Thursday, January 26, 2006

Successful first-strike wars?

I was casting over in my mind this morning as to when was the last time one country initiated a war with another and had things turn out remotely like what they expected. In other words, when the Bush regime was considering invading Iraq, how much were they relying on a totally exceptional outcome?

Let's go backward in time:

  • Eritrea attacks Ethiopia, 1998. In May 1998 a few Eritrean soldiers entered the Badme region along the border with Ethiopia, resulting in a fire fight between the Eritrean soldiers and the militia and security police they encountered. Eritrea, claiming that several Eritrean officials had been murdered, invaded Ethiopia with a large, mechanized force. The results? Ethiopia declared "total war," and proceeded to conquer a sizable chunk of Eritrea (though this result was eventually overturned under the terms of a 2004 U.N. Settlement). In the meanwhile, several hundred thousand soldiers were killed and over a million refugees were created. No doubt the response throughout Eritrea today is, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Iraq invades Kuwait, 1990. We all know how this one worked out for Saddam, not to mention the 200,000 dead Iraqis and Kuwaitis. As Tony the Tiger says, Grrrrrreat!
  • Israel invades Lebanon, 1982. In June 1982, responding to Abu Nidal's assassination attempts against Israeli diplomats and continued PLO artillery fire from Southern Lebanon, Israel invaded Lebanon. The result? To be fair, this invasion was probably considered a limited success from a strictly military point of view, since it weakened the Syrian armed forces and destroyed the PLO's military and political infrastructure in Southern Lebanon. One must weight this against the 17,000 dead Arabs the war also created, most notably including a massacre of several thousand civilians (at Ariel Sharon's behest) at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, which no one would dispute was disastrous for Israel's public and diplomatic standing. The war is also considered the major catalyst for the creation of the Iranian and Syrian supported Hizbullah organization, which replaced the vanquished PLO in Southern Lebanon. The occupation would continue for 18 years, resulting in a steady drip of Israeli casualties, before ending in 2000 with Barak's unilateral withdrawal, itself widely considered a humiliation for Israel.
  • Argentina invades the "Malvinas," 1982. In April 1982, possibly to unify a domestic polity on the verge of civil war, Argentine military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the invasion of the Malvinas, also known as Falklands, an island chain off the coast of Argentina that had long been sovereign British territory, though claimed by Argentina. Results? Initially, the occupation was a success. However, after a month of preparation, the British mounted a fierce amphibious assault which eventually repulsed the Argentinians from the islands. The Argentines sustained over 1750 casualties, and over 11,000 prisoners. What's more, the humiliation resulted in a wave of protests by human rights and war veterans groups, culminating in the resignation of Galtieri, paving the way for the establishment of Argentina's current quasi-democracy. For the Argentine military junta, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Iraq invades Iran, 1980. The war began when Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, following a long history of border disputes, hoping to seize control over the resource-rich province of Khuzestan (or Arabistan, as the Iraqis called it). Results? The conflict saw early successes by the Iraqis, but before long they were repulsed and the conflict stabilized into a war of attrition that would last eight years, cause a million casualties, cost a trillion dollars, and result in not one inch of territory trading hands. Mission Accomplished!
  • The U.S.S.R. invades Afghanistan, 1979. After a Marxist coup in 1973, Afghanistan quickly began to fall to pieces, as Kabul attempted to impose a cultural revolution and lost control of the countryside. Amid a confusing set of events that (including the covert Soviet assassination of their own corrupt and illegitimate client, Hafizullah Shah), the Soviet Army decided to seize direct control over Afghanistan. Results? The Soviets were no more able to control the countryside than Shah and his cronies had been, and became involved in a long war of attrition that over the next decade would result in 14,000 Soviet troop deaths, and perhaps a million dead Afghans. The Red Army's combination of brutality and ineffectiveness delegitimated the last remaining functional institution of the Soviet state, contributing to the eventual collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. For the Russians, Mission Accomplished!
