The Defeatism of Hawks

Watch "conservative" commentators long enough, and you might notice a pattern: It seems like to them, the military solution is always the only solution. Nothing can possibly succeed, other than the immediate and sustained application of overwhelming physical force.

Even when they're not advocating that the US do the clobberating, they're advocating that some proxy -- Israel against Lebanon, perhaps, or Saddam Hussein against Iran -- be given a free hand and even assistance to apply military force. Nearly invariably, they "reluctantly conclude" that war is the only option, because any other option is doomed to fail.

I find it remarkable, for all the declarations and pronouncements these people are so fond of making about the value and importance of American power, that they demonstrate so little faith in that power when it comes to anything other than blowing shit up.

Diplomacy can't work, they moan. Engagement is for losers. Anything other than total military dominance is a loss.

Of course, by their own definition of victory, they pretty much guarantee defeat. But that's fine too, because failure allows them to point accusing fingers at everybody who didn't agree wholeheartedly with their nihilistic, fatalist approach. Once again, they get to deploy the utterly insane argument that if they'd just let us kill everybody, we could have won.

The central argument against anything resembling international cooperation, of course, is that other countries have their own interests to look out for, and therefore they can't be trusted to look out for "our" interests. So, for example, the dreaded French opposed our invasion of Iraq because they didn't want to lose their stake in the Iraqi oil industry. This is almost certainly a major factor, of course, given the fact that the US declared openly that all existing contracts would be voided following the invasion, with the unspoken addendum that new contracts would need to be negotiated with the US-dominated occupation regime. With the documents detailing a new, US-imposed legal and economic system to be imposed on occupied Iraq already drafted, it's hardly surprising that other countries would look past all the hollow rhetoric and into the conflicting economic interests. Of course, when your approach is to tell other countries "do as we say, and maybe we'll cut you in on the spoils," it's hard to credibly call international resistance a failure of diplomacy. A more appropriate term might be sabotage.

Similarly, the conservative attitude toward engagement with trouble states equates it with appeasement. To again use Iraq as an example, however, it's plain that these conservatives have a different notion of what constitutes engagement than one might expect. When people talk about engagement, as they are doing now about Iran and Syria, they generally refer to dealing with the government of another state in order to reduce troublesome behavior by those states, in the hope of defusing conflicts that might otherwise require military conflict. When Saddam was in the process of committing the crimes he's being tried for today, the Reagan administration took the approach of publicly condemning his actions, while privately -- repeatedly and enthusiastically -- reassuring the Iraqis that US protests were merely a principled stance, and would not lead to any reduction of support for Iraq's war against Iran. Unlike traditional engagement, the dialogue between the US and Iraq served to encourage the troublesome behavior of Iraq, by making it clear that they could violate international law without fear of US reprisal. Again, this is not what many would call a policy of "engagement" at all -- more like sabotage.

Finally, we have the UN. Severely limited in what it can do without the unanimous consent of a handful of major nations -- all with their own conflicting interests -- this organization nonetheless managed to enact an inspections regime which successfully dismantled Iraq's banned weapons programs and was on the way to declaring the nation effectively disarmed. However, in keeping with the official US policy of regime change, US agents leading the inspections teams were tasked with collecting intelligence and schematics to facilitate efforts by the CIA and military to assassinate Saddam Hussein -- a noble goal, but not one sanctioned by the organization sponsoring the mission. Because the inspections were being used as a pretext for this intelligence-gathering, the Iraqi government reacted the same way any government would react -- by resisting. In response, the US launched a military attack on the Iraqi government. Unfortunately, the intelligence the inspectors had gathered was insufficient to take out Saddam. And the UN effort was written off as having failed -- because although it now appears to have succeeded in disarming Iraq, the mission was sabotaged before that fact could be confirmed.

With instance after instance of these alternative courses being sabotaged before they can succeed or fail on their own, it's unclear whether conservatives actually want them to fail, or simply consider it inevitable that they must.

What is abundantly clear, however, is that there is only one principle which they really have faith in, and it's the one that has been proven impossible: Total victory by military force alone.

They refuse to understand that if you choose war, you've already lost, and so they will consign us to defeat after defeat, so long as they're allowed to hold power.

1 comment:

Dan Trabue said...

Excellent reasoning, Cat. Although, as a pacifist, I'm generally opposed to all wars. But I'd have to say that as a realist - knowing this is a fallen and troubled world - I'd probably say it's not so much that I'm opposed to all wars as it is that nearly all wars have been entered in to so casually without fully exhausting other resources and usually failing to count the costs.

Even "good wars" - like WWII is generally cited to be - are questionable. WWII was "won" at a cost of tens of millions of lives, trillions of dollars and helped result in the Cold War which was similiarly expensive.

It also cost us something of our souls, as we deliberately chose to target civilian populations with firebombing and nukes, killing millions of innocents. It's hard to condemn terrorists for choosing to target civilians when we have done the same.

I like the quote from Colman McCarthey:

"Why are we violent, but not illiterate? Because we are taught to read."