Monday, October 17, 2016

The Mythical Perfect Plan

I've long complained about the notion that before we go to war we need to have a perfect plan for sorting out the peace. Winning is hard enough and the post-war is too unclear to pretend we have that kind of knowledge to fully control. One problem at a time, I say.

The notion that we failed to have a post-war plan for Iraq, which the Left has insisted is true to this day, is both wrong on the narrow fact and in the end pointless given our past experience.

And here we have a report that addresses this notion:

The United States and its allies do need to look beyond the fighting, and beyond tactical victory. They also, however, need to understand that they cannot control the end state, that conflict termination agreements almost never shape the aftermath of a conflict even when it actually ends, and that the real world challenges of moving from conflict to stability are far greater and involve far longer time periods.
“End States” are a Historical Myth

In broad terms, efforts to control the “end state” of conflicts have almost always failed. Serious wars almost inevitably change the states involved in ways that none of the participants ever anticipated. They change social structure, economics, and interactions between different ethnic, sectarian, and other groups within society. Political stability and effective governance is often difficult to impossible to achieve, and anger, revenge, and opportunism create major patterns of post-conflict instability.

There are reasons why virtually every war in Europe has been the prelude to the next regardless of the peace settlements involved and the desired end state. As for the United States, it could not succeed in shaping the end state of its own civil war, and has spent a century trying to come to grips with its aftermath in terms of human rights. No one—especially Woodrow Wilson—could control or anticipate the real world end state of World War I. The well-intentioned goals of the United States at the end of World War II did reject the Morganthau Plan’s dracononian end state for Germany; and the efforts of the United States, Britain, and other states had many positive effects. They did not, however, prevent the Cold War, nor did they bring global peace. The U.S.-led victory in the first Gulf War did not bring a stable end state any more than the U.S. “victories” in Afghanistan from 2001-2014, or the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the fighting that followed from 2004-2011.

You'll note that I never complained about the lack of a post-war plan for the 2011 Libya War--other than to highlight the error of complaints about the Iraq War.

Winning on the battlefield is tough enough against enemies who want to win at least as much as we do, without insisting that the blunt instrument of war settle all the problems that led to the fighting in the first place.

As the expression goes, success in a foreign policy problem is merely the entry ticket to the next problem.

So work the problem and stop looking for the silver bullet to resolve all; and stop insisting we can't do anything until we identify said silver bullet.

Remember, when we refuse to act effectively, we get blamed anyway. Even by the Global Left that believes our intervention is the root of all evil (or have I somehow missed the mass protests in America and Western Europe opposing Russia's wars in Ukraine and Syria? I suggest "No Blood for Soil!" if they need a chant).

On the bright side, this odd reverence for planning an uncertain post-war future at least is better than the ridiculous notion that we should have an "exit strategy" for a war that anticipates when we lose. [And sorry, but the link to my 1997 paper no longer works.]