Another Armistice Day

by John Quiggin on November 12, 2012

Every Armistice Day I write more or less the same post, and every time I do, I’m struck by how hard it is to draw the obvious conclusions from the evidence of war during my lifetime (the last 50 years or so). For around half that time, the US has been engaged in a large-scale war, with Australia as an ally/client. The wars have cost thousands of American, and hundreds of Australian, lives, and trillions of dollars, while wreaking death and destruction on a far more massive scale in the countries in which they have been fought. The outcomes have ranged from total defeat to unsatisfactory partial victories. In no case have there been benefits remotely commensurate with the cost, for either side (for all the millions of lives lost, is Vietnam much different now than if the war had never been fought?). In most of them, the case for war was built on blatant lies and in the remaining cases, the lies started as soon as the guns opened fire. The claims of military and foreign policy “experts” have proved to be false more often than not.

The obvious conclusion is that war is almost always a mistake as well as a crime.

Yet it seems impossible to get away from the assumption that war, or the threat of war, is a reliable method of achieving desired outcomes.

That’s obviously the default assumption of the Foreign Policy Community in the US and nearly everywhere else. It’s just about equally widespread on the Left in two forms. The first is simply the standard Foreign Policy Community belief that the US ruling class has been highly successful in using war to achieve its goals, but with the evaluation that this is bad, not good. The second, fading away a bit, but still influential, is the idea that the best/only way to resist oppression is through wars of national liberation or armed revolution.

I can’t exempt myself from this. Even though I know better intellectually, my intuitive response to lots of bad international situations (say, the current civil war in Syria) is that someone ought to do something (military) about it. Sometimes I’ve carried that intuition into initial support for wars of intervention on the assumption that, this time, they will get it right. Inevitably, I’ve realised in retrospect that I was wrong. Even when a military intervention goes as smoothly as possible, it sets a precedent for future disasters.

I’m not pretending to have a complete answer. But if we started any analysis of international relations with the assumption that war will end badly for all concerned, and that the threat of war will probably lead to war sooner or later, we would be right most of the time.

{ 166 comments }

1

david 11.12.12 at 5:10 am

South Korea?

(was a South Vietnam ever possible? Would it have been as stunning a success as the other high-performing Asian economies, or would it have trundled along as Thailand has?)

2

abra11 11.12.12 at 5:19 am

I read recently a brief overview of the likelihood of US conflict with Iran and, if my memory serves me, it basically said that Iranian conflict in the region is very likely and because of the constellation of allies and, probably more importantly, the Iranian control of the Strait of Hormuz, we, the US would inevitably be drawn into it even if we were not engaged in the initial conflict… it was so profoundly depressing and seemed like such a self-fulfilling prophecy. [Note: I do not know enough about Iran to know how much credence to give this particular or any similar analysis but given our history, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.]

It occurred to me that this was something like reading about the likelihood of conflict (not written, at least not that I know of) before WWI. We know, at least I think we do, that war with Iran cost a great deal of blood and treasure but will not end well — there is no “optimal outcome” that we can realistically aim for like the neocons persuaded themselves was inevitable with Afghanistan and Iraq — just topple a repressive regime that has systematically dismantled what limited civic society existed over the last several decades and responsible self-governance will rise like a phoenix. But because of the precarious and unsustainable balance we are in at this moment it is not so much a question of “if” but “when.” And we can’t take the treat of military intervention off the table even if it is the only way we might be able to actually make progress…

3

david 11.12.12 at 5:29 am

If you read, I think it was Foreign Affairs from the 1960s, you would see all sorts of Serious People suggesting that the United States should invade Malaya because clearly Harold Wilson could not be relied on to fight the communists, damn it, he’s even let some socialist take Singapore, obviously this Lee will lose it to the communists, what a disaster, it’ll cost us the Straits, etc. Hindsight is always hilarious.

On the other hand, at the time Indonesia already had actual communists in government.

