraq's "deck of cards"). The problem is that bad guys get smarter, shifting their efforts from a "first half" (war) they cannot win against our
world-class forces to a "second half" (postwar) where they can prevail against our rather mediocre nation-builders. Simply put, insurgents avoid our Leviathan force during war, waiting until the follow-on peace can be sabotaged by terrorism and the battered populace co-opted by their superior forms of tribe building.

 

It's easy to call it a "clash of civilizations" and bail, but let me give you several reasons why that is utterly unrealistic. First, failed states are the essential pawns in this "long war" against radical extremism. The global jihadist movement lives for such opportunities because, despite the "holy" warriors' vaunted reputation, they can't possibly achieve power anywhere but in the most debilitated regimes. Second, globalization links our security to these failed states and this historic phenomenon is picking up speed. Too many Americans live under the delusion that globalization can be stopped with tariffs and a tall border fence, like it'll go away if we just decide we've had enough. But guess what? Those three-billion-plus new capitalists want some version of our good life, and they're not simply abandoning the dream because Iraq turns out badly for us. Trust me, it'll always be somebody's blood for somebody's oil, or diamonds, or platinum, or....

 

Third, rogue regimes love to meddle in failed states, as Lebanon's recent woes amply demonstrate. Syria has long used Lebanon as a platform for battling arch-nemesis Israel, and in the summer of 2006 Iran directed Hezbollah's splendid little war to draw global attention from its contested nuclear program. Fourth, defaulting to local dictators as the answer simply delays state failure without curing it. Sure, many strongmen, like Egypt's Hosni Mubarek, aim to replicate the "Chinese model" of economic reforms prior to political change, but most will fail in that quest simply because China itself now blocks entry into globalization's low-cost tier. Fifth, waiting on the United Nations to become that second-half peacekeeping kingpin is a dream that died more than a decade ago on the streets of Mogadishu. Yes, NATO can provide some modest help, but don't expect the "been there, done that" Europeans to resurrect a colonial-era "can do" spirit too far beyond their borders. Afghanistan is about as far "out there" as NATO is ever likely to roam, and as their restrictive and conflicting "rules of engagement" there demonstrate, not all NATO troops are easily adapted to the demands of counterinsurgency. Finally, the fundamental nature of war versus peace has been transformed: Wars have gotten shorter, easier to win, cheaper and less labor-intensive while the peace has grown dramatically longer, far more complex, a lot more expensive and inescapably labor-intensive.

 

Here's our real challenge today and the harsh lesson we must take away from Iraq and Afghanistan: As our over-developed Leviathan warfighting force gets stronger, it drives up the resource requirements of our underdeveloped SysAdmin peacemaking force. We cannot keep writing checks with our airpower that our boots-on-the-ground cannot possibly cash.

Reader Comments (2)

And that's the analysis not compelling enough to make it into the book!
January 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom Barnett
"America's political system and defense-industrial complex were fundamentally incapable of adjusting to this long war against radical extremism absent the sort of undeniable failure represented by our post-war mismanagement of Iraq."

Many teachers and supervisors let their students or staffs learn reality by trying solutions that sound good, but don't work. If they gave them the answer too soon, it would be debated too long, with emphasis on its potential problems.

There was a similar situation on convincing public, politicians and media specialists that we needed to transform our economy and reduce its emphasis on domestic consumer consumption, and intangible 'fast money' financial investments and jobs.

Get more experienced K-12 teachers as Leaders ????
January 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLouis Heberlein

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