Democracy Arsenal

« Why We Fight -- Countering the Conservative Foreign Policy Critique | Main | The Prague Project Crunches the Numbers »

August 06, 2010

The Real Lesson Of Iraq - We Never Learn
Posted by Michael Cohen

A couple of days ago President Obama gave a speech about the Iraq War that has led to some soul searching on the meaning of that conflict. Over at Time Magazine, Joe Klein declared the lesson of the Iraq War is that "We should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again." I'm not sure I buy that notion - it seems a bit too absolute. And as Jon Chait points out if applied through history would have prevented the US from intervening militarily in places where we probably should have (WWI, WW2, Korea, the Iraq War to name a few). But I do sympathize with the sentiment.

But over at the Economist blog, Matt Steinglass (h/t to Kevin Drum) makes a very different - and unfortunately - very wrong observation:

There haven't been many examples lately of people learning from their mistakes, but the invasion of Iraq appears to be a mistake from which some lessons have been learned. It's difficult to imagine America returning to fantasies of easy conquest and democracy-building anytime in the next few decades, anywhere in the world. 

Clearly Matt is not a regular reader of democracyarsenal! In fact, we are at this exact moment doing the specific thing that Matt thinks we should never, and will never, do again - deluding ourselves into believing that we can effectively engage in nation building in far-flung corners of the world like Afghanistan. The lessons that the military - and its cheerleaders in the punditocracy - have taken from Iraq is not "let's never do that again" but instead, let's do it better the next time. And of course that next time is now Afghanistan.

Indeed, the entire counter-insurgency mission in Iraq was formulated around the idea that the US had "figured out" how to fight counter-insurgencies and that the lessons of what worked in Iraq could be applied to the Hindu Kush. The same delusion and hubris that convinced America it could "win" in Iraq and that its interests were at stake there is what is driving our escalation in Afghanistan today.

Of course, predictions like Matt's are nothing new - after Vietnam the US had clearly "learned" the lesson that fighting overseas wars with uncertain objectives, lack of popular and international support support and less than overwhelming military superiority was a bad idea. In fact we created a whole new military doctrine (Weinberger/Powell) to mitigate against another Vietnam. And yet here we are . .  again, making the same mistakes and misjudgments that we made, albeit on a larger scale, 45 years ago.

Steinglass even doubles down on the "lessons learned' argument noting the work of the Sustainable Defense Task Force and their plan for a trillion dollars in defense spending cuts - and suggests that this represents "public stirrings" of support for a small defense budget. Apparently Matt missed this "bipartisan report" from the QDR Independent Panel, which suggests we need more not less money for the nation's defenses. I know I too am shocked that a report of prominent DC-based national security experts recommends more defense spending. Who could have seen that one coming? And in the end whose recommendations do you think will end up having more currency in Washington?

I would really like to believe that Matt Steinglass is on to something here, but the simple reality is that for many years now the American Way of War is that we either learn the wrong lessons from the wars we fight or we forget the right ones.  Afghanistan is our current example - something tells me there will be others.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Real Lesson Of Iraq - We Never Learn:


Cripes. He clearly meant anywhere new where we aren't already mired in such efforts. Even so, I'm only cautiously optimistic that we might have learned such a lesson, and very pessimistic, even if we have, that we'll remember the lesson much past this presidency, if we even make it that far.

We could very well have stayed out of all these wars you've listed (WWI, WW2, Korea, the Iraq War), with the possible exception of WW2.I believe we, as people (instead of as a nation, or empire, really), would be much better off today if we had. I'd be interested to know why you feel we should have proceeded how we did in these wars, and why you leave out Vietnam, considering it's similarities to Korea (is it simply because we lost?).

You're right, we won't stop. We cannot stop. We are unable to admit that the USA may have possibly been wrong as this would be tantamount to admitting that we are not the special case of history that will endure forever in 'Truth, Justice and The American Way'. That God did not place us here as a shining beacon of democracy. That what is really exceptional is that we have lasted as long as we have and been able to convince ourselves that it is just and righteous that the most important governmental function is to promote commerce over humanity. That, to quote a great lyric, liberty just means the freedom to exploit any weakness that you can find.

Iran is on hold until the well runs dry in Afghanistan, which ought to be relatively soon now. Who can say, though. Perhaps they just want to be twice as good as the Soviets, who lasted a mere 8 years. If only there was a reliable Afghan to run it for us who didn't prefer the Taliban... We'll go, eventually. Iran is surely in the queue. We are on the slippery slope, now.

