Sunday, November 08, 2015
War As a Gesture
There's a miserable op-ed at the CBC's web site today by a Washington State University prof. going on about the moral implications of Canada's withdrawal from the air war against ISIS. The point seemed to be that there's a moral cost of staying but also a moral cost of leaving.
What a load of bollocks.
Our air war in Iraq and Syria was never really dripping with morality. The suggestion that we go into these adventures on moral considerations is a bit untenable when our record of supporting tyrannical regimes here and attacking despotic regimes there plainly refutes the idea. Let's face it, we have to check off a lot of boxes reflecting self-interest before we decide to bomb this country or that. The moral considerations are there, to be sure, but they're well down the page and often quite blurry.
Today we are led by the first true Permanent Warfare State in modern history. They decide who will be bombed, who will be spared and we say "ready, aye ready." A major problem with PermaWar is that it's afflicted with ADD, attention deficit disorder. Long before you could hope to achieve anything meaningful abroad you find you've lost the battle for hearts and minds at home.
We get into these things without knowing what victory means, what defeat might look like, or how and when we'll get out. The results: Libya, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq should hardly be surprising. Their outcomes were almost pre-ordained.
We have yet to develop and implement strategies, or even tactics, to meet the demands of "new war." Old War, the state-on-state sort of thing our grandfathers fought, has given way to New War (also sometimes known as Hybrid War) in which the enemy can be a confusing blend of state actors, quasi-state and non-state actors comprised of governments, militias, rebels, insurgents, terrorists and remarkably capable and sophisticated criminal enterprises, each pursuing its own agenda and often featuring rapidly shifting and temporary alliances. The players can also migrate from place to place. You want to bomb here, they can get busy over there. How does a 2,000 pound precision-guided munition defeat that? If we look to our side's record for the past 15-years, the conclusion must be "poorly."
In the era of New War we always show up prepared to fight Old War, with neither the means nor the resolve nor even the intent of prevailing. That is war as a gesture, a statement and of all the forms of warfare that's certainly one of the most immoral.
In Flanders Fields my ass.
Update: this is certainly timely. The folks at Tomgram have just posted Greg Grandin's essay, "Kissinger, the Bombardier: How Diplomacy by Air Power Became an All-American Tradition."