Summary: As ISIS (grandly calling itself the “Islamic State”) expands, the Right blames Obama and calls for more direct military involvement by America. Their arguments rely on our amnesia about the past and delusions about the nature of modern war. Learning from experience is a vital skill for a nation hoping to navigate the rapids of 21st C geopolitics; so far we refuse to even try. (2nd of 2 posts today.)
“They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.”
— French naval officer Charles Louis Etienne in a 1796 letter to Mallet du Pan.
Our grandchildren will marvel at the obtuseness of our foreign policy. Future generations of historians will discuss the causes of our inability to learn from experience in our post-9/11 wars. Not only do we appear determined to repeat painful mistakes, we continue to take advice from the people who guided us into these failed wars — ignoring the clear lessons of post-WWII history — rather the people whose warnings proved prophetic.
Can any nation, no matter how rich and power, survive such a combination of amnesia, blindness, and arrogance?
“The fall of Ramadi was avoidable” by Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, op-ed in the Washington Post, 18 May 2015. She is president of the Institute for the Study of War. He is a Director at the American Enterprise Institute. Despite being consistently wrong, our wars have been good for them — although not so good for America, for our troops that fight them, and for the nations we seek to help.
“Learning From Mistakes” by David Brooks, column in the New York Times, may 2015. Our wars promoted Brooks from neocon hack at the Weekly Standard to mainstream respectability at the NYT. Simon Maloy at Salon eviscerated Brooks’ “learning” in “David Brooks’ sickening Iraq apologia“. “How the New York Times hack just rewrote history. The conservative New York Times columnist explains what he’s learned from his Iraq war boosting: largely nothing.”
Yesterday New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave a major speech about foreign policy. It mixes fiction, delusions, and fallacious reasoning in equal portions, a cookbook recipe for national decline. At the American Conservative Daniel Larison dissects this rotting corpse: “Christie’s Awful, Dishonest Foreign Policy Speech“.
For those who like straightforward Right-wing propaganda I recommend “The US Lost 1,335 Soldiers in Anbar – ISIS Just Took it Back. Thanks Obama” by Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit. The well-informed will agree with his implied praise of Obama, considering it possible that Obama could re-negotiate the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated and signed by Bush Jr. — that required full withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by 31 December 2011. Uninformed readers will take this nonsense seriously…
By 2008, thanks to the successful Bush Troop Surge in Iraq, the insurgents had been marginalized in Anbar. With insurgents “on the run” in western Anbar province, the US was able to draw down forces in area. But that all changed in 2011 when Barack Obama withdrew all US troops from Iraq. By 2014 ISIS had retaken Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, and more recently Ramadi.
Why we repeat mistakes
You cannot make the same mistake twice. The second time it’s a choice.
Sixty years of failures by so many nations should have taught us that foreign armies almost always lose when taking the lead role fighting local insurgents (details here). Why hasn’t it?
The military’s FAILure to learn was explained by Upton Sinclair in 1935: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Our massive spending on military and intel since the Reagan years has produced a legion of lavishly paid warmongerers (personally profiting from war), always eager to shill for the next conflict — however daft.
Journalists’ credulity, even eagerness to be fooled might have the same roots as Democratic politicians; eagerness for war (e.g., Hillary): sometime during the past generation advocacy for war has become a sign of good character — strength of will, vision, etc. Advocacy of peace has become almost self-disqualifying as a public policy expert.
It’s not that we’ve learned the “lesson of Munich”; rather we have forgotten all other lessons about foreign policy. We have become monomaniacs afflicted with an idée fixe: it’s always 1938; our rivals are always like NAZI Germany. We need therapy. If we continue on this belligerent path we should expect that Nature’s God invoked in the Declaration of Independence to provide effective treatment. I doubt we’ll enjoy it.
For More Information
- What is a warmonger? Who are the warmongers?
- A warmonger review, looking at the articles advocating a US war with Libya.
- Our geopolitical experts, like Max Boot, lead America into the dark.
- America’s hawks sing a song of national decline.
- After 13 years of failed wars, do we know our warmongers?