Monday, January 09, 2006

" Why the Strong Lose" by Jeffrey Record in PARAMETERS

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.
I think that your prescription for the Bush Admin. might have worked before Iraq; but now all Lefty eyes are turned on every detail of his presidency.

One of the "democratic problem" states is suffering because of its political process: India. Have you read The Acorn recently? India is under assault from various sides by terrorists stationed around it; Nitin Pai advocates at various times either large-scale military action or a heightened "special forces" projection; but in India it's all debatable. By millions upon millions. (Understandably, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal plays a role in India's hesitancy...)

In fact, if any democratic nation besides the U.S. is likely to engage in a large-scale preemptive strike (and besides Israel vis-a-vis Iran), India is probably that nation. However, the situation with India doesn't fit into your description of "wars in lands far from home" -- imagine what the U.S. would do if terrorists were allowed to stream through the borders with Canada and Mexico...
It would strike me that your analysis would work better were it not so focused on boring party political partisanship and more on analysis.

One notable difference between the US interventions, ex Panama of course, in Cental and South America is the non-US of expeditionary forces. That is no substantial American forces, most fighting done between local forces. If one leaves aside the partisan obsession with media and the far left, one would rather suspect that the real explanatory value is found in the presence (or not) of actual American troops.

One should suspect that having successful and strong proxies is also rather more explanatory of success or not endeavours.

Even had not mores changed, this is not the 19th century, it is the 21st, and the ability of the "wogs" to push their own agitprop has vastly changed, above all among fellow woggies.

That makes Expeditionary Force brutality a quite different proposition in the context of not only direct action, but larger issue of interest and motivation of others for or against you.

So, if American based commentators would remove their heads from their own nether regions and stop being such myopic gits, and look at larger interest, things would be perhaps be more clearly seen.
Hi Curtis,

Well I think a fundamental aspect of India is that it is a democratic state that contains many prospective nations and that accounts for some of the differences you are pointing to. The problems we consider to be external are for New Delhi, internal as well as external.

Hi Col,

I have no problem with interventions that maximize the local leverage rather than U.S. troops but using that strategy doesn't mitigate the magnitude of the policy objectives. The press has a harder time focusing when there isn't a sea of olive green deployed in-country. Moreover, the adversariality and superficiality of the American press is not s strictly partisan phenomenon - though they do tilt leftward - Clinton was hardly spared by them whether he intervened (Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo) or not(Rwanda).

Yes, you are correct in El Salvador as in Colombia we had authentic surrogates and not puppets. It is a popular fantasy to describe the oligarchical rulers of El Salvador as U.S. creations but they are an indigenous force going back some 150 + years. If anything, the historical record demonstrates that U.S. aid *restrains* the behavior of Central American client governments.

We also, BTW, skirted the Congressional limit on U.S. military advisers in El Salvador via intel contract people and by covertly flying in unmarked A-10's during FMLN offensives ( worked very well I understand)
So you prefer the right's tactic of arming tinpot dictators? That's been real successful so far (Hussein, Bin Laden......)
"So you prefer the right's tactic of arming tinpot dictators? That's been real successful so far"

Ok, anon, fair question.

In terms of general foreign policy it is always better ( for the U.S.), in the long run, to support liberal democratic reformers. The problem is, until we can clone Vaclav Havel and Cory Aquino, such groups do not always exist in every society. Or if they do, they may not have it in them to fight or even influence anyone peacefully.

This is not a political question per se in this context but a military functionality one, which is:

Are you artificially cobbling together a force that has no intrinsic motivation to fight ( ARVN in S. Vietnam being a prime example) or arming one that already does, say the Kurds ?

Surrogates like the Kurds ( or from the old Soviet perspective, the Cubans) are not puppets but clients. Allying with them means they come with agendas of their own that can run counter to yours.

You can measure a government's or movement's real power by how successfully they can motivate people to put themselves at risk - this has nothing to do with being Left or Right. Some dictators have armies that run away, some can always get a vested minority to stand and fight. Same for democracies.

So - statesmen have to decide whether they take a short-term or long-term view when activating surrogates and what your objectives are. Intervention has its costs, at any level, morally and in other domains.
It isn't just a long-term, short-term view: it's a choice between progress and regression.

When one considers whether to ally with a dictator, one is pondering the size and disposition of SysAdmin force in that country. Locals, whether puppets or clients, help constitute the "virtual Department of Everything Else."

So the focus should be more on improving connectivity (making sure a government is viable, etc), and less on type of government (a liberal government unable to secure the country and open to the outside world is less than useless).
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