Bacevich on the American faith in force

by John Quiggin on February 5, 2010

The American Conservative is a mixed bag, to put it mildly, but this piece by Andrew Bacevich is well worth reading. Bacevich points out how rarely the faith of the American policy elite in military force has actually been rewarded with success. The key quote:

An alternative reading of our recent military past might suggest the following: first, that the political utility of force—the range of political problems where force possesses real relevance—is actually quite narrow; second, that definitive victory of the sort that yields a formal surrender ceremony at Appomattox or on the deck of an American warship tends to be a rarity; third, that ambiguous outcomes are much more probable, with those achieved at a cost far greater than even the most conscientious war planner is likely to anticipate; and fourth, that the prudent statesman therefore turns to force only as a last resort and only when the most vital national interests are at stake. Contra Kristol, force is an “instrument” in the same sense that a slot machine or a roulette wheel qualifies as an instrument.

To consider the long bloody chronicle of modern history, big wars and small ones alike, is to affirm the validity of these conclusions.

A couple of qualifications/quibbles.

First, it’s important to remember that, for a very long time, America’s standard experience of war was that of near-continuous advance towards victory. For everyone else involved, the Great War involved years of pointless slaughter, with thousands dying for every yard of mud gained or lost. The US entered late and its forces immediately turned the tide of battle. World War II was similar – by mid-1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor the Allies were advancing on every front.

Paradoxically, as these two cases indicate, the US faith in force reflects a long history of aversion to foreign wars, going back to the Founders. The US had its share of bellicose nationalists, but compared to nearly all previous states, where success in war with other states was taken as the primary measure of greatness, the US in the 19th century (at least up to about 1890) stands out for its pacific nature. But on the relatively rare occasions when the US went to war, it usually did so under (perceived and sometimes actual) conditions of necessity and with the unqualified commitment that entailed.[1]

In the second half of the 20th century, as Europe finally tired and sickened of war, the US went in the opposite direction, taking military power to be a standard instrument of national policy. Sixty years of failure have not shaken this new faith in force.

Bacevich points to a series of losses, or draws where the losses on all sides outweighed the gains – Korea, Vietnam, and both Iraq wars being the biggest.

Adopting criteria put forward by Max Boot, Bacevich counts only three unambiguous military victories for the US in the past 60 years, all over absurdly weak opponents: Johnson’s long forgotten invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Reagan in Grenada and Panama.

However, he wrongly dismisses Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, which (if you disregard long term implications) were clear successes. No significant cost in blood or treasure to the US, desirable political outcomes and humanitarian benefits sufficient that the inevitable civilian casualties were largely disregarded, as was the breach of international law involved in bypassing the Security Council on Kosovo.

These successful interventions (mostly opposed by neocons at the time) revived faith in military intervention that had been lost in Vietnam, and whose revival had been delayed by the disasters in Beirut and Mogadishu. Oddly enough, though, the lessons drawn by Colin Powell (use military power as a last resort, with overwhelming odds, well-defined objectives and clear conditions for a rapid exit) were ignored. Instead the lessons drawn were to ignore or circumvent international law, to count on easy victories and to work out the objectives once the victories had been won.

The results have been seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and through covert action and proxies, throughout the Middle East and beyond. Yet none of this has done much to dent the faith of the Foreign Policy Community, or the American elite in general, in the efficacy of military force. The public seems less enthusiastic, but there are few places were public opinion counts for less than in US foreign policy.

fn1. Some qualifications on this are obviously needed. First, the claim is not absolute but relative. The comparison is with attitudes in the US post-WWII, and with the European powers which waged imperial wars of conquest all around the world at the same time as fighting regular wars with each other, and Second, this relatively pacific attitude didn’t extend to the Native American population. Third, from around 1890 onwards, the US became more imperialist, particularly in South America.

{ 91 comments }

1

dsquared 02.05.10 at 1:02 pm

humanitarian benefits sufficient that the inevitable civilian casualties were largely disregarded

hmm not so sure about this in the case of Kosovo, where the long term consequences didn’t take that long to arrive.

2

Steve LaBonne 02.05.10 at 1:18 pm

The public seems less enthusiastic

I’d be cautious about confusing occasional restiveness over particular endless wars with general lack of support for militarism. It seems quite apparent to me that most people in this country are still very much on board with the idea that the US must always be the biggest, baddest bully on the block, and in most quarters the military still receives the most uncritical deference ever seen since Imperial Germany. The fact that this is counterproductive in all sorts of ways just doesn’t register, not yet anyway.

3

Maurice Meilleur 02.05.10 at 1:32 pm

I need to read Bacevich’s article, but really, John: even ‘relatively’ speaking, to summarize US policy during the 19th century as ‘pacific’ is a real stretch. (And this in the same week that Howard Zinn died!) The War of 1812 was a response to invasion, yes, but the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars were not–nor was our invasion of the Philippines, if you count that in the ‘long 19th century’ that many historians refer to, nor yet were the numerous wars of the US military against aboriginal Americans. And we might have been more belligerent still if the Civil War and Reconstruction hadn’t distracted us. I think it’s safer–and in keeping with points Bacevich has made elsewhere about public opinion and dominant political-rhetorical tropes–to say that what changed from the 19th century to the 20th was that formerly, American parochial and nationalist attitudes ( ‘conservatives’ of a stripe, if you will) were as commonly if not more commonly on the side of isolation and non-intervention. Today, those attitudes are much more strongly aligned with military adventurism and expansionary nationalism. And Walter Karp at least has made a strong case that the definitive shift happened, not in the second half of the 20th century, but during the course of WWI (though there was still a lot of reluctance among Republicans and some Democrats to get involved in WWII, at least before Pearl Harbor).

What I think this means for your takeaway point is that there are two ways public opinion responds to war, even now. One way is reliably militaristic and nationalist, and even when it isn’t advocating a specific war it sees nothing wrong with force as a first means of advancing American interests. The other ebbs and flows with successes and costs of specific engagements. So even now, when public opinion is against continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan–as you I think correctly point out–nothing in American attitudes toward militarism generally (as Bacevich has amply documented elsewhere) has really changed.

4

Maurice Meilleur 02.05.10 at 1:48 pm

Oh, and btw: Panama was Bush Sr.’s affair, not Reagan’s.

5

Talleyrand 02.05.10 at 2:00 pm

Also, Mogadishu wasn’t a disaster. UNOSOM I was an out and out success and UNOSOM II was not a ‘disaster’ by any stretch of the imagination. It has been constructed to be seen as such in retrospect but opinion polls at the time showed support for staying in Somalia even after Black Hawk Down. It was Clinton’s fear of casualty-sensitiveness that motivated a pull-out and this presumably fueled the perception that the US ‘lost’ in some sense.

