US Power, Good or Bad?

“Someday this war’s gonna end.” Lt. Col. Kilgore, Apocalypse Now

Americans have a confused relationship with the wider world. We launched our existence as the first great anti-Imperial movement of the modern era. Now we are the world’s only global military power. Our first President was so insistent that we remain walled up in our own hemisphere that he made that the theme of his farewell address. Five years after that speech we launched our first invasion of an Arab country.

Emerging crises in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Iraq are stirring mixed emotions. We stand alone as the world’s only global military power, but our engagements in the last decade were some of the most humiliatingly absurd in our history. Not only do we lack a public will to take on a new effort abroad, we have lost any conviction that our efforts can have much value.

Those who deny the power of American diplomatic and military engagement to bring positive outcomes in the world are fighting against the tide of history. Those who convince themselves that American military power is always a positive force are making the same mistake. We need to develop a better sense of what kind of involvement can be successful, what success means, and how to place necessary moral and legal bounds on foreign actions. We’ve only been working on this question for about two hundred years, so maybe we’re almost there.

It might be helpful to a walk through a brief inventory of our foreign military efforts to look for characteristics of the more successful engagements. Here’s brief walk through a few of the highlights:

– American expats in Hawaii organized a successful coup against the country’s monarchy in 1893. Hawaii became a US territory in 1898 and a state in 1959.

– In 1898, the US victory over Spain brought three new territories into the United States: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Cuba was turned loose as an independent nation very quickly, but remained a political basket case. American troops returned to the island every few years to tamp down upheavals. That finally ended when the Communists seized control in 1960. Puerto Rico remained a US territory. It has been consistently poor and underdeveloped, but relatively stable and free from organized violence.

– In the Philippines the US established local government very quickly, but maintained oversight from Washington until World War II. There was some initial, minor resistance to US rule, but almost no violence after 1909. The country gained full independence in 1946. It has been a multiparty democracy since 1986.

– The US occupied and controlled Haiti for much of the first half of the 20th century and invaded again in 1994. Both occupations were successful in temporarily dampening violence in the country, but the long term impact was limited.

– The CIA in 1954 overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala. The new military dictatorship launched a genocidal civil war under the auspices of fighting Communism. That war ended in 1996, but the country remains largely ungoverned.

– After World War II, the US military occupied South Korea and the Soviets occupied the North. Both halves of the country declared their independence in 1948. The North invaded the South in 1950. The US led a UN force to a stalemate in a fight against North Korean and Chinese armies. Fighting ended in 1954, but no peace treaty has ever been signed.

– In 1945 the US and Allies replaced the government of West Germany and imposed direct rule until 1955. Berlin remained under allied authority until 1990. The occupation was almost entirely peaceful, without a single allied death attributable to resistance.

– Also in 1945, the US took direct military control over Japan under the leadership of Gen. MacArthur and with the cooperation of the British. The Japanese resumed domestic political control in 1952. Japan became a stable democracy and the region’s economic powerhouse.

– The US Central Intelligence Agency, through covert action, engineered the removal of democratically elected governments in the Congo (1960), South Vietnam (1963 & 1964), Iran (1953), Chile (1973), and the Dominican Republic (1963) to name a few. Chile was relatively stable under a moderately competent dictator and restored democratic leadership in 1989. The others were not so “fortunate.”

– The power vacuum created by the action in Vietnam drew America into a decade long war that devastated both North and South Vietnam. After the US withdrawal, South Vietnam and was invaded and annexed by the North.

– In 1948 the US supported Jose Figueres Ferrer in his armed rebellion to seize control of Costa Rica. He established a liberal government which developed into Latin America’s first stable multiparty democracy. The US decision to offer military support to Costa Rica in 1955 ended an invasion threat from Nicaragua that would have ended the newly demilitarized nation’s independence.

– One of the conditions of the 1978 treaty between Egypt and Israel was that US forces would lead a “peacekeeping” occupation of the Sinai Peninsula after Israel returned it to Egypt. That contingent was organized as an international force and deployed in 1982. US troops remain in the Sinai today, more than double the size of our current contingent in Iraq. There have been no fatalities and only a handful of violent incidents in 30 years.