4

Hidari 11.12.12 at 5:31 am

But surely there is no great mystery here? International law is fairly clear here in my understanding; laws are only legal under two circumstances

a; in self-defence against ongoing or threatened attacks (and the attacks really have to be credibly threatened and about to begin; none of the nonsense about “45 minutes to attack” that was bandied about before Gulf War Mark 2) or

b; If they are authorised by the UN Security Council. *

Now obviously these are not perfect rules (you could debate how “close” an attack has to be before the other side is justified in “replying in kind”…also the UN Security Council is dominated by the Big Powers instead of all 5 seats being randomly distributed amongst all the countries on the Earth every year or two years as they should be) but right there and then you have a framework for discussion.

In terms of the US again it’s simple; they stick to their own domestic laws. The only wars which are allowable are those which are authorised by Congress.

This might sound simplistic but both these rules have the huge advantage that it’s the way that thngs are already supposed to be done.

*My understanding is also that the degree of “defence” has to be commensurate with the degree of “attack” so to speak.

5

Vasi 11.12.12 at 5:38 am

Not sure what I think of the Bosnia or Kosovo interventions, I’m open to labeling them as worth it. Most wars clearly haven’t been though. Somalia, Grenada, Iraq I and II, Panama, Afghanistan, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam (and associated actions in SE Asia): All were either unsuccessful in their primary goals, or not nearly successful enough to justify the cost.

6

JW Mason 11.12.12 at 6:15 am

This post is absolutely right.

Today the use of military force outside a country’s own borders is always practically and morally wrong. Always. And the less military capability states have, the better. This applies particularly to the United States.

7

bad Jim 11.12.12 at 6:17 am

Poor Cambodia was collateral damage. It must have been especially bitter to have Vietnam rescue them from the Khmer Rouge, but that should count as a successful humanitarian armed intervention. I have to admit I was amused when Vietnam routed the Chinese in a border incursion, almost proud, since in a sense we’d trained them.

The Israeli destruction of the Osirak reactor was pretty clean, bloodless and effective. It’s a pity that our elites had forgotten the episode twenty years later, when they were frightened by the prospect of Iraq adding uranium ore to their already abundant stockpile.

Here and there a few supermen could have saved lives. More and better armed troops in Rwanda and Haiti, perhaps. Surely Bosnia could have gone otherwise, and if it had Kosovo might not have been necessary. Afghanistan might have been better off had we not opposed the Russians, or even supported them. What we did in Libya probably saved lives, even if what they wind up with is no more palatable to us than what they had before.

The question on my mind is whether gun and ammunition sales are surging after the election, as usual, or whether the market is saturated.

8

Colin Reid 11.12.12 at 6:19 am

The main argument I can see in favour of war is that diplomacy is a game of Chicken, and that some countries are playing a ‘mad dog’ strategy. When the war actually happens, everyone loses; but the USA has enough of a belligerent reputation that most of its opponents will swerve first.

To assess the success of this strategy, we have to look not only at wars, but all the situations where the US posed a credible (not necessarily explicit) military threat and the other side backed down.

9

The Raven 11.12.12 at 6:44 am

“But if we started any analysis of international relations with the assumption that war will end badly for all concerned, and that the threat of war will probably lead to war sooner or later, we would be right most of the time.”

From your lips to the ears of all the world’s leaders.

“And I can’t help but wonder, oh Willie McBride / Do all those who lie here know why they died / Did you really believe them when they told you the cause? / Did you really believe that this war would end wars? / Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame / The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain.”—Eric Bogle, http://youtu.be/bG99wB8moRA

10

Brett 11.12.12 at 6:58 am

@David

(was a South Vietnam ever possible? Would it have been as stunning a success as the other high-performing Asian economies, or would it have trundled along as Thailand has?)

It’s hard to say, honestly. It would have been dependent on US arms for at least the rest of the 1970s (and probably into the 1980s), but after that . . . who knows. Thailand had pretty strong growth from the 1980s well into the 1990s (and fairly strong growth again after the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s). That, plus the Japanese and eventually Korean companies going around setting up subsidiary firms and driving capital into other east Asian countries might have given it an economic boost and brought it to greater prosperity.