6

Kieran Healy 02.05.10 at 2:05 pm

third, that ambiguous outcomes are much more probable, with those achieved at a cost far greater than even the most conscientious war planner is likely to anticipate

Ann Hironaka’s Neverending Wars has a great analysis of the increase since 1945 in the number of conflicts that drag on forever.

7

Bloix 02.05.10 at 2:23 pm

The first gulf war was an enormously successful imperialist venture. Kuwait was restored to independence. The price of oil, which had been rising, fell and stayed low for more than a decade, leading to the longest-running expansion in history. The cost in lost American lives was trivial, and much of the financial cost was borne by American allies. The rise in the prestige of the American military was dramatic and the place of America as the sole great power was demonstrated to the world. Americans loved the war – and especially loved watching it on TV. I don’t understand what it means to say that “losses on all sides outweighed the gains.” From the American point of view, it was an unqualified success – ranking alongside the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War when you weigh the gain against the expenditure of life and treasure.

8

FlyingRodent 02.05.10 at 2:44 pm

for a very long time, America’s standard experience of war was that of near-continuous advance towards victory

Well, unless you lived in the south, in which case it was surely more of a rampaging armies burning things, incorporation into and colonisation by the victors kind of experience. Otherwise, sure.

I’m also not convinced that other American C19th wars – e.g. that whole invasion of Mexico part – qualifies as “conditions of necessity,” but it’s been a long time since I read up on the period so I may be wrong.

9

Zamfir 02.05.10 at 2:51 pm

I am also a bit surprised by the inclusion of the Korean war as a “draw where the losses on all sides outweighed the gains”.

Sure, the war ended roughly in the same situation as when it started, and the cost , especially to the Koreans was enormous. But without US involvement, the whole of Korea would have been North-Korea, and avoiding that surely counts for something, both to the Koreans and to the US.

Counting only complete defeat of the enemy as success is a bit strong measure.

10

Castorp 02.05.10 at 3:08 pm

“However, he wrongly dismisses Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo… These successful interventions (mostly opposed by neocons at the time)”

While Republican foot soldiers in Congress were skeptical about Bosnia and Kosovo, neo-con intellectuals such as Kagan and Kristol definitely supported both: http://www.newamericancentury.org/balkans.htm

11

Mitchell Rowe 02.05.10 at 3:21 pm

“But on the relatively rare occasions when the US went to war, it usually did so under (perceived and sometimes actual) conditions of necessity and with the unqualified commitment that entailed.”

What about the War of 1812? Or the wars with Mexico or Spain? Or any of the numerous wars with the aboriginal populations? I think it would be hard to argue that those occurred under the “conditions of necessity”.

12

alex 02.05.10 at 3:43 pm

But Madison really, really had to invade Canada, or he would have just burst.

13

Ralph Hitchens 02.05.10 at 4:10 pm

Bacevich is channeling Edmund Burke, “A conscientious man would cautious how he dealt in blood.” Goes on to condemn a person who “without civil wisdom or military skill, without a consciousness of any other qualification for power but his servility to it, bloated with pride and arrogance, calling for battles which he is not to fight…”

14

mpowell 02.05.10 at 4:28 pm

The comparison between the Korean war and the Mexican or Spanish-American wars is quite unfair. All three of this wars yielded enormous benefits, either from a humanitarian perspective as in the Korean case, or from an American-centered materialistic perspective as with the latter two. But the first was also justifiable on humanitarian grounds while the latter two were pretty much imperialistic land grabs.

I don’t think any interpretation of history which applauds the Mexican and Spanish-American wars while finding the Korean war to be a bad example really makes much sense on the whole.

15

Josh G. 02.05.10 at 5:38 pm

Original poster: “the US in the 19th century stands out for its pacific nature…”

Seriously? Seriously? Manifest Destiny, anyone?

Throughout the 19th century, the U.S. waged almost constant, often genocidal warfare against Native American nations. We also grabbed as much land from Mexico as we could. The difference is that, unlike European and Asian powers, we faced no real peer competitors, so these wars were almost all one-sided. For over a century (1815-1917), the only real peer competitor we faced was ourselves — and the American Civil War stands out as the bloodiest conflict of its era.

16

Castorp 02.05.10 at 6:43 pm

“Original poster: “the US in the 19th century stands out for its pacific nature…”

Seriously? Seriously? Manifest Destiny, anyone?”

Correction: Pacific not pacific

17

Western Dave 02.05.10 at 6:54 pm

JQ, being Aussie, perhaps has swallowed a bit too much American exceptionalist propaganda from a European perspective. In addition to above comments:

The Mexican War started out great, but the war wouldn’t end. The Peace treaty was negotiated by a minister who was fired but stayed on anyway. Terms were not all that great considering the US was occupying the capital. However disease and guerrillas (first use of this term, I believe) were draining US occupation forces. European powers at the time were about split on who would win.

Not only was their almost continuous violence against Native Americans, there was continual violence against African Americans. The “rampaging armies burning things” was nothing, nothing compared to the wholesale massacres of African American men, women and children throughout the South in both lynching and wholesale destruction of entire towns. The removal of federal troops from the South in the 1860s and 1870s unleashed 100 years of violent terror. Contra lost cause myth, the South was already incorporated into the North economically before the war, as most Southerners owed money to the North either directly or indirectly before the war. (See Origins of the Southern Radicalism by Lacy Ford which points to the boom following the California Gold Rush as the end of a separate Southern upland economy).

I seem to remember a William Appleman Williams Chart that showed pretty much continuous intervention in South America.

18

John Quiggin 02.05.10 at 7:41 pm

I accept the point on US expansionism against Native Americans, and meant to put it in – I’ll make sure to do so next time.

But, in C19, the main European powers were doing the same thing all around the world, at the same time as fighting wars against each other, and building up to the Great War.

19

Keith 02.05.10 at 7:48 pm

This all assumes that the point of military force is to achieve some attainable geopolitical goal. We assume this to be the case because it was historically so. but the Neocon goal is simply the deployment of military force as an end in itself. Bill Kristol and the PNAC gang don’t give a shit why we went into Iraq. They just wanted to make money for themselves and their friends in the military industrial complex by deploying hardware, blowing it up and building more.

20

K. Williams 02.05.10 at 8:13 pm

“A seesawing contest for the Korean peninsula ended in a painfully expensive draw. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs managed only to pave the way for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vietnam produced stupendous catastrophe. Jimmy Carter’s expedition to free American hostages held in Iran not only failed but also torpedoed his hopes of winning a second term. Ronald Reagan’s 1983 intervention in Beirut wasted the lives of 241 soldiers, sailors, and Marines for reasons that still defy explanation. Reagan also went after Muammar Qaddafi, sending bombers to pound Tripoli; the Libyan dictator responded by blowing up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland—and survived to tell the tale. In 1991, George H.W. Bush portrayed Operation Desert Storm as a great victory sure to provide the basis for a New World Order; in fact the first Gulf War succeeded chiefly in drawing the United States more deeply into the vortex of the Middle East—it settled nothing. With his pronounced propensity for flinging about cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs, Bill Clinton gave us Mogadishu, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo —frenetic activity with little to show in return. As for Bush and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the less said the better. “

Really, this is just silly. In evaluating military interventions, the question isn’t whether the U.S. “won” in some kind of sports-metaphor sense. The question is whether intervening made things better off than not intervening would have. And in the list above, there’s little doubt that intervention made things better off, at least from an American perspective, in Korea, Kuwait, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. I fail to see how that’s a dismal record, or one that suggests that American use of military force is “rarely rewarded with success.”

