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Fortunes of war

August 27th, 2008

Things have gone better than expected (certainly better than I expected) in Iraq over the past year[1]. On the other hand, things are going very badly in Afghanistan. For those, like me, who have supported the war in Afghanistan and opposed the war in Iraq, this raises some points to consider.

Most obviously, war is inherently unpredictable and dangerous, and there is no necessary correlation between the justness of a cause and its military success. That means, among other things, that launching a war (or revolution) on the basis of a cause that seems justified to those starting it, but which has little or no hope of success (indeed without strong grounds for expecting a good outcome after the inevitable loss of life on all sides is taken into account), is not glorious but criminally reckless.

Sadly, the typical ‘war of choice’ is launched on the basis of hubristic expectations of success, an illusion which is often bolstered by initial success but usually ends in disaster (I expect this will turn out to be the case for both/all sides in the Georgia conflict).

Supporters of the decision to go to war in Afghanistan can argue that the prospects of success were excellent and would have been realised if it were not for the massive incompetence of the Bush Administration, most obviously in deciding to launch a second war in Iraq for no particular reason (or, if you prefer, for many contradictory reasons). Of course, some supporters of the Iraq war make precisely the same claim. But the Administration’s incompetence was much more evident in 2003 than in 2001, one reason why I and others changed our views. More importantly, Afghanistan was not a war of choice. The US and other countries had been attacked by terrorists operating there with the support of the Taliban, and further attacks were planned.

Perhaps with more competent management the Taleban could have been defeated by now. But they haven’t been and it is time to admit that a military victory over the Taleban insurgency is now unlikely whether or not it might have been achieved in the past. As with the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, it’s time to look harder at offering both a part in the political process and plenty of cash to those willing to abandon the insurgency.

fn1. That doesn’t mean the situation is good by any normal standard. Omagh-scale bomb attacks

still take place every week or so, attracting barely any notice, and both soldiers and civilians are dying every day. More importantly, even if the war ended tomorrow, it would still be a disaster for all concerned. The US has suffered thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of soldiers wounded and spent trillions of dollars while making its own international position far weaker than before. And the suffering of the Iraqi people has been far greater – hundreds of thousands dead, millions forced to flee the country, an economy in ruins and a legacy of bitter division that is unlikely to heal for decades to come.

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  1. Hal9000
    September 1st, 2008 at 14:01 | #1

    I note that smiths’ comment (at 8) about Luis Posada Carriles was left high and dry in the subsequent high dudgeon from the war-boosters. Surely it’s a significant point, however. The implicit claim is that terrorism is only a legitimate casus belli when it’s terrorism practised by someone other than the US. Carriles cheerfully admits blowing up a Cuban civilian airliner over Venezuelan airspace and is given, to use the Bush vernacular ‘safe haven’ in the US, where the administration uses the irony-challenged argument that he might be tortured if extradited to Venezuela.

    The US has similarly sponsored (as in the sense of recruiting, arming, training, directing and paying the wages of) terrorists in Nicaragua, as determined by the ICJ, and is at present engaged in doing it in Iran.

    I say all this because the ‘just war’ argument advanced by war-boosters requires American exceptionalism as antecedent proposition. Now, this argument may go down well among Bill O’Rielly’s (or Andrew Bolt’s) dwindling audience, but I just don’t reckon it cuts it out there among the citizenry of countries other than the US. Judging by the applause Obama’s been getting for his lines about restoring the US to international respectability, even US voters have become dimly aware that something is amiss.

    Last, there seems to be some implication in war-boosters’ arguments that the bad things that have happened were unintended consequences and thus forgivable. When the consequences are obvious, inevitable and widely foreseen, the intentionality argument fails. At any event, face to face atrocities in which US forces participated, such as the 2001 Dasht-i-Leili killing of hundreds of Taliban fighters by the unusually cruel technique of locking them in shipping containers, suggest a higher level of criminality.

