Thursday, October 09, 2014

Apparently, They All Look Alike to Him

I don't know if I've ever read anything by Andrew Bacevich that I thought was correct.

The professor believes that our military intervention in Moslem countries has been and will continue to be counterproductive. Apparently the whole is greater than the sum of its parts because when you look at the individual interventions rather than seeing the problems of today and concluding our past interventions have created the current problems, his point makes no sense.

He writes:

Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.

That's quite list of places we've invaded, occupied, or bombed, which has apparently made things worse. Let's examine them one by one.

Iran (1980). Operation Eagle Claw was an effort to rescue hostages that Iran held after the Shah's fall. President Carter didn't even consider it a military operation.

Our deaths were from an accident on the ground there. We did not bomb, and to call the brief time our forces were on the ground in Iran as either an invasion or occupation is nonsense.

Apparently, the effort to rescue our people and not the failure is to be lamented.

Iran (1987-1988). Here we have the Tanker War and our part in it during the Iran-Iraq War. We reflagged tankers under our flag in order to protect them (and effectively sided with Iraq in that war) and engaged the Iranian navy and forces based on old oil platforms. And we did it as part of a large coalition to keep Iran from throttling oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz.

We did not bomb Iran--although we bombed their naval vessels and off-shore bases. Nor did we invade or occupy Iranian territory.

Apparently, we should have stayed out and just let the locals sort out whether oil could be exported through the Strait of Hormuz.

And risk Iran winning that war.

Libya (1981). In the Gulf of Sidra Incident we shot down a couple Libyan attack planes that challenged our Navy's freedom of navigation exercise across the so-called "line of death" that Khadaffi wrongly claimed to be Libya's territorial waters.

Apparently, we should have let the ocean commons shrink a bit--and set a precedent for others--by ceding that international water to Libya.

Libya (1986). Operation Eldorado Canyon was our response to Libya's ongoing terror operations against us, triggered by a bombing in West Berlin that targeted our military personnel.

Yes, we bombed Libya. Did they not deserve it?

Apparently, making Khadaffi publicly pay a price for killing Americans was unjustified.

Libya (1989). Another Gulf of Sidra Incident. Insert 1981 comments here.

Libya (2011). Here we have the civil war that we intervened in by bombing Khadaffi's forces. Did we make it worse? Hard to say. The chaos provoked our intervention. The bloodshed might have been worse without us. Egypt might have intervened if the war ran unchecked and that could have made it ugly.

I'll admit that I believed we had no real interest in this fight and that Europe and Egypt had far more interest in coping with chaos. Yet once President Obama said Khadaffi had to go, our reputation required an effort to enforce that statement. Little good that did us given our future failures.

So I'll grant partial credit here.

Lebanon (1983). We intervened to settle the civil war after entering to quiet the Israel-PLO fight in southern Lebanon.

The chaos pre-dated our intervention which consisted of occupying a small portion of the Beirut region around the airport along with the French and Italians. Our mistake was trying to settle the civil war with the force level designed for the former. We left after losing a lot of Marines in the terrorist bombing attack on our barracks there.

Our intervention did not help settle the civil war. Chaos since then in our absence is due far more to Iranian and Syrian intervention and meddling. But I don't see how the intervention was counterproductive. Not worth the price, quite likely. But we cut our losses and left.

So I'll grant partial credit again.

Kuwait (1991). We liberated Kuwait from Iraq's invasion at the head of a massive coalition that embodied the will of the international community (one of only two wars authorized by UN) and ended up getting rid of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. We bombed Kuwaiti territory, invaded their territory, and "occupied" (left troops to defend them) at the request of the Kuwaitis.

Apparently, we should have allowed the invasion to stand. Or let locals deal with an enriched Saddam close to getting nuclear weapons and possessing chemical weapons.

Iraq (1991-2011). It's nice to see the author link the 1991 and 2003-2011 campaigns. In many ways it is a single war with ceasefires (remember the 1990s no-fly zone enforcement missions, too) that began in 1991. We certainly bombed, invaded, and occupied Iraq (although invasion and occupation are technical descriptions rather than moral judgments).

