Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Second in a series discussing the effect of our Long War on America.
1. How will the Long War affect America? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Crazy? Unleash our dark side?
3. Killing prisoners, our new tactic in the War on Terror?
4. Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war?
One of the oddest aspects of our wars is their lack of factual grounding. We fight the enemy, against whom so many war-bloggers exhort us to extreme ferocity. Yet the reason we fight is seldom discussed, merely assumed. The relatively few explanations raise more questions than the answers. Our disinterest in the question — and acceptance of moonshine as substantive reasons to wage war — say much about the post-WWII period of continual readiness for war, and how it has warped our thinking.
Let’s look at one such essay, by one of our leadering war advocates. Much of Peter’s essay — as with almost all his works — is reasonable. Some it brilliant. But the overall direction and conclusions epitomize the mixture of hubris and paranoia that seems to dominate America’s geopolitical thinking. For more on this see America’s Most Dangerous Enemy.
It’s interesting speculation. But only crazy people would go to war on the basis of such day-dreams. For a deeper (and longer) analysis of the Long War, see the links at the end of this post.
- “Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars“, Ralph Peters, Journal of International Security Affairs, Spring 2009 — This fascinating essay deserves to be read in full, as this excerpt touches only on a few of its themes.
History parades no end of killers-for-god in front of us. The procession has lasted at least five thousand years. At various times, each major faith — especially our inherently violent monotheist faiths — has engaged in religious warfare and religious terrorism. When a struggling faith finds itself under the assault of a more powerful foreign belief system, it fights: Jews against Romans, Christians against Muslims, Muslims against Christians and Jews. When faiths feel threatened, externally or internally, they fight as long as they retain critical mass. Today the Judeo-Christian/post-belief world occupies the dominant strategic position, as it has, increasingly, for the last five centuries, its rise coinciding with Islam’s long descent into cultural darkness and civilizational impotence. Behind all its entertaining bravado, Islam is fighting for its life, for validation.
Islam, in other words, is on the ropes, despite no end of nonsense heralding “Eurabia” or other Muslim demographic conquests. …
Islam today is composed of over a billion essentially powerless human beings, many of them humiliated and furiously jealous. So Islam fights and will fight, within its meager-but-pesky capabilities. Operationally, it matters little that the failures of the Middle Eastern Islamic world are self-wrought, the disastrous results of the deterioration of a once-triumphant faith into a web of static cultures obsessed with behavior at the expense of achievement. The core world of Islam, stretching from Casablanca to the Hindu Kush, is not competitive in a single significant sphere of human endeavor (not even terrorism since, at present, we are terrorizing the terrorists).
We are confronted with a historical anomaly, the public collapse of a once-great, still-proud civilization that, in the age of super-computers, cannot build a reliable automobile: enormous wealth has been squandered; human capital goes wasted; economies are dysfunctional; and the quality of life is barbaric. Those who once cowered at Islam’s greatness now rule the world. The roughly one-fifth of humanity that makes up the Muslim world lacks a single world-class university of its own. The resultant rage is immeasurable; jealousy may be the greatest unacknowledged strategic factor in the world today.
Embattled cultures dependably experience religious revivals: What does not work in this life will work in the next. All the deity in question asks is submission, sacrifice — and action to validate faith. Unlike the terrorists of yesteryear, who sought to change the world and hoped to live to see it changed, today’s terrorists focus on god’s kingdom and regard death as a promotion. We struggle to explain suicide bombers in sociological terms, deciding that they are malleable and unhappy young people, psychologically vulnerable. But plenty of individuals in our own society are malleable, unhappy and unstable. Where are the Western atheist suicide bombers?
… We will not even accept that the struggle between Islam and the West never ceased. Even after Islam’s superpower status collapsed, the European imperial era was bloodied by countless Muslim insurrections, and even the Cold War was punctuated with Islamist revivals and calls for jihad. The difference down the centuries was that, until recently, the West understood that this was a survival struggle and did what had to be done (the myth that insurgents of any kind usually win has no historical basis). Unfortunately for our delicate sensibilities, the age-old lesson of religion-fueled rebellions is that they must be put down with unsparing bloodshed—the fanatic’s god is not interested in compromise solutions. The leading rebels or terrorists must be killed. We, on the contrary, want to make them our friends.
Once he establishes to his satisfaction that Islam is the enemy, the utmost ferocity is justified. We are good; the enemy is evil. Anything we do is justified.
When the United States is forced to go to war — or decides to go to war—it must intend to win. That means that rather than setting civilian apparatchiks to calculate minimum force levels, we need to bring every possible resource to bear from the outset—an approach that saves blood and treasure in the long run. And we must stop obsessing about our minor sins. Warfare will never be clean, soldiers will always make mistakes, and rounds will always go astray, despite our conscientious safeguards and best intentions. Instead of agonizing over a fatal mistake made by a young Marine at a roadblock, we must return to the fundamental recognition that the greatest “war crime” the United States can commit is to lose.
… The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.
… To convince Imperial Japan of its defeat, we not only had to fire-bomb Japanese cities, but drop two atomic bombs.
A last note: as usual with such writings, Peters considers the war against Islam as equivalent to WWII — where we found nations that had already overrun much of the world.
For a detailed rebuttal to Peters see “Lt. Col. Ralph Peters on Journalists: ‘Kill Them All’“, Richard Silverstein, posted at Tikun Olam, 21 May 2009.
There are also those advocating nation-building, by which they usually mean some form of western institutions (usually democracy), to Afghanistan. For an example of this see “Why are we still in Afghanistan?“, Uncle Jimbo, Blackfive, 3 August 2009. Why we should do this in Afghanistan and not a dozen other similar nations (e.g., Somalia) is seldom discussed. Nor do they often consider the likelihood of success, the cost, or the benefits (if successful).
This is another mixture of paranoia (all threats must be eliminated) and hubris (we can do anything, at any cost).
About Ralph Peters
Peters has published extensively in the professional military literature, and made many powerful and brilliant contributions. He is a retired U.S. Army officer, a strategist, an author, a journalist who has reported from various war zones, and a lifelong traveler. He is the author of 24 books, including Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World and the forthcoming The War after Armageddon, a novel set in the Levant after the nuclear destruction of Israel.
Request for comments
Please post references to other essays and studies giving justifications for our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some key posts on the FM site about the Long War
About the foundation of these wars: America takes another step towards the “Long War”.
For another perspective on its causes see America’s Most Dangerous Enemy.
Why we fight in Iraq:
- Stratfor’s analysis of US reasons for invading and occupying Iraq, 4 March 2008
- Stratfor again attempts to explain why we invaded Iraq, 24 March 2008
Why we fight in Afghanistan:
- An expert explains why we must fight in Afghanistan, 11 June 2009
- The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.
Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About Military and strategic theory
- About America’s national defense strategy and machinery
- About An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports
Posts on the FM site about America’s grand strategy — how we relate to the rest of the world:
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
- Why We Lose at 4GW , 4 January 2007
- America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
- One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
- ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy , 21 February 2008
- America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008 – chapter 1 in a series of notes
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 - chapter 2
- America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
- America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
- Justifying the use of force, a key to success in 4GW , 8 July 2008 – chapter 5
- A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief” , 8 July 2008 — chapter 6
- The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008
- Is America a destabilizing force in the world?, 23 January 2009
- The US Army brings us back to the future, returning to WWI’s “cult of the offense”, 13 February 2009