Blowing apart a problem for a while is different from ending it for good.
Wars usually end only when the defeated aggressor believes it would be futile to resume the conflict. Lasting peace follows if the loser is then forced to change its political system into something other than what it was.
Republican Rome learned that bitter lesson through three conflicts with Carthage before ensuring that there was not going to be a fourth Punic War.
Germany fought three aggressive wars before it was finally defeated, occupied, and reinvented.
America defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, inflicting such damage that they were all unable to continue their resistance. And then, unlike its quick retreat home after World War I, America occupied — and still has bases in — all three.
Does anyone believe that Japan, Italy, and Germany would now be allies of the U.S. had the Truman administration removed all American military bases from those countries by 1948?
The controversial Korean War succeeded in saving a non-Communist South Korea. The U.S. military inflicted terrible punishment on Communist Korean and Chinese aggressors. Then, America occupied South Korea to prevent another attack from the North. The world of Samsung and Kia eventually followed.
There are still American peacekeepers in the Balkans following the 1999 defeat of Slobodan Milosevic and his removal from the Serbian government. Does anyone think that we can now pull all NATO troops out of the Balkans and expect Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Slavs, Croats, and other assorted nationalities and religions to live peacefully and not involve the world again in their brutal ancient rivalries?
In contrast, examine what has happened when the United States pounded an enemy, then just up and left.
By 1974, South Vietnam was viable. A peace treaty with North Vietnam was still holding. But after Watergate, the destruction of the Richard Nixon presidency, serial cutoffs of U.S. aid, and the removal of all U.S. peacekeeping troops, the North Vietnamese easily walked in and enslaved the South.
It was easy to bomb Moammar Qaddafi out of power — and easier still for President Obama to boast that he would never send in ground troops to sort out the ensuing mess in Libya. What followed was a Congo-like miasma, leading to the Benghazi attacks on our consulate and the killing of four U.S. personnel.
We can brag that U.S. ground troops did not follow our bombs and missiles into Libya. But the country is now more a terrorist haven than it was under Qaddafi — and may come back to haunt us still more.
When Obama entered office, Iraq was largely quiet. Six prior years of American blood and treasure had finally led to the end of the genocidal Saddam Hussein regime and the establishment of a constitutional system that was working under the close supervision of American peacekeepers.
Then, for the price of a reelection talking point — “I ended the war in Iraq” — Obama pulled out every American peacekeeper. The result is now the chaos of a growing Islamic State.
Apparently, Obama himself recognizes his error. When our troops were still monitoring the Iraqi peace, he and Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed Iraq to be “stable” and their likely “greatest” achievement. But when the country imploded after they had bragged about pulling out troops, Obama blamed the decision on someone else.
The unpopular, costly occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq were not, as charged, neoconservative fantasies about utopian democracy-building. Instead, they were desperate, no-win reactions to past failed policies.
After we armed Islamists to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan in 1989, we forgot about the chaotic country. The Clinton administration periodically blew up things with cruise missiles there on rumors of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. An al-Qaeda base for the 9/11 attacks followed.
After expelling Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait and leaving Iraq in 1991, no-fly-zones, a resurgent and conniving Saddam, and Operation Desert Fox followed. The aim of the second Iraq war, of 2003, was to end the conflict for good by replacing Saddam with something better than what we had left after the first war.
It is popular to think that America’s threats can be neutralized by occasional use of missiles, bombs, and drones without much cost. But blowing apart a problem for a while is different from ending it for good. The latter aim requires just the sort of unpopular occupations that calmed the Balkans, and had done the same in Iraq by 2011.
Obama now promises to destroy the Islamic State in Syria, solely through air power. And he assures that he will safely pull nearly all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan at the end of the year.
More likely, Syria will remain a dangerous mess like Libya, and Afghanistan will end up like Vietnam or Iraq.
Victory on the ground and occupations can end a problem but are unpopular and costly.
Bombing is easy, forgettable, and ends up mostly as a temporary Band-Aid.
If we cannot or will not solve the problem on the ground, end an enemy power, and then reconstitute its government, then it is probably better to steer clear altogether than to blow up lots of people and things — and simply go home.
© 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
16 thoughts on “Bomb, Occupy, or Neither?”
Great thoughts, professor Hanson… regarding “Afghanistan will end up like Vietnam or Iraq”…
What is the status of modern Vietnam? Are citizens oppressed? Had the US stayed in S. Vietnam, or had it won all of Vietnam and stayed to occupy and rebuild… how different would it be today?
And would that region of the world be safer, better off? Or has everything settled into something more declining? Or ascending?
