Jesus may be the Prince of Peace, but the lion isn’t going to lie down with the lamb, ever, and no one is beating their swords into ploughshares. The world is too dangerous a place for that – it always was and always will be. We are a species that thrives because we can’t just all get along. Why did Rodney King even ask that question? We want what we want, individually or collectively, and we do our best to grab it, and then do all we can to hold onto it. Even if that does not mean we simply eliminate those competing for what we want – murder is discouraged in all societies – we do seek dominance, and the humiliation of others, to keep them from getting any ideas about what we have declared is ours alone. Collectively, we wage war for the same reason. We want something like oil, or land, or a seaport or two, or we want to defend our way of life, as we often say these days. It’s all about what we want that someone else has, or that we have now but that is being threatened. That means war, and in war we seek dominance, and the humiliation of others, but we don’t usually go all-out with the killing. There are limits. Genocide is frowned upon. Still, the idea is to keep those other folks from getting any ideas about what we have declared is ours alone. Many will die, just not all of them. To win a war is to dominate. Throw in a little humiliation and that’s even better. That will keep those folks from getting any ideas down the road.
That didn’t exactly work out with World War I – the Great War, the War to End All Wars. The Treaty of Versailles was explicitly designed to humiliate the Germans, so they’d make no more trouble, ever. They’d feel only shame, forever, but the terms of that treaty just pissed them off. Hitler masterfully exploited their anger and we got the next war soon enough, the war which wasn’t supposed to happen, which couldn’t happen. It happened. The humiliation of others is not a useful tool of dominance, and it’s the same woth torture. With all forms of torture you don’t get good information, just what the person thinks you want to hear, whatever they scream out because their pain is so exquisite and prolonged. They’ll say anything. You still have to figure out if any of it is remotely true. It might be. It might not be. Now there is even more work for you to do, to see what you can verify.
That was the problem with our official policy of what everyone knew was torture in the Bush-Cheney years. It wasn’t particularly useful, but maybe that wasn’t really the point. It was something better, it was assumed to be humiliating. We could do this to anyone, anywhere, any old time we wanted. No one could stop us. Maybe that was the whole point of that seemingly pointless exercise. We were defending our way of life, but not by getting the bad guys to reveal nefarious plots. Even now no one knows what we thought we learned for bad guys in extreme pain. So what? We were defending our way of life through dominance and the humiliation of others. No one would mess with us now.
We may pay the price for that, or maybe we’re paying it now, but our embrace of torture was only one of our many tools of dominance. We began the war in Iraq, in 2003, with what we boasted was a Shock and Awe campaign, with the emphasis on Awe. Saddam Hussein would head for the hills, if he lived, and everyone else in Iraq would be in awe of us and lay down their arms and just give up. In the first two minutes they’d know who the top dog was. It would be all over almost before it started. The Germans used to call this Blitzkrieg – lightning war –and it worked wonders on September 1, 1939, in Poland. Poland fell almost immediately. Shock and Awe works. That’s why Hitler won the war and we all speak German now. We don’t? No one told Donald Rumsfeld.
All of this is a sorry business, but there nothing all that unusual about it. The history of the world is not a history of extended periods of peace, punctuated by an odd and disastrous major war now and then. It’s a history endless war, periodic major wars and continual minor wars almost everywhere, all the time, with an odd stretch of a few years of relative peace, here and there, but not too often. We are the species that kills each other to get what we want, which in a Darwinian way is good for the species. War sorts out the strongest from the weakest, either eliminating the weakest or making them useful tools of the strong, providing labor or amusement – and we love it. That’s why we watch professional football or NASCAR races or whatever. The weak are going to be dominated, and often be in great pain – drivers sometimes die in NASCAR races and professional football players end up with massive brain damage – and we cheer the team with the “killer instinct” that humiliates the other pathetic losers and brings on the pain. We instinctively know how the real world works. We get it.
That means that now, as we go to war in the Middle East again, this time to take care of ISIS and a few other matters, we also get it. We have to go to war. The Prince of Peace will forgive us, or maybe He won’t notice. This is who we are – we do have to sort out who the top dog is or nothing makes sense. There are our values, and our way of life, and the stuff we’ve got now, and the stuff we want. We cannot abandon those, even if ever since that first night of Shock and Awe in Baghdad everything turned out all wrong, and even if we lost five thousand American lives in the effort, and spent two trillion dollars, more or less, that we didn’t have. We just have to do this.
Of course we do. At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum says we’re in love with war:
The more I think about our campaign against ISIS, the more dismayed I become. I always figured that if the time ever came when a president wanted to bomb Iran, it would be pretty easy to whip up the usual war frenzy over it. That’s been baked into the cake for a long time. But Iraq? And without even a very big push from President Obama? I mean, for all that, I’m not happy over his decision to go back to war in Iraq; he’s been relatively sober about the whole thing.