– Reagan ordered US troops into Beirut in 1983 along with a multi-national stabilization force connected to the evacuation of the defeated PLO from Lebanon. The situation in Lebanon was chaotic and relentlessly violent. The central government could not maintain control of the country. When the US Marine barracks was destroyed by a suicide bomber Reagan made the decision to withdraw US forces rather than escalate the engagement.

– Beginning in 1993, the US began a steadily escalating series of air attacks in Bosnia aimed at halting the genocide there. In 1995 the US led an international occupation of Bosnia under NATO authority. Bosnia is quiet and nominally self-governing under an indefinite international military occupation.

– US forces led a broad alliance in an invasion of Kuwait in 1991. The occupation lasted a few months. Kuwait is stable and the intervention has contributed greatly to the booming economies of the Gulf Emirates.

– US forces entered Somalia late in 1992 to protect a UN aid mission. The government had collapsed, civil war had begun, and famine was killing thousands of Somalis. Our troops were withdrawn in 1993 after surprisingly heavy casualties and a complete failure to restore order.

– A US and NATO bombing campaign over Serbia in 1999 ended Serbian genocide in Kosovo, precipitated the final disintegration of Yugoslavia, and led to the fall of the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. Kosovo has an independent democratic government, but remains under military occupation.

– US forces invaded Iraq in 2003 to rid the nation of ”weapons of mass destruction” and terminate its weapons programs. The programs and weapons did not exist. The occupation was an unmitigated disaster. The official occupation lasted only a year, but US forces remained. US troops withdrew in 2011 under an agreement signed in 2008, but no functioning central government has emerged. The country has effectively been partitioned into three warring ethnic regions, two of which are dominated fundamentalist militias with ties to international terrorism.

– As conditions in Liberia reached their worst in 2003, American troops landed in Monrovia to secure the embassy. US and British military intervention helped coordinate the collapse of the brutal Taylor regime and smoothed the transition to an elected government.

The outcomes from our military interventions abroad have been entirely mixed. It is hard to deny the worthiness or success of the mission in Bosnia or the miserable failure of Vietnam or Iraq.

Successful US deployments overseas like in the Sinai or Bosnia disappear from the public mind. They are among the most important things we do in the world and hardly anyone knows they’ve happened. Our involvements in the world are not simple. They are not all good or bad.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

Posted in Foreign Policy
90 comments on “US Power, Good or Bad?
  1. John Galt says:

    I never really answered this question, because I don’t think there is much of a question. On balance the use of military power by the U.S. has been vastly positive, from decisively tilting the balance during the World Wars to containing the Soviet Union to stabilizing global politics and commerce (as 50 mentioned below). But we sometimes use it so ham-handedly that we actually damage our own long-term interests. We seem to have a curious inability to learn from these mistakes.

    • flypusher says:

      I’d say that people in places like Europe, South Korea, and Taiwan would have strongly positive reviews, those in the ME would be mixed, and people in Central America would give it many multiples of 2 thumbs down.

  2. fiftyohm says:

    And without further attempts at humor…

    Firstly, a quibble: The projection of US power on the Korean peninsula deserves, I think, more than passing mention, much less the binning of the conflict with the unresolved. The Republic of Korea is a shining star – even if we disregard the alternative.

    We can all agree the world would be a far different place were it not for the projection of US military power. A much darker place. From the Barbary incident, where the European powers cowered and paid ransom to an evil literally in their back yards, the fledgling US said, “Enough of this shit”, and solved the problem from across an ocean basin. To the benefit of all. This trend has continued.

    Twice in the last century, we have effectively saved Europe from self-immolation – again to the benefit of all – with massive expenditures of our blood and gold.

    We stood, (and stand), against the uniformly pernicious influence of China and the Russian Federation, (nee the Soviets). Let’s all consider, just for a moment, the regimes supported by those before we dwell on our own failures. (And yes, there have been abject failures.)

    Listen: I’m not an isolationist, but I’m getting sick and tired of paying for the security of civilization alone. (I’ll except the UK, Australia, and Canada here.) The ability of the US to project power keeps the world a more predictable place for commerce, and civilization. And everyone benefits. Of course, all of this is in our best interests as well, but for a very, very long time, we’ve been bearing a disproportionate share of the burden. Frankly, I’m getting sick of it.

