Against Wilsonian Overreaching

Val Dorta updates his thoughtful critique of the Bush administration’s handling of the war. Val argues that we should concentrate on decisively defeating our enemies militarily, rather than keep trying to make the world safe by introducing democracy.

The result is that our grand strategy after September 11 is inverted and we need to put it back on its feet in order for it to work: It is not whether Iraq (it could have been Syria or Iran) is part of the war on terror, but that the war on terror is part of the war on Islamism and the enemy regimes. Killing Osama bin Laden and eliminating Al Qaeda will not terminate Islamic terrorism, while destroying the causes that inspire them, the institutions that create them and the regimes that nurture them will. There would be no better way to reach the peace we desire than to coordinate our immense military, economic and diplomatic power in a short, intense and ruthless war, all the while maintaining the sword of Damocles over the pitiful heads of our other enemies. No better way to keep Arab and Muslim hatred and contempt in check either.

Val’s post is worth reading in full.

13 thoughts on “Against Wilsonian Overreaching”

  1. “There would be no better way to reach the peace we desire than to coordinate our immense military, economic and diplomatic power in a short, intense and ruthless war,”

    Val Dorta thinks like Westmorland.

    Yeah we could crush all the current regimes in the Mideast but then what? The most likely replacement for the regimes would be as bad or worse if we just destroy and leave. Without some sort of external influence the internal dynamics of the region will cause regimes very much like the current ones to reoccur.

    Just like firepower was not the answer in Vietnam, it is not the answer now. We must use just enough firepower to kill the core bad guys but no so much we crush all the ordinary people. Destroying radical Islam is a long term psychic program. It means pulling the masses out of their medieval mindsets. Doing that requires open societies and healthy economies.

    Our core weapon is persistence. Everybody understands our military and economic power is overwhelming. What they don’t believe is that we have the attention span to carry out our objectives. Once we credibly establish that we will stay and fight as long as needed we won’t have to stay long.

    When we succeed in Iraq, it will shake the foundations of the other autocracies on a the level of ideology. That is how ultimately we will win.

  2. Most of life is just showing up; the next thing is muddling through. The same for businesses and countries.

    But wouldn’t his faster & more aggressive solution make it more difficult for Iraq (or any of the surrounding nations) to become “connected” and wouldn’t this throw them even further into the “gap”?

  3. I don’t know enough to evaluate Val’s main argument, but I think we’d have done better so far to err on the side of using more force rather than less.

  4. Val is taking a stab at a hugely important issue.

    Our quadrennial election cycle has us focused on whether we get an administration which is at least serious about the war, and one which would not be.

    Once that is over with, hopefully with a Bush victory, the more ultimately important questions which remain will include the following: What is the essential nature of the war we are in? Is it one war or several wars? Who is “we”? (The USA? A coalition of the willing? The West? The Core? The Anglosphere? US + Israel? Everyone except active Islamic terrorists?) Who exactly are we (whoever we are) fighting against? How should we wage this war? What means should we use? What new capabilities do we need to create, if any? What arguments do we need to make to persuade people to support us? Do we need to do some things we don’t want to do, or in ways we don’t want to do, to gain and keep allies abroad and domestic support at home? What lessons can we learn from what has happened so far? Does it matter why they hate us? How do we gauge progress or failure? What is the desired end state? How will we know if we are there?

    I have thought a lot about this stuff, and I have ideas about how to answer these and related questions. A mega-post will be forthcoming, some day, maybe, possibly, I hope. Not soon.

    Bush has, I think it is fair to say, sketched out a set of answers to the above questions. Further answers, and in some cases changed answers might be preferable.

    Steven den Beste had an outline which showed his analysis of most of these questions, which was one of the best things I’ve seen.

    We need to move beyond the sterile question of whether Iraq was done right, or should have been done at all. It’s done. The question which will become most critical after the election will become: What is the way forward?

    I’m sure the pajame-clad denizens of this blog will offer many thoughts.

  5. Val got it right I think.

    In the mideast success will win friends and failure will not (and then only over some substantial period of time). Ruthless warfare will win. Do what we can to keep innocents out of it but not at the expense of doing whatever is necessary to eliminate opposition. More moderate courses will get more US military killed than necessary, drag the mess out, and be more likely to end in failure. Surely this has to be done before some political and economic infrastructure can be established.

