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The Iraq war should humble us

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This post is part of the Defining victory in Iraq debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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10 February 2010 10:35


This post is part of the Defining victory in Iraq debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

What strikes me about the Kenny and Molan responses to Rodger Shanahan's piece is that, although both men seem realistic about the challenges of militarised nation-building and sobered by the setbacks suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither will countenance the idea that it is simply too hard to transform these places in the ways we would like.

In fact, the solution both men offer to the Afghanistan problem is 'more'. More troops, more money, more advisers, more political and diplomatic capital.

The disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan seem unable to shake this faith in the restorative capabilities of military force, so how about we go back a little further in history? Here's the American military commentator Andrew Bacevich:

Three times in the last 60 years, U.S. forces have achieved an approximation of unambiguous victory—operational success translating more or less directly into political success. The first such episode, long since forgotten, occurred in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson intervened in the Dominican Republic. The second occurred in 1983, when American troops, making short work of a battalion of Cuban construction workers, liberated Granada. The third occurred in 1989 when G.I.’s stormed the former American protectorate of Panama, toppling the government of long-time CIA asset Manuel Noriega. Apart from those three marks in the win column, U.S. military performance has been at best mixed. The issue here is not one of sacrifice and valor—there’s been plenty of that—but of outcomes.

Granted, this is a partial reading of US military history — Kosovo and Bosnia could be counted as recent successful interventions. But am I right in thinking that advocates for the Afghanistan surge don't even draw on that history very much? The sole justification for doubling down in Afghanistan seems to be that it worked in Iraq. But as Rodger points out, it is still way too early to declare that effort a success for the Iraqi people.

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