The Enemy Gets a Vote
We have entered a period of foreign policy "isolationism." I use that description for lack of a better word, because it has something of a history as a smear term for anyone who opposed the old "liberal" interventionists. But I use it, with that caveat, because I want to capture the stubborn and dogmatic anti-interventionism of today.
You hear this from the "Come Home, America" left whose heir now sits in the Oval Office. Michael Hirsh sums up the foreign policy message of Obama's inauguration speech: "Obama to World: Drop Dead."
In some ways, it's what Barack Obama didn't say in his Inaugural Address that was most significant.
The president came close to ignoring the rest of the world as he delivered a broad vision for America's future. And yet the near-total absence of overseas issues in his 22-minute address amounted to, paradoxically, the fullest articulation yet of the president's cherished theme from the campaign, that America's attention should turn to "nation-building here at home."
More on that in another note. But this is something I also hear a lot from the right, partly in reaction against George W. Bush and the "neoconservatives," who take the blame for botching the occupation of Iraq. The insurgency there, and an American response that floundered for almost four years before adopting the right strategy, was responsible for a lot of the public's rejection of the Republican Party in the past few elections.
So I hear frequently these days the notion that America should avoid getting bogged down in fighting a counter-insurgency war. But this is nonsensical, because we don't get to choose what kind of war we have to fight. The enemy also gets a vote. And the moment we declare that we won't prepare for or fight a certain kind of war, we create a huge incentive for our enemies to choose exactly that kind of conflict.
In that context, I want to draw your attention to an interesting point from a review of Max Boot's new book on the history of insurgent or guerrilla warfare. The point is that this kind of fighting, while is it referred to as "unconventional" warfare, is far from new or unusual. It is, in fact, the original form of warfare.
He makes it very clear that the natural state of man has been one of continuous small-scale warfare, going right back to the beginning of humankind....
The natural way of war is to strike by surprise, and to retreat stealthily back into the wilderness to safety with as few casualties as possible. Primitive people do not "stand and fight"; they hide and kill.
This is why I thought that the most important consequence of the war in Iraq is that a whole generation of our troops re-learned how to fight and win a counter-insurgency war. The worst consequence of General David Petraeus's disgrace, of President Obama's eagerness to bug out of Afghanistan, and of our current "isolationist" funk, is that they will be encouraged to forget it. And then they will have to learn it all over again, at great cost in blood and treasure, the next time that knowledge is needed.
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