There has never been a war in American history so strategically ill-conceived as the one currently developing against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.
The Mexican war of 1846-47 was essentially an aggressive operation to take Alta California and New Mexico, and to cement the status of Texas. It was limited in its objectives, and it was conducted in a strategically sound manner. The goals – their legality apart – were achieved, and the balance between costs and benefits was never in doubt. Vae victis!
The Civil War (under whatever name) was a “rational” bid by Abraham Lincoln and his team – legal, moral, and humanitarian considerations notwithstanding – to create a centralized state. He won the war, and hugely expanded federal governmental power. This was a disaster for America, but it was a resounding success from the standpoint of its instigators.
The 1898 war against Spain was but another exercise in Realpolitik. It finally moved America from a republic to an empire, the “manifest destiny” now manifested in Admiral Mahan’s and Theodore Roosevelt’s geopolitical designs.
Woodrow Wilson’s 1917-1918 intervention against the Central Powers was the first overtly “ideological” war – to make the world safe for democracy etc. Its slogans were silly, but in the end it could be argued that the geopolitical purpose was well served: to prevent the dominance of the continent of Europe by a single hegemon. America did not make much difference to the outcome in the battlefield, but her entry signaled to the Germans that the Entente could not lose.
World War II was a convoluted affair that entailed FDR provoking Japan in order to provoke Germany. Considering Roosevelt’s Weltanschauung it worked beautifully. His goals were rational within that paradigm, and they were fulfilled beyond expectations.
The war in Korea was a prompt response to an outright act of aggression in the disputed “Rimland” of the early Cold War. Truman, for all his failings, was right in preventing Douglas McArthur from turning it into an existential struggle. The truce of 1953 still stands. It was a limited war, of limited duration, for limited objectives.
With Vietnam we enter a murky territory. By 1968 the gap between political objectives and military means had become painfully obvious, for the first time in American history. It took the courage and vision of Richard Nixon – a statesman par excellence unjustly maligned to this day – to end that military-political quagmire. Today’s Vietnam, far from being a bastion of Communist orthodoxy, is a flourishing capitalist economy and America’s de facto ally in curtailing Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea.
The 1990’s were a disaster. Bill Clinton bombed the Bosnian Serbs in 1994-95, thus making Sarajevo safe for the foreign jihadists who are now providing the foreign backbone for the Islamic State. He bombed Serbia in 1999, thus making Kosovo safe for their Albanian cohorts. The oft-stated intent, that America is helping “moderate” Muslims, has never paid any dividends.
The decade following 9/11 was even worse. After two failed wars, in Afghanistan the Taliban will eventually take over, period. Iraq is a failed state, with the new Shiite prime minister rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking ship. Trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives were utterly wasted.
And now we have a new war, against the Islamic State (IS, or ISIL, as Obama prefers to call it). There is no strategy, no operational tactical plan, no end-game. Air strikes with no boots on the ground. We are told, with disgusting complacency, that this war may last thirty years (Leon Panetta), or for ever (Newt Gingrich). Our “allies” in Ankara are watching calmly as the Kurds in Kobani succumb to IS attacks. The Turks and Saudi Arabia – our “allies” – want to finish off Bashar al-Assad first and foremost, the only man who has the viable fighting force ready and willing to confront the IS.
This is postmodernia at its best. God help us.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.