    • tuttabellamia says:

      Minutes after the attacks on 9/11, a colleague from South America was asking nervously, “Oh, my God, if this is happening to the US on their own soil, what will become of the rest of us?”

    • John Galt says:

      “Of course, all of this is in our best interests as well, but for a very, very long time, we’ve been bearing a disproportionate share of the burden. Frankly, I’m getting sick of it.”

      Are there other options? I don’t really see any.

      • goplifer says:

        I think there are some alternatives, but they need more thought. NATO has been reasonably successful. The missions in places like Sinai and the Balkans are now genuinely multi-national, with the US playing a minor role in manpower terms.

        NATO could be a template for a wider quasi-UN type of organization, something that might look like the British Commonwealth, but made up of representative democracies. John McCain has been pushing for something like this for years. More to come on this.

      • fiftyohm says:

        It’s a very good question. There are those – yourself included – who advocate taxation for the “true costs” of say, gasoline in full consideration of the social and environmental costs associated with its use. Perhaps, in similar fashion, import duties could be assessed on various countries not pulling their own weight in the area of global security. The fact is that, within reasonable bounds, US economic hegemony gives us a few options.

      • Owl of Bellaire says:

        “John McCain has been pushing for something like this for years.”

        …in between jumping up and down, jowls flapping and foaming, while he advocates bombing everything in sight.

      • flypusher says:

        “Perhaps, in similar fashion, import duties could be assessed on various countries not pulling their own weight in the area of global security.”

        I am 100% down with that. The benefits of civilization ain’t free.

  3. flypusher says:

    This entry talks about use of power in the military sense, but IMO the greatest and most beneficial use of US power was the Marshall plan, and that was economic power. It certainly wasn’t pure altruism, but I’ve never been one to knock the concept of enlightened self interest. In the snake pit that is International relations, that’s probably as good as you’re going to get.

    • goplifer says:

      Economic power ultimately dominates. Poverty usually loses.

      That said, the Marshall Plan wouldn’t have been possible without Hitler dead. It certainly wouldn’t have accomplished anything in 1938. Maybe the maximum good comes from the effective use of all of the available tools, bombs, aid, a strong defense, persuasion, alliances, culture and so on.

      • John Galt says:

        I think about this frequently. Our challenges ahead are to maintain economic superiority. Neanderthals living in caves with towels on their heads are not in the top 100 hurdles we must overcome to do this.

      • fiftyohm says:

        JG- Those are not ‘towels’ . They are actually sheets. Calling people ‘towel-heads’ is disrespectful. They are ‘sheet-heads’. OK?

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Fifty, stop ragging JohnGalt.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Very punny, but politically incorrect.

      • fiftyohm says:

        Tutt- I think I’ve given JG’s cave-dwellers every ounce of respect they deserve!

      • flypusher says:

        Methinks maybe even more than they deserve. I don’t care if someone wants to live in the 6th Century. I do care if they want to drag others down to that level.

      • John Galt says:

        I knew it was something you could buy at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        JG wrote: “Our challenges ahead are to maintain economic superiority.”
        Reply: You know we’ll go from Rags to Riches.

      • Not to intrude on the punnery, but JG, we *do* have to worry about Neanderthals living in caves with towels on their heads. As people like Thomas Friedman point out relentlessly, the world is now flat. Anybody, anywhere, can learn anything they want at any time. Technology is utterly ubiquitous and thoroughly commoditized. Technologies that were once the top secret assets of the world’s super powers can now be bought online at RadioShack.

        For all their savagery, these people are remarkably savvy technologically. Indeed, much of their leadership is college educated in the west. Although we find their lifestyles and value system remarkably benighted, it would be a *very* bad idea to underestimate them. 911, if it taught us anything, should have taught us that.

      • “…the Marshall Plan wouldn’t have been possible without Hitler dead.” Gee, Chris, it sounds like you are beginning to see the light. I invite you to ponder *exactly* what it took to get Hitler “dead.” Or for that matter, to get General Umezo to come crawling onto the deck of the Mighty Mo’.

