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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Right makes might

(updated below)

For a while now, I've been working on a long post about overall U.S. foreign policy. As you wait in breathless expectation, however, here's an exchange from the comments' to J-Flash's post that pretty well sums up my views on the use of military power in today's world.
P. Pirx: And, while while military might is not the answer to all, or even most problems, there are, again, cases where nothing but an application of force will do. The scourges of the 30s (and I say "scourges" since it was not a single entity or movement but multiple ones, united in their mindset but autonomous otherwise) were not eradicated by discussions and resolutions, prayers and candlelight vigils. No, this feat was achieved by an application of violence on a scale which said scourges could not match. This may be unpleasant to contemplate, for the post modern PC generation raised on the mantra of "violence never solves anything", but it is a historical fact, nevertheless.


We're in war, not with the whole Muslim world but but with the Islamist movement(s) and they already declared this war long time ago. Thinking that this can be nullified by simply refusing to acknowledge it is, shall we say, touching. The world ain't no sandbox and you can't say "I'm not playing this game, I'm going home".
I completely agree, we're at war with the Islamist movement. And that's why comparisons to World War II don't work. There, we had clearly defined goals and clearly defined enemies. Invade Germany, remove the Reich. Attack Japan, depose the emperor. We knew the names, address, phone numbers and favorite colors of the enemy leadership, and even their underlings conveniently wore uniforms so that we could identify them in our gun-sights.

I was totally gung-ho about Afghanistan. I'd been wanting some Taliban ass-kicking ever since they dynamited those centuries-old Buddha statues, so giving aid and comfort to the organization that attacked us on Sept. 11 was all the excuse needed to rain fire and death upon them.

But what does overwhelming military might do for you after you've taken out the only one of your enemies that sits out in the open? Declaring war on al-Queda does about as much good as me taking on Chicago's meter maids. Shit, we can't even tell Sunni from Shiite, how are we supposed to tell terrorists from Akbar the shopkeeper?

We need the help of other nations and people to first identify the bad guys so we can kill them, and then to prevent new ones than forming. Because I don't know about you, but I would like to actually get rid of these fuckers rather than than just playing terrorist whack-a-mole for the few decades, killing a bunch of guys just so their nephews and neighbors can pop up 15 years later to smuggle a bomb into Baltimore. When we kill Muslims, it only makes more terrorists. When we have other Muslims kill them for us, everyone wins.

You know what the alternative is? Screw it, kill 'em all. There's certainly a lot of people on the right who seem to be advocating that, and that's the impression I get from you, Pirx. If we aren't going to secure the help of good Muslims to defeat the bad Muslims, the only other alternative is to kill all the Muslims.

I have absolutely no problem with violence. Honestly, the fact that the United States has the most powerful and efficient military the world has ever seen gives me a hard-on. If you love America, that can't possibly be a bad thing (the military, not the hard-on).

I don't have a problem with violence, I have a problem with substituting the judicious and intelligent use of violence with pointless bombing campaigns. Bush and the neoconservatives want to apply a 1940's expression of military might to situations that call for a combination of spycraft, diplomacy, economic pressure and, yes, the occasional air-strike or commando raid.


Digby, by far my favorite blogger, responds to the same sort of "the left isn't serious about terror" crap in much the same way:
One of the hallmarks of liberalism is its belief in empiricism. When things aren't working we try to figure out why and solve the problem. Despite our unfounded reputation for starry-eyed naive belief in human perfectability, we are the practical thinkers who are looking to the future and trying to figure out a way to make things better. It is a grave misreading of the current sentiment to assume that we don't care about national security. The reason we are trying so hard to change things is because we do care about it. I don't think I'm the only who feels much less secure than I once did knowing that we have alienated half the world out of some misplaced faith in machismo as a diplomatic strategy. The world stage isn't high school and I'd like to see something a little more sophisticated than locker room psychology brought to bear to solve these problems. In case nobody's noticed, the middle east isn't looking so good right now and the Republicans are shrieking like banshees in ever more hysterical terms. Far be it for me to object, what with the need to live down the summer of love and all, but that just doesn't seem like a good situation to me.


Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Well, few points here (just few, this is getting overly long).

1) Comparisons to WWII do work, as long as they're done intelligently. History provides analogies, not blueprints. One has to be able to read both the similarities and the differences, and make appropriate judgments.

2) The war is against much more than just Al Queda. It is against a world vision and a mindset. Al Queda is just one specific incarnation of this mindset, one among many and not necessarily the most important. Would you have happened to capture or kill Bin Laden tomorrow, this would've been an achievement, no doubt, but by no means a war ending victory. Islamism is not a hero worship and it doesn't particularly depend on a specific person.

3) As for having "other Muslims kill them for us", sure, would be nice, but don't hold your breath. Even those who, in the depth of their heart would prefer us to win, rather than the Islamists, won't stick their neck out until they'll be reasonably sure that we're, in fact, winning.

4) As for impressions, sorry, I don't do impressions.

5) Last but not the least, "spycraft, diplomacy, economic pressure and, yes, the occasional air-strike or commando raid", all these things have their place as support for the main effort, not a replacement of it. And one should not overvalue them. Spycraft is only of use if you're willing to take action based on the findings. Diplomacy is of use in some cases, little or non in others (how much progress did diplomacy achieve with North Korea and Iran?). Economic pressure, well, what pressure. You certainly have no pressure to apply on Islamist movements, and in truth not much even on the Arab governments (if anything, they've more pressure to apply). And, as for commando raids, sure, in Hollywood daring commando raids win wars, destroying all the bad guys with no collateral damage, while keeping the protagonists and their love interests intact. Reality works otherwise. Commando raids have their value but in any real war they're a side show.

When you fight malaria, chasing individual mosquitoes won't do much good. You're to drain the swamp where they breed. And, unfortunately, you've to muddy your hands and feet in the process.

Blogger J-Flash said...

I will argue, in a related post, tomorrow that violence of large scale will not work in whatever battle we are fighting. Hence I don't think that simplistic WWII analogies are particularly useful. History can be excellent for insight.

I also agree that leaders around the world see things too much in black and white. Or perhaps brown and white.

But I will at this moment only take issue with the malaria analogy, even if it is witty and well worded. I think that draining the swamp would imply taking away the root cause. And I'll argue that the "main effort" of war you speak of is more akin to turning the swamp into a septic cesspool, unusable by anyone.

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