Throughout this series I've used war policy to expand on ideas of liberties and other such topics. War is something no country can avoid. From the smallest African territories to the largest developed nations, war comes to everyone. Opinions on war are as diverse as the racial make up of our nation; from pacifist libertarians and communists to imperial democrats and socialists. Ideas on fighting war, how to organize troops, what technologies to pursue, what tactics to use; the free market of ideas has brought us to our top spot in the world. This post will give general ideas and suggestions that are only my opinion. I am in no way a military expert or an expert on war policy and do not expect anyone but myself to take any part of my ideas seriously. But I am a compulsive writer. C'est la vie.
Last Resort or Extension of Diplomacy?
First, let's define my views on war.
If you troll a message board, a live debate or any kind of policy article, there will mostly likely be a clear distinction between the (simplified) schools. On one side, there is the idea that war, no matter the circumstances, must be the very last decision of the government. To the “last resort” school, at least to that faction that presented itself during the pre-Iraq War buildup, all options other than war must be expended to prevent the use of the military, which includes the United Nations. Of course, not all “last resort” factions hold that the UN is the final straw before the bombs drop; some draw the line at the evocation of war powers by the President or the authorization of force by Congress. Their basic point is that the United States should not commit to conflict without making sure it is absolutely necessary.
The other school is that of using war as an extension of ideological and diplomatic goals. For example, the neo-conservative theory of planting the seeds of democracy in the Middle East is an idea where war is a tool to achieve a global democratic international community that will aid the interests of the United States. The Iraq War was in-part the first run of this theory, and despite the criticism by isolationists, leftists and realists and those who call themselves “realists”, the actual planting of democracy in Iraq has done a lot of good for the Iraqi people. The economy is rebuilding quickly, voting has become a common event and with the country stabilized, social interaction and political differences are resolved much more peacefully than they were under Saddam Hussein The spreading of it from Iraq to the Middle East tyrannies, though, is slow (voting rights are slowly coming to some nations) as to be non-existent. Neo-conservative democracy theory is not the only “war as a tool” theory. There are those who actually debate the idea of invading nations for resources, creating some kind of 1800s style imperialism, and other such ideas.
I have a hybrid view of the two school. I do not believe that war should be the very last resort despite all other options. To attempt to put off war until all other avenues have been walked may allow the enemy time to strengthen their defenses even more or even mount a surprise first strike. To go as far as the left wished (attain a concrete resolution giving the war a green light) we went during before the Iraq War would of kept us wrapped in red tape for months beyond the perfect time to invade. Unlike the previous conflict with Iraq where the threat was universal and the world united against Hussein, the Iraq War threat was aimed at Western nations and the world was split between the US-led “coalition of the willing” and the antiwar, sometimes anti-American faction led by France and Russia. Previously, a great stake of the oil market was to be under Iraqi control. More recently, the Iraqi threat was based upon uneven intelligence of a restated weapons program and the Iraqi connections with various terrorist groups. Despite the mistakes that were made with intelligence, the threat from Saddam Hussein's police state was there, although not as dreadful as it seemed. If the United States had waited any longer than it did, with the intelligence it had, it would not only be risking a first strike by Iraq (who had been given notice months before the invasion and had an extensive defensive network since 1991), but would risk adverse weather and morale difficulties if the waiting went any longer.
Though the sound of revolutionary democratic change is a emotionally exciting idea, the United States' support of liberal democracies, and its use of military force to defend itself and other nations, has largely put democracy on the back burner compared to the immediate destruction of the enemy. Democracy wasn't necessarily on the minds of the leaders during World War I or World War II when many, many American rights were violated in the name of fighting the Germans and Japanese. Not to mention our alliances with Soviet Russia, authoritarian Nationalist China and Communist China, and other temporary alliances that were less than open to the idea of democratic tools for political decisions. Not to say that we should not support modern democracies like Israel, Georgia or any other fledging open societies, but we should not turn fanatic when a nation tries voting instead of tyranny.
[Quick tangent: Although the critics of our support of internal democratic change would like to point back to the Cold War and our hand in the overthrow of other “democratic” movements and governments, there is plenty of evidence that those elected governments were actively working with the USSR and/or undermining the liberties of their own people with their policies. The Cold War was a dark time in world history and what we did was both ruthless and necessary. Of course, we made mistakes, but would you rather have today Communist superpower or a democratic superpower?]
No nation, especially now, has the resources or the will to create an imperial state in the model or on the scale of the Victorian empires. With that, no nation, if it values its own sovereignty above that of other nations, would hand over its war making decisions to an international body that may or may not hold the same views, let along the same perception of threat, as the nation that comes asking for authority to commit to war. America is unique in that it can strike almost anywhere at anytime with enough force as to cause much trouble for the targeted nation, but we do not have, nor will we ever have, the ability to create and maintain any kind of global empire we are constantly accused of attempting. The neo-conservatives and their idealism could never be maintained even if it took one hundred years of consistent policy.