        Several here have pointed out that the masters of the would-be Caliphate do not compare to industrial Germany or Japan. That’s quite beside the point. The fundamental principles of war have not changed one iota since Ramses II’s day. If they had, we wouldn’t have young men and women at our military academies reading Thucydides.

      • GG says:

        Your talk of towels and sheets reminds me of a Goldie Hawn line from “Protocol”. She’s escorting some visiting Arab dignitaries to a museum and she turns to one wearing a red and white checked doodad on his head and says very innocently “oh, I have the napkins that match your hat”.

      • John Galt says:

        Tracy, I think we need to put this risk in perspective. The 9/11 death toll was about 2,800 and a few hundred more have died from terrorist attacks in Western countries since then. We’ve lost 4,500 soldiers in Iraq. IN 2012, 33,500 people died in car crashes. In 2011, 11,000+ were murdered using guns. Every year, ~6,000 Americans die from the flu.

        Deaths in terrorist attacks are spectacular (as in, a spectacle). The are sudden and horrific. They’re also fairly rare, based on relative risks. We need to be vigilant, but there are a lot of other dangerous things out there, and if we have spent so much treasure fighting one, then we put ourselves at risk for the others.

      • Owl of Bellaire says:

        Thank you, John Galt. It’s amazing how many of our policies, both foreign and domestic, are based on utter innumeracy.

      • fiftyohm says:

        Our frenetic overreaction to 911, based largely on the epidemic statistical innumeracy of the public, has cost close to a trillion dollars. The same twisted perception of risk leads some to avoid air travel, while they opt to drive instead. Humans are particularly bad at this, and it seems to be cross-cultural. Sadly, phobias are easily exploited. This has impacts far beyond the topic here under discussion.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        “…wearing a red and white checked doodad on his head…”

        GG, I busted a gut laughing at that one. You would have made a good Goldie Hawn! 😉

        By the way, it’s called a “keffiyeh” in local lingo. Don’t ask me how it’s pronounced.

        And a little late to the game, but Tutt and I must be showing our ages. We called them “ragheads” during the Gulf War/Desert Storm.

        And fitty that is just totally disrespectful to Navin Johnson’s (Steve Martin) “hero” dog!

        Sorry, showing my age again.

        And I know it’s an ad nauseum soapbox pet peeve of mine, but we blew our chance at blowing up the most significant cave dwelling Neanderthal sheet/towel/raghead in Tora Bora. But he was fish food in the long run anyway. And I take particular pleasure in his knowing what was coming and by whom rather than an abrupt surprise Daisy Cutter boom out of the blue (sky). So I guess I should take Adele Dazeem’s advice and let it go…

      • GG says:

        Keffiyeh. Yes, I couldn’t think of it when I wrote that.

      • John Galt says:

        “Our frenetic overreaction to 911…has cost close to a trillion dollars.”

        I’d say this is a gross underestimate, in fact. Perhaps we’ve dropped a trillion or so on direct military action in the Middle East, but these costs will linger and don’t include the enormous bureaucracy of Homeland Security and the opportunity costs of restrictive security measures at the airport, in student visa availability, or the distraction it has caused from other pressing matters.

      • fiftyohm says:

        JG- I wasn’t including direct military action, but I agree completely with your conclusion. And the other costs are indeed a ‘gift that keeps on giving’.

    • JG, the casualty count at Pearl Harbor was 2,403 killed, 1,178 wounded – not dissimilar from the twin towers. The main difference between WWII and our war with militant Islam is the pace of the action. (And make no mistake, we are at war.) My SEAL brother refers to it as the “Long War.” (BUD/S trainees are informed their children will likely be fighting this fight, too.) I have very little doubt that we will be struck again, and I have very little doubt that our enemies are actively pursuing means to ensure our future casualty counts are orders of magnitude higher.

      The positive news is that we are actively engaging these bad actors all across the globe, all the time. You never hear about it in the news (by design), and talking heads on the right would have you believe the current administration is utterly feckless. While that is true to some extent (in my view), our military infrastructure spans administrations, and long term actions continue regardless of who occupies the White House. Obama to his (largely unrecognized) credit, has continued these operations.

