Every day brings new advocacy for war. That’s our America.

Summary:  In the tenth year of the Af-Pak war the war has almost disappeared from the American consciousness.  Note its absence from the political campaigns.  Yet public morale must be maintained despite any visible results.  The wars’ advocates rise to the challenge, trusting (correctly) that we’ll not examine their arguments.  Just for the record, we’ll briefly do so…

Today we examine two examples of war advocacy brough to us by the great and wise, from the flood of such that washes over us every day.  There are those who oppose our wars, automatically disqualifying themselves as serious thinkers in the eyes of our elites (as few, such as Andrew Bacevich, find prominence as token opponents).

  1. The war recovery?“, David S. Broder, op-ed in the Washington Post, 31 October 2010
  2. Your COIN Is No Good Here – How “Counterinsurgency” Became a Dirty Word“, James Dobson, Foreign Affairs, 26 October 2010

(1)  Broder explains that war is the health of the State

Excerpts from “The war recovery?“, David S. Broder, op-ed in the Washington Post, 31 October 2010 — A grim echo of Randolph Bourne’s 1918 essay.  Broder begins with obsequious flattery (standard practice for courtiers):

In what respects is he {Obama} enduringly superior? Let’s start with the basics. He is much smarter than his challengers in either party, better able to read the evidence and come to the right conclusions.

Then he gives the big conclusion. 

What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.  Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.


I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

Let’s consider Broder’s prescription for the US economy.

  • What increase (all borrowed) in the already swollen US military budget would improve the economy?  We already spend a trillion dollar per year on the military and intelligence (broadly defined), from the $14+ trillion/year US economy.  The fiscal stimulus programs of Bush and Obama add to almost two trillion; ACRRA alone was almost $800 billion (most in 2009-11).
  • Would more military spending bring greater benefit to the US economy over the short or long-term than, for example, rebuilding our decaying infrastructure?
  • Might rising tensions and fears of war inhibit consumer spending and business investment, offsetting the stimulus from more Federal borrowing and military spending?
  • What about the consequences of failure?  Such as our belligerence spurring Iran to accelerate their development of an atom bomb?  Might our belligerence result in actual war?  Broder assumes a happy outcome, as have all war-mongers throughout history.  When they’re wrong, they’re often disastrously wrong.

This is the ravings of a crack-pot.  Worse, our elites consider it as good sense — suggesting that America has incompetent leaders.  And we follow them, which says much about us. 

A note from the past, of some relevance here.  From “Inside Lincoln’s Clemency Decision Making“, P.S. Ruckman, Jr. and David Kincaid (Northern Illinois U),  Presidential Studies Quarterly,  March 1999 — Red emphasis added.

War broke out between the Sioux and whites in Minnesota and Lincoln appointed General John Pope to head the military forces in the area. The war had come to an end in early October and over 1,000 Indians were held as prisoners. General Henry Sibley, a former Minnesota governor who had been involved in highly questionable trade and claims deals with the Indians, subjected the Sioux to hasty military trials and, one month later, Lincoln was notified by General Pope that death sentences were to be carried out on 303 of the convicted Santees. … Lincoln, however, telegraphed Pope requesting him to mail “the full and complete record of these convictions” in order to be evaluated before the executions were to take place.

Finally, on December 6, Lincoln wrote Sibley ordering that 39 of the 303 condemned Santees be executed.  One of the remaining 39 was pardoned, and on December 26, 1862, 38 Sioux Indians were hung.  Nichols notes that the hanging of the Sioux was “the largest official mass execution in American history in which guilt of the executed cannot be positively determined”.

Lincoln’s decision was still yet another clemency act for which he was roundly criticized. A number of Minnesota residents and political figures, including Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey and Senator Morton Wilkinson, expressed outrage with the pardons after having pressured Lincoln to approve the execution of all the convicted Indians.

Responding to a resolution from the U.S. Senate inquiring into his actions in regard to “the late Indian barbarities,” Lincoln stated that his primary concern was ensuring that those guilty of rape were to be executed, followed by those who “have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles”. After the 1864 election, Governor Ramsey opined that while the President had carried the State, had Lincoln not pardoned the Sioux, he would have received more votes than he did, to which Lincoln replied, “I could not afford to hang men for votes”.