@abra11

I read recently a brief overview of the likelihood of US conflict with Iran and, if my memory serves me, it basically said that Iranian conflict in the region is very likely and because of the constellation of allies and, probably more importantly, the Iranian control of the Strait of Hormuz, we, the US would inevitably be drawn into it even if we were not engaged in the initial conflict… it was so profoundly depressing and seemed like such a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It honestly wouldn’t surprise me. I’m getting vibes of how we got into Vietnam from the whole situation: the bipartisan support or at least apathy towards provocation, the general slide towards greater hostility and confrontation, and so forth.

11

andrew 11.12.12 at 7:28 am

Re: South Korea.

It’s a bit strange to argue that the Korean War was necessary to bring about South Korea’s prosperity. The war destroyed large chunks of the country and left it poorer than it had been. On top of that, it’s not as though “We” saved “them” from the the “Commies,” because historical record shows that the South Koreans were just as intent on invading North Korea.

We should separate the fact of successful state-led development in South Korea from the war that resulted from the creation of artificial boundaries by outside powers (US & USSR). There’s a reason why public opinion in South Korea is generally not very fond of the US nor of Russia

12

novakant 11.12.12 at 8:17 am

I just wish they would stop wearing these stupid poppies every year.

13

John 11.12.12 at 8:46 am

Contra Andrew, I think the first 4 months of the Korean war come close to a necessary war. South Korea was very poor at the time and had not been supplied with the means to conquer North Korea, nor would it have been able to during the Cold War, given North Korea’s proximity to China and the USSR. Most of the war still shows the truth of the OP though. By mid-October of 1950, after 4 months of fighting, the US and allies had achieved all worthwhile goals they could get out of the war, without dragging the Chinese or Soviets in. Then the usual logic of war (so many sacrifices demand a greater return etc) set in and they tried to go for more than the Chinese could stomach, leading to intervention, defeat, and 30 months of further war that got them nothing more than they had in that first October.

I think the outcome of those first four months would have been better than intervention, though. Given the extremely unpleasant nature of the DPRK regime throughout its history, the economic and other achievements of South Korea would not have been possible. Also, failure to intervene in such clear case of aggression so early in its history would likely have meant that the UN’s reputation would have reached that of the League of Nations, and such good as it did achieve would have been undone.

14

Ken_L 11.12.12 at 9:04 am

Counter-factual histories are always fun even if ultimately pointless. Nevertheless let me suggest that the Korean conflict spread the narrative of militant communism to the Asia Pacific and ensured that China would become a sworn enemy of the West. The alternative was to allow the Koreans to settle the thing themselves, resulting (presumably) in a communist state.

A communist Korea, but with a China reasonably friendly to the West, might have limited the Cold War to Europe and allowed an entirely different Asia Pacific political economy to evolve. Like I said, counter-factuals are fun but lead nowhere. However to assume that South Korea is what it is because of the Korean War and that is a good thing … well let’s just say that the case cannot be proved.

15

PlutoniumKun 11.12.12 at 9:06 am

re: the Vietnam War, its often forgotten that Cambodia was a stable and moderately prosperous country in the 1960’s – it was considered a model for development by the Singaporeans! Laos was poor but fairly stable. The appalling damage caused to those two countries by the Vietnam War was to all intents and purposes, permanent. It is somewhat ironic though that it is the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia which is (rightly) considered an example of a military intervention working.

Its also forgotten of course that the Korean War was staggeringly destructive. It may be seen as some as ‘worth it’ in the sense that South Korea is now a stable, strong country, but it took two decades for that country to emerge in a reasonable shape (while the North goes into reverse) and plenty of Koreans will tell you that the country still suffers deep psychological scars which have never adequately healed. The war did change the country so fundamentally its very difficult to come to any conclusion on what would have happened if there had been no outside intervention. Perhaps it would now be a moderately stable Chinese dependency.

I’ve never fully understood why everyone holds up Rwanda as an example where intervention should occur. It only needs a quick look at a map of Africa and a minimal knowledge of military logistics to know that a decisive military intervention with sufficient soldiers to provide ‘on the ground’ protection for civilians through the country would have been impossible in the timescale available. Maybe a small token force might have altered the politics, but its just as likely that it would have accelerated the process of genocide.