      • And JG, for a bit of publicly available background on some of these operations, I refer you to, of all places, HuffPo:

      • John Galt says:

        No, the main difference between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 was that Pearl Harbor was perpetrated by the armed forces of a country with a legitimate government, a recognizable threat in the form of a huge navy, and a populace nearly unanimous in its support of that government and its military adventures. Bombing Tokyo had a material impact on the war effort; bombing Fallujah would have zero positive impact (and likely a negative one) on the war against Islamic terrorism.

        Now, drone strikes informed by good intelligence might actually be doing some good (with some collateral damage as well). These sorts of surgical strikes are nothing like WWII; more effective at targeting those we’re really after even if it might take longer in the end.

      • flypusher says:

        “…bombing Fallujah would have zero positive impact (and likely a negative one) on the war against Islamic terrorism.”

        Fallujah or any other part of Iraq.

  4. “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” – Marine Corps Hymn

    Not to dither, but if memory serves our first invasion of an Arab country (however brief) was in 1804 under the august leadership of one Thomas Jefferson.

    We have got to a rather odd place in our current war fighting doctrine. “Winning hearts and minds” is not a valid objective of any military action. Before you can even think about winning hearts and minds, you must first engender abject fear. The necessary precursor to winning hearts and minds is achieving absolute, utter capitulation. Unless your enemy lies prostrate before you, and is completely at your mercy, you have *NO* hope of winning hearts and minds. If you leave your enemy with one single ounce of fight, he will rise again against you.

    WWII taught us some very tough lessons. They are captured in a single, brutal, Curtis Le May quote:

    “If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.”

    The reverse is also true. If you don’t kill enough of them, they keep on fighting.

    Tragically, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of WWII. But it’s really quite simple. If you aren’t willing to prosecute war *mercilessly*, don’t go to war at all.

    • goplifer says:

      What a great way to follow the quote from mad Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now that Crogged posted. There are really are people who think that way.

      You could potentially start a war fighting doctrine with the rather sober understanding that war fighting is merely a tool, not an objective. It is possible to do it well (as the US actually did in Vietnam) and see all your ambitions destroyed. It is possible to do it poorly (as the US in the Civil War, for example) and achieve all your goals and more.

      Very few things can be built out of bullets. “Victory” never happens on a battlefield alone.

      • Chris, I did not say that winning hearts and minds was a bad thing, merely that we are putting the cart before the horse. As Fly points out, the Marshall plan was perhaps the “greatest and most beneficial use of US power.” I tend to agree. However, before we implemented the Marshall plan, we did things like this to places like Hamburg, Dresden, Kobe and Tokyo:

        Not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

        Germany and Japan are friends and allies today. Most people would prefer to forget that the thing that made this possible was that we took them to the *edge of oblivion* first. Mercy is only effective if first an object lesson in the lack thereof is delivered.

        I invite you to contrast the above photos with battle damage photos from, for instance, Fallujah or Ramadi. We fought those battles on the enemy’s terms, street by street, house by house. Even now we have ISIS miscreants *inviting* us to do the same. What utter madness.

        After allowing willing civilians to evacuate, we *should have* bombed Fallujah until not one stone stood on another. Until the rubble *bounced*. Until there wasn’t a remaining scrap of jihadi flesh large enough to tempt a camel spider. The purpose of doing such a horrible thing is not to be cruel, but rather to be kind. Had we demonstrated early on the *utter futility* of armed opposition, we would not be facing the situation we find Iraq in now.

        As things stand now, our jihadist enemies don’t even think they were *ever* actually defeated in Iraq. They mock us, and our president, openly. And why should they not? We’ve never taught them better.

        There are those who will say these monsters do not pose a threat to us directly. How quickly we forget. And the next time it won’t be a plane into the side of a building. No, it will be something a bit more dramatic, like an EMP attack via a nuclear-tipped SCUD fired from a container vessel off the eastern seaboard. These knuckleheads keep getting smarter, and the world keeps getting smaller.

        Make no mistake, Chris. When it comes to war, it doesn’t take two to tango. So if you’re going to have to tango anyway, you might as well tango *hard*.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        Well TThor it sounds like you have a one size fits all solution for warfare.