Passive aggressive sarcasm aside, I presume Mr. Hanson is referring to the immediate aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Saigon which was horrific, entailing needless waste, destruction, loss of life and property, human suffering and displacement – and comprised an interval of substantial duration.
Excellent and clear-minded insight!
Token bombings of enemies are of the ilk of hashtag slacktivism; it all looks pretty and costless until you look at the results.
I hate to say this but given the Middle East, leaving a weakened Saddam Hussein in place may have been the best option. I like Cheney and W but they may have made a mistake there. Coulter writes that the non-combatant friendly style of warfare we engaged in for Iraq and Afghanistan make a WWII Japan and Germany outcome where they integrated well with the rest of the world unlikely. I know I will be crucified for saying this but “If we have to go in a second time, it’s a colony”. Building up the Kurds might be a closet way of doing this and less of a public relations problem. If the middle east would just sit in their desert and kill each other, which is mostly what happens, I think the rest of us could all live with that. But when 9/11 and beheading westerners happen, the Islamist revealed themselves as a threat to us. If Britain were still running most of the middle east I think 90% of the world would be happy as a clam.
So Victor’s getting to a long list here of countries we are in, or should be in. How many countries should we be in and how do we pay for that? I saw Rand Paul hint this to a Fox interviewer. It’s a valid question. Clearly we only get involved if it’s a vital U.S. interest. Maybe it’s not as expensive as I think it is. In Iraq they were saying 10k U.S. troops would have prevented ISIS. Kind of like Britain controlling all of India with 20k civil servants. Maybe if it’s an oil country we say “You pay for the 10k troops first.”
Tom, we need to have a consistent policy in the mideast with the full support of and protection of Israel. The Arab tribes have been shedding each others blood for millennia. We need to open up our Country to oil and gas production so we can supply our allies as well as ourselves the necessary energy our economy requires. Although China will continue to grow its military in order to expand its reach and influence I do not believe they will engage with us in all out war if we remain vigilant in maintaining the strongest best equipped military. Russia is going to be a problem that will require constant supervision. Putin is not the only Russian nationalist there are many in Russia and they have nukes and nuts to spare so beware. There will never be one global government which is a fantasy of the pacifist, weak bodied and weak minded individual. Buckle your seat belt because the next 10 years will be another replay of an age old conflict. Muslims vs. Christians. Israel is not going out without firing everything they’ve got and we better help them or else its over for us too ultimately. Those who say religion is the cause for violence and war are naive. Human beings need religion as much as air and water. Its the nourishment for the soul. I don’t presume to know what God’s plan is but I do know I have free will and will not go down without teaching my children how to defend and protect themselves from others wishing to enslave them.
Just remember, my boy, that ISIS hates the US above all. They want New York City so badly they can taste it. It took Islam seven centuries to get the Red Apple, Constantinople. Frankly, I doubt that the Big Apple will take them nearly as long.
As for this drivel about how to pay for it, confiscate ISIS oil – it is a million bucks a day or more. But in any event they hate you, and earmarking a part of the huge US defence budget to keep Iraq pacified is a small price to pay. IF you can get Iraq back under control, which remains to be seen. It is not going to happen under the present president, and it will be a much bigger problem in two years time than it is now
Bomb the Hell out of them and follow up with a ground campaign. It worked fine in Iraq in the early `90s – Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm shows how to do it – assuming that the leadership at the top isn’t
fatuous. And always, klotzen nicht kleckern, as Guderian would say – very roughly, clobber them, don’t just muss up their hair. Bomb, and bomb, and then bomb some more.
Oh yes – and remember it is you, the US of A, that ISIS hates above all. You are their principal enemy. And they will come after you as soon as they can.
Until we openly confront and defeat the fascist ideology that fuels the attacks on us (begins with the letter I), there will never be an end to the wars we get drawn into, and the scope of those wars will only increase. The enemy has a manual for global war (its name begins with the letter K, or Q), which we refuse to read or heed, and they have a set of military-political tactics manuals (their name begins with the letter S), but we refuse to read them as well. We pigheadedly refuse to use these openly-stated and mandatory (for the enemy forces) directives as the basis for our strategy for defeating the forces arrayed against us.
Since we have apparently already chosen not to win, and apparently have already decided that the enemy will not lose, we will be bankrupted fighting our own shadow, while blind, deaf, and dumb. All this energy-sapping futility is part of the documented enemy strategy that we are deliberately ignoring, The alternative ending is that we will surrender our freedom either incrementally as we are worn down, or outright collapse. The enemy’s war manual defines the non-negotiable terms for the ending of this conflict–unconditional surrender (submission) by us, to them. Accept their domination, or die.