Would Lincoln have risked a devastating war for votes?

(2)  Sleight of hand as war advocacy

Your COIN Is No Good Here – How “Counterinsurgency” Became a Dirty Word“, James Dobson, Foreign Affairs, 26 October 2010

Dobson is Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation and the author of After the Taliban: Nation Building in Afghanistan. He was U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002.  With this knowledge and experience, he easily provides high quality war advocacy.  Unlike the appealing fantasy of Broder, Dobson relies on  stage magic.  Misrepresentation and illusion, distracting us from the messy realities of war.  He opens weakly with a strawman attack.

By definition, any military activity that seeks to counter an insurgency is counterinsurgency, or COIN as it is often labeled for short. All of Obama’s advisers agree that the Taliban is an insurgency and that the United States has a real interest in stopping its return to power. Why, then, would Obama’s civilian advisers argue against organized military activity designed to counter a Taliban takeover?

As Dobson knows quite well, few (perhaps none) of Obama’s civilian advisers (such as VP Biden) argue against “organized military activity designed to counter a Taliban takeover”.   The debate about COIN refers to the specific methods used to fight an insurgency — specifically those described in FM 3-24 vs. more direct methods (such as search and destroy, using drones and special operations groups to kill insurgent leaders and facilities — like those General Petraeus recently accelerated).  Next, he flatters the military.

For more than a century, the U.S. military has been organized, trained, and equipped for conventional combat against similarly organized foes. The United States has gotten so good at this kind of warfare that in recent decades no conventional conflict has lasted more than a few weeks, and all have ended in overwhelming American victory.

Perhaps we’re good at it.  More likely in recent decades we have attacked only foes far far smaller.  Since we spend roughly as much on military and intel (broadly defined) as the rest of the world combined (and a multiple of that spent by all potential our foes combined), we have massive advantages in most material factors.  A wonderful geopolitical advantage only if we ignore the strain this places on our government finances and the US economy.

Next he provides serious misrepresentation of the facts.

But no one seriously argues that counterinsurgency tactics are not necessary to resist insurgencies. In Victory Has a Thousand Fathers, a study of the 30 most recently concluded civil wars, the RAND analyst Christopher Paul found a perfect correlation between good counterinsurgency practices and government victory. He found an equally perfect correlation between bad COIN practices and success for the insurgents.

While an excellent study, this has little relevance to the Afghanistan War.  There COIN means foreigners taking the lead role to crush a local insurgency.  Paul explicitly said that this factor was not tested, his sample contained no cases of COIN conducted primarily by foreign forces (See pages 66-68 and table 3-23).  Ignoring this factor is perhaps THE key error in our geopolitical strategy.  For more about this see:

As usual with war advocacy, he ends with the an allusion to the big lie:  we’re in Afghanistan to prevent another 9-11.

This argument glosses over a recognition of the likelihood that such a decrease in U.S. military effort would probably lead to an increase in the number of terrorists operating out of Afghanistan. As the anti-counterinsurgency faction admits, present U.S. efforts have reduced the risk of an attack on the United States originating from Afghanistan to near-zero. … A complete Taliban takeover would leave the United States bereft of the bases and intelligence it would need to target terrorist leaders and facilities effectively.

Most of this is misleading; much of it is false.

  • As the 9-11 Commission said, al Qaeda’s attack did not rely on its bases in Afghanistan.  The recruits were from the Middle East (as was much of their financing); it was planned in Germany; they learned to fly in Florida.
  • The “present US efforts” that have crippled al Qaeda have been largely by a global alliance of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, not military.
  • Despite “present US efforts”, the Taliban has become stronger during the past few years — and hence more able to strike the homeland (if they want to, which so far they have not).
  • Our bases and intelligence in Afghanistan tell us much about the Taliban, but little about the jihadist organizations in the rest of the world — including Europe and perhaps the US — which constitute the primary threat.
  • Many experts have warned that our wars in Islamic homelands probably incite hatred of the us, boosting jihadist recruitment, fund-raising, and popular support.

For more about this see

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