  • Egypt and Syria invade Israel, 1973. The so-called Yom Kippur War began when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise joint attack in the Sinai and Golan Heights in October 1973. The Egyptians and Syrians advanced during the first 24–48 hours, after which momentum began to swing in Israel's favor. By the second week of the war, the Syrians had been pushed entirely out of the Golan Heights. In the Sinai to the south, the Israelis managed to isolate, and probably could have captured or destroyed, an entire Egyptian army. Results? By the time the armistice was declared on October 26, the Arab armies had sustained 50,000 casualties, and lost more than 2000 tanks and 400 airplanes. Moreover, the attack galvanized the Israelis into redoubling their military investment (including into nuclear weaponry) and increased the rate at which Israelis committed to settling Jews in the West Bank. For the Arabs, Mission Accomplished!
  • U.S. invades Cuba, 1961. Bay of Pigs. The facts of the disastrous invasion are well known. But on the results side, it's worth noting that the Cuban Missile Crisis was also a direct downstream result of the botched invasion. And fourty-five years later, Castro is still in power. Mission Accomplished!
  • North Korea invades South Korea, 1950. Determined to reunify the Korean peninsula by force, and confident of their tactical and strategic superiority, North Korea under homocidal moonbat Kim Il Sung invaded South Korea in June 1950. Initially the fighting went North Korea's way, but when a U.S.-led United Nations coalition intervened in September, the tide turned, with the U.N. troops driving the North Koreans back past the 38th parallel, and then continuing northward. Only surprise intervention on the North Korean side by Mao's China saved Kim's bacon. The results? Here's how wikipedia sums it up:
600,000 Korean soldiers died in the conflict according to US estimates. The total, including all civilians and military soldiers from UN Nations and China, was over 2 million deaths. More than a million South Koreans were killed, 85% of them civilians. According to figures published in the Soviet Union, 11.1% of the total population of North Korea perished, which indicates that 1,130,000 people were killed. In sum, about 2,500,000 people were killed, including north and south together. More than 80% of the industrial and public facilities and transportation works, three-quarters of the government offices, and one-half of the houses were destroyed. The war left the peninsula permanently divided with a garrisoned pro-Soviet, totalitarian led state in North Korea and a pro-American semi-free (though not always democratic until the late 1980s) republic in the South. American troops remain in Korea as part of the still-functioning United Nations Command, which commands all allied military forces in the ROK - American Air Forces, Korea, the Eighth U.S. Army, and the entire ROK military. The DMZ remains the most heavily-defended border in the world.
  • Germany invades Poland (and others), 1939-41. This one too need not be elaborated, since it's the archetype of evil. Results? Here, here, and here. For Aryans everywhere, Mission Accomplished!
  • Bolivia invades Paraguay, 1932. Border skirmishes had been ongoing since the late 1920s in the sparsely populated Chaco border region, which was thought (incorrectly, as it turned out) to be rich in oil. This culminated in an all-out war in when the Bolivian army attacked a Paraguayan border garrison in 1932. The result? A disaster for both sides. Bolivia's European elite force-drafted the large Indian population into the army, and Paraguay responded by fomenting nationalist fervor the region's Indians and mixed population, and resorting to guerrilla tactics. Over 100,000 people died over the next two years. A ceasefire was negotiated in 1935, and eventually Paraguay was awarded three-quarters of the region. For Bolivia, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Japan attcks Manchuria, 1931; China, 1937; United States, 1941. Again, I'll spare you the details, but the result for the Japanese? Five million dead Japanese, the nuking of two of their cities, and an occupation by a foreign power that is now in its seventh decade. For Japan, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Germany invades Belgium/France, 1914. Clearly the worst military miscalculation in history, a result of a fatal mix of secret alliances, militarism, imperial ambition, jingoistic stupidity, and inbred decision-making elites. But the results are worth repeating: Tens of millions dead, the dismemberment of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, and the Leninist seizure of power in Russia. For all the Central Powers, and indeed for European civilization itself, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Germany invades France, 1870. Ah... we finally got one! Bismarck initiated the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, proceeding to humiliate the French army and nation by conquering Paris in a matter of weeks. The result? The consolidation of the German empire, including the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine from France.