16

Greg 11.12.12 at 9:19 am

Whether or not war works depends on what you actually want to achieve, and who pays the price for it. The shock doctrine / MIC angle is a real thing IMO: war is regarded not just as a foreign policy tool but also as creative destruction and a business opportunity in its own right.

On “humanitarian” or “stabilising” interventions: because we generally only fight these kinds of wars now since 1989, the overall number of civilian deaths has dropped, but the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths has exploded. Ratio of civilian deaths to military in WWII was 7:5. In Iraq (median estimate), 19:1. War is a different animal than it used to be: we pay a smaller overall price than we used to, and much smaller relative to the price paid by our “enemies”.

Also, diplomacy is hard. Tragically, the symbolic sacrifices required to fix broken UN institutions and mechanisms are viewed as bigger than the actual sacrifices required of poor, brown civilians.

17

Tim Worstall 11.12.12 at 10:06 am

“But if we started any analysis of international relations with the assumption that war will end badly for all concerned,”

Indeed. Which rather brings us back to the value of having a great big f*** off Navy.

“and that the threat of war will probably lead to war sooner or later,”

That part depends. If every littoral state knows that a war will inevitably turn out very badly for any state that goes to war with the nation with the great big f*** off Navy, well, it depends really.

Depends on how you balance the rationality of those who might like to attempt such a war against the rationality of those with such a great big toy that they’re just itching to use. And no, I don’t know what the balance or the answer is. But I’m at least open to the idea that possession of a big stick reduces the need to ever deploy any kind of stick: no matter how softly or loudly one speaks.

18

Ciarán 11.12.12 at 10:16 am

Apologies for going off-topic, but @The Raven: you need to find Liam Clancy singing The Green Fields of France. Or, this other Eric Bogle song, from the year before Clancy died: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVawULMoLMg

19

Phil 11.12.12 at 10:16 am

Even though I know better intellectually, my intuitive response to lots of bad international situations (say, the current civil war in Syria) is that someone ought to do something (military) about it. Sometimes I’ve carried that intuition into initial support for wars of intervention on the assumption that, this time, they will get it right. Inevitably, I’ve realised in retrospect that I was wrong. Even when a military intervention goes as smoothly as possible, it sets a precedent for future disasters.

I think this needed saying. I was strongly in favour of the Kosovo intervention & regarded the consistent anti-imperialist stance taken by most of the Left with dismay and horror – had we learnt nothing from Bosnia? I’m now of the view that the good results achieved by the NATO military action were not only hugely outweighed by the bad but could have been achieved without it, by the kind of intelligent & sensitive diplomacy which NATO plainly had no interest in pursuing.

I don’t think the Left had learnt much from Bosnia, mind you; what we should have learnt is

1. “Non-intervention” is a fiction: everything governments do and don’t do helps one side or the other. (Our ‘non-intervention’ in Bosnia included an arms embargo against all the successor states to the former Yugoslavia – one of which had inherited the arms and armaments of the former Yugoslavia, and was using them to attack two of the others.) By extension, the idea that military intervention is the only alternative to doing nothing at all is also a fiction – They haven’t responded to our stiffly-worded note threatening to withdraw our ambassador? This means war! Trouble is, it’s a fiction that’s very convenient for governments that want to make war.

2. The UN: resource it or lose it. Srebrenica seemed like an unparallelled monstrosity at the time, but in retrospect you could see it as UNIFIL all over again. UN forces could be a real alternative to aggressive war, if governments wanted them to be. Which, sadly, they clearly don’t – witness Libya, where UN protection of civilians grotesquely became a pretext for aggressive war.

20

maidhc 11.12.12 at 10:28 am

I think South Vietnam was very different from South Korea in so many ways that it is really not possible to draw any meaningful parallels. I don’t want to take up too much space with long lists of things so I’ll leave it at that.

I’ve met a number of Iranians over the last few years, none of them supporters of the current regime, but they’ve made some interesting points. If the US had its hands full dealing with Iraq, how would it manage with Iran? Just basic points: Iraq is pretty flat, which is good for mechanized troops, except for the Kurdish part which was pro-US anyway. Iran is a lot larger and it has a lot of mountains well-suited to guerrilla resistance. A handful of soldiers on motorbikes could be very effective, like the flying columns of the old IRA in the Irish War of Independence.