I don't really know what to make of your parting sentiments, regarding the "lessons of war". Do you mean tactical lessons, strategic, or political? Seems to me we have the first two covered pretty well, now. Tactically, we do a great job of killing the enemy, and strategically we seem to get what we want out of them (namely, commodities). Politically, I suppose there could be some discussion, but I'm pretty sure our rulers are accomplishing what they want to out of our endeavors as they affect the home front and the world scene.

The Iraq war wasn't a "mistake". It was a crime.

If the American punditry is determined to limit the lessons learned from Iraq to simple "What went wrong?" lessons of a practical nature - lessons that take the form that wars with such-and-such characteristics are doomed to failure, and Iraq had such-and-such characteristics - then it is unlikely that any lesson of permanent substance can be drawn from the war. Human circumstances never repeat themselves exactly, but only in similar but differing patterns. So the next time there is an Iraq-like debate, people will be able to point to all manner of reasons for thinking that the new situation is different, and that the causes of failure in Iraq don't obtain.

The tragedy of Iraq is not merely a tragedy of miscalculation and harmful effects in the Iraqi theater, so to speak. Who can say what the ultimate consequences of the war will be, after all, as they unfold in history? The tragedy is the seemingly irrevocable damage done to some very powerful normative traditions that were worth preserving, and that were betrayed and trashed by people across the US political spectrum.

There was for a time a very strong international norm against attacking countries that hadn't attacked one's own country. Military violations of another country's territorial integrity were only supposed justified for the sake of individual or common defense, or if they were duly approved to rectify disruptions of the global peace. That norm was once respected in the United States, but was jettisoned long ago by the right, and then finally put to the torch by liberals during the Iraq debate. Liberals decided they preferred a more open-ended norm like, "Don't invade other countries militarily, unless you can think of something good you can accomplish by invading them militarily, like changing their government or reforming the barbarous attitudes of their people." The norm is now openly scorned all around in this country, and only seems to hold some respect in other lands.

Given the power of the United States in establishing and underwriting global rules, I fear that the noble goal of building and preserving an international order that can "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind" might be dead. And that is awful.

Liberals seem to have abandoned the traditions of international law which once underpinned that estimable norm, and so it is a virtual certainty that we will have more Iraqs.

IPhone telephones bring a great change in our society. Seize the Moment!! N900
is Most Lovely for Love in 2009 IPhone users break 50 million within just 4 months in Korea, which sets a world record of the fastest growth. Top ten Wrong-doings of the Popular e66 phone With the popularity of iPhone, the usage of wireless Internet has increased sharply to 10 times. 5 Disadvantages You Should See About apple iphone for sale
Some South Korean obscure games or software developers got rich quickly after providing their own software to Apple's "application store" (App Store, a trading platform for various applications). The Right time to Mix and Match, The Best iPhone plastic cases to Enjoy The new services like mobile banking and mobile office are introduced by using smart phone. IPhone is undoubtedly a catalyst for invigorating the Korean fictitious software industry.

remapping "Avatar", pandora and may add a new segment in which the. In the interview, Cameron confirmed the news: "We are currently completing an pandora bracelets additional 6 minutes of that clip, it requires a lot of special effects work, as Pandora's rings really amazing friends, pandora sale all are for August in the theater Remapping "Avatar."

Are these things so that they are still going forward. pandora In the absence of cheapest pandora bracelets to accompany, they would sigh, this is their tired performance. We will not be around all the trouble was, when we want to be happy happy together. This is the pandora rings productsto you all, pandora bracelets although many times we would be happy, After some time, his face still appears innocent smile. This is the benefits of childhood, innocence, innocent, and no trouble living with. pandora uk There may be people to say their lives are like as long as pandora style beads.

Her Amour series swarovski necklace and the earring take the baby pink which and the evaporated milk oil swarovski crystals colors fresh water pearl interweaves continuously as inspirations, in imitates the crystal element and it falls the swarovski beads decoration to fill the artistic feeling under the arrangement design, and it swarovski uk describes one elegant and the fashionable exquisite picture.

merhaba arkadaşlar bu yazımızda sizlere pegasus bilet fiyatları konusu hakkında bilgilendirme yapıcaz.pegasus bilet fiyatları sizinde bildiğiniz gibi çok aranıyor.bizde şimdi buradakisohbetimizi bitirip pegasus bilet fiyatları konusuna geçiyoruz.

But what is it that we don't ever learn?

Jack an Jill went up the hill
each had a dollar and a quarter
Jill came back with two and a half
do you think they went up for water?

Now that Iraq will become the number one oil producer in the world soon, do you think the war was not really about oil now?

merhaba arkadaşlar bu yazımızda sizlere volkan konak dinle kelimesindne bahsetmek istiyorum birazda :) inanın bana çok başarılı olacağız volkan konak dinle de

The comments to this entry are closed.

Emeritus Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use