I’m splitting this into two parts; once I started writing, I just couldn’t stop. I have a few things to establish before I get into my post proper.
Statement: Administration 2, Demcrats/media 1.
We’ll come back to that.
For those of you who think I never pay the Demcrats a complement, stand by to have your preconceptions gutted like fish: they got one (and only one) thing right about the Iraq war. I think we are getting to the point where we can fight the war with a much smaller commitment of troops in Iraq. Indeed, we might even be to the point where it might be beneficial to the conduct of the war itself.
Oh, of course the Democrats are wrong about the reasons, meaning and execution of this idea.
But again, we’ll come back to that.
There’s an old saw among those who follow military history…
…and even moreso among those who casually watch people who follow military history: that nations and their militaries always prepare for the last war.
So, it seems, do social movements.
Reading Imperial Grunts by Robert Kaplan a few months back – about the time some Democrats were pushing for a reinstatement of the draft – I saw an interesting parallel.
Kaplan chronicled the complaints of US Special Forces and Marines in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia and the Philippines that the “Big Army” (and Big Navy and Big Air Force to boot) had taken over control of operations in these countries. The problem, they told Kaplan, was that the generals who run the “Big Army” cut their leadership teeth “fighting” America’s last, least-ambiguously successful war – the Cold War (and more ambiguous successes like Grenada and Desert Storm) – who were led in their militarily formative years by men whose main mission was to avoid costly debacles like Vietnam or Mogadishu. The Cold War, of course, was a throwback to the great mass industrial wars of the 20th Century, WWI and WWII; high-tech, involving mass armies maneuvering in mass formations on a global scale, with the survival of entire nations, societies, systems, even the world itself at stake. The US military built at huge expense during that period became unstoppable in its major mission; to decimate phalanxes of tanks bulldozing across the East German border with high-tech tanks, helicopters, jets and artillery that could fight 24/7 in all weather; to interdict fleets of Soviet submarines intent on gutting sea communications with Europe reminiscent of the U-boat wolfpacks with a fleet of over a hundred impossibly-complex hunter-killer submarines; to secure the air over Europe against skies dark with MiGs with technological marvels like the F-15, the Stealth fighter and the AMRAAM missile. It might be fairly argued that just as the US military fought Vietnam wrongly – trying to treat a counterinsurgency war as a mass national crusade – that the Pentagon spent a few years fighting Afghanistan and Iraq the wrong way; trying to bring a Cold-War-era mass army to places more suited to…something else.
On the other hand, the left is also fighting its last wars. Plural.
Vietnam, of course, was the last war of the part of the left led by the likes of Kos and Air America – the reflexive “America Last” crowd. But as powerful and influential as they are in the Democrat party (and moreso in Minnesota’s DFL), they’re not really the most interesting current to examine.
The last unambiguously successful war of the Left was World War II. Led by FDR and Truman, it was the last truly national war; the last one that involved our entire society. More importantly, it was the last (and, in a sense, the first) war in our history to be morally unambiguous. For the first, and probably last, time in history, the good guys (if you leave out that whole “Stalin” thing) wore white (or olive-drab) hats, while the bad guys wore black coal-scuttle helmets. It was a war that paralleled the New Deal and much of how statist liberalism operates; registering and inducting entire swathes of society; imposing an all-encompassing order on the nation’s life; a war in which the individual was subsumed to the national will, in war as in the economy. And of course, like the lefty ideal for so many things (which is realized in so few things), it was…well, not exactly “clean”, but certainly well-defined. It had a definite end; troops marching thirty-abreast down the Champs D’Elysees, Hitler dead in a bunker, a surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, done deal, no sticky entanglements.
Which, of course, is one of the reasons they are chanting “this war has lasted longer than World War II”. It’s the only model of success they have, when it comes to defending this nation.
And there’s a clarity – to the left – in looking back at Vietnam (from their perspective, at least); to the left, Vietnam was unambiguously wrong, inarguably unwinnable, never anything but wrong for any reason, from any perspective (easier to believe when one filters out that whole “Killing Fields” bit). In a sense, it was the anti-World War II.
The left’s dalliances with running the nation since Vietnam have been much less clear, both positively and negatively, than WWII and Vietnam. Carter’s impotent flailings at the Iranians, Clinton interventions to support humanitarian goals in Haiti, Kosovo and the Balkans, Rwanda and Somalia (although he inherited that involvement from George HW Bush) which tried to paint humanitarian happy thoughts on top of centuries-old ethnic animosities; they wound up treating unsavory people pretty much like other unsavory people without bothering to judge their differences, to very little real long-term effect (to say nothing of at least one famous, if historically minor, disaster in Mogadishu).
So there are, really, four different world views (certainly more than that, really, but I’m going to limit things to the big four) duking it out over the War on Terror right now:
- The fringe (and ascendant) far left, which sees all war as unambiguously wrong.
- The “mainstream” left, which waxes nostalgic for its own finest hour, the unambiguous moral correctness of wars like WWII, down to the level of even replicating their methods.
- The Administration, which after 9/11 embraced a Wilsonian, almost utopian view of the vitality of exporting democracy, seeing this as an unambiguously good thing.
- The Pentagon, caught between its pre-1991 status quo as a force designed to fight a huge, high-tech conventional war, its 1992-to-9/10/2001 imperative to “transform” into…something (after 2000, into a force to back up the “neocon” Wilsonian doctrine; before that, to get small fast so Clinton could cash the “Peace Dividend”), and finally after 9/11 the leader in the War on Terror
And of course, the fifth force, the one whose present Kaplan chronicles and whose history Max Boot explored; our “Unconventional Warfare” community, visible in the news today in the guise of General Petraeus and his return to nuts ‘n bolts counterinsurgency warfare, but which has been tinkering with the means to fight exactly this kind of war for half a century, frequently against bitter opposition from the “Cold War” “Big” military.
We’ll come back to that tomorrow.