Friday, September 19, 2014

The Falklands War Revisited

With the 2016 cycle approaching I think I need to step my foreign policy game up a little bit so I've been trying to read and write more about these sorts of things. It looks like Hillary is going to be the Democratic nominee so I guess if she wins we'll be in for a healthy dose of do-gooder interventionism. This isn't what I'd prefer (the great blog War On The Rocks made me recently discover that I'm a realist) oh well, I guess it can't be helped. But since war and peace are kind of important issues so I guess I should write about them in a broader context than why invading Iraq was a terrible idea.

These days there seems to be major disagreements in the GOP between Marco Rubio style militaristic lunacy, Rand Paul style isolationist lunacy, and plain old lunacy lunacy embodied in this sage piece of advice offered by Ted Cruz that could have been said by George Marshall:
You can point to two points on the spectrum, where Republicans lie. On one side you have the views of John McCain. The other end of the spectrum, you have the views of Rand Paul. Now, with respect, my views are very much the views of Ronald Reagan, which I would suggest is a third point on the triangle.
When all else fails either start whipping the horse's eyes or invoke Ronald Reagan. But that's the modern GOP right? When you're a post policy party turning the spectrum into a triangle and announcing, "I do not support arming the rebels in Syria, because the administration has presented no coherent plan for distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys." Makes as much sense as anything else right?

BUT ANYWAY, a few weeks ago Robert Farley wrote a nice piece about the legacy of the Falklands War. I've always thought of the Falklands war as being one of the silliest wars ever fought, which isn't to say it wasn't an actual war. For the men, and they pretty much were all men, who were involved it was probably filled with horror and hardship and pain. All wars, even relatively small ones, are very real for the people who fight them, even if killing people to control windswept rocks covered in sheep shit is a very strange thing indeed.

Farley makes great points all around. (And yes this post is based on comments I wrote on the blog.)

Personally though I've always been impressed by the cultural impact of the war as well, particularly in Britain. Musical artists as different as Dire Straights, NOFX, The Fall, and Vampire Weekend have referenced the war (the best lyrics has to be Vampire Weekend's from their song "Mansard Roof "The Argentines collapse in defeat; The Admiralty surveys the remnants of the fleet"). Which when you think about it is strange. The Iraq War was a much bigger thing, but I only can think of a few songs about it. The best of course is Steve Earle's "Home To Houston."

Heck even The Simpsons have a joke about war for control of strategic sheep purposes and to solve domestic political problems. (Yeah and to also liberate those British subjects etc.)

But more than anything it I think the war reinforced the idea of Thatcherism as a political ideology in Britain. That is to say the idea that confrontation and destruction of your foes is the best way to go about conducting your political affairs. Accommodation? Compromise? Negotiation? "No! No! No!"

So you don't just make the miners accept cuts in subsides for their industry, you completely destroy their union and their way of life. You don't just criticize Michael Foot's politics, you humiliate him as a weakling and an eunuch on the front page of your tabloid paper daily. You don't just disagree with members of your cabinet, you scream at them at the top of your lungs until they resign or admit defeat. And you certainly don't let loyalty to the who woman plucked you out of obscurity (John Major I'm looking in your direction) stand in the way of your chance at glory. Thatcher had seen it work so well with the "Argies" so why not do the same thing at home?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nicholas Kristof's Circular Logic

Nicholas Kristof recently wrote a column attacking Obama for his previous policy of not getting heavily involved in Syria's civil war. I think it encompasses a lot of the poor thinking that got us into the whole Iraq mess in the first point, and is filled with his naive tendency to divide the world into what Adam Curtis has called "goodies and baddies", but this one passage jumped out at me:
His [Obama's] “red line” about chemical weapons turned out to be more like a penciled suggestion. His rejection of the proposal by Hillary Rodham Clinton and David Petraeus to arm moderate Syrian factions tragically empowered both the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Nick is rolling out the classic circular thinking of American military adventures: if war works then that shows that war is awesome and should be done more often. If war doesn't work (as it didn't in Iraq) then that means that what we need is more war. In short war can never fail to improve things, it can only be failed by presidents that don't do it enough or do it well enough.

Hence the idea that giving more weapons to various Syrian factions would have automatically made things better that Nick cites. There's no evidence of this at all in the real world, for example nobody has ever even suggested giving the Syrian rebels the weapons they would actually need to turn the tide of battle, that is sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. And rightly so! In Ukraine rebels used such weapons to shoot down a Malaysian jet liner recently. In fact the whole reason ISIS is so powerful right now is they were able to capture a huge amount of weapons this summer that we supplied the Iraqi Army with!

But in Nick's military adventure world this contention proves itself. Since things are bad and we didn't give weapons to Islamic extremists not named ISIS (which is basically what a lot of the "moderates" are) Obama made a mistake, because weapons would automatically have made things better. And indeed in an alternative universe where we did give them weapons and things didn't get better Nick could say, "Obama didn't give enough weapons soon enough!" Or whatever. Likewise nobody thinks the bombing proposed by Obama last year would have ended the war, but again it was a failure because we didn't bomb and bad things happened.

In short, this is a bizarre way to think about the world. Unfortunately it's a pretty popular in our foreign policy establishment.