21

Sufferin' Succotash 02.05.10 at 8:36 pm

The War of 1812 was a response to invasion
Um, really?
There was an invasion, all right, though not the sort I think you mean.
The US tried to invade Canada, but it didn’t turn out too well for the US.

22

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.05.10 at 8:56 pm

23

John Quiggin 02.05.10 at 8:56 pm

K Williams @20

The Korean war, was really two wars in one, marking the shift of US policy from generally defensive to generally offensive. The defensive war lasted only a few months and produced a quick US victory. At that point, the US could have imposed a peace more favorable than the eventual outcome, and ended the war as victors. Instead, Macarthur decided to conquer North Korea and failed.

For the rest of your list, the Haiti invasion didn’t achieve any lasting benefits, and Kuwait/Gulf War I and Afghanistan were further cases of initial victories ending up in quagmires.

And then you have, as Bacevich points out, a list of trivial skirmishes to set against the disasters of Vietnam and Iraq II.

24

Map Maker 02.05.10 at 9:11 pm

” “rampaging armies burning things” was nothing, nothing compared to the wholesale massacres of African American men, women and children throughout the South in both lynching and wholesale destruction of entire towns. The removal of federal troops from the South in the 1860s and 1870s unleashed 100 years of violent terror.”

Nothing? Nothing? This is what is meant by moral relativsm among conservatives. I assume you’ll retract this, or do we need to go through the point-by-point fact that far more civilians were killed in the civil war than in the entire 150 years of post-civil war “massacres”., the violence against “freedmen” was quite high during Reconstruction and decreased over the subsequent 100 years

25

Gareth Rees 02.05.10 at 9:31 pm

The US tried to invade Canada, but it didn’t turn out too well for the US.

On the contrary: although the Treaty of Ghent restored the status quo, one of the results of the war of 1812 was the total destruction of Tecumseh’s confederacy of tribes, leaving the upper midwest defenceless. The US was quick to occupy and settle this area (Indiana became a state in 1816 and Illinois in 1818).

26

Hidari 02.05.10 at 9:33 pm

To back up those expressing incredulity about the US’ ‘pacific nature’ during the 19th century….

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_military_history_events

There has almost literally not been a year since the US was created that its forces have not seen active service somewhere in the world (or, of course, in the United States itself).

27

tomslee 02.05.10 at 9:48 pm

On the war of 1812, my better half went to school in both countries. In Canada, she learned that Canada was in the right and won the war, while in the US she learned that the US was in the right and won the war.

28

christian h. 02.05.10 at 9:52 pm

There really does seem to be a bit of confusion about 19th century history. As an unimportant example, the term “guerilla” was, I believe invented for the Spanish resistance to occupation by Napoleonic France. As has already been pointed out, throughout the 19th century, the US was at war pretty much continuously along the “frontier”.

As for the 20th century, did somebody actually claim the Korean war – which killed at least a million Korean civilians, with most of those deaths the result of US carpet bombing – could be qualified a success on humanitarian grounds?

29

Ray 02.05.10 at 9:56 pm

tomslee – and some people think that war is always negative-sum!

30

ejh 02.05.10 at 10:09 pm

Johnson’s long forgotten invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965

Long-immortalised, more like.

31

Maurice Meilleur 02.05.10 at 10:49 pm

Well, as I far as I can tell from the history I know, neither the US nor the British ‘won’ the war. It was settled at Ghent. The biggest losers were the Six Tribes, I guess. But the causes of the war were pretty complex: the States’ expansion into the ‘Northwest’, British impressment of American sailors (along with the British deserters they were looking for), trade conflicts (as usual), and so on. If the war was started in earnest with a US invasion of Canada, it also involved a British blockade of US seaports and attacks and invasions in the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf Coast, and northern Mississippi regions.

I should not have said that the war was a response to an invasion of the US. I should have said that the war was not a straightforward case of US expansionism, that Great Britain’s polices were as much to blame as those of the US, and that in the course of the war the US was in fact invaded (as well as blockaded) and was fighting at times for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. So, my apologies to our northern cousins and anyone who cares about getting history right.

In any case, the larger point I was making was that the war was exceptional in US history in the 19th century as being not entirely our fault. The rest of the time, we busied ourselves being right bastards, especially to the Indians.

32

geo 02.05.10 at 11:25 pm

mpowell@14 and k.williams@20:

First, as JQ points out @23, the Korean War was, after the first few months, a war of choice, as the US showed no interest in a peace agreement based on a return to the status quo ante bellum.

Second, the US conduct of the war was brutal. Scarcely a large building was left standing in North Korea. The economy, which was on a par with South Korea’s before the war, was bombed back more or less to the Stone Age. Whether the insanity of the North Korean and Cambodian Communists was not, at least in some small measure, the result of the incredible savagery of the US onslaught is a question that, for some reason, has not been thoroughly investigated by US scholars.

Finally, what on earth does it mean to say that “things were better off … from an American perspective”? For one thing, 50,000 Americans died more or less needlessly. So did roughly 2 million Koreans, but I recognize that they don’t really count “from an American perspective.” And beyond that, do you really imagine there is a “national interest,” distinct from the interests of the corporate, financial, and military elites that defined and directed the Cold War, from which the non-Communist populations of the world benefited very much less than they would have from a more rational and humane American foreign policy.

33

Harold 02.06.10 at 12:20 am

Who won the War of 1812? American History Professor Donald Hickey states in his new book (Don’t Give up the Ship: Myths of the War of 1812): “there are actually five groups of participants that must be considered: The biggest winner was Canada; then came Great Britain; and then the Indians living in Canada. The biggest losers were the Indians living in the United States [98% of them were exterminated by the end of the19th Century]; after them came the United States itself, which … for the first time in its history lost a war.”

When the War of 1812 started America’s leaders thought an invasion of Canada would be “a mere matter of marching,” as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of 8 million fail to subdue a struggling colony of 300,000? Yet, when the campaign year of 1812 ended, the only Americans left on Canadian soil were prisoners of war. Three American armies had been forced to surrender, and the Canadians were in control of all of Michigan Territory and much of Indiana and Ohio.

After two more years of War and another seven invasion attempts, none of Canada was occupied by American Forces and Canadian/British/Native forces occupied large chunks of land within the U.S..