On the other hand you could argue that Russia and Britain effectively occupied Persia during WWI, but the British didn’t do very well in Iraq in the 1920s.

I hope I never see this argument played out in reality.

As a candidate for a necessary war, what about the American Civil War? In many ways it was the first modern war. It is also a popular subject for speculative history.

I was recently reading about the Confederado colonies in Brazil. They seem to have been a bit more successful than the Australian colony in Paraguay, but still there is little left now.

It reminds me of the enclaves of old South Vietnamese in the US. The old men still fly the old flag and put on their old uniforms for ceremonies; the kids like the food and other aspects of the culture, but they’ve basically assimilated. For their generation the war is ancient history. Of course communication with the home country is much easier now–in one way that strengthens cultural ties, but it encourages acceptance of the Communist government.

21

ajay 11.12.12 at 11:08 am

But if we started any analysis of international relations with the assumption that war will end badly for all concerned, and that the threat of war will probably lead to war sooner or later, we would be right most of the time.

No argument with the first, but the second? I can think of quite a few cases where there was a sustained threat of war that didn’t lead to war, and I am sincerely curious about whether anyone’s done any work on this. There wasn’t, for example, a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. There’s been a threat of war in Korea since 1953, but so far no war. No blood’s been spilled over the Spratly Islands or the Senkakus. There were a lot of French invasion scares in mid-19th century Britain, but no French invasion. The Russians never came over the passes through Afghanistan to threaten the Raj. And so on.

Side note:
The Israeli destruction of the Osirak reactor was pretty clean, bloodless and effective. It’s a pity that our elites had forgotten the episode twenty years later, when they were frightened by the prospect of Iraq adding uranium ore to their already abundant stockpile.

Fascinatingly, given that it’s seen as such a good thing today, you should remember that the Osirak raid was condemned at the time. This is from the Guardian, via Wiki:

“The world was outraged by Israel’s raid on 7 June 1981. “Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified. It represents a grave breach of international law,” Margaret Thatcher thundered. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the US ambassador to the UN and as stern a lecturer as Britain’s then prime minister, described it as “shocking” and compared it to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. American newspapers were as fulsome. “Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression,” said the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times called it “state-sponsored terrorism”.”

Just let that hang there. An American newspaper said that Israel was a state sponsor of terrorism, and the New York Times accused it of short-sighted aggression. 1981 was a long time ago.

22

rf 11.12.12 at 11:33 am

The first Iraq war was pretty successful on its own terms I would have thought? Even if the policy response before and after was flawed.

23

Katherine 11.12.12 at 11:54 am

Sierra Leone? I’d count that as a pretty successful intervention.

The trouble, though, is that you can’t really know what might have happened if you had or had not done something. It’s very easy to say “how terrible this intervention is, look what bad things have happened”. Less easy to assess whether things would have been worse if intervention hadn’t happened.

So honestly, I’d say there are circumstances where I’d support intervention. I can’t think of what they’d be right now. Opinion would definitely be shaped by the motives of the people pushing for intervention

24

Neville Morley 11.12.12 at 11:59 am

I blame Thucydides – or at any rate crude misreadings of selected extracts from Thucydides, as are all too commonly found within International Relations, esp. in the US. If, as almost everyone seems to, you accept Thucydides as an authority, then his history establishes the inevitability of conflict sooner or later: combine that with folk memories of appeasement, and you have a clear incentive to plan for war. On top of that, various speeches in Thucydides (so, to be fair, suggesting that he endorsed these ideas is a bit of a leap) include statements about the necessity of war to defend freedom, deter further wars etc., and also inculcate belief in the ability of powerful states to have their will obeyed through the selective deployment of force.

