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[MIDDLE EAST] Commentary: Lessons of War Hard to Discern/Learn

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  • madchinaman
    Slam-Dunk Wars Don t Equal Wins Middle East shows that victory that defeats the enemy but leaves issues intact is hollow. By Andrew J. Bacevich, ANDREW J.
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 24, 2006
      Slam-Dunk Wars Don't Equal Wins
      Middle East shows that victory that defeats the enemy but leaves
      issues intact is hollow.
      By Andrew J. Bacevich, ANDREW J. BACEVICH is professor of history
      and international relations at Boston University.
      http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-oe-
      bacevich21aug21,1,975319.story


      -

      Americans like to think that victory in 1945 also solved the problem
      posed by Japan. Did it? Even today, as the controversial Yasukuni
      Shrine reminds us, many Japanese cling to a different understanding
      of the Pacific war's origins and justification. As far as China and
      South Korea are concerned, victory in 1945 did not solve their Japan
      problem; that problem persists and is growing. If East Asia becomes
      the locus of renewed great power competition between China and
      Japan, V-J Day will no longer look quite so decisive.

      -


      IN THE WAKE of the war in southern Lebanon, claims of victory are
      legion. Hardly had the shooting stopped than Sheik Hassan Nasrallah
      was asserting that Hezbollah had triumphed. Others see Syria or Iran
      or even Shiite Islam as the big winner. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime
      Minister Ehud Olmert, seconded by President Bush, doggedly insists
      that Israel came out on top.

      What are we to make of these competing claims? What is victory
      anyway?

      Ardently pursued, victory in the modern era has been remarkably
      elusive. Genuine victory implies something more than military
      success; it must have a political dimension. Even then, results
      often prove other than expected. Understanding why requires that we
      appreciate the intimate relationship between war and politics.

      "Victory" that defeats the enemy but leaves intact the issues giving
      rise to war in the first place is likely to prove hollow. The
      ensuing "peace" is false; after a brief interval, hostilities are
      likely to resume. World War I offers a classic illustration: At
      horrific cost, the Allies broke the German army, but did not break
      German ambition, which soon revived. Worse, World War I served as a
      petri dish for political dysfunction in Eastern Europe, the Balkans
      and, especially, the Middle East. The victory that in November 1918
      appeared conclusive instead provided the incubus for future violence.

      The 1945 Allied victory finally solved the German problem, crushing
      the hegemonic ambitions that had roiled European politics since the
      middle of the 19th century. In this sense, victory produced
      something tangible. Henceforth, Germany would be of Europe but would
      not rule Europe.

      Americans like to think that victory in 1945 also solved the problem
      posed by Japan. Did it? Even today, as the controversial Yasukuni
      Shrine reminds us, many Japanese cling to a different understanding
      of the Pacific war's origins and justification. As far as China and
      South Korea are concerned, victory in 1945 did not solve their Japan
      problem; that problem persists and is growing. If East Asia becomes
      the locus of renewed great power competition between China and
      Japan, V-J Day will no longer look quite so decisive.

      Military victory in 1945 — as clear-cut as any in history —
      emphatically did not produce peace. Instead, it created the
      conditions for a new conflict, the Cold War, which began almost
      immediately. Ambiguous shooting wars in places such as Korea,
      Vietnam and Afghanistan ensued, as did a succession of conflicts in
      the Middle East.

      In 1967, conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors yielded what
      appeared to be a decidedly unambiguous outcome. With the United
      States mired embarrassingly in Vietnam, here was plucky little
      Israel rolling up its enemies on three fronts. But what did this
      exemplary battlefield success produce? Apart from preserving the
      Jewish state from destruction — a considerable achievement — the
      fruits of victory over Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the Six-Day War
      proved disappointing. Beaten in battle, the Arabs were far from
      defeated politically. A more dangerous conflict with Egypt ensued
      just six years later. More tragically, victory-induced dreams of a
      Greater Israel served only to enlarge and aggravate Israel's
      Palestinian problem. Out of the ugly, debilitating conflict that
      ensued came Hamas and Hezbollah.

      Since 1967, Israel has won a thousand little fights, but victory
      that actually settles something remains a chimera. The truth is that
      absent an Israeli willingness to engage in total war, as the Allies
      did against the Axis, the Palestinians will never submit — and even
      then the Arabs would be unlikely to make peace.

      When the Cold War finally ended in 1989, many in the West proclaimed
      it the greatest victory since 1945. But it was a paradoxical
      victory: We did not defeat the enemy militarily, and yet the
      political issues underlying the Cold War had quietly vanished. The
      Soviets gave up their empire and gave up promoting revolution.
      We "won" without firing a shot.

      Before Americans could contemplate the significance of this paradox,
      yet another shooting war intruded: Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in
      August 1990. The Persian Gulf War produced a seemingly stupendous
      military victory for the U.S.-led coalition. But events soon showed
      this to be an illusion. Hussein survived, so the underlying
      political problem remained. Americans celebrated their
      glitzy "Hundred-Hour War," but then somehow lost sight of the
      jousting that continued throughout the next decade as U.S. forces
      conducted hundreds of air strikes against Iraq.

      The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 intent on correcting
      the "mistake" of 1991 by getting rid of Hussein.

      Operation Iraqi Freedom also produced a slam-dunk victory. This time
      we had finished the job. Yet to our dismay, once again a military
      victory produced not peace but something akin to chaos, which
      continues to the present day.

      How could this be? It turns out that the Bush administration, seeing
      war as a strictly military enterprise, had misread Iraqi politics.
      Instead of paving the way for democracy, using a U.S. army to remove
      the hated Iraqi dictator (and then keeping that army on hand to
      supervise the aftermath) merely released pent-up forces bent on
      using violence to achieve their ambitions. In Iraq, as elsewhere in
      the Middle East, they do politics with guns.

      Frustrated American hawks and some anxious Israelis now want to up
      the ante. Believing that big victories require big wars, some
      advocate attacking Iran. The appeal is clear: At least in its
      initial stages, a war with Iran would play to the U.S. or Israeli
      strong suit. It would be a war of "shock and awe" rather than of
      ambushes and roadside bombs. But even if a war against Iran were
      winnable militarily — a large assumption indeed — would victory
      solve our political problems? History says don't count on it.
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