By the end of the War U.S. trade had been strangled to practically nothing, the economy was grinding to a halt, the US Navy was blockaded in port, the US Army faced increasingly hostile odds on land, and the nation’s capital city lay in ashes. … And the issue over which America had gone to war — the impressment of seamen — was tactfully ignored in the peace treaty and the captured American territory returned. Too soon, the construction of reassuring myths in the immediate aftermath helped transform a futile and humiliating adventure that aimed to conquer Canada into one of defending the republic.

These facts can all be found in books by Pierre Berton (2001), Donald Graves (1999), Jon Latimer (2007), James Elliott (2009) and Donald Hickey (2008).

34

Hidari 02.06.10 at 12:34 am

vis a vis the Korean War: I might add that (although US elites liked and like him), Truman held the record for the most unpopular US President (approval rating 25%, a direct result of Korea) amongst actual US voters: a record that he held until….well…guess.

35

David G 02.06.10 at 12:56 am

I have the greatest respect for Col. Bacevich, a former colleague of mine, and who has lost a son in Iraq.

But you cannot compare current events with any previous war. For one thing, the casualties are minimal (2000 U.S. troopers died on D-day, what’s the high count for any day in Iraq? Nowhere near.). For another, we fight non-uniformed, therefore criminal, enemies, who are too cowardly to present themselves as such and thus prefer ambushes, suicide bombings, and treacherous behavior.

Bacevich is right that military force is far less useful than some people assume. But then, when in the last 60 years has it been used fully? Not in Vietnam, where the U.S. fought feebly and without perseverance. Certainly not in Iraq or Afghanistan, where rules of engagement prohibit effective defeat of attackers.

The most total war the U.S. ever fought was the Civil War, which cost some 600,000 men their lives, a far higher count relative to population than any other conflict. Compared to that, the world wars were brushfires, and I say that as the son of a WWII vet.

36

Jack Strocchi 02.06.10 at 12:59 am

Pr Q said:

The US had its share of bellicose nationalists, but compared to nearly all previous states, where success in war was taken as the primary measure of greatness, the US in the 19th century stands out for its pacific nature. But on the relatively rare occasions when the US went to war, it usually did so under (perceived and sometimes actual) conditions of necessity and with the unqualified commitment that entailed.

Its a bit of a stretch to describe “the US in the 19th century” as “standing out for its pacific nature”. It spent much of that century pursuing its Manifest Destiny as it expanded Westward and then Southward Ho!, knocking the stuffing out of the British and Spanish Empires in the process. The Monroe doctrine gave it a licence to dominate the Western hemisphere. Admiral Mahan’s two ocean navy doctrine gave it the tools to enforce this domination.

Wikipedia records the US military engaging in 104 separate military actions in the 19thC, including four major international wars (War of Independence 1812, Mexican-American 1848, Spanish-American 1898, Phillipine-American 1899) and the monumental Civil War 1865. Thats better than one per year which suggests that US military operations were not reserved for “relatively rare occasions”.

Have I missed anything? Domestic violence. The constant drum roll of US civil violence through the 19thC: The Indian Wars, the KKK, nativist Gangs of New York, Pinkertons union busting goons, Range Wars and the Wild West (telling phrase!) do not really spell out a “pacific” nation to me.

Whether these military conflicts were “necessary” or contingent seems to depend on whether one agrees that the US’s self-proclaimed historic mission was to bring liberal democracy to the whole North American continent.

I’m okay with that.

37

nick s 02.06.10 at 1:14 am

It spent much of that century pursuing its Manifest Destiny as it expanded Westward and then Southward Ho!

Yeah, the tendency to assess American military action in the 19th century based upon the map as it stands today somewhat papers over the fact that the creation of those borders was part of a process that wasn’t too different from the imperial jaunts of various European powers during the same timeframe.

38

John Quiggin 02.06.10 at 1:47 am

Oh please! By the time we drag in the Gangs of New York, any hint of relevance to judgements about the usefulness of force in foreign policy has long since been lost.

I agree that the US dispossession of the Native Americans was broadly equivalent to the imperial jaunts of the European powers, though of course the aspirations of the latter group encompassed almost the entire world. What’s striking, as I’ve said several times now, is that the Europeans did this and warred among themselves, directly and by proxy. And in doing so, they were continuing their own past practice (the 18th century was one of almost continuous European war) and that of most states in history.

39

Jack Strocchi 02.06.10 at 1:52 am

Pr Q said:

The American Conservative is a mixed bag, to put it mildly

It makes a refreshing change from the smelly little orthodoxies cranked out by blinkered ideologists in the dreary one party line organs of both politically correct Left and economic rationalist Right. Vive le mixed bag.

They give despicable people like <a Pat Buchanan a forum to present their point of view on invade-the-world, invite-the-world and indebt-the-world. Who made the unpardonable error of href=”http://www.amconmag.com/article/2003/nov/03/00008/”>being vindicated on these issues.

And they took a brave step in defying the US establishment Right on these issues. Of course no good deed goes unpunished so the magazine must be ritualistically denounced or ignored at every opportunity. Points to Pr Q for at least “going there”.

40

mpowell 02.06.10 at 2:10 am


As for the 20th century, did somebody actually claim the Korean war – which killed at least a million Korean civilians, with most of those deaths the result of US carpet bombing – could be qualified a success on humanitarian grounds?

Regarding this point and others, if you want to break up the Korean War into two separate wars, fine, one was a morally just smashing success, the other an immoral failure, fine, that works. Taken as a whole, though, the current population of S Korea is 48M. I don’t know how you’d calculate the loss in life, happiness or well fare of 60 years of rule by the DPRK, but I think it would compare favorably to two million civilian deaths in a war for national survival fought by S Korea with US aid.

But I guess it does go to the point that the end result of the war wasn’t a ‘clean’ victory and Americans maybe should have been wondering what the heck they were doing there for the last two years of that war, but, hey, they actually were!

41

Jack Strocchi 02.06.10 at 2:25 am

John Quiggin@#36


Oh please! By the time we drag in the Gangs of New York, any hint of relevance to judgements about the usefulness of force in foreign policy has long since been lost.

O-k-a-a-y! The reference to “domestic violence” and “GoNY” was kind of added on as an after thought to your “pacific” descriptor. So it can be safely ignored without losing “relevance to judgements about the usefulness of force in foreign policy”.

Pr Q said:


I agree that the US dispossession of the Native Americans was broadly equivalent to the imperial jaunts of the European powers, though of course the aspirations of the latter group encompassed almost the entire world. What’s striking, as I’ve said several times now, is that the Europeans did this and warred among themselves, directly and by proxy. And in doing so, they were continuing their own past practice (the 18th century was one of almost continuous European war) and that of most states in history.

The 19thC United States was no slouch in “war[s] among themselves”. The Civil War put German and Italian unification struggles into the shade.