  6. Shannon, Ginny, “regimes very much like the current ones,” “the gap”:

    Yes, they will be back in the swamp for sure. The key difference is realists accept that we have to handle bad guys all the time while idealists believe they can change bad guys into good guys by pure voluntarism. I know this last approach is more appealing to modern minds but it clearly isn’t working mainly because war is part of human nature like perhaps nothing else, so it is the same today as in Roman times. Let’s them hate us provided they fear us. The more we bend backwards, look the other way and hold back, the more Arab hatred and contempt of us (93% in Jordan!?) increases. Perhaps a fully developed realist approach is no longer possible, but I hope a second Bush administration will at least change the fundamentals.

    Thanks everybody for your comments and to Jon for the plug.

  7. j scott sarcastically mentions that the “ruthless thingy has” (not) “worked” for the Russians in keeping Russia free of terrorism.

    One: we aren’t Russia (possibly evidenced in
    different results in Afganistan).

    Two: The old saw about fighting solving nothing is not true. Ruthlessness in WWII, for example, provides Germany with early success (and saved lives of its soldiers) and the ruthlessness of the A bombs at the end provided the Alllies with victory in a timely way and saved untold numbers of American and allied military lives. Other examples of effective ruthlessness are surely too numerous to mention.

  8. Watertreat, I’m not suggesting that fighting doesn’t solve anything. I’m just giving credit to the folks who are weighing the destruction of Fallujah against the locals trying to handle it their way. If we wanted to we could erase Fallujah from the map in a matter of hours with enough MOABs. If our troops determine that’s what is needed to win the peace, I’ll support it. But I’m not down with all the state-side “kill ’em all” strategists. –s

  9. Scott’s post reminded me (just that!) of one observation I had forgotten to make: some people’s position on the war seems to swiftly change from “softly as a morning sunrise” to “nuke them all!” It is either don’t hit them too hard or Armageddon, despite the enormous territory that exists between the two. There could be something related to voluntarism here.

  10. Val,

    Why bother?

    I have a piece of property here in Texas that’s infested with mesquite. Cutting mesquite down doesn’t kill it; a few weeks later the stumps are sprouting, and leave it two years and the resulting bush is worse than the original tree.

    If we go your way, inevitably we will leave a lot of them alive. They will reproduce, and in a few years will be right back in our faces, with even better motives and sourer (and more recent) memories, your having confirmed their darkest suspicions. I often disagree with the Greens about both what the problems are and what the solutions might be, but one thing they say is true: leaving it for our descendants is cowardice, even if we do call it “keeping our options open.”

    There are three ways to beat back mesquite: fire, chemicals, and grubbing it out followed by monitoring and mowing. If one burns the roots down below the soil line it will take a goodish time to sprout again, and RoundUp[TM] will kill it back, again not permanently but for a while. Grubbing, with judicious applications of the other techniques, is the only method that will grant an extended period free of infestation.

    Your proposed solution could in fact get us a respite, provided you are willing to abandon half measures. Pruning won’t do it. Fire and chemicals might. The science fiction author John Ringo calls it “Option Zero.” Green glass and contaminated soil from the Jordan to the Hindu Kush. Nuke the cities and large towns, spray the rest with Terrorist-B-Gone [Sarin and VX, perhaps.] Are you ready for that? All you’ve proposed is whacking off the visible stems. Go for the roots, man.

    And go without me. G. Bush has opted for grubbing, with the minimum of active measures. It’s hard, and it takes a long time, and it’s easy to miss some and have to go back next year, but it might, at the end, just work without putting too much fallout in the atmosphere — and without all those ghosts wailing when we’re trying to sleep. I’m with George.

    Ric Locke

  11. “Just like firepower was not the answer in Vietnam, it is not the answer now. We must use just enough firepower to kill the core bad guys but no so much we crush all the ordinary people. ” That is exactly why the US has developed, at great cost, weapons that can be aimed precisely. The firepower has gone down—we now use a guided “bomb” with no explosive power, it’s merely an aerodynamic chunk of concrete, for example—but the concentration of force has gone way way up.

    “Persistence”: I disagree that it is a matter of attention span. It’s a matter of will.

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