We either need to smash this ideology, which is breeding a thousand new Hitlers every day, and organizing a dozen new al Qaedas a month, or get out of the game, and quarantine the Islamic world, as we would quarantine a deadly virus.
And just how do you propose to quarantine the Islamic world??!? More stupid American isolationist fantasy. People travel to and from the Middle East many times a day – regular flights from Qatar to NYC, for example (about 14 hours, BTW). Oil, construction, commerce, you name it. You are going to bar a Saudi prince, who is a billionaire, and owns an expensive condo in NYC? And who can and will buy American politicians as need be?
You can’t even keep Ebola virus out. And you talk about keeping out a nice rich Middle Eastern man, who has some associates who aren’t so nice?
No, you do not need to smash this ideology. You need to read David Goldman, and convince yourself as to the necessity of killing large numbers of young Muslim men. His estimate is three million. And the sooner we get to it the better.
Sorry, I did not see your reply until today.
You smash the ideology by insisting on telling the truth about it in every forum. For instance, your public officials should not go around saying “it is a religion of peace.” Instead, they tell the truth and say it is a violent, supremacist, and sociopathic political cult–not a religion as we understand religions– whose record of political mass murder is 270 million souls and counting.
We should be operating a Radio Free America in which there are educational programs wherein the poisonous cult doctrines are analyzed and dissected and exposed for their political viciousness and intentional fraud and deception. We need to get the truth out to the rank and file of the Islamic world. The Middle Eastern potentates cannot stop the radio waves.
When a “nice” person self-identifies as being a member of this cult, instead of saying “Gee, that is fascinating, we really respect your commitment,” we say “That is really terrible. We are sorry that a nice person like you somehow got trapped in that disgusting cult. We hope you can free yourself one day. I hope you don’t beat your wife. Is she safe?”
As for isolation, members of this cult, which by explicit doctrine employs lying to spread its tentacles, should not be hosted in the West on student visas, or teaching in our schools and universities. Members of this cult should not be holding positions of public trust in any capacity, and certainly should not be receiving security clearances.
Islam is designed to attack, attack, attack. The attacks come as violence, as lawfare, as propaganda, as mosque-building (a mosque is not a “church”; it is a political indoctrination and operations center–basically,-a Hitler Youth camp, or a fort behind enemy lines), as sedition, and as criminal activity of every kind, financial and otherwise. In every dimension, the attacks must be answered with counter-attacks, and the result must be a weakening of the Islamic collective.
There is much more that could be itemized here. But the bottom line is this: Right now, the Islamic collective is attacking our civilization. We are getting weaker with each attack (according to the explicit Islamic plan) instead of the other way around. We must reverse that trend, or watch our freedoms perish.
As usual: Thank you Mr. Hanson. Thank you.
After some thought, here’s my suggestion for what we should try, not that we will.
I think a more viable plan is to use Assad’s forces as the anvil and the Iraqi army and various militias as the hammer, giving them as many Western boots on the ground as required to advance. Use the Kurds as a trench line to the north and Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Assad as a trench line to the south, rolling ISIS up from east to west, with stepped up air support provided by the existing coalition.
Then throw Assad a curve ball. Let Iraq keep most of the liberated Syrian territory. He might actually go for this, at least as a solution for a decade or so, until people calm down.
Iraq’s main problem is that it doesn’t have enough Sunnis, so the Shiites dominate the parliament. Syria’s main problem is that it has too many Sunnis, many of them radicals, who present an existential threat to all the Syrian minorities and whose numbers all but preclude Syria being ruled democratically as anything other than a Sunni-run fundamentalist quasi-theocracy or an oppressive Ba’athist police state.. Of course, in theory, had reality not happened, Syria could be a nice, Sunni dominated democracy that respects minorities. But not after all the blood that’s been shed. The step after survival and victory is vengeance, and even the FSA keeps executing suspected informers, sometimes hundreds at a time.
But the Syrians have no real beef with Iraq, or Iraq’s government. Shift about 8 million Sunnis from Syria to Iraq, or shift their cities, and Syria achieves parity between Sunnis and other minorities, removing the existential threat and making it democratically governable, similar to Lebanon. Iraq simultaneously achieves parity between Sunnis and Shiites and its parliament becomes balanced, removing the Iraqi Sunni complaints against their government’s Shia domination. It also removes some of the inducement for Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis to radicalize and join groups like ISIS.
With today’s reports of ISIS forces entering the city’s suburbs, it’s time to start pondering the strategic and political ramifications of the fall of Baghdad.