Wednesday, December 9, 2009

War(s) of Necessity, War(s) of Choice

One of the benefits of no longer having homework is the freedom to read what I wish to read, and not what is on some course syllabus. Of late I've done alot of reading related to politics, including Scott McClellan's (former spokesman for Pres. George W. Bush) "What Happened" and "All The President's Men," the story of Watergate. My latest read has been particularly influential in my thinking. That book is "War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars," by Richard N. Haass, who worked for both Bush administrations and is now President on the Council of Foreign Relations, a very influential think tank in New York. The book has greatly changed how I perceive the first Iraq War; basically confirms my opinion of the Second Iraq War; and has me thinking about foreign policy in general.

Haass feels that the first Gulf War was a classic war of necessity, one which needed to be fought and was very successfully done so by the U.S. and its allies in 1990-91. While I had not thought much about the first Gulf War, the perception I had of it was one fought mainly to keep oil out of the hands of Saddam Hussein, and which was undertaken in order to bolster confidence in U.S. Armed Forces in the post-Vietnam era by giving them a relatively easy victory over Iraqi forces. Haass makes a strong case for this being a war of necessity for a variety of reasons. Among them are: the dangerous amount of economic and political power Hussein would have accrued had he held onto Kuwait; the human rights violations being committed by Iraqi forces in Kuwait which could only be stopped by greater force; the possibility that the instability caused by the Iraqi invasion would lead to expanded conflict in the Middle East and an all-out regional war; that the world standing by as Iraq occupied Kuwait would empower Hussein and convinced he could undertake further invasions...the list goes on. The Gulf War was also seen as a turning point in the new post-Cold-War-world, an unprecedented chance for international cooperation. Unfortunately, it seems that level of cooperation among world actors was not something that was sustained by the Bush or Clinton administrations , or the other Bush administration. Perhaps the Obama administration can make multilateralism as important a component of foreign policy as it was back at the start of the 1990s.

As successful as the first Gulf War was, in Haass' opinion, the second Iraq War, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom, was just as unsuccessful, and possibly an even greater defeat on many fronts. Aside from failing to make in Iraq into a stable state, Haass reiterates the claims and narratives of many others that the Bush administration was determined to go war as early as mid-2002, and really went in having no sense of how difficult it would be to stabilize things. He also makes a similar observation about Afghanistan, that the Bush administration had no real concept of how to successfully go in and remake an entire country and society into a democracy where the Taliban had no power. In the case of Afghanistan this comes as no surprise, since there was less than a month between 9/11 and the start of Operation Enduring Freedom on 10/7/01. Given that no war plans existed for Afghanistan before 9/11, one can make the case that the U.S. overreacted before going into Afghanistan and should have taken more time to think through its strategy there. Even more shameful, it seems, is the lack of post-war planning made for Iraq. Although the U.S. had much more time to plan for its operations there, based on Haass' account, there was a tragically shortsighted view of how difficult stabilizing the country would be. That Pres. George W. Bush announced an end to major combat operations, and declared "Mission Accomplished" on May 1 , 2003-yet more than 6.5(!) years later, there are still more than 100,000 US troops there-is indicative of how poorly planned the entire Iraqi Freedom operation was.

What I find even more morally troubling than such an abysmally conceived war is the very idea of a war of choice. This notion, that something involving putting the lives of soldiers as well as civilians at stake, and utilizing these and other resoures, for something less than absolutely necesarry for security, is something I find deeply disturbing. As someone who is not a proponent of military force in general (although I have been thinking recently about the role of the military in American society, a role I believe is much larger than most people realize), it especially irks me that such costly action could be undertaken out of choice, not necessity. This is also highly relevant in the wake of the 30,000 troops that will soon be deployed in Afghanistan. The legitimacy of this troop surge depends in large part on the legitimacy of Operation Enduring Freedom as a whole. The question which always must be asked is-"Is the military operation being conducted abroad directly enhancing the security interests at home?", or perhaps differently, "If this operation is not undertaken, how much of a greater risk does it pose for the homeland?" One can make a fairly plausible case that, had Operation Enduring Freedom never occured, there may very well have been an increase in terrorist activity against US interests. On the other hand, it could also be argued that all of the money, manpower, and other resoures spent in Afghanistan could have obtained greater protection for Americans via increased security on transit systems and other possible targets, or to minimize the street crime that causes injury to a far greater number of Americans on a daily basis than any Al-Qaeda activity.