  2. September 1st, 2008 at 15:03 | #2

    Hal9000 #51 – On your first paragraph it was not the “Administration” that blocked the extradition. It was the courts. If you do not believe that the US has judicial independence, then lets discuss that. If not, you are just guilty of an error. As for the rest – cut the strawman BS, please. If you have a specific charge to lay at anyone’s door, please do so.
    .
    Katz #46 – one thing I missed. The “Mission Accomplished” bit was Iraq. I thought this was on Afghanistan.
    #50 – I do not know what point you are trying to make with the “BTW” and “background” bits. Did you expect all that up front? If so, you are endowed with remarkable prescience.
    .
    smiths #49 – Why not just stick horns and a tail on the US Government and point fingers? You seem to believe they are guilty of just about every evil anyway.
    .
    PrQ #48 – I do not speak for others either (despite what Hal9000 may try to imply). It was fairly clear that this would not be a clean fight, even with the initial turfing out of the Taliban. I agreed with you then and I agree with you now – this was a fight that needed to be done. The pity is, like Iraq, they did not get out earlier. The problem with that is that they probably could not have. Leaving early would just have let the Taliban back in, necessitating another invasion.

  3. Hal9000
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:44 | #3

    AR -

    You said:

    “Country is sheltering an accused terrorist and allowing him to use that country’s territory to train attackers and launch attacks on you. You demand the country puts a stop to it and hand over the accused for trial.
    The attack on you is an act of war. Any reasonable course of action taken to defend yourself is perfectly legal, even without explicit UN sanction.
    Morally I would also consider it justified”.

    You poured scorn on smiths’ entirely correct identification of Venezuela (and I might add Cuba) as having precisely the same rights in respect of Carriles. Please explain how the two cases confer such different moral justifications.

    You are correct to say the US courts rejected the charge against Carriles, however the following facts are relevant: Carriles was charged with minor immigration violations and not terrorist offences despite his boasting in a published autobiography of having committed the bombing; the US administration ignored its own extradition treaties and refused to respond to Venezuela’s petitions for Carriles to be preventively detained and extradited; Carriles’ accomplice – the one who smuggled him into the US – Santiago Alvarez was found in possession of a large cache of arms illegal even in the US but was charged only with the arms violations and not the more serious people smuggling and terrorist offences. The US administration, despite overwhelming evidence against him for terrorist offences, despite the extraterritoriality of US terrorism law, and despite the existence of Patriot Act provisions allowing indefinite detention of anyone even remotely or tangentially connected with terrorism refuses to charge him and is apparently happy for him to be feted by like-minded emigres in Miami as a hero. If that is how an AQ activist apprehended having similarly entering the US on forged documents would be treated I’m the proverbial monkey’s uncle.

  4. smiths
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:50 | #4

    at the end of the day andrew, after all the semantics and game play that you love so much,

    it isnt up to me to defend my position which was proven right in both US wars of aggression,

    it is up to the cheerleaders for aggressive war to explain how those wars can be justified, if they ever can be which i doubt,

    personally it leaves a sick feeling in my stomach to hear westerners pontificating on justified war from the comfort of their australian safe house

  5. smiths
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:53 | #5

    ahhh, too much,
    i just re-read the thread from the start and realised i had also been accused of being anti-freedom…

    honestly andrew, you have some serious issues

  6. Katz
    September 1st, 2008 at 16:56 | #6

    AR, in JQ’s post, Iraq and Afghanistan appear to enjoy more or less equal billing.

    I have said less about Afghanistan because its cause seemed more justified, and its outcome seemed more doubtful. In short, I found that war less interesting.

    Did I ever set down my predictions about the logistical problems faced by invaders of Afghanistan? No.

    Why bother when the historical record is 100% against the invader.

    Eventually, the invaders will do their sums, and like the Soviets (who lost only 15,000 soldiers in Afghanistan) withdraw.

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