Sure, all wars end eventually. But, since we’re involved in three simultaneously, two of which have gone on for the better part of a decade and are supposed to be winding down, I thought it might be good to discuss which factors have determined how American wars have ended. Then maybe we can apply those lessons to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and any other wars we get into before Thursday’s meeting. I’ll give a brief intro, and then throw it open. Chris’s PhD is related to this whole area, so we can use him as a resource, too.
It’s long been a cliché that war is politics by other means. That’s because it’s true. All wars have political objectives and their end (clean or sloppy, even if it’s just from our perspective) depends on much more than just the military situation on the ground when the war’s endgame starts. How — and whether — a war ends can depend on:
- OBJECTIVES: Are they limited; e.g., to kick Saddam out of Kuwait (Gulf
War), or to gracefully exit and leave an ally to be conquered (Vietnam)? Are they grandiose; e,g., usher in global democracy (WWI), remake the Middle East (Iraq 2003), or to “end terrorism?”
- MILITARY OUTCOME: Crushing victory (WWII, Spanish-American War), stalemate (Korea and Vietnam), or defeat (Lebanon 1983). Some objectives achieved and others not (Afghanistan and most others).
- ENEMY(IES) AND ALLIES: Whether the enemy is willing to accept defeat (WWI, Civil War) or isn’t (Vietnam). Whether allies — especially indigenous allies — are willing and able to keep the peace (able, WWII. unable, Afghanistan).
Two other big factors I think are worth discussing in detail, since they are crucial to exiting our current wars and make for good debate.
- PLANNING AND LEADERSHIP: Planning how to end a war is part of war planning. Is this done well (WWII), poorly (WWI), or not at all (Iraq)? Do leaders ignore the lessons of history, or over-learn them and end up fighting the last war?
- DOMESTIC POLITICS: Public support matters a lot (Vietnam), as does public inattention (Afghanistan, our many proxy wars in, notably Latin America).
** Remember Chris’ Political Polarization Slide Show from awhile back? Slides 20-24 (labeled 6.4-6.8) showed public support for recent U.S. wars. Notice how support for the Iraq and Aghanistan wars has been sharply split by party, unlike in other recent wars.
LINKS — (Not a lot this week; it’s too general a topic)
- List of U.S. wars and conflicts. (Note: Does not include the many, many proxy wars we have fought using U.S. military advisors, CIA paramilitaries, private contractors, etc.)
- A short piece on thinking about withdrawal from Iraq. Just skim it and note how he thinks about the topic, how he focuses on the impact of withdrawal on Iraqi actors and on US public opinion.
- How we radically downsized our objectives in Iraq based on circumstances, in essence defining victory down.
CHRIS: Any ideas for links??