Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why Are We in This Mess?

In a recent column, Fred Reed asks why we manage to find ourselves in guerrilla-style wars so frequently. "Why, since WWII, have so many first-world armies gotten into drawn-out guerrilla wars in bush-world countries, and lost? Examples abound: France in Vietnam, America in Vietnam, France in Algeria, Russia in Afghanistan, Israel in Lebanon, etc. Why don’t they learn?"

Fred lays the blame for this sad state of affairs at the feet of what he calls "The Warrior." "The Warrior is emotionally suited to pitched, Pattonesque battles of moral clarity and simple intent," says Fred. "I don’t mean that he is stupid. Among fighter pilots and in the Special Forces for example it is not uncommon to find men with IQs of 145. Yet emotionally the Warrior has the uncomplicated instincts of a pit bull. Intensely loyal to friends and intensely hostile to the enemy, he doesn’t want any confusion as to which is which. His tolerance for ambiguity is very low. He wants to close with the enemy and destroy him."

The mindset described by Fred is fine for WWII, but problematic for waging war against Fourth Generation opponents in Vietnam or Iraq.

However, while I think Fred's description of the mindset driving the "warrior" is essentially correct and insightful, it nonetheless misses the point. The modern warfare-state has largely been created by a managerial, verbalist class. Would anyone consider McGeorge Bundy, Bob McNamara, or Dean Acheson warriors? Could one confuse Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle or Bill Kristol with Doug MacArthur?

In truth, it was warriors like Anthony Zinni, David Hackworth, Bill Odom, and James Webb who sounded the alarm prior to the Iraq war, taking on the Neocon technocrats who have taken over the national security apparatus. What the warrior ethos symbolizes is indeed wielded by Neocons, whose nearest experience with warfare is a mean game of Risk, as a means of squashing dissent.

"To the Warrior," says Fred, "to doubt the war is treason, aiding and supporting, liberalism, cowardice, back-stabbing, and so on. He uses these phrases unrelentingly. We must fight, and fight, and fight, and never yield, and sacrifice and spend. We must never ask why, or whether, or what for, or do we want to."

Again, I think Fred is wrong here. Mindless chatter of this sort does emanate from Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Cal Thomas, and the insidious warmongers that inhabit the dark corners of the blogosphere. But I don't hear similar flim-flam from my neighbor, for example, a career military man who taught desert tactics and fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

In short, "the warrior" understands the cost of war. He isn't in any great hurry to forfeit his life, or the life of his brethren, for abstractions like "democracy" or "freedom." Such carelessness is reserved for laptop bombardiers unleashing the dogs of war from the safety of their tony DC offices.

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