        WWII is not Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria. We didn’t have a do nothing option then. We do here, or at the least a do very little option no matter how unpopular it is.

        To borrow from a commenter in a NYT opinion criticizing Hillary (rightly so) as a neocon wannabe, “it takes more courage sometimes to not bomb”.

        I go back again to Desert Storm and how George HW Bush and Generals Schwarzkopf and Powell executed modern warfare the right way. Go in big, hard and fast, (as you advocated) but when you HAVE to. And then get the fuck out of the mess no matter how unpopular or un-John Wayne it makes you look. All 3 of the aforementioned leaders were seasoned combat veterans and saw and suffered the consequences of the horrors of war up close and personal. More importantly, they understood the bigger picture consequences of war and had the moral courage to do what is best for this country and its people, no matter how wussy you look, or how crappy it makes people with penis envy/inadequacy issues feel.

        And John Wayne was a civilian actor during WWII.

      • John Galt says:

        “After allowing willing civilians to evacuate, we *should have* bombed Fallujah until not one stone stood on another. ”

        Which would have left lots of civilians homeless and allowed the terrorists to melt into another town. Tracy, these guys don’t wear uniforms. They have no qualms about storing munitions in a hospital. They are fighting the classical asymmetric war – they cannot defeat us in an open battle, so they do not fight that way. We cannot maintain that we are the good guys if we are carpet bombing entire countries to get at the 1% of them (or less, probably) that are causing problems. We win wars like this by being smarter than they are and we have not won because we have failed at that, due to really naive thinking like yours (coming from Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney).

      • JG, you don’t have to carpet bomb entire countries any more than we had to nuke every city in Japan during WWII. You merely have to *demonstrate* your apparent *willingness* to do so. That’s the point of the exercise. If you never demonstrate that will, you are merely perceived as weak.

        As you point out, the small minority of extremists is utterly without compunction. So what? Ask yourself a question (the same question the Israelis ask themselves): Why does the populace tolerate them? (The same question might have been asked of the German populace with respect to the Nazis.) The answer is simple: The populace is more afraid of them than they are of you, and / or they are at some level sympathetic to the extremist cause. Either way, kindness in an attempt to win hearts and minds is moot as a form of leverage. The only way to force the populace to reject the small minority of extremists is for the populace to fear you more than they fear the extremists. Hence, until the rubble bounces. If this sounds horrible, it is. War is horrible.

        My brother was the CO of Navy SOF operations in Anbar province during the Sunni Awakening. Although the media portrayed it as a success of the hearts and minds campaign, it was anything but. As my brother tells it, the local Sunni sheikhs simply got fed up with the insurgents cutting in on their smuggling business. They didn’t like us, they didn’t fear us, they didn’t give a rat’s rear end about their Shia-dominated supposed central government. They acted solely in their own interest, and without any concern for our wants or interests. That’s a measure of how pathetic our whole operation was.

        Shock and awe didn’t shock and awe anybody (except for the tiny minority that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time). We tried to fight a largely bloodless war with precision targeting, taking great pains to avoid civilian suffering. That’s not how war works. In the name of avoiding suffering, we have merely prolonged and exacerbated suffering.

      • bubbabobcat says:

        Not only was W’s Iraq invasion an unnecessary war, it was a totally unnecessarily mishandled war thanks to Rumsfeld’s hubris/penis envy insecurities. He sent in troops undermanned and under equipped (“hillbilly armor” anyone?), resulting in countless needless deaths and maimings because Rummy wanted to prove he was smarter than Powell/Schwarzkopf and he could plan a better war on the cheap, despite prescient warnings from Gen Shinseki. They also supposedly couldn’t even find a General ambitious enough and neutered enough to agree to execute their failed plan. Tommy Franks was purportedly their 3rd choice and the first to agree to their half assed plan.

        Ironically Darth Cheney was 41’s secretary of Defense which only goes to prove he had nothing to do with Desert Storm’s planning and execution.

      • Bubba, I really don’t disagree with anything in your comments in this thread. As my son is fond of saying (and he flies Navy helicopters that are generally older than he is for a living): “Never trust the man. The man is trying to kill you.” He is obliquely referring to those at the top of the world’s largest and deadliest bureaucracy.