Its true that the US federal government did not engage in any grand Napoleonic adventures during the 19th C. Thats mainly because it was too small and fractured to get grand slaughters underway until well into the second half of the 19thC. Not for want of any martial spirit.

Even so in the 19thC the US did manage to kill hundreds of thousands of enemies in various conflicts with states to numerous to mention. And turn 13 struggling colonies into a state with hemispheric dominance. As I said before, there is no way that this brutal will to power could be described as “pacific”.

It was the 20thC which saw the US break with former great power practice in its MO. Especially after WWII, the real US great power difference was to use liberal means for imperial ends. It substituted corporate economic control and collective security alliances for direct imperial political domination.

This strategy saved blood and treasure of planting flags and running governments all over the shop and generally reduces the level of international aggro. A tactic successfully copied by Japanese and now Chinese rivals.

42

Grand Moff Texan 02.06.10 at 3:35 am

Bacevich points out how rarely the faith of the American policy elite in military force has actually been rewarded with success.

It is not important that the war be won. It is only important that the war be continual.

The US is the world’s biggest launderer of tax dollars and debt into arms dealers’ profits. The conventional wisdom, therefore, of the capital’s infestation of mandarins MUST be that war blah war war blah blah. Otherwise, they would find themselves looking for honest work.

How can anyone expect dishonest people and other sociopaths to access the revenue streams of the scam if they can’t blather on that the scam is in our national interest, and that its opponents are at best naiive and at worst fifth columns?
.

43

Grand Moff Texan 02.06.10 at 3:39 am

The US had its share of bellicose nationalists, but compared to nearly all previous states, where success in war with other states was taken as the primary measure of greatness, the US in the 19th century (at least up to about 1890) stands out for its pacific nature.

Mexico called. They said that they want the Nueces Strip back.
.

44

Treilhard 02.06.10 at 4:06 am

@39 “Not for want of any martial spirit… there is no way this brutal will to power could be described as ‘pacific'”

Perhaps, but the point still stands that unlike the European powers, dividing up the whole of Africa & most of Asia amongst themselves, the US remains relatively isolated. The only notable exceptions thrown out are 1812 and the Mexican-American War, but these hardly compare to the Boer Wars, Crimean War, Sepoy Rebellion, etc… US forces actually occupied Mexico City, and then left after (1) purchasing the American Southwest (not a terribly fair price, to be certain) and (2) voting in Congress not to take the whole of Northeast Mexico as well.

It is unimagineable that a European power would’ve behaved this way, and in fact, American isolationism played no small part in American foreign policy- just look at our reluctance to take part in either of the World Wars. European powers seem to have gotten this sort of gallavanting “out of their systems”, whereas its only recently, and in no small part because of the supremacy it enjoyed post-WWII, that the US is finding out just how fun it can be deploy troops around the world as if the whole thing was a game of Risk (see: US Haitian relief effort).

45

Chris Bertram 02.06.10 at 7:06 am

_I agree that the US dispossession of the Native Americans was broadly equivalent to the imperial jaunts of the European powers, though of course the aspirations of the latter group encompassed almost the entire world._

Broadly equivalent to Russia, perhaps, with its eastwards imperial expansion into a hinterland occupied by “less advanced” peoples.

46

Chris Bertram 02.06.10 at 7:08 am

47

alex 02.06.10 at 8:25 am

@42 – you aren’t dumb enough to actually believe that, are you? Everything in the USA west of the Appalachians was taken by military force by the government of the USA from its inhabitants. Everything east had already been taken by force beforehand. Why the frak should physical contiguity stop something being imperialist expansionism?

48

Hidari 02.06.10 at 10:42 am

‘Broadly equivalent to Russia, perhaps, with its eastwards imperial expansion into a hinterland occupied by “less advanced” peoples.’

If that’s your opinion, Chris, you might enjoy ‘After Temerlane’ by John Darwin, which makes the same point.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/may/12/featuresreviews.guardianreview7

49

Hidari 02.06.10 at 11:59 am

Incidentally the mysterious addition of the phrase ‘If that’s your opinion’ makes it sound like I’m being snide. The Tamerlane book is excellent and I would recommend it to anyone. Darwin is particularly good on the essential similarities between Europe and the US (instead of the more usually discussed differences), especially in the field of foreign policy.

50

novakant 02.06.10 at 2:08 pm

I don’t know how you’d calculate the loss in life, happiness or well fare of 60 years of rule by the DPRK, but I think it would compare favorably to two million civilian deaths in a war for national survival fought by S Korea with US aid.

Since most of the suffering in the world occurs due to armed conflict and the US is by far the largest arms exporter in the world, the only moral conclusion is to carpet bomb the military-industrial complex – so what’s keeping you?

51

b9n10nt 02.06.10 at 3:25 pm

Wood floors?

52

Omega Centauri 02.06.10 at 3:42 pm

I have to disagree about Gulf War I, at least regarding stated war goals, and short term results. The stated goal was to eject Iraq from Kuwait, which was accomplished, along with a victory parade. Unstated goals, were to secure the supply of middle eastern oil, and impress the rest of the world that the US military was not something they wanted to take on. Also don’t discount that the military got some real world experience with modern warfare, and rotation of inventories (new bombs and bullets to replace those used up). On all those counts, and on the count of domestic popularity it was successful. That the postwar mission-creep objective of taking out Saddam was not accomplished is an incomplete justification for excluding it.

And to the extent that militarism has been embedded into our political culture, that has to be regarded as a positive outcome by certain commercial and political interests. The very fact that massive expansion of militarism is a core platform of one party, and that the other is too afraid of being labeled weak to oppose it, is a victory of sorts for entrenched interests.

53

JJ 02.06.10 at 5:46 pm

Actually, the unstated goal was to encourage the Iraqis to invade Kuwait, and then expel them. Classic mousetrap strategy. After all, how else would the US destroy all the weapons and technology it provided for the war with Iran.

54

qb 02.06.10 at 6:37 pm

51 had me at “actually.”

55

scathew 02.06.10 at 8:25 pm

We believe in war because it has never come to our shores. If like the Europeans we had watched our towns be leveled, our children killed on their own beds, we might have a different opinion. It’s very easy to destroy someone else’s home.

In any case, you are dead on in your analysis. In fact I said something very similar here:

The Definition of Insanity Is…

As it stands every generation gets the itch and has to have one. Then you have a lull where we forget how bad it was and do it again.

56

Ted 02.07.10 at 2:59 am

@53 scathew’s point is more profound than perhaps even s/he intended. The main reason for the decline of war in Europe is that the European nations simply are not strong enough to win a war.

