Winning and losing

Posted by lex, on February 24, 2008

I’ve said before that the US and its coalition allies are in the rare and enviable position of deciding whether or not to win the wars they find themselves embroiled in – the social costs of wartime defeat are historically so burdensome that it is far more often imposed than chosen.

Put aside for now blood-stirring but essentially intangible Jacksonian costs such as diminished national pride and prestige, not to mention the moral price of implicitly sanctioning genocide and the imposition of soul-destroying tyrannies upon peoples imprisoned by their circumstances. From a purely pragmatic perspective, there are still those holes in the New York city skyline bearing mute witness to the fact that permitting toxic forms of repression to take root inside failed states encourages the eventual export of their barbarisms abroad. Not to mention the loss of strategic influence in a critical part of the world, nor the price of letting implacable enemies fill the vacuum left by our retreat.

But I’ve been consistent on this all along, which has probably become a bit of a tedious slog for the occasional reader. Which is why this Washington Post op-ed from Anthony Cordesman, a harsh critic of President Bush’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the non-partisan Center for Strategic and International Studies seems so useful:

No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won. They are also clearly wars that can still be lost, but visits to the battlefield show that these conflicts are very different from the wars being described in American political campaigns and most of the debates outside the United States…

What the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have in common is that it will take a major and consistent U.S. effort throughout the next administration at least to win either war. Any American political debate that ignores or denies the fact that these are long wars is dishonest and will ensure defeat. There are good reasons that the briefing slides in U.S. military and aid presentations for both battlefields don’t end in 2008 or with some aid compact that expires in 2009. They go well beyond 2012 and often to 2020.

If the next president, Congress and the American people cannot face this reality, we will lose…

We either need long-term commitments, effective long-term resources and strategic patience — or we do not need enemies. We will defeat ourselves.

True enough, although it’s worth keeping in mind that we will have enemies, whether we need them or not.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, GWOT, Iraq

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