Saturday, November 14, 2015

French President calls for "pitiless war" ...

Understandable under the circumstances. But who is going to answer that call? I have every sympathy for France and the French people. I've posted in the past about some of France's problems with the riots in 2006.

I don't pretend to have a complete understanding of all the issues and problems of France or Europe. And I wish them the best in solving them. These latest attacks in Paris have garnered the sympathy of civilized people all over the world, and rightly so. But I have to ask: should the French President be calling for a war, when he has no significant army to fight one?

When Europeans call for war, they typically count on the US military to take on the brunt of the fighting. Europe wanted Obama to be the American president, and they got him. He's gutted our military, which is now a fraction of what it was.

I don't say that is good or bad; it simply is what it is. I doubt we will be going to war again any time soon. There may be pressure to change that now. But can we, and should we? Here is an opinion ventured by professor Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, that looks at those very questions:

A war the West cannot win
French President Francois Hollande’s response to Friday’s vicious terrorist attacks, now attributed to ISIS, was immediate and uncompromising. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” he vowed.

Whether France itself possesses the will or the capacity to undertake such a war is another matter. So too is the question of whether further war can provide a remedy to the problem at hand: widespread disorder roiling much of the Greater Middle East and periodically spilling into the outside world.

It’s not as if the outside world hasn’t already given pitiless war a try. The Soviet Union spent all of the 1980s attempting to pacify Afghanistan and succeeded only in killing a million or so Afghans while creating an incubator for Islamic radicalism. Beginning in 2003, the United States attempted something similar in Iraq and ended up producing similarly destabilizing results. By the time US troops withdrew in 2011, something like 200,000 Iraqis had died, most of the them civilians. Today Iraq teeters on the brink of disintegration.

Perhaps if the Russians had tried harder or the Americans had stayed longer they might have achieved a more favorable outcome. Yet that qualifies as a theoretical possibility at best. Years of fighting in Afghanistan exhausted the Soviet Union and contributed directly to its subsequent collapse. Years of fighting in Iraq used up whatever “Let’s roll!” combativeness Americans may have entertained in the wake of 9/11.

Today, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s continuing appetite for military piddling — air strikes, commando raids, and advisory missions — few Americans retain any appetite for undertaking further large-scale hostilities in the Islamic world. Fewer still will sign up to follow President Hollande in undertaking any new crusade. Their reluctance to do so is understandable and appropriate.


Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one. Instead of attempting to impose its will on the Greater Middle East, it should erect barriers to protect itself from the violence emanating from that quarter. Such barriers will necessarily be imperfect, but they will produce greater security at a more affordable cost than is gained by engaging in futile, open-ended armed conflicts. Rather than vainly attempting to police or control, this revised strategy should seek to contain.

Such an approach posits that, confronted with the responsibility to do so, the peoples of the Greater Middle East will prove better equipped to solve their problems than are policy makers back in Washington, London, or Paris. It rejects as presumptuous any claim that the West can untangle problems of vast historical and religious complexity to which Western folly contributed. It rests on this core principle: Do no (further) harm. [...]
It's worth reading the whole thing, it's well reasoned.

I resisted it a first. But he makes a good case. If the offensive measures taken in the Middle East by both the United States and Russia, at great cost in both resources and lives, did not achieve the desired results, then should we not pause before doing the same thing again? The terrorists who wish to provoke that response would love to see us repeat our mistakes again and again, and weaken ourselves.

Read the whole thing, to better understand the cohesiveness of the professors argument. While it might be emotionally more satisfying to agree with the French president, it would behoove us all to not rush to repeat mistakes, and carefully consider all options available to us. And the probable consequences.

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