Wednesday, December 2, 2009

For Wars Before Being Against Them

I'm not always a fan of Robert Kagan, but he's right about this:
There is a new doctrine out there that seems to enjoy enormous cache among the smart foreign policy set: fight wars until they get hard, then quit. Vice President Biden seems to be a leading proponent of this approach. While a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden backed the Iraq War and spent the first few years after 2003 rightly calling on the Bush administration to send more troops. But when Bush finally wriggled himself free from the disastrous strategies of Donald Rumsfeld, Biden declared the situation hopeless and called instead for breaking up Iraq into three pieces. He then proceeded to oppose the very troop increase he had so long, and so courageously, fought for. And, of course, in opposing the surge, he had the whole foreign policy establishment on his side, epitomized by the wise people of the Baker-Hamilton commission.

Congress is brilliant at never taking responsibility. Its members always voted for the war before they voted against it -- in Vietnam, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The foreign policy establishment and intellectual world are much the same. They fully supported intervention in Vietnam, mostly supported intervention in Iraq and fully supported the war in Afghanistan -- until the wars got hard, or embarrassing and difficult to defend in polite company. Then they bailed, desperately trying to cover their tracks along the way, and offering reassuring images of what losing would look like.
People who oppose interventions on principle, I can stand. People who love war, and continue to support it when the war is going poorly, I can stand. People like Biden--I'd love to play poker with them. They're the types who check till the river then fold.

Afghanistan is a tricky case. Obviously, you have to invade. This is, after all, the good war. But I'm not convinced by these arguments that the focus on Iraq destroyed the war effort. The timing isn't quite right; Afghanistan seems to have gotten worse around 2005ish due to several factors, many of them domestic. The country continued to enjoy a steady supply of US aid. A counterfactual in which it received a lot more in the way of help may have been better; but the extent to which the US "bailed out" has been exaggerated.

How would a Biden who didn't invade Iraq deal with Afghanistan? Invade, set up shop, watch the place burn down, and then leave? Suppose you went back and told this guy the inevitable failure of this strategy. Well, he would still have to invade Afghanistan. And the war effort would still probably have failed, due to forces outside Biden's control.

I don't think either Party is seriously engaging this issue. The Democrats believe that it was good to invade Afghanistan; the US should have set up a government there; but Bush's faults can explain all of the problems. I don't think they've thought through the implications of what you do about a war that's both necessary and highly likely to fail. The Republicans want to surge everything.

Someday, we'll get into another conflict. This will enjoy broad support from all Americans. Then it will get hard, and people will bail. This is a crappy way to run a foreign policy. Go all in or go home.

We should just get Putin to run our foreign policy. Can you believe this guy? He's running a second-tier power, at best, yet runs circles around everyone else. He's always a couple of steps ahead. Can you imagine what he'd do with American-style power?

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