On every measure, the weakness of the European nation states is obvious:

– economic dynamism; the surrendering of commercial regulation to the politically distant gnomes of Brussels; the near collapse of the eurozone monetary system…

– inability to project military power

– the long term decline of trade influence, even when operating as an economic aggregate. Note the almost complete irrelevance of the EU at the recent G20, and its attempt to lead a “global” and “coordinated” approach to the GFC.

– After 40 years of largely state coordinated production of culture – protected by the financial and security apron strings of the US – the ability of continental Europe to project ideological or cultural ideas, capital, or products is minimal. Even Britain – which was always a standout from the continent when it came to ideology and culture – has nosedived over the past decade. The BBC, just one voice among many, and a very tired and bureaucratized voice at that. And whereas we once waited breathlessly for the lastest BBC or Channel 4 TV show to hit our shores, nowadays, it is all American. BBC vs. HBO? Please.

– Since the end of the Cold War, social capital in all European nations has headed south; not very good at all when it comes to integrating the migrant ‘others’ from eastern Europe, North Africa, the middle east, and south Asia. The initial confidence of legislated political correctness, multiculturalism, etc. has deflated markedly over the past decade, and in 2010 is starting to look positively reactionary compared to the non-UK Anglosphere.

Whereas once the Scandinavian countries and Holland were liberal beacons to the rest of us, it is precisely these nations who are most enthusiastic – even leaders in some cases – in cracking down on ‘foreigners’, ‘immigrants’, and refugees. Whether it is banning minarets, burqas, or suffering the deadly consequences of asserting national cultural institutions over imported demands for restrictions on free speech, Scandinavia and Holland are now just as strident as France and Switzerland in trying to reclaim their western European identities. Probably too late. And their quest to try something else will be painful, and divisive, weakening even further their ability to influence the globe.

In fact, when it comes to cultural and social capital, and particularly how successfully ‘others’ are integrated, Europe looks frighteningly like it has purchased a one way ticked back in time to ‘Old Europe’. In no way has Europe’s long term decline anywhere near finished.

I am glad I don’t have to live there.

57

Michael Bryan 02.07.10 at 5:02 am

The 19thC may have began (to some minds) as some Elysian field of self-restraint and peace, but it sure ended with a neo-colonial bang in the Phillipines, arguably the model for all the insurgent wars of the 20thC to come.

As to American attitudes toward militarism, it is nothing short of frightening how strongly American public opinion favors use of force to solve almost any political problem. Given that American is by far the most powerful military force in human history, our lack of self-restraint is truly disturbing. I think that Chris Hedges pretty much hit the nail on the head with his book “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning”. The political identity of any polity can be found in its collective purpose: Americans have seldom had anything approaching a national purpose except in war.

We have just been through a period of national history in which our propensity to turn to war as the primary instrument of national purpose and identity was used to attack and destroy a civilization innocent of doing any harm to America (Iraq, if you must ask…) on the basis of attack and a threat (9/11 and Al Qaeda) that had absolutely nothing to do with our eventual target. That such a travesty still has so many apologists demonstrates just how sick with war fever our civilization is, and perhaps always has been.

58

novakant 02.07.10 at 7:22 am

Tell me about it! Having lived in repressive, poverty stricken and culturally barren hellholes like Paris, Berlin and London, I gotta say your analysis is spot on!

59

Ted 02.07.10 at 7:36 am

I have lived in the tony pockets of European capitals also and enjoyed it immensely. But I am afraid that Europe’s great honor in attracting the likes of you and me to visit does not matter a hill of beans to the issue being discussed here, does it?

60

alex 02.07.10 at 8:35 am

Nice exceptionalism you’ve got there: tired, bureaucratic government, low economic performance, waves of troubling immigration, loud rumblings of nationalistic dissent – this is not a description of the USA how?

The long term decline of the USA is also in no way finished, unless you can find some way of ratcheting back the rise of China and India’s GDP. There’s always nukes, I suppose…

61

Ted 02.07.10 at 8:40 am

I have not said anything about mythical US exceptionalism.

62

maidhc 02.07.10 at 8:44 am

42. “US forces actually occupied Mexico City, and then left after (1) purchasing the American Southwest (not a terribly fair price, to be certain) and (2) voting in Congress not to take the whole of Northeast Mexico as well.”

From my reading there were quite a few Americans who wanted to take over Mexico, but with two different motivations. On one hand, abolitionists wanted to add a large area of non-slaveholding land to the union. On the other hand, slaveowners wanted to take over Mexico and re-introduce slavery, as had already been done successfully in Texas. American politics at that time was a delicate balancing act between pro- and anti-slavery groups. Taking over Mexico would have set off a terrific row between these two sides, while not doing so allowed the balancing act to continue for a while longer.

There seems to have been an assumption on both sides that the actual Mexicans would be lost in a flood of Anglo-Saxon immigration. That came true in California, but that was a sparsely populated region. One can only speculate what would have happened had the US tried to colonize Mexico, but it might have been a three-way “bloody Kansas” on an immense scale.

Turning to modern wars, one factor that has not been mentioned so far is that for a career military officer, combat experience is a factor in getting promoted. Also, spending your whole life training to do something that you never do for real must be frustrating. One can sense this in accounts of pre-WWI militaries; of course, they didn’t really understand how high explosives and automatic weapons had changed the nature of warfare.

Technology like drones has brought back the situation of the “we have got the Maxim gun and they have not” era, and naturally people want to try out their nifty new toys. But I don’t see it as fundamentally new. There’s a progression through the 20th century: long range artillery, bombers, short range missiles, ICBMs, cruise missiles. Drones are more steerable, reusable, versions of cruise missiles.

I suspect the next thing we’ll see will look like a small remotely controlled tank.

63

engels 02.07.10 at 9:54 am

“Even Britain – which was always a standout from the continent when it came to … culture…”

That’s one way of putting it, I suppose…

64

novakant 02.07.10 at 10:57 am

But I am afraid that Europe’s great honor in attracting the likes of you and me to visit does not matter a hill of beans to the issue being discussed here, does it?

I’m afraid your rather odd assumption that I must be a US expat who has merely visited Europe is mistaken, since I’m a European who has lived in both tony and not so tony (to put it mildly) pockets of the above mentioned cities for the past two decades.

65

Charles Norrie 02.07.10 at 1:56 pm

K Williams is wrong. Pan Am 103 was a joint operation between Iran and the US Government to permit the former a “qesas” or like for like revenge for the downing of IR-655, which offended Iran deeply.

66

Ellie 02.07.10 at 4:16 pm

The reality of America’s “pacific” 19th century aside, from a Europeanist perspective, one is rather astonished to see the European 19th century described as one of continuous intra-European warfare. By comparison with the 18th century (if we take that to end in 1815), the 19th was a continental lovefest. The vast majority of armed conflict 1815-1914 was civil (revolutions/wars of independence), and most of it was pretty short and low-intensity. The most destructive regular wars were the Franco-Prussian and the Crimean Wars, and these had nothing on the American Civil War for human and economic costs.