But it barely matters. The mere concrete prospect of a new war was all it took. According to polls, nearly two-thirds of Americans are on board with the fight against ISIS and nearly half think we ought to be sending in ground troops. That’s despite the fact that practically every opinion leader in the country says in public that they oppose ground troops. At this point it would take only a tiny shove – a bomb scare, an atrocity of some kind, pretty much anything – and 70 percent of the country would be in full-bore war frenzy mode.
It’s like we’ve learned nothing from the past decade. Our politicians are in love with war. The public is in love with war. And the press is really in love with war. It just never ends.
Drum doesn’t get it – maybe he doesn’t spend his Sunday afternoons watching professional football – but Republicans get this. A few weeks ago, as Dana Milbank explains, it was this:
President Obama still holds to a “no boots on the ground” pledge, but to listen to recent pronouncements in the House and Senate, it would appear that many Republicans are clamoring for a new ground war in the Middle East – a position even hawks hesitated to take a few weeks ago.
Consider one member of the Senate panel, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who three months ago said: “I don’t think we need boots on the ground. I don’t think that is an option worth consideration.” After Obama announced a no-boots-on-the-ground plan last week that sounded much like what Graham was asking for, Graham revised his view. “This idea we’ll never have any boots on the ground to defeat them in Syria is fantasy,” he said Sunday on TV.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Graham practically pleaded with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to endorse the use of U.S. ground troops against the Islamic State. “Do you agree that somebody’s got to go in on the ground?” he asked. “Can you envision a coalition of Arab states that have the capabilities… without substantial U.S. military support?” Finally, the senator challenged the general: “If you think they can do it without us being on the ground, just say yes.”
“Yes,” said Dempsey.
This was evidently not the answer sought by Graham, who then asked if Dempsey would recommend U.S. ground troops in Syria “if nobody else will help us.” Dempsey, not quite as categorical as Obama, pledged that if circumstances change to merit U.S. ground forces, he’ll recommend that.
That wasn’t much, but Graham is not alone:
House Speaker John Boehner, asked about Obama’s no-boots vow, replied: “I would never tell the enemy what I was willing to do, or unwilling to do.”
Backbencher Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) was more blunt. He told the Associated Press that, rather than depending on “undependable” foreigners, he favors “all-out-war” waged by American forces.
As the House kicked off its debate Tuesday on training Syrian rebels, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) declared that Obama “was far too quick to rule out options and tools that he in fact may need later.”
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said this – “We have made this decision not to have ground troops. We do not need another half-pregnant war in the Middle East. If it’s important enough to fight, it’s important enough to win.”
That’s just a taste of it. These guys want war. Who doesn’t? The public does, or maybe not. Greg Sargent looks a public opinion a little more closely:
The polls actually show at least some public caution about rushing headlong into another war. In particular, focusing too much on public support for generic “action” risks being misleading – Americans support what they perceive as low risk action. A CNN poll released Monday shows that while 73 percent of Americans support air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, 59 percent think we are not at war with ISIS; 54 percent oppose arming the Syrian rebels; and 60 percent oppose sending in ground troops.
As Drum says, “the press is really in love with war.” And indeed, that may be helping create the impression of a public that feels the same way: News orgs have already shown a willingness to hype their own polling to portray the American people as shuddering in fear of grainy footage of terrorists and slavering for more bloody conflict. The bluster from GOP operatives who claim national security is now a huge winner for them – and the credulous media treatment of these claims also help to reinforce this impression.
But my guess is that the GOP emphasis on national security is more aimed at revving up core voters (which is central to GOP midterm strategy) than anything else. A recent NYT/CBS poll showed that 62 percent of Republicans support sending in ground troops – a position supported by only minorities of independents and moderates.
We may not love war after all:
To be clear, the support that does exist for sending in ground troops is higher than one would have hoped. But I’d caution against assuming the public is all that gung ho for another protracted and costly ground war in the Middle East.
Of course, if there were another terror attack on American soil, all bets would probably be off.
Ah, then America would be fine with sending in the troops, two or three hundred thousand of them, to settle things once and for all – just like we sent our troops into Afghanistan thirteen years ago to settle things once and for all, ridding that place of the Taliban that had supported Osama bin Laden and getting him too – just like we sent the troops into Iraq a year so later to get rid of Saddam Hussein, fixing that sorry place once and for all – just like Obama fixed everything when he decided to screw all that stuff about Pakistan’s sovereignty and sent in that team to take out Osama bin Laden, there, no matter what the Pakistanis thought, and fix things once and for all.
There’s a pattern here. These things never end. The history of the world is not a history of extended periods of peace, punctuated by an odd and disastrous major war now and then. It’s a history endless war, periodic major wars and continual minor wars almost everywhere, all the time, with an odd stretch of a few years of relative peace, here and there, but not too often. We didn’t even get that. And these things really are endless:
American and Afghan officials signed a long-term security pact here on Tuesday – nearly a year after the agreement was cast into limbo by a breakdown of trust at the highest levels of each allied government.
The new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, sworn in just a day earlier, oversaw the signing of the security pact in a cordial ceremony at the presidential palace, sending a clear message that he meant to heal an alliance that had soured under his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.