      • Owl of Bellaire says:

        Apparently, Tracy’s attitude towards foreign policy is the same as the Ferguson Police Department’s attitude towards crowd control.

    • John Galt says:

      It was exactly Tracy’s kind of simplistic thinking that got us into the Iraq and Afghanistan mess. WWII involved country vs. country wars in which there were standing armies to attack and infrastructure to bomb. We did that pretty damn successfully in Iraq. Afghanistan had no infrastructure worth bombing. Where, precisely, would you fire bomb, a la Dresden, to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism?

      • JG, I felt we definitely needed to go into Afghanistan after the Taliban, although based on the Russian’s experience, I was quite leery of it. On the other hand, having gone, I would most certainly have pursued the Taliban into Waziristan, until we had killed every one of those SOBs that we possibly could. I didn’t understand the rationale for Iraq. Yes, Saddam was a PITA, but we had him (and his supposed WMDs) seemingly *contained*. In either case, I feel we were under no obligation to stay. The Garden Ridge Pottery doctrine is nonsense. There’s a concept known as the punitive expedition, and we ought to revive it.

        You seem to think I’m in favor of military adventurism. I’m not. I’d much rather we not go at all. I have a brother, a son, and a young man I love as a son whose tours of duty have taken them into harm’s way on a regular basis over the past ten years. I’d much rather they’d got to stay home. My only point is that if you are going to go to war, you have to be ready to go *all the way.* And mostly, we are not. (At least, not for my entire lifetime.)

      • Owl of Bellaire says:

        Wow, Tracy sounds a lot like the recent editorial in *The National Review*:

        “The public will be supportive if — and only if — our political and military leadership display the warrior resolve to destroy the Islamist army. If you go to war, kill the opponent. Crush his body and spirit until he is destroyed or submits to your goals.”

        Of course, this is Bing West, former Assistant Secretary of Defense of International Security Affairs during the Reagan administration. So he got to oversee some of our actions in El Salvador, where we supported brutal dictators against their people in the Salvadoran Civil War. And he was right there in the chain of command overseeing Egypt as Hosni Mubarak came to power, the recently deposed dictator whose ruthless suppression of Islamic radicals helped lead directly to the troubles we face today. So we know he has a record of success.

        Well, that’s not quite fair. “Bing” also wrote *The Village*, a book which has been on the Marine Corps commandant’s required reading list for 36 years. It describes the daily lives of 15 U.S. marines living in Vietnamese villages to protect their inhabitants: the sort of counterinsurgency Mr. West advocated earlier in his career, such as when he wrote the training manual *Small Unit Action in Vietnam*.

        Of course, West’s ideas were opposed by those who favored “Fire and Thunder Operations” (in the terms used by both the Army and by Military Assistance Command Vietnam). Yet here he is now, arguing for exactly the same thing he once opposed. Like most neo-conservatives, he’s happy to talk out of whichever side of his mouth is nearest the trough.

  5. Crogged says:

    I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.

  6. tuttabellamia says:

    I get the distinct feeling that we’re being watched.

  7. John Galt says:

    There are no conclusions from this post. I’m trying to find patterns…

    In the Americas, if we invaded (or orchestrated coups), toppled a government, and then left quickly, things turned out poorly. If we stuck around for a while things turned out OK, unless they spoke French. Put the Philippines in this category too, as a Spanish-speaking former Spanish colony.

    In East Asia things turned out OK, unless they spoke French.

    In Islamic countries, our intervention has worked when we left mostly authoritarian governments in place (Kuwait, Egypt, Iran pre-revolution) and has not worked when we try messing with (or installing) semi-democratic ones (Lebanon, Iraq, Iran post-revolution, Egypt recently).

    So, long occupations if they speak Spanish, dictators if they’re Muslims, confidence if they’re Asian, and run like hell if they speak French. For that matter, our experience inside the United States with places that speak French hasn’t been all that sparkling, either.

  8. bubbabobcat says:

    No mention of Afghanistan going back to Jimmy Carter’s arming of the Mujaheddins post USSR invasion in 1980? Too complicated to summarize?