You can argue whether the cost was worth it. But we made Iraq a better place with a hopeful future by 2011. The war was a moral cause, at least. And it still is whether you agree or not with President Obama's re-entry into the war that began in 1991.

I think the notion that Iraq was counterproductive from the point of view of creating jihadis is nonsense. They already had lots of reasons and our battlefield victory over al Qaeda by fall 2007 actually decreased jihadi enthusiasm a great deal. And the flocking of jihadis to Syria and Libya shows that our presence is not the factor that causes jihadi recruitment.

Apparently, letting Saddam get away with conquering Kuwait, threatening the region, refusing to comply with the international community's demand he prove he had disarmed his WMD capacity, or allowing Iran, Syria, and al Qaeda to destroy Iraq was (and is) the better thing to do.

Or maybe regional forces could control the problem without causing the world a grave problem. Right. Our effort needs to be continued to keep things from getting worse and to hopefully provide an opportunity for it to get better (as even President Obama boasted in 2011 when we left) but I don't see how it has been counter-productive.

Iraq (2014-). The current war on ISIL. It remains to be seen whether this will be counter-productive. We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government so the trilogy of counter-productivity seems to be absent. It is arguably just a continuation of the 1991-2011 war above after a one-sided ending of the war by America alone in 2012, 2013, and much of 2014.

Apparently, we should just let ISIL establish a sanctuary to strike us and plunge Iraq into bloody sectarian war.

Somalia (1992-1993). We intervened with UN blessing to enable famine relief and then tried to build a Somali state.

At the time, I assumed we intervened to show we'd help dirt poor Moslems without oil. But I assumed that Somalis would eventually start shooting at us. I didn't oppose the intervention but if asked I wouldn't have gone in.

Apparently, we should have stayed out. We surely ended the famine yet failed to create a state. How this was counter-productive is beyond me unless you consider our failure at nation building as a decisive encouragement for al Qaeda to strike us.

Somalia (2007-). I assume he refers to our efforts mostly out of Djibouti to combat Somali jihadis. That effort predates 2007, however.

Apparently, we shouldn't have attempted this low-footprint intervention to protect ourselves.

Also, doesn't Djibouti count as the 15th Moslem state we have "occupied" in that trilogy of interventions since we have a base there since 2002?

I'd deny this was a counterproductive intervention if it was on the list.

Bosnia (1995). We intervened to halt the genocide going on there. Which we did.

Apparently, we should have stayed out and allowed Bosnia's Moslems to be ethnically cleansed by mass murder or allow jihadis to flock to the region to pose as the true defenders of Moslems.

Saudi Arabia (1991). Really? We didn't bomb Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia's invitation for our troops to defend their country and then drive Iraq's army from Kuwait counts as an invasion or occupation? And why isn't this 1990-1991?

Sure, Osama bin Laden claimed our presence in Saudi Arabia for that war and after to protect Saudi Arabia was a reason to kill us. But he had so many reasons to kill us that it is silly to focus on one. And Saudi Arabia invited us to protect them.

Apparently, this counts as something separate than Kuwait. Why I don't know. I'm just ignoring this one.

Saudi Arabia (1996). This one is just silly. Our forces remained in Saudi Arabia at their government's request to hold both Saddam and Iran at bay. Al Qaeda bombed the Khobar Towers complex that year where some of our military personnel were housed. Really? Americans were killed, but this counts as country "invaded or occupied or bombed?"

Apparently, being bombed was counterproductive. I don't know what to say about this "occupation."

Afghanistan (1998). This was part of our strike against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and our strike against a suspected chemical weapons plant in Sudan linked to both al Qaeda and Iraq.

Since the Afghanistan strike was an ineffective use of force that probably just convinced bin Laden that he could endure any counter-strike, I'll grant this as a case of a counterproductive use of force.

But I imagine this isn't the sort of agreement the author welcomes. And I thought the Saudi Arabia and Kuwait categories gave Osama bin Laden enough reason to kill us already. I'm confused on this aspect.

Afghanistan (2001-) . Operation Enduring Freedom.