Some people may note that I've cheated a bit with this list, excluding certain events like colonial occupations (e.g. the German occupation of Nambia in 1904; Japan in Korea in 1905; Italy in Ethiopia in 1935) as well as various interventions into civil wars (which occurred variously, esp. in the 1990s: NATO in the Balkans, U.S. in Haiti, Uganda in Rwanda; see also Vietnam in Cambodia in 1978, though this example is complex and problematic). But these seem to me to be exceptions that prove the rule. Let me concede, therefore, that it is perhaps possible to achieve success if you invade a country that doesn't have any form of modern social or military organization, under conditions where any form of brutality is permissible (e.g. the colonial examples); and perhaps one can succeed in invading a country if the goal is to stop an ongoing full-scale slaughter, since stopping the slaughter can provide immediate legitimacy for the invader.

But it's something totally different when you decide to wage a war of choice against a more-or-less modern enemy in which there is no obvious pressing demand for an invasion: that just simply hasn't worked our well for over a century.

In other words, when George Bush decide in mid-September 2001, at the behest of his neocon advisors, that the time had come for the United States to initiate a war with Iraq, the Bush administration was basically under the impression that it could overturn about 130+ years of recent history. Hm, cue: "reality-based community" mockery.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dialecticalizing the proverb about the the first casualty of war

Describing the mentality of a leader who declares his society to be in a state of permanent war, Michel Foucault thirty years ago made the following pungent observation about such a person’s sense of truth:
In this general struggle of which [the leader] is speaking, he is inevitably on one side or the other. He is caught up in the battle, has adversaries, and is fighting to win. No doubt he is trying to assert a right; but it is his right that is at issue—and it is a singular right that is marked by a relationship of conquest, domination, or seniority: the rights of a race, the rights of triumphant invasions or millennial occupations. And while he also speaks about the truth, he is speaking of a perspectival and strategic truth that will allow him to be victorious.
This view of truth is not the sort, Foucault goes on to say, that legislators or philosophers
have dreamed of: standing between the adversaries, at the center of and above the fray, imposing an armistice, establishing an order that brings reconciliation. [Rather] it is a matter of establishing a right that is stamped with dissymmetry and that functions as a privilege that has to be either maintained or reestablished; it is a matter of establishing a truth that functions as a weapon. [Emphasis mine]

I think that this quote is worth pondering as one considers not only the Bush regime's relationship to the truth, but also its attitude toward the role of legislation and reconciliation in the process of waging war.

This perspective on the Bush regime’s relationship to the truth, I believe, is the only way to make sense of statements like, "We don't torture." These guys regard the idea of universal objectivity as an illusion or a trap; for them, rather "truth" is simply a weapon in war in which they seek unconditional victory.

(Note that Foucault is not saying, simply, that war destroys truth, but rather that war, especially when warfare is perceived as constitutive of society, creates a condition in which truth becomes defined as that which is necessary to win the war. It's also worth noting that Foucault doesn't have a particular problem with this perspective on truth, which he regards as less insidious than the scientific pretentions to universal and unimpeachable authority. Science claims that the truth is what it is; the warrior-leader subject can recognize that losing a war can potentially disinstantiate his understanding of the truth.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Niall Ferguson's apologist history of the future

You may have noticed Niall Ferguson's dark "'What if?' History of the Future of Iran-U.S. Relations." Fergsuon's essay is, in essence, an answer to the imaginary history essay question of the future: "In 2007, Iran-U.S. relations deteriorated to the point where these is a nuclear exchange. How did this happen?"

What's most striking about Ferguson's scenario is how many right-wing cliches he manages to embed in his narrative: a stalwart, misunderstood American Republican leadership; a Chamberlinite domestic opposition in Britain and the U.S.; a heroic Ariel Sharon, laid tragically low at the moment he was most needed; a pusillanimous Continental leadership; an opportunistic Russian and Chinese leadership; and of course (always!) those fanatically malevolent "Middle Easterners." Indeed, one is tempted to say that the main purpose of the essay is less to guide any kind of critical thinking about current foreign policy than it is to promote the continued operational usefulness of these cliches.