    As you noted Chris, sometimes we do too little militarily because we were recently scarred by the horrors and (human) losses of the fiascos of recent memory.

    Clinton admits regret in not interceding in the Rwandan massacre of nearly a million people because of his abject screwup from top to bottom of the Somalia mission.

    The decades long malaise and public disdain for any military action or development of military resources post Vietnam culminating in the doomed from day one Desert One tragedy in Iran.

    And now, Obama’s and the public’s resistance and belated action for even humanitarian assistance for the Yazidis in northern Iraq.

    If we didn’t screw up so much in the first place, we might be more willing to “do the right thing” when really needed.

    • Crogged says:

      I like the example and the Sinai is more about what Israel and Egypt agreed to do. Diplomacy and cutting deals isn’t wimpy, but doesn’t make cool you tube videos of warfare.

  9. Crogged says:

    Thank goodness no one thought of ‘helping’ the US when Huey P Long was becoming politically popular. ISIS and the others are scary, but partially created by us and the long stupid march of Western involvement in this part of the world. Many people who write here would tell you that bullets wouldn’t keep them from their Bible, and we would do well to realize the infidels feel the same way. Bullets won’t solve this and make more of them, which is the mistake Israel is making. Despite us, the Kurds have accepted the US and we can keep them afloat, but ‘guiding’ the history or the twists and turns the populaces of the middle east are going to take—a fools errand.

    • flypusher says:

      I’d like to see the Kurds get their own state; they’ve been screwed over multiple times for the convenience of Western powers. They look like the best shot at establishing some stability that’s not based in a brutal dictatorship. This is a potential win-win here; let’s treat the Kurds as valuable allies this time.

    • Crogged says:

      Suppose you have a 19th century America, and Europe was still in its 11th century. Would we have intervened because of the Norman invasion or decried the fundamentalists crusades when religion crazed Europeans invaded relatively peaceful Middle Eastern nations and worried about that coming here? What would we do?

  10. Bobo Amerigo says:

    Frankly, I wish we would re-write our history. I’d support the downplaying the glories of military leadership, for example.

    In our overseas adventures, luck has been as effective as leadership, I’d say.

    A link from this blog to another identified the year the Confederates won the civil war. It was long after the actual fighting had stopped, at least for the armies. For Black people? The war had no beginning and no end.

    With jim crow, it didn’t matter who actually won the fighting.

    That may be true internationally, too. We’ve supported so many middle eastern leaders with no interest in any type of participatory government that our past so-called successes have been failing right in front of us, giving increasingly fundamentalist forces greater influence.

  11. flypusher says:

    With regards to Iraq, I will say that Obama waited too long in dealing with ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever those cancers on humanity call themselves). The fact that the Iraqi gov’t can’t get its act together with the wolves literally at their door does not bode well. Short of re-invading (which would go over like a lead balloon), backing up the Kurds is probably the only thing with a chance to stop those nut jobs.

  12. flypusher says:

    I’m hoping that we will stop the practice of propping up tyrants in exchange for short term stability.

    • GG says:

      That does have a habit of coming back and biting us in the ass doesn’t it?

      • flypusher says:

        I liken it to all those fables about making a deal with the devil. The devil always keeps his end of the bargain, but the mortal usually tends to underestimate exactly how dear the devil’s price will be. I see Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, al qaeda, etc as examples of the devil demanding his dues.

      • Crogged says:

        Fidel Castro has become the Francisco Franco of the 21st century. We should drop the stupid embargo, sometimes giving somebody what they want is the best path to their destruction.

      • GG says:

        OMG, yes, please with the stupid embargo on that rinky dink island no one cares about anymore except as a tourist destination.

      • flypusher says:

        The embargo hasn’t made any strategic sense since the fall of the Soviet Union. Castro definitely used it to his advantage; he could rally a critical mass of his people around a theme of the-big-bad-bully-USA-is-picking-on-us-but-they-can’t-stop-our-revolution!!

        I would bet that if we had ditched the embargo when the Berlin Wall came down, the Castro brothers would not be in charge today.

  13. Turtles Run says:

    Am I wrong because I cannot wait for Cappy to come with his revision of history?

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