So have we
learned anything after three years in
Well, we learned, or were reminded, early on in the
But war, as the 19th century Prussian theorist Karl von Clausewitz explained with a good deal of elaboration, is politics carried on by other means. We have a solid (and healthy) tradition of civilian control of the military in this country. Civilians determine the political goals, and much about the acceptable means to be employed, for which military people then risk their lives.
We are learning, through books such as Cobra II by Michael Gordon and retired Marine Gen. Bernard Trainor, that even in the early phases military professionals who wanted to spend more time cleaning up pockets of resistance were overruled by civilian leaders in Washington who cared more about the appearance of a swift victory than a complete victory. It is hardly controversial these days that the military, or at least many in the military's upper echelons, would have preferred a larger invasion force than the civilian masters permitted. It also became apparent almost immediately that almost no planning was done for the post-invasion occupation. Indeed, many in both the civilian and military leadership did not expect an occupation to last more than six months.
It is likely that abuses like the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which so tarnished the reputation of the United States and its military and have been widely blamed on a few lower-level grunts, are at least partly the responsibility of civilians in the Pentagon, the Department of Justice, and the White House, who were busy writing memos that blurred the reasonably clear lines between interrogation and torture found in the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions.
Even now, three years after the invasion, the objectives outlined by civilian leaders are more pious platitudes and aspirations than concrete objectives and hardheaded strategies for achieving them. The ongoing occupation has given bin Laden-style radicals a recruiting tool, and Iraq has become an incubator for terrorists that didn't exist before an "ultimate real-life training ground," as Charles Peña, author of the forthcoming book Winning the Un-War told me, for terrorists who are likely to afflict Europe and perhaps the United States for years to come.
Now, as conflict that may or may not be a genuine civil war rages in the wake of a temple bombing, the need for concrete objectives is more urgent than ever. Unfortunately, our civilian leadership is stuck on stock phrases and relentless optimism.
None of this suggests we should give up civilian control of military action. Even though recent experience suggests that the military as an institution is more cautious than many individuals entranced with the potential for reshaping the world through military action, over the long haul this might not hold true in all circumstances, and civilian control is still preferable. But the American people should have learned to be more skeptical of civilian leaders and determined to hold them accountable, especially when the war drums are pounding.
That's not always easy, of course. Presidents and their advisers have learned, over the years, to shape their war-inciting messages so as to appeal to most patriotic Americans who don't pay close attention to foreign developments on a day-to-day basis. And terrorists like Osama bin Laden can generally be depended on to play their symbiotic role of committing the occasional outrageous attack that keeps most Americans feeling insecure and in need of protection, even aggressive or "preemptive" protection. In fact, especially when a country is a global power with military installations and "interests" throughout the world, the rest of the world really can be a dangerous place.
President Bush in his recent speeches and appearances has stressed the importance of Iraqis putting aside their differences and agreeing to support a national unity government. There are several reasons this is a questionable tactic.
For starters, having the president of the United States deliver this opinion is a constant reminder to Iraqis that the United States is an occupying force, that this Iraqi government is not fully sovereign in its own territory, and that any future government will have limited actual sovereignty so long as the United States has a substantial number of troops in the country and is counted on to provide a significant amount of security. In addition, there are reasons to doubt whether a strong national unity government is a workable way to deal with the problems governing that particular piece of Mesopotamian territory.
It has become all too familiar to Americans who follow Iraqi issues, but it's worth a reminder. The country as currently constituted was cobbled together by the British after World War I from provinces that the previously ruling Ottoman Empire had chosen to govern as three separate provinces. Thus there are Kurds in the north, Shia Muslims in the south (constituting a majority of the entire country), and Sunni Muslims (the ruling class under Saddam) in the center, with other minorities and many mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods and towns to complicate matters.
A straight majority-rule democracy in
The obvious solution short of outright partition is something like federalism (though there must be a term from Islamic history that means much the same) with a relatively weak central government and a great deal of local autonomy. Getting there is complicated by the fact that there are no working oil fields in the central, mostly Sunni region, so Sunnis would have to have great confidence to agree to oil revenue-sharing agreements.
There's evidence, beginning with the agreement Sunday to form a national security council outside the framework of the largely American-designed constitution, that the Iraqis understand this much better than the American government does. Having Americans repeat that the fantasy of putting aside differences for the sake of national unity is the only acceptable course discourages more realistic approaches and delays the day when Iraqis take full responsibility and accountability for their own political future.
Perhaps it is necessary for
Effects on Neighbors
long-term hopes for the war in
As of now, militancy in the
region is on the rise rather than on the decline. The regional influence of
"Who could possibly look at anything in
Even Israel, the country many war critics say the war
advocates were trying to protect, may be less stable (though Ariel Sharon's
stroke certainly has something to do with that). Dore
What lessons might the United states take from what has been a much more difficult and costly endeavor than advertised, even if it does (however unlikely it may seem now) bring a modicum of stability and decent governance in the long run?
Preemptive or Preventive?
First, Americans should learn the difference between a preemptive and a preventive war. A preemptive war occurs when there is solid evidence of an imminent attack (e.g., troop movements, bombs being loaded) and the country fearing attack strikes first. A preventive war is designed to counter a potential threat that might occur months, years, or even decades down the road. Preventive wars are morally and strategically much more difficult to justify or carry out successfully.
The attack on
Americans would do well to learn more skepticism when their leaders are beating the war drums. Whether our leaders consciously lied during the run-up to the war may be impossible to know with certainty, but they clearly emphasized or chose to believe the evidence that validated their preferred course of action and downplayed countervailing evidence. Leaders have done likewise in the past and will do so in the future. Caveat emptor.
In the longer run, even before the fallout from