Had I the time, I'd be tempted to write the progressive counterpoint to the same scenario. Imagine how someone informed by a different politics than Ferguson might come up with a totally different narrative: one in which the Bushist declaration of Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil" in 2001, coupled with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, was perceived in Iran as a de facto declaration of war. (Michael Ledeen would be quoted as idiotic-instigator-in-chief in this scenario.) The historian might then show how this de facto declaration spurred in the Iranian leadership a desperate search for a defensive posture capable of warding off the U.S. military threat, inevitably leading to the reactivation of a previously dormant drive to build a nuclear device. The historian might also note that the U.S. occupation of Iraq by (inadvertently) empowering of the fundamentalist Shiite majority in Iraq, also precipitated a radicalization of Shiite religious energies in Iran, eventuating in the election of a militant and aggressive millenarian to the Iranian Presidency.

This same historian might also note that the fact that the U.S. policy in the Middle East was driven by a the most secrecy-obsessed Presidency in the history of the country had led to a globally widespread suspicion of the American's regime's motives, magnifying the difficulty of presenting a globally united front against Iranian proliferation. The fact that terrible domestic policies were finally being perceived by the American public had resulted in a wounded and ineffective leadership by America in 2005-2007, causing that leadership to respond to its weak negotiating position by ratcheting up its rhetoric of war, further exacerbating the negative dynamic in Iran, and further isolating it from what might otherwise have been sympathetic Western opinion.

Yes, one can certainly imagine such a scenario. And a good deal more plausible as a history it would be, too. But of course, that's not Ferguson's project; rather, his project is to provide advance neocon spin for the oncoming world-historical catastrophe that the neocon ideological project may be bringing down on all our heads. What Ferguson's article is really represents, in short, is an attempt to deal with the neocons' calamitous PR problem: whatever happens in the Middle East over the next couple of years, it's going to be exceedingly difficult to try to pin the blame for the catastrophe on anyone else. But Ferguson's trying, good man.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A modest voting proposal on Alito

Since it appears that the Dems are not going to do the right thing and stand up for the principle that SCOTUS nominees must specifically answer questions about precedent -- in other words, that they are going to allow the "Ginsburg principle" to continue -- they can at least do the smart political thing: to vote against Alito as a block. Let him become the first SCOTUS nominee ever to win a seat without a single vote from the opposition -- and then relentlessly run against Republican judicial extremism when the inevitably atrocious decisions begin to come down from the Court....

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Improving the SCOTUS nomination process

I can't understand why the Democrats aren't standing up for the principle that a nominee should not under any circumstance be allowed to duck questions. This is a simple principle that every American regardless of ideological stripe ought to be able to respect. The message ought to be something like this:
A SCOTUS nominees get a lifetime appointment to determine the meaning of the laws of this country, a position of enormous privilege and responsibility. The American people deserve a nominee whose beliefs and values are both well-known and aligned with theirs. If a nominee refuses to say exactly -- EXACTLY -- what he makes of current legal interpretations, then he or she shouldn't sit on the Court.
The Democrats should seize the moment to stand for the principle that a nominee's refusal to answer questions about whether particular past decisions were rightly or wrongly decided automatically earns a "No" vote.

In short, every nominee should have to answer straight-forwardly whether they think (to take a random sampling) Griswold, Roe, Bush v Gore, Kelo, Heart of Atlanta Motel, Nebbia, Wickard, Lawrence, or Grutter were rightly decided. If not, why not?

Here's a suggestion: what if the Judiciary Committee were to make it a tradition that each Senator on the committee is allowed to name a single case from the past that SCOTUS nominees would be expected to comment on -- essentially, to write an opinion on the case. This would be part of the preparation work that a potential nominee would be expected to do -- a basic test of whether they are competent to do the job.

Withough question, such an assignment would provide the truest window into the actual legal thinking of any particular nominee. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone could make a principled objection to this proposal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I'm back...

I'll be posting occasional comments, and more links, not so much on top headlines, as on things that are being left at a rolling boil on the back burner. For example, here's a little piece of news that ought to strike terror into anyone holding a lot of dollar-denominated assets: Chinese central bankers are apparently planning to trim exposure to the dollar.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

My first writely doc

Taking time off from blogging has been a relief, as I've disappeared into the world of a new job. I've also been playing a lot more with Web 2.0 applications, and noticing how many of these technologies are converging. For example, this entry is being typed on Writely, which is designed to post automatically to blogger (and a number of other blog engines). The on demand revolution is also spurring a convergence -- perhaps blurring would be a more accurate word for it -- happening between consumer and corporate applications, which I would never have anticipated even a couple years ago.