“We have signed an agreement for the good of our people,” he said, outlining a relationship of “shared dangers and shared interests” with the United States.
The deal, known as a bilateral security agreement, will allow 9,800 American and at least 2,000 NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan after the international combat mission formally ends on Dec. 31. Most of them will help train and assist the struggling Afghan security forces, although some American Special Operations forces will remain to conduct counterterrorism missions.
This guarantees at least ten thousand troops there for at least ten years, to help out, training, maybe. Things may heat up, but they do need help:
In Afghanistan, a multi-front Taliban offensive this summer has raised serious questions about the ability of the Afghan security forces to keep the insurgency at bay as they suffer soaring casualty rates and continue to struggle with logistical problems. And there are new concerns about Afghan political unity after a bitter election dispute between Mr. Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, revived some of the ethnic and geographic dividing lines that had seemed to ebb under Mr. Karzai’s management.
Yet despite the rapid changes, some analysts say the security pact may still offer Afghanistan a different path, helping to solidify the country’s political dispensation and create the underpinnings necessary to avoid state collapse.
We have to keep ten thousand troops in Afghanistan or there will be no Afghanistan. We’re it, but that’s okay:
American officials, for their part, appeared simply relieved that an episode that had stirred much rancor – and multiple diplomatic interventions by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry – had finally come to an end.
After signing the pact in Kabul, the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, firmly embraced Hanif Atmar, the new Afghan security adviser, who signed for his country. And in Washington, Mr. Obama said the agreement reflected a “continued commitment to support the new Afghan unity government.”
Senior White House officials said the lesson of Iraq – where despite training from American advisers, the security forces have been unable to hold back the advance of Sunni militants – is that a unified government is a precursor to maintaining stability after the bulk of American troops are gone.
“This is exactly what we planned for,” Antony J. Blinken, the deputy national security adviser, said in an interview. The agreement puts the United States on a “very deliberate glide path that enables us to sustain our support for the Afghan security forces, which already are in the lead throughout the country.”
So the International Security Assistance Force will be replaced by a training mission headquartered in Kabul with six bases around the country – but there will be American Special Operations forces all over the place, for when things get hot, and they will:
The Taliban denounced the security pact as a “sinister” plot by the United States, and used it to launch its first propaganda assault on the new Ghani administration.
“With this action, the new staff of the presidential palace has proved their disloyalty to the religion and history of Afghanistan,” said a Pashto-language statement posted on Twitter. The following post read: “Death to America!”
We just guaranteed ourselves another ten years of war in Afghanistan, but there was not much coverage of this agreement in the American media. War is what we do. War is who we are. Where was the news in this? And the Republicans couldn’t raise a stink, saying Obama was going to pull everyone out of Afghanistan and ruin everything, like he did in Iraq when he didn’t tear up Bush’s agreement to get the hell out of there and then force the Iraqi government to let us stay, on our terms, not theirs. Fox News was silent on this matter. Obama wasn’t being the antiwar panty-waist everyone knows he is. They hate when that happens.
Oh well, and in Foreign Policy, Ioannis Koskinas had already argued that this just had to be:
Like it or not, Afghanistan remains a key battlefront in the fight against extremists, terrorists, and fanatics hiding behind the veil of religious fundamentalism.
The uncertainty that surrounded the prolonged election process, in many ways, emboldened the insurgents and strengthened their narrative. Additionally, while the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is due to end at the end of this year, al Qaeda fighters, while diminished in number, remain strong in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Although unsavory in Washington political circles, al Qaeda’s presence and the introduction of groups who pledge allegiance to the Islamic State make an enduring U.S. counter-terrorism task force in Afghanistan long past 2015 necessary. Complicated by the Taliban’s significant gains in parts of Afghanistan in past months, at times aided by foreign fighters, Obama would be smart to reconsider his earlier arbitrary timeline to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in 2015. It is imperative that Ghani and Abdullah have the necessary time to combat the insurgency physically, but also counter their narrative through reform initiatives.
On the political right, Ed Morrissey sees Obama as a foolish fellow who finally gets it now:
Of course, the war isn’t coming to an end in Afghanistan any more than it came to an end in Iraq. The Taliban have picked up their efforts as the US prepared to leave, and will no doubt continue to pressure Kabul politically as well as militarily for years to come. The best that the US can do in Afghanistan is attempt to keep the Afghan security forces from collapsing while all sides tire of the fight and find a way to settle the tribal wars that have been ongoing since the Soviet withdrawal. … The residual-force arrangement may not prove successful in keeping Afghanistan from collapse, but at least they show that someone has learned a lesson from the American withdrawal from Iraq.
Okay, fine – the war isn’t coming to an end in Afghanistan any more than it came to an end in Iraq – war is forever. And nothing we can do may keep Afghanistan from complete collapse, but we should do stuff anyway. That’s what we do. That’s what we do as species. We make war. We were made for war. It thins the herd and only the strong survive, as they should, and once a year we sing about peace on earth and good will toward men. Who are we kidding?