Friday, August 13, 2010

What Price Victory?

"On June 30, 2009, I and eight other historians were invited to a dinner with President Obama. . . The only thing achieved has been the silencing of the main point the dinner guests tried to make—pursuit of war in Afghanistan would be for him what Vietnam was to Lyndon Johnson."

--Garry Wills, New York Review of Books, 7.27.10

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University. He has written a long, detailed examination of the American elite’s grip on national power, and how we commoners can cope with it. I like much of what Codevilla has to say, and will expand on other parts of his article later.

For now, I must answer his attack on establishment Republicans for, paraphrasing George W. Bush's 2005 inaugural address, preaching that “America cannot be free until the whole world is free and hence that America must push . . . mankind to freedom.” Codevilla pronounces Bush’s exhortation “an extrapolation of the sentiments of America's Progressive class, first articulated by such as Princeton's Woodrow Wilson.”

Yet Codevilla thinks Bush is worse:
while the early Progressives expected the rest of the world to follow peacefully, today's ruling class makes decisions about war and peace at least as much forcibly to tinker with the innards of foreign bodies politic as to protect America.

Codevilla goes on to attack Obama along with Bush and the rest of the ruling class for committing
blood and treasure to long-term, twilight efforts to reform the world's Vietnams, Somalias, Iraqs, and Afghanistans, believing that changing hearts and minds is the prerequisite of peace and that it knows how to change them.

Gary Wills, elite/ruling class intellectual. Anti-war. Angelo Codevilla, anti-elitist conservative/libertarian. Anti-war. So what about those who believe America must counter Islamic extremist efforts to wipe us out? Where do we fit in?

The Iraq war ruined Bush’s presidency, even though he was right about the surge, and the people of Iraq—not to mention the rest of us—are far better off without Saddam Hussein. In Afghanistan, we are fighting the Taliban backed by al Qaeda in Pakistan, the people who destroyed the World Trade Center and want to finish the job. Codevilla thinks our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan “have achieved nothing worthwhile at great cost in lives and treasure.”

So are we, as he and Wills believe we should, to give up before we win?

Here’s why we should:
1) war and democracy don’t go together. Europe learned the lesson in two world wars fought on its soil, Japan did in World War II. Wills, Codevilla, and most of the country think America learned the lesson in Vietnam, with its 58,000 deaths for no apparent benefit. No more war. 2) Leaders who ignore the lesson, Johnson in 1968, Bush and maybe Obama, are battered and beaten into submission. 3) Vietnam, now a free trading member of the global economy and growing in prosperity, is an advertisement for avoiding war, or for accepting defeat earlier.

Here’s why we shouldn’t give up the fight:
1) as Codevilla acknowledges, Americans know some wars are worth it; they just prefer “decisive military action or none.” Bush understood we fight to win. Obama may not, and his doubts complicate the Afghanistan mission. 2) there is a gigantic difference between Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan. We fight today with a professional army, and we do everything possible to minimize casualties. In our major wars (Revolutionary, War of 1812, Mexican, Civil, Spanish-American/
Philippine, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, War on Terror), American deaths in the War on Terror (Afghanistan + Iraq) are the lowest at 5,500, less than the 6,642 who died in the Spanish-American War + Philippine Insurrection, less than twice the number who died on 9.11, that single day (2,995). 3) Islamic extremists aren’t Vietnamese nationalists who fought a war of independence (a civil war to us) solely to liberate Vietnam. Islamic extremists have a broader objective that already brought them to U.S. territory, and if we don’t fight back, moderate Muslims and the entire West will lose along with us.

The high price of war demands we fight effectively, at the lowest possible human cost, to win.

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