In light of all this, the loss of sovereignty by relegated the decision to go to war to foreign bodies and our inability to take upon ourselves the ideological goals of spreading liberty-friendly ideas by force, I find it best the United States take a lesson from the Greek students of Socrates and practice moderation.
For example, the Kosovo War, in my opinion, was a war based on ideological and humanitarian grounds, not any practical diplomatic or geopolitical grounds. Our intervention against the Yugoslavian governments heavy-handed response to ethnic Albanian terrorism ended up inciting old and new ethnic nationalism among countries like Russia, Macedonia and Georgia. There was no real benefit for the United States to participate in the continuing break up of Yugoslavia, other than to attain some kind of humanitarian moral high ground by saving the majority Muslim ethnic Albanians from the media-saturated actions of Serbian soldiers. What we did in 1999 ended up kicking us in the butt when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 under the auspices of saving the Ossetian people from Georgian soldiers, though the evidence of any Georgian crimes have yet to come to light, unlike the Serbian crimes (though they were much, much less in brutality and size than the initial reports used to justify the war on Yugoslavia). Our condemnation of the invasion was met with retort of “hypocrite” by even some of our closest allies. Something that doesn't aid in any future need for them against states like Iran.
Basically, the United States should do its best to refrain from ideological or idealistic wars like Kosovo or the underlying democratic revolutionary taint of the Iraq War. Unlike the Cold War, the United States will have to deal with a more decentralized, Enlightenment-age power balance between up-and-coming nations like China, Brazil and India as well as the European Union and Russia (if Russia does not collapse under its own demographic decline). While the United States will not fall during this rise as long as it holds to its capitalist economy and individualist soicety, it will have to contend with sating or containing these powers in the pursuit of its own interests. No longer can we have wars based on our ideals, but we should save our diplomatic capital for times when nations like Russia or China decide to unleash a proxy or their own military upon a neighbor. When that happens, we will have our troops unstuck from Iraq and, hopefully, from other cooling spots, and be able to confront such aggression head on with a show of force, or if necessary, force itself.
Its no secret that the War on Terror is unlike any other war we have fought in our history. We've fought the Indian Wars, the Civil War, the countless insurgencies after the Spanish-American War, Vietnam; all of those wars involved irregular forces, but those forces were connected to the belligerents. As far as I know, this is the first time our nation (or any nation) has attempted to defeat a transnational terrorist organization. This isn't an easy war, this isn't a short war, and anyone who thought it would be easy or short was kidding themselves. Also, anyone who believes this is a war against a “tactic”, which is a common criticism, have no idea of the extent of Al-Qeada's reach or its influence upon countless “resistance” groups.
Some like to point out that before the Operation Enduring Freedom, Al-Qeada was a physical threat concentrated in Afghanistan and after it morphed into a hydra-like organization, therefore much harder to defeat. Al-Qeada had never been anything of the sort. Created after Osama bin Laden's first group Maktab al-Khadamat split, Al-Qeada was a clearing house for many different Islamist groups. Osama bin Laden's money funded countless thousands bent on jihad. After the war against the Soviets, confident of his ability to bring down empires, Osama turned his eyes on the United States and its influence upon his homeland of Saudi Arabia. With his connections to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which eventually folded into Osama's Al-Qeada, he was able to send agents to attempt the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Over the years, many attempted attacks and many successful attacks were executed on American and other Western targets. Also during this time, Al-Qeada was spreading its influence to groups like Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines, the Islamic Courts in Somalia, separatists in Yemen, religious Chechen nationalists, Islamists in Jordan, Hamas in the Occupied Territories and so on. While it is true that Al-Qeada had much of its infrastructure and training camps in Afghanistan, by the time we drove them out they already had infested dozens of nations across the world.
Now that we have cut the head off of Al-Qeada and driven what central leadership it had into near isolation in Pakistan (as well as bury 30 – 60 000 Islamists in the Iraqi desert), I believe our military focus must be less of mass invasions and brigade-size deployments and turn to more rapid, flexible and covert operations against these Al-Qeada associated terror groups that plague our allies. Some nations already have our assistance in fighting their local Islamist chapters, but with the withdrawal from a stable Iraq we could divert these resources to expanding the Army Rangers, the Special Forces (Green Berets), Navy SeALs and Delta Force. Our ability to deploy quickly and strike ruthlessly and accurately would put these groups on a very unbalanced footing and, hopefully, make them think twice about initiating operations against our friends and the United States. Of course, fanatics are not known for their reason, so we should not simply assume they will stop after a successful operation, but we should follow up with any number of “aftershock” operations (as needed) to continually keep the enemy out of balance. There are those who say we can never win the War on Terror, even if that is true, there are ways to prevent these murderous groups from being able to successfully attack us like they did on 9/11.