25

Peter T 11.12.12 at 12:21 pm

Most sensible people have a natural aversion to violence, which is why only the permanently adolescent think war can be a any kind of a good thing in itself. But this aversion also muddles most thinking about war, which is immensely complicated (we have been thinking about war probably longer than we have been thinking about ethics, but to much less firm conclusions even after all this time). It’s not just violence, and the acts surrounding the violence, the context, the aims of all the participants (soldiers, civilians, all the different parties, policy-makers and more) all make a difference, as well, of course, as how much and what kind of violence is used, against whom. So yeah, JQ is right – war is very hard to predict or control, and you are much more likely to come out with a negative result than a positive. It has always to be dealt with careful case by case, never in generalities.

That said, there do seem to be occasions when the alternatives are worse. Bosnia for one, recently. People have mentioned Vietnam in Cambodia. Probably the American Civil War. Certainly World War II.

It’s worth adding that war is always changing. Those who feel that the US big stick – in Tim’s phrase – might be applied to them look not for a bigger stick but for ways to make the stick useless or irrelevant. Political control of the peasantry, for instance, or IEDs coupled with infiltration of the supposedly allied army. The policy challenge – rarely met – is not to think of how you can use what you have got, but to think of how the other side will use what it has: not just its guns, but all the other ways it might frustrate your aims. The US drift towards war with Iran is particularly dangerous because there appears to be almost no thinking of this sort going on in the US. If there were, they would not be waving sticks at all.

26

Ralph 11.12.12 at 12:25 pm

In my opinion, the Pentagon takes up what in other countries would be the responsibility of the ministeries of economics, social affairs and research. Its immense budged is effectively spent to subside much of the research and industrial development in the high tech industry. Especially in the South and in rural states where presumably the private sector would not create a significant amount of jobs in manufacturing or engineering, military companies offer a chance for those who stay. And those who feel compelled to leave, who do not see a chance for personal development at the place they were born, they can join the army and get a decent education and a safe job.
I am effectively stating that much of social politics in the US is payed through the military budget because this seems the only way in which Americans can overcome their aversion against ‘big government’ and one of the few fields of politics where bipartisan agreements are still possible.

27

Marc 11.12.12 at 12:28 pm

Lives lost to brutal dictators count too. People are just as dead if killed by their own government as they are when killed by outsiders. The horrific acts of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide in Rwanda strike me as cases where it would have been an unambiguous moral good to end the slaughter sooner rather than watching.

And there is the matter of needing to respond to military aggression by others. It seems pretty obvious to me that responding to Hitler was an absolute moral imperative, for example. Intervening against a regime that overthrew their colonial overlords, not so much (e.g. Vietnam).

So the basic principle is sound, but you do have to recognize that there can be situations where there will be many dead people regardless of what decision you make.

28

Hidari 11.12.12 at 1:04 pm

Is everyone who is oh-so-jauntily discussing whether or not “we” should have invaded (sorry “intervened in”) this, that, or the other country going to be discussing whether or not Hitler “should have” invaded the USSR (pre-emptive retaliation) or whether the USSR “was right to” invade Hungary (to prevent the “fascist uprisıng” that was “happening” there)? Or what about whether Napoleon “had a right” to invade numerous countries ın the early 19th century to spread Enlightenment values and human rights?

29

chris 11.12.12 at 1:36 pm

So yeah, JQ is right – war is very hard to predict or control, and you are much more likely to come out with a negative result than a positive. It has always to be dealt with careful case by case, never in generalities.

This is true as a generality (!), but has very limited applicability to places where the war has already begun in your absence and you are faced with choices about whether and how to interfere. Can you shorten the conflict or reduce its overall body count? Or merely shift the casualties from the existing belligerents to your own intervening forces?

30

reason 11.12.12 at 1:58 pm

Colin Reid @8
I think has it (unfortunately from my point of view) just about right.

I reminds me of the episode of “Happy Days” where the Fonz, explains that he never has to touch anybody, just act touch – but you have to hit somebody once to get a reputation.

War may well never look good looking at it case by case, but it can still be in general a paying proposition. In particular, we always are faced with the “Genghis Khan threat”. The possibility that if there is no threat of retalliation, some outsider will simply walk all over folks behaving responsibly.

P.S. wrt South Korea – I take it that is outside the scope of JQs speculations as that was defence against invasion, not imperialistic intervention. The right way to evaluate that would be from the Chinese point of view.

