08 August 2004


Outlandish Josh has a little comment that I like:

I find the prospect of a nuclear 9-11 literally terrifying (I lived in New York through the original), but the course of action it pushes me towards is to make peace, a strategy you won’t hear many pundits or talking heads discussing. Peace is how we won the cold-war incidentally, but it seems inconceivable to most of the political class that we might actually have the will to go about the work of doing it again.

That's not just woo-woo peacenik talk: there are some smart generals who agree.

That made me think of General Wesley Clark, of all people, who says that we have to settle our conflict with political Islamists as we did the Cold War — one decade at a time, through containment.

In the neoconservative interpretation, Reagan's moral absolutism allowed him to take on the Soviet Union by any means necessary: Because he recognized the supreme danger the Soviets posed, he was willing to challenge it with a massive military buildup. In this understanding, the moral equivocation of Carter and his predecessors left them satisfied with the failed, halfway strategy of containment. Only when Reagan changed the moral template of the conflict, their argument goes, was America able to get past the weak pieties of containment and rid the world of Soviet tyranny.
The foreign policy consensus coalesced around containment, an idea which had been in the air since the early post-war period, when George Kennan, then a veteran American diplomat, published his seminal Foreign Affairs article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” Kennan argued that the Soviet system contained within it “the seeds of its own decay.” During the 1950s and 1960s, containment translated that observation into policy, holding the line against Soviet expansion with U.S. military buildups while quietly advancing a simultaneous program of cultural engagement with citizens and dissidents in countries under the Soviet thumb.
When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire,” or stood before crowds in Berlin and proclaimed “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he was reaching a receptive audience on the other side of the wall. The neoconservatives persist in seeing a vast difference between Reagan's policy of confronting the Soviets and previous American administrations' tack of containing it. In fact, it was precisely those decades of containment and cultural engagement that made Reagan's challenge effective.

And indeed, General Anthony Zinni lists our mistakes in Iraq in a long speech, and giving up on containment is at the top of the list. Kevin Drum provides a summary:

  1. the belief that containment as a policy doesn't work
  2. the strategy was flawed
  3. we had to create a false rationale for going in to get public support
  4. we failed ... to internationalize the effort
  5. we underestimated the task
  6. propping up and trusting the exiles
  7. lack of planning
  8. insufficiency of military forces on the ground
  9. the ad hoc organization we threw in there
  10. bad decisions on the ground

If you have some time, I strongly recommend reading the full text of both the Clark and the Zinni articles. It's very reassuring to know that the top brass of our military contains such thoughtful people.

No comments: