Saturday, June 30, 2012

Every Option Available

Why is our use of force considered to be abnormal?

Here we have an author complaining that America attempts to solve problems with military force because our military is so capable of defeating any other nation's military in battle. While the author lists a number of cases since Korea where we used or escalated military means when we otherwise could have refrained from using force in the first place or escalating, he reserves his real anger for Iraq:

In 2002, the U.S. administration achieved its stated goals without firing a shot when Saddam Hussein readmitted UN weapons inspectors and allowed them free access to suspected sites—where, of course, they discovered nothing. By the time of the invasion, they had advised that the completion of their task would take “not years, not weeks, but months.” Nevertheless, the invasion went ahead under the assumption that most U.S. forces would be withdrawn by 2005 at the latest, with Bush administration officials estimating a total cost of $50–60 billion.

What rot.

Remember, as a condition of the ceasefire in 1991 after Desert Storm, Saddam was supposed to--in a matter of months--verify and prove he did not have weapons of mass destruction programs. Over time, Saddam stood that standard of proof on its head and people in the West--including the author above, it seems--started to accept that inspections were a game where we had to catch Saddam with something as Saddam hid what he had.

Yes, inspectors said they could accomplish their task in months. But as long as the rules of the game were Saddam's where we had to find something or Saddam was deemed innocent rather than the 1991 rules where Saddam was guilty until he proved he'd disarmed, how could we say with assurance that we searched everywhere we needed to look?

We simply couldn't under Saddam's rules that we played by.

As for the assumption that we could be mostly out by 2005 and that the costs would be pretty cheap, that assumption was not unreasonable. We did blitz Saddam's army despite claims of some that we'd face a brutal Stalingrad-on-the-Tigris that would bleed us white. With Iraq's oil potential, why shouldn't we have been able to get Iraq moving forward once again?

The problem is that I never imagined we'd allow Syria and the wider Sunni Arab world to funnel al Qaeda jihadis into Iraq. Nor did I imagine we'd let Iran get away with supplying pro-Iranian Shia Sadrists. By the end of 2003, we'd captured Saddam and Baathist resistance was fading. But then the spring offensive by the Sunni jihadis and the Shia Sadrists started a whole new war.

Even then, it still looked like we'd settled things down enough in 2005 to start drawing down troops by the end of that year. But Shia-Sunni Arab violence surged and then really exploded in spring 2006. It took the surge and the Awakening to finally break the Sunni Arab resistance. We and the Iraqis also broke resistance of the Sadrists in Baghdad and in Basra.

So the initial war was easy. Dare I say it--notwithstanding some very serious fighting--it was a cake walk in the big picture.

More broadly, rather than saying that we frequently use armed forces because we can--problem nails and our excellent hammer, he says--why not ask why we don't use armed force to solve problems more often? Countries around the world have disagreements with us and we do not resort to force to compel them to do what we want. Despite our excellent hammer, we do not in fact treat every problem as a nail.

But the fact is, Iraq was a nail waiting to be pounded. Iraq had long been a threat to the region and we even tried to be somewhat nice to him during the Iran-Iraq War when we "tilted" to Iraq to keep Iran from winning. That didn't work and Saddam invaded Kuwait. Despite getting pounded in 1991 to free Kuwait, Saddam continued to threaten neighbors and the region, both directly and with terrorism. Saddam refused to confirm his disarmament and in the mid-1990s was caught with a covert biological weapons program that inspections had missed. And even in 1991, Saddam failed to account for WMD raw materials and was found in violation of missile restrictions regarding range. We'd tried inspections and containment and sanctions, and nothing was getting Saddam to behave. War was not lightly begun and it was richly justified.

Even more broadly, isn't it fair to say that rather than America using force freely because we can that instead we happen to have all options open to us? In a dangerous world, why is our rate of use of force assumed to be too high? How many nations would use military force against a problem but don't because they simply don't have the option of using military force--but then get credit for refraining from using force as if it was a choice rather than a limitation forced by their military weakness? How many times should a non-US country have used force but did not because they could not over the last 60 years? Don't nations without hammers simply deny that they are looking at nails? And then boast that they are morally superior?

And lets think about China, who for years was credited with a soft-power "charm" offensive despite their growing military power, which these days seems happy to rattle their sabre if not use it:

A rising number of influential academic and military advisers to Beijing have argued that due to China's fast-rising quasi-superpower status - and the intensification of the country's competition with the United States and its Asian allies - the "low profile" approach has become all but obsolete. According to widely published defense theorist Yang Yi, "it is no longer possible for China to keep a low profile".

"When any country infringes upon our nation's security and interests, we must stage a resolute self-defense," Rear Admiral Yang told Xinhua News Agency in an interview. "Counter-attack measures [taken by Beijing] should be 'of short duration, low cost and efficient' - and leave no room for ambiguity or [undesirable] after-effects". The usually hawkish Global Times, which is a subsidiary of the People's Daily, said it all when it editorialized that for China to safeguard its national interests, "we must dare to defend our principles and have the courage to confront multiple countries simultaneously".

As Chinese power grows, we can expect China to use that force when it thinks it can.

Indeed, the Philippines could be an early target:

Major General Luo Yuan, a popular media commentator, has reiterated the People's Liberation Army's readiness to "teach the Philippines a lesson". Luo blamed nationalistic elements inside and outside the Philippine government for inflaming relations with China. "If the Philippines cannot rein in their folks, let us discipline them," he wrote last month. Regarding the alleged provocations of the Philippine navy, Luo warned "We have repeatedly adopted a forbearing attitude-and we have reached the limits of tolerance. There is no more need to show further tolerance".

And we've given China reason to think they can get away with disciplining the Philippines:

A months-long standoff over a remote reef system claimed by both China and the Philippines all but ended this weekend when the Obama administration signaled it would not intervene. That means Chinese patrol boats, which in April chased a Philippines’ warship from the Scarborough Shoal, will remain there as long they want. So, too, will Chinese fishing and commercial exploration ships.

Not that I wanted to go to war with China over this issue. But hopefully we arm up the Philippines to the point where China needs significant power to beat the Philippines if it comes to a fight over Scarborough Shoal.

And keep in mind that for all the talk of China being a rising power, we would stomp them in a fight right now. Yet we are not treating this crisis as a nail for our hammer.

For the actual problems we've attempted to solve by force for the last 60 years, you'd think the world would be grateful rather than disdainful. And you'd think Americans would at least be grateful that since we won the Cold War, we've face enemies we can beat without bleeding ourselves white or spending more than our huge economy can afford (remember, the entire Iraq war cost about as much as we spent at the stroke of a pen with that 2009 "stimulus" bill).