But if we want to make comparisons, it seems (admittedly based on next to zero detailed knowledge of US history) that both European and American warfare in the 19th century was essentially imperialistic (with the possible exception of the American Civil War). It just so happened that Europe had to go fight its colonial wars overseas, while the US, like Russia, got to fight its imperial war on contiguous territory.

67

Will Pickering 02.07.10 at 4:45 pm

US forces actually occupied Mexico City, and then left after (1) purchasing the American Southwest (not a terribly fair price, to be certain) and (2) voting in Congress not to take the whole of Northeast Mexico as well.

It is unimagineable that a European power would’ve behaved this way,

No it’s not. Otherwise, we’d be living in a world in which, not content with Hong Kong and a string of coastal trade concessions, Britain had seriously attempted to conquer and colonise the Chinese hinterland. Sometimes even grand imperial militaries bow to the pragmatic demands of common sense.

68

Doctor Slack 02.07.10 at 5:31 pm

The BBC, just one voice among many, and a very tired and bureaucratized voice at that. And whereas we once waited breathlessly for the lastest BBC or Channel 4 TV show to hit our shores

Ted, while your post was chuckle-worthy up until this point, this was where you hit me with the full-blown guffaws. Well played, sir. Well played. You are a genuinely funny guy.

69

MarianK 02.08.10 at 1:31 am

All this conservative hand-wringing about most US wars of the last 50 years being failures is just a smokescreen. The Korean and Vietnam ‘failures’ were actually successes because they – in combination with the Anglo-US facilitated Indonesian coup and mass murder of more than 600,000 left-wing Indonesian civilians – permanently planted an ultra-punitive deterrant in the Asian psyche against ever pursuing a non-US style economic or political order. All the US invasions in the Latin American region have had a similarly cumulative effect of deterring the growth of any non-US style political and economic order. Almost certainly, the days are numbered for the recent shift to the Left in Venezuela, Bolivia etc, once the US gets over its Middle East navel gazing and turns its full military attention back to the Latin American region.

The US war machine is as enduring as it is ruthless and effective – regardless of whether it achieves an outright victory or a strategic defeat. The fact that it is cannabilising its own economy and society in the achievement of its ends is a matter of indifference.

70

AlanDownunder 02.08.10 at 3:14 am

@10
oxymoron alert: “neo-con intellectuals”

71

Tom Hurka 02.08.10 at 3:58 am

About the US in the 19th century: Canada spent much of the time before 1867 fearing further American aggression on the model of 1812 and preparing to defend against it. Witness e.g. the building of the Rideau Canal as a military supply route in case of invasion. I was even taught in high school (though I won’t vouch 100% for it) that Confederation in 1867 happened partly because of fears that, at the end of the Civil War, the victorious Northern army would be turned northward to complete Manifest Destiny.

On the other hand, a historian of the 19th-century US once told me that the War of 1812 was important in US history because it revealed to American politicians that it wasn’t in fact true that everyone else in North America wanted to be part of the US of A. Surprise, surprise!

72

ralph 02.08.10 at 7:15 am

The shortest way to say this is that in the 19th century, our vastly larger interior of non-white land was the “external” against which we whiteys did war. Then in the middle we realized that we had to fight against some of our own disloyal whiteys to control federal power over the larger chunk of land that — by that time — we knew we were going to get.

Note that as soon as we nail down eurocentric continental domination, we immediately start a hate-on with the Spaniards. The Spaniards!!! Hah. In short, put things in the proper light, realizing the sheer size of the land that had to be taken internally first, and you get a pretty steady stream of expansionist militarism, dood.

I take your larger point, but I think it’s really all of a piece. The only exceptionalism we have here is that we had to secure a continent before we could concentrate on expanding outward in the sense that you mean. Looked at this way, even your objection that Europeans fought others and themselves at the same time makes sense: In the 19th century, at the same time you were doing that, we were doing it, too, except that our “external” was actually in the southwest and trail of tears and Oklahoma and California and so on.

73

novakant 02.08.10 at 10:51 am

In terms of destructiveness relative to population size, I’d say the high-point was actually reached in the 17th century:

So great was the devastation brought about by the war that estimates put the reduction of population in the German states at about 15% to 30%. (…) the Württemberg lost three-quarters of its population during the war.[51] In the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas an estimated two-thirds of the population died.[52] The male population of the German states was reduced by almost half.[53] The population of the Czech lands declined by a third due to war, disease, famine and the expulsion of Protestant Czechs.

74

alex 02.08.10 at 11:26 am

And did they learn?

75

magistra 02.08.10 at 11:50 am

And did they learn?

The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the British Civil Wars of around the same time, pretty much put an end to the enthusiasm for wars about religion, which had dominated Europe since the Reformation. There were (Western) European wars in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century, but not so many and fought for different reasons. There have been very few periods in human history when there haven’t been wars, but wars to spread or to destroy an idea tend to be more destructive than wars purely to gain territory.

76

alex 02.08.10 at 12:11 pm

Or, to put it another way, expanding opportunities for making obscene amounts of money from colonial slavery and its associated global trade connections encouraged European states to define a new and more thoroughgoing concept of sovereign statehood that could secure them against the threat of external meddling in the suppression of religious dissent, and allowed them to focus on pillage elsewhere. And then they started fighting, again, about the pillaging opportunities.

Meanwhile, I think you’ll find there were some bloody big wars in the period 1660-1790, some of them fought on 3 [or even 4] continents.

77

novakant 02.08.10 at 1:23 pm

I don’t see how your point, if you have one, is related to my post, alex.

78

alex 02.08.10 at 3:50 pm

It wasn’t, it was related to magistra’s. Meanwhile, of course, the colonial realm is always a good place to check out the point at which ‘massive civilian casualties’ shades over into ‘genocidal extermination’. The people who died in Germany in the 1630s and 1640s mostly either starved or succumbed to epidemics [usually both, in effect]. The Hereros should have been so lucky…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herero_and_Namaqua_Genocide

79

mpowell 02.08.10 at 4:38 pm


Since most of the suffering in the world occurs due to armed conflict and the US is by far the largest arms exporter in the world, the only moral conclusion is to carpet bomb the military-industrial complex – so what’s keeping you?

I’m not even sure what we’re arguing at this point. Are we seriously discussing whether saving S Korea from the DPRK was not worth the cost in casualties? Maybe we could check to see how long it would take the difference in infant mortality rates to add up to the civilian casualties actually suffered. Regarding your point, which I take to be snark, there is a reason defensive wars have much more going for them in terms of moral defensibility. One of the big ones is a straightfoward cause -> effect relationship. The invading army really are intent on killing lots of people if they are not stopped. You could eliminate the US defense complex (which to a substantial extent I would recommend), but people could fight deadly wars with substitute weapons nearly as well. I don’t think carpet bombing is really called for here.

