ARE DEMOCRATIC STATES DESTINED TO LOSE UNCONVENTIONAL WARS OR JUST THOSE IN THE MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ?
" Why the Strong Lose
" by Jeffrey Record
The author, who argues along lines of reasoning reminiscient of 4GW theorists, offers the thesis that democratic states in particular among great powers are singularly ill-suited to fighting small wars in lands far from home. In addition to the adverse differential of will to prevail between local insurgents and foreign powers, democracies additionally are handicapped by their own constitutional nature:
"The stronger side’s vulnerability to defeat in protracted conflicts against irregular foes is arguably heightened if it is a democracy. In his persuasive study of how democracies lose such wars, Gil Merom argues that “democracies fail in small wars because they find it extremely difficult to escalate the level of violence and brutality to that which can secure victory.”12 For democracies, the strategy of “barbarism” against the weaker side’s noncombatant social and political support base is neither morally acceptable nor, over time, politically sustainable. Since 1945, wars against colonial or ex-colonial peoples have become increasingly unacceptable to most democratic states’ political and moral sensibilities
This statement is factually true. The reason for this is the Western Left, in its democratic and undemocratic manifestations, have waged a more or less unrelenting political and cultural campaign for forty years to make such interventions to secure national objectives or even engage in self-defense, politically risky. The Gulf War, Kosovo and 9/11 have split the democratic Left though the undemocratic Left consistently backs whatever tyrant might be currently defying the United States.
Media coverage would seem to be a more critical factor than the intensity of " brutality" in a given conflict or being a democratic state.
The civil wars in El Salavador was far more brutal than the one in Iraq but the United States successfully helped the government put down the Communist FMLN because most of the war, though far from all of it, flew under the media radar screens. American supporters of the Salvadoran Communists and partisan critics of the Reagan Administration could not leverage the spotty media coverage into widespread public opposition to U.S. aid to El Salvador, even after the Iran-Contra scandal broke. The Clinton administration stumbled badly with military intervention in Somalia and Haiti while operating under intense media scrutiny yet initiated Plan Colombia
, a more aggressive, far-reaching - and successful -intervention than the other two operations combined.
Outside of FOX, Talk Radio and the blogosphere the media resides left of center and they are generally suspicious and critical of American foreign policy. On the other hand, they are highly idiosyncratic in their attention and editorial decisions ( a good reason to regularly leaven your news intake with a healthy dose of the foreign press). Certainly no moral calculus goes into deciding what issues are most " newsworthy"; consider the amount of media space given ( or not given) to an ongoing war in the Congo that has killed 4 million people. The Congo however is a dangerous and uncomfortable place to report from compared to, say, Washington or Manhattan.
Perhaps the Bush administration could further its foreign policy objectives with the least domestic opposition by selecting for intervention only those Gap countries that have triple canopy jungles but no Starbucks.