Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What Does "Worked" Mean?

Over the weekend I read the best rejoinder to the argument that the "surge" or the Iraq War as a whole worked.  It was written by former Army officer who served in the Vietnam War named Andrew J. Bacevich who is now a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.  As he pointed out:
The importance attributed to the surge by devotees such as McCain distracts attention from matters of far greater significance. It’s the equivalent of using the Battle of New Orleans as a basis for evaluating the War of 1812. Of course, in contrast to Petraeus, Gen. Andrew Jackson defeated his adversary. When the shooting stopped, it was the surviving Redcoats — not the surviving Americans — who packed up and left. Still, take your cues from Johnny Horton, and you might conclude that Jackson single-handedly redeemed an entire war. Take your cues from McCain, and you might conclude that, two centuries later, Petraeus did likewise.

In reality, the heroics at New Orleans proved irrelevant to the outcome of the war, which the Treaty of Ghent had ended two weeks before. The most that can be said for Jackson’s victory is that it distracted attention from the egregious failures of political and military leadership that had marked James Madison’s War. So, too, for a time Petraeus’s victory (if that’s what it was) might do the same for George W. Bush’s War, likewise marred by glaring errors committed at the top. It’s the oldest technique in the campaigner’s playbook: Inflate a glimmer of good news to divert attention from all the bad.
Exactly.  The idea that the Iraq War can be judged a success because the US Army decided to pay off Sunni militiamen so they'd stop fighting Americans and focus on even more extreme foreign fighters (the main strategy of the surge) misses the entire point.  Iraq was suppose to be made into a democratic and free market oriented utopia by the war, it wasn't.  And this failure occurred in spite of terrible losses to America and Iraqi society.  Indeed this strategy of American support for so called "Awakening Militias" was a direct result of earlier failures of the war.  The American Military had long since given up on the idea of creating a secular democracy and instead resorted to a tried and true method of feudal politics: if someone is causing you a problem bribe them to stop.  This might result in a reduction of roadside bomb attacks in your sector, but it's basically acknowledging that the plans for a democratic society with things like the rule of law are dead.   

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