31

Phil 11.12.12 at 2:02 pm

Sierra Leone? I’d count that as a pretty successful intervention.

Except for JH’s closing point, “Even when a military intervention goes as smoothly as possible, it sets a precedent for future disasters.” Which would be a debating-society point, if Sierra Leone hadn’t set so clear a precedent for Kosovo & beyond.

32

reason 11.12.12 at 2:04 pm

oops
Typos

… touch anybody, just act TOUGH – …

33

ajay 11.12.12 at 2:09 pm

Which would be a debating-society point, if Sierra Leone hadn’t set so clear a precedent for Kosovo & beyond.

But Kosovo wasn’t a disaster, though. Unless “& beyond” is supposed to be, what, Iraq? Which would be weird because the ostensible reason for invading Iraq was WMD, not RTP.

34

rf 11.12.12 at 2:24 pm

‘Which would be a debating-society point, if Sierra Leone hadn’t set so clear a precedent for Kosovo & beyond’

Wasn’t the Sierra Leone intervention after Kosovo?
But you have to deal with the situation itself as it occurs. So sure Gulf 1 had terrible long term consequences, and perhaps the humanitarian interventions of the 90s could be argued to have created the ideational backing, and some liberal support, for Iraq 2003, but thats a failure of long term policy not military action itself

35

christian_h 11.12.12 at 2:27 pm

I really have a lot of sympathy for the stance JQ is expressing here (thanks for doing so). I do however think that it remains abstract. The questions that we confront historically aren’t “would peaceful struggle against the French colonizers in Algeria have been preferable” – but rather, given that any kind of struggle provoked an extremely violent and brutal reaction from the colonizing power, how should we stand with regards to the inevitable armed resistance? Similarly, the question isn’t whether I would prefer a peaceful revolution over a violent one (of course!) but rather if, given the reality of daily violence towards the oppressed, I would prefer an armed revolution to none. And so forth. It is in this sense that I unconditionally support armed struggle against the Empire abroad, or (eventually) against class rule at home. (To be clear this does not mean I support every form of armed struggle, or any given form at all times.)

At the same time, these considerations also mean I am strictly opposed to wars waged with whatever flimsy excuse by the imperialist powers themselves.

36

christian_h 11.12.12 at 2:34 pm

rf (34.), what is “military action itself”? There is no such thing. Everything happens in its historical context. In the case of Sierra Leone, this context does not only include the aftermath of increased support for imperial wars, but also the role of Western capital in the civil war in the first place. Freetown in the 90es was full of former SAS and Special Forces, working as mercenaries for various factions cntrolling diamond production. As usual, the interventon when it happened served only to distract from the role the interveners had played in brnging about the situation supposedly making it necessary in the first place.

37

rf 11.12.12 at 2:52 pm

I just don’t think the most convincing argument against Sierra Leone, for example, is the reality of Iraq 2003. Or that the most convincing argument for why Iraq 2003 happened was a continuation of the humanitarian interventions of the 90s. There are some similarities but Iraq 2003 was much more explicitly fought to increase US hegemony over the Middle East. There has to be, imho, a way to respond to actual humanitarian crises, (multilaterally would be my preference), and a separate examination of why US policy in the Middle East is so flawed.

38

Bloix 11.12.12 at 2:56 pm

Bosnia would be much better off today if Clinton and Blair hadn’t embarked upon a policy of phony negotiations designed to keep the story off the front page. Remember the interminable and increasingly ridiculous Vance-Owen negotiations? No, you probably don’t, but the whole point of them was to allow Clinton and Blair to pretend that things were on track toward a diplomatic settlement while the Serbs continued to terrorize Bosniaks into fleeing their homes.

It was only when Mladic got bored with slow-motion ethnic cleansing and decided on an old-time massacre at Srebrenica that the western powers were embarrassed into doing something. Bosnia was a case of blatant lies being used to allow the West to stay out of a war.

39

Ciarán 11.12.12 at 3:06 pm

Bloix, considering he didn’t become UK Prime Minister until two years after the Srebrenica massacre and four years after the Vance-Owen negotiations, presumably you mean John Major, not Tony Blair.