Apparently, destroying the sanctuary that al Qaeda had in Afghanistan by eliminating the Taliban government that protected them was counterproductive as was preventing the Taliban from recreating that sanctuary. And to think this was once the "good war."

Apparently, we should have just accepted the attacks on us in New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania as a price of doing business--and it is a lower price than we pay annually just driving our cars, right?

And apparently we should have just enjoyed that "we are all Americans, now" moment when Europeans showed sympathy before slowly resuming their pre-9/11 view that we deserve what we get. Nuance, people. Nuance. Get some.

As an ongoing war, it remains to be seen whether this was ineffective, a loss if we fail to defend our battlefield gains, or counterproductive.

Sudan (1998). The Sudan portion of the 1998 strikes in Afghanistan. We were apparently wrong that the plant was a front for chemical weapons production or development

And I'll note that we have not intervened to halt the Darfur massacres or the conflict with South Sudan. Our lack of involvement in Sudan over these issues hasn't let the locals decide the issue--unless you count ongoing genocide as "solving" an ethnic problem.

Sudan was and is a hostile mess. While the 1998 attack was perhaps a mistake, it was hardly counterproductive.

Kosovo (1999). As with Bosnia, we rescued Moslems from ethnic cleansing. It worked.

Apparently, our relations with the Moslem world would be better if we allowed Moslems to be killed or allowed the conflict to fester and breed jihadis who would claim they saved Moslems while the West stood aside.

Yemen (2000). This incident of the unholy trilogy of American intervention consisted of the bombing of the American warship Cole while in port in Aden harbor.

Apparently, we should have refrained from being bombed. Or entering a Moslem country's port, it seems. Hey, can we sail near them? Fly over them? Glance at them furtively and get a sense of them before looking away?

Yemen (2002-). Here we have the Yemen civil war and al Qaeda infestation that is linked with Djibouti.

Apparently, we should just allow Yemen to fail and become an al Qaeda sanctuary that spills disorder and terror back into Saudi Arabia and the region. The Underwear Bomber in December 2009 who was stopped by passengers on a flight into Detroit simply hadn't gotten the Hope and Change memo and surely would have recanted his hatred in time.

Pakistan (2004-). Our efforts to defeat jihadis taking refuge in Pakistan where they wage war in Afghanistan. Since late in the Bush administration's first term, we've used drones to kill jihadis. We've done this with the cooperation of the Pakistani government. I admit I worried that these strikes would be too limited to be effective and that local reaction would make it counter-productive over the long run. I was wrong. We've killed and terrorized the terrorists who thought themselves safe and the backlash has been minimal when you consider the general hostility to us from those quarters.

Apparently, we should have allowed Pakistan to be a jihadi sanctuary, refusing even to kill Osama bin Laden as we did in 2011.

Syria (2014-). And now Syria, he says. A country we have not bombed, occupied, or invaded has descended into Hell on Earth long before last month, yet somehow our recent effort to attack ISIL in Syria now is what is really counterproductive?  Whew, indeed.

Apparently, we should let ISIL run wild and slaughter people, drawing in jihadi recruits from around the world who return home radicalized and perhaps ready to slaughter those who live at home around them.

So there you go. That big picture portrait of counter-productive intervention falls apart when you look at the individual interventions that Bacevich cites as evidence for his call to just stay out of the region so things will get better without us.

I give him two partial credits and a single one-strike mission that could be called counterproductive. So you can see why he lumps them all together and claims a common thread of American counterproductive interventions.

Costly as this effort may be, what is the alternative in the big picture? Not that individual cases to intervene can't be mistaken--or too costly.

But what are the costs of doing nothing? Perhaps a list of Islamic world disasters that we kept out of would be a nice counter-point to his list.

How expensive was 9/11 to us even apart from war costs?

How many 9/11-equivalents--or Boston Marathon-equivalents--should we accept as the price of risking "counter-productive" interventions? Even sympathetic "we are all Americans, now" comments will seem pretty hollow after a while.

Fighting our enemies and helping our allies may not guarantee we lose, but not fighting our enemies pretty much guarantees we lose a lot. Bacevich has not yet penned an article I can agree with.