80

novakant 02.08.10 at 6:02 pm

The people who died in Germany in the 1630s and 1640s mostly either starved or succumbed to epidemics [usually both, in effect]. The Hereros should have been so lucky…

Anne Frank died of Typhus, not Zyklon B – guess she should have counted herself lucky and stopped whining …

Are we seriously discussing whether saving S Korea from the DPRK was not worth the cost in casualties? Maybe we could check to see how long it would take the difference in infant mortality rates to add up to the civilian casualties actually suffered.

There are currently more than 50 countries with an infant mortality rate higher than that of NK – do you want to invade them all? Sorry, but you’re crazy.

81

Scyld Scefing 02.08.10 at 11:52 pm

“An alternative reading of our recent military past might suggest the following…”

Or, reading some Thucydides, viz. the Athenian speech at Sparta in Book I:

“Therefore, deliberate carefully since the matter is weighty, and do not bring trouble home on the basis of foreign opinions and complaints. Realize now that the length of a war is beyond calculation before one is in its midst; when it is drawn out, many things turn on chance, and we are equally far from knowing which of our ways the ultimate outcome will go. Rushing to war, people take action first, which they ought to postpone, and only when they are already worse off do they latch onto words.” (I.78)

82

democratic core 02.08.10 at 11:55 pm

Your relegation of the case of the Native Americans to a footnote reflects a fundamental problem with Bacevich. Much of his work is based on an idealized false perception of the US as this nice little republic that was doing just fine until the 20th Century when it started getting involved in foreign wars and then got all militaristic. In fact, the US has been in a state of almost constant warfare since its founding. However, a good case can be made that the US has become less imperialistic over time, particularly since the end of WWII. The US subjugation of Native Americans is similar to the imperialistic policies of European states, as is the American foray into imperialism in the Spanish-American War. Thus, America’s age of imperialism actually coincided with the period when the US was supposedly most “republican” (small R) in character and when the US was least involved in “foreign wars” (again, excluding the wars against Native Americans from the definition of “foreign wars”). Since WWII, the actions of the US generally bear little resemblance to the actions of European colonial empires. The US has not attempted to obtain political control over other nations by military means; territory under the political control of the US has not expanded in over a century. Moreover, the US has generally promoted a global economic order based on free trade, which is diametrically opposed to the mercanitlist, protectionist policies pursued by the European colonial empires. In short, American militarism has had the effect (and I would suggest purpose) of making the world safe for capitalism without expanding the political territory of the US, and ironically, America’s policies have also birthed the great rivals to American economic hegemony – the EU, Japan, and now China. Personally, I like this world a heck of lot more than the world created by the European colonial empires.

83

ralph 02.09.10 at 1:58 am

it’s important to realize I think that the question should not be whether a war is “successful” for others; the question is whether it was successful for us. The reason this is important is because saving other people’s lives — ignoring for the moment whether that’s really what you wanted to do — is an open-ended commitment. Even if we “lost” by conventional terms if we can make an argument that the civilians we invaded were “better off” than before, it doesn’t make the war “won”. The question must be whether on balance we were better off.

Korea really was two wars; one was lost; but the longer one was won, at great cost. I think we ended up winning that one due to our relationship with South Korea and its enterprise, but it’s only because we cannot know the counterfactual. Would a unified Communist Korea collapsed under its own weight? One can’t know.

84

Western Dave 02.09.10 at 2:58 am

Map Maker @24
Casualties against those committing treason against the duly elected government in a fair and free election are not equivalent to actual and implied violence against citizens trying to exercise their Constitutional rights and liberties. One is part of an act of war, one is evil pure and simple. Who is the moral relativist here? It ain’t me.

85

Ted 02.09.10 at 3:25 am

novakant

I am no idea where you live, just a you have no idea where you live. But really has nothing ti do with Europe’s precipitous decline as a military, economic, cultural, diplomatic, ad ideological force globally. Clearly, your ‘Gotcha’ presumption of my Yank-centric approach was an attempt to discredit me. But it doesn’t. Attack the arguments, not your blind-folded darts game of where posters live, as it has no bearing in the thread.

86

Ted 02.09.10 at 3:27 am

Doctor Slack

Do you mean funny ‘peculiar’ or funny ‘ha-ha’? Do you agree or disagree that Britian’s ability to project British cultural capital through the BBC and Chanel $ and increased or declined?

87

Ted 02.09.10 at 3:28 am

engels

Yes it is ‘one way of looking at it’. Do you think it is good way. Why or why not?

88

novakant 02.09.10 at 8:49 am

Ted, you’re hilarious. Especially when posting while drunk (or whatever) – please stick around ;).

89

Salient 02.09.10 at 12:20 pm

I agree that the US dispossession of the Native Americans was broadly equivalent to the imperial jaunts of the European powers, though of course the aspirations of the latter group encompassed almost the entire world. What’s striking, as I’ve said several times now, is that the Europeans did this and warred among themselves, directly and by proxy.

This is probably stupid of me, but don’t unstable tax policies and the Atlantic Ocean have as much to do with this as pacifism?

I guess it’s always been my implicit understanding that the United States didn’t/couldn’t get extensively involved in direct conflict with other industrializing imperial powers because (a) the U.S. didn’t have the engineering talent to develop a world-class navy yet, which is what “we” would’ve needed in order to successfully engage in Europe, (b) regardless, the cost of engagement would be too high, in part because the US didn’t have a secure military-funding structure in place until something like 1861 or 1864.

90

ajay 02.09.10 at 12:52 pm

88 is spot on. The original claim that the US was “outstandingly pacific” in the 19th century is ridiculous, of course.
Then we went to the claim that the US was outstandingly more pacific than European powers, which is equally wrong – the US, like the UK and the other European powers, spent most of the 19th century engaged in wars of imperial expansion.
Now we’re at the claim that the US was different because the European powers were fighting each other as well as engaging in imperial wars, while the US was just doing the imperial thing.

This is wrong too. Two points: first, as noted above (Ellie at 66, for one), the 19th century was actually one of general peace within Europe, certainly compared to the 18th and 20th centuries. And the US actually did go to war with two major powers in the 19th century*: the CSA in 1861 and Spain in 1898. In the same period, Britain went to war with one: Russia. France went to war with two: Russia and Prussia. So the US did just as well as the European powers, despite its geographical disadvantage. If France wanted to fight another power, all she had to do was cross the Rhine or the Pyrenees – the US had to cross an ocean.

It’s also worth mentioning that the US was founded, in part, because its founding fathers wanted to fight lots of aggressive wars, and the British wouldn’t let them.

(*In the Hobsbawm sense – i.e. 1815-1914).

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Richard J 02.09.10 at 2:27 pm

ajay> Pedantic point – I’d perhaps add ‘Austria’ to the list of countries fought against, depending on whether a) you view it as a major power, and b) whether you count the French as being properly involved…

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