Alliances and Preparing for New Rivals
The ascendancy of nations with both democratic and tyrannical governments with capitalist economies that bring in abundant treasure have become more vocal everyday. While it is quite ignorant to say that right now the world is “post-American”, as some so-called “realists” wish to proclaim, we should not doubt the future of these new powers influencing the Third World. India, Russia, China, Brazil, the collective known as the European Union; they all will want to push harder and faster for a place among the big boys, if they are not there already. These power struggles will eventually bring about (hopefully non-military) conflicts with us or between themselves, and that will spell disaster for us if we are not willing to confront and deter such attempts by the more tyrannical or rouge of nations; or that of nations wishing harm on us, but not to any of the other powers. To do this, I believe, we must embrace the obvious need for new loyal allies willing to step up when we ask.
If the pre- and post-Iraq War events have taught us anything, its that we need a solid base of strong, loyal allies. There were many reasons for the breakdown of our European relations during this time. Their aversion to blunt and aggressive language being amongst those reasons, the lack of support for the invasion among the voting populations and that a few of the major Western European nations had dealings with Saddam Hussein. Those kind of things. We learned that, to some, long lasting alliances based on a legacy of cooperation and respect can be overrun by hard talk, local politics and shady deals with soon-to-be toppled dictators. Of course, the Bush Administration's diplomacy wasn't exactly the stuff of legends, but the so-called “cowboy diplomacy” can hardly be the only reason (or be intelligently cited as why) our so-called allies turned against us.
The upside to the split in our alliances was that we found out that many third world nations had more stones than first world nations, including some with forces smaller than the NYPD. Brave Poland, free from Soviet tyranny for less than two decades, invaded along side our forces and the forces of the UK and Australasia (the only other first world forces that stayed true). In the post-invasion, developing nations like Honduras, Fiji, Guatemala, Georgia, Ukraine; they all stepped up to help. Other first world nations like Italy and Spain (who was behind the war from the start until a terrorist attack changed the mind of the voters) also sent soldiers to aid in security operations. Iraq, very bluntly and roughly, drew the line between those with us and those against us post-Cold War.
President Obama feels that we should try to bring the antiwar nations back in to our loyal fold. While commendable, I believe the split has given us the opportunity to take advantage of the reorganization of power in the wake of the Soviet's collapse. The Bush Administration's failure to communicate accurately the amount of allies we had led to the myth we had no allies during the war and after, which the media picked up and ran with, even while reporting the deaths of a dozen Italians in Baghdad, a couple Georgians in Basra, and so on. Instead of reaching out and attempting to return “Old Europe” to the table, we should give new democracies like Georgia and Honduras spots at the table usually reserved for France and Germany. I highly doubt those true believers in a united Europe want a return to the NATO of the Cold War, where the only thing between them and their enemies was an American unit. While good words of friendship and co-operation might pass through the lips of these folks, they're going to want to take the chance to prove their independence (despite the inability of the EU to even deploy units under a united flag or stop any conflict within their continental borders). Of course, I am not advocating we abandon any nation, European or otherwise, that that opposed us during the Iraq War, but we should not assume because the President has changed and his words are more diplomatic than assertive that these nations will just wind back the clock. With the rising towers of new powers like China and India, we need to be able to count on friends who won't attempt to prove they can stay home alone when we need them to come along with us.
The running theme of my views of war and diplomacy is our ability to adapt to the exponentially quickening pace of world affairs. We must be able to fight terrorism with quick, deep strikes that will throw off their plans and their support. Also,while we shouldn't be as brazen as President Bush was accused of being, we should be as blunt and stalwart about our security and our actions, something President Bush actually did do. We shouldn't gallop across the world attempting to remake it in the image of Athens as neo-conservatives would like, but we shouldn't give away our sovereign right to defend our nation as we see fit despite the consensus of the world's tyrannies and soft powers like many of the left would like. The application of our military must be based on criteria that balances our ideological goals like establishing democracies and stopping atrocities, which cannot be easily separated from our application of force and its aftermath, and with our practical goals of removing threats and keeping various international resources from being monopolized by radical nations. Neither can be kept indefinitely, neither can be ignored totally for the other.
If we are to keep on top, or at least not regulated to the backseat of a world driven by tyrannies like China or autocrats like Russia, we need to keep up with how the world is, not how we think the world should be. We can dream of global democracy, TVs for every human being, Islamists converted to humanitarians, etc., but if the United States can't hold on to its position as a major player it will be nations without our interests at heart controlling our fate. Even the most mainstream liberal Americans wouldn't want that.
ICYMI: Jeffrey Ostler, The Lakotas and the Black Hills - At Amazon, Jeffrey Ostler, *The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground*.
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