40

ajay 11.12.12 at 3:11 pm

Wasn’t the Sierra Leone intervention after Kosovo?

Good catch. Yes. Op Palliser was 2000; the Kosovo war was 1999. Not quite as embarrassing as blaming Blair for the Bosnia stalemate (Bloix may also think that 9/11 was Clinton’s fault) but still…

41

LFC 11.12.12 at 3:27 pm

Neville Morley @24
I blame Thucydides – or at any rate crude misreadings of selected extracts from Thucydides, as are all too commonly found within International Relations, esp. in the US.

Actually there has been a fair amt of reconsideration of Thucydides in the IR lit. in recent yrs. Exs: R.N. Lebow, “Thucydides the Constructivist,” Am Pol Sci Rev; Jonathan Monten on Thucydides in Intl Studies Quarterly. Just two that come to
mind. (Sorry no time to put in links.) Might also see M. Doyle’s discussion of Thucydides in his Ways of War and Peace (’97).

It’s true of course that, despite these reconsiderations, a lot of IR academics in the US have prob not really read Thucydides in any depth. Realists (capital R) may make a ritual obeisance at the beginning of some of their articles or books and leave it at that. As an IR grad student in a program that was more geared to history/theory than many of them are, I had to read some snippets from Thucydides in the first year — in the Hobbes translation, iirc, which frankly is a pain — and that was it. There has been an elaborate, lovingly prepared new edition of Thucydides in recent years, I forget the editor’s name, complete w careful maps and all that, but it came out too late to be of any use to me.

42

Glen Tomkins 11.12.12 at 3:28 pm

War is undoubtedly sometimes the lesser evil at hand. The recent lousy batting average the US has had in distinguishing when that rare “sometimes” is actually at hand, almost certainly stems from our military dominance. We don’t have to think about losing, at least not in any catastrophic sense of enemy armies parading into Washington, so we end up not thinking nearly hard enough to accurately distinguish when war actually is the lesser evil.

Quite aside from the tremendous expense of retaining during peacetime a military establishment ready to beat the military establishments of the rest of the world combined, there is this downside to military dominance, that it has made us stupid with power. The one iron law of human behavior is mental entropy. When people don’t have to think, they follow the path of least resistance and don’t think. Yes, Dubya was an idiot, but out of the mouth of babes, and when he said that thinking about public policy was just so … hard, I had to say, Amen, brother, and I wish even smarter people than you did not also find it so hard that they avoid it where at all possible. We don’t think about war nearly hard enough, because we don’t have to, as our dominance means that even losing will never affect most of us.

This only ends one of three ways.

We could become saints and geniuses, all of us, or at least the majority of us who vote, and end up thinking so clearly and fully even when our own existence is not at stake, that we always make wise and prudent decisions about using the godlike power we retain. That shouldn’t take more than a few million years of evolution. Piece of cake.

Long before that, what’s going ot happen is that we will become so stupid through not having to think about war that we will forfeit that godlike power. Some combination of inability to maintain the dominance because doing so eats away at the economic, technical and intellectual strength that sustains it, and of that dominance inevitably eventually creating opposition to it in the wider world, will bring us down. Armies will end up having to parade into Washington to put down the latest in the long sad chronicle of would-be world conquerors.

Let’s go for door #3, shall we. We cut down our peacetime military establishment to the point that it’s only enough to defend us from attacks on our own soil. If and when we reach a point where a war of intervention seems the lesser evil, then we raise an expeditionary force. Having to raise an expeditionary force will mean that we will actually have to think about the situation, balance means and ends. Our box score on getting it right is bound to improve.

43

Katherine 11.12.12 at 4:01 pm

In the case of Sierra Leone,… the interventon when it happened served only to distract from the role the interveners had played in brnging about the situation supposedly making it necessary in the first place.

Hell yes, you won’t get much disagreement from me there, although I would dispute the use of the word “only”. The intervention served to bring an end to hostilities and distract from the role the interveners had played etc etc

I think we’d all love a world in which motives were pure, and foreign policy was based on the idea of long term global peace and stability, rather than short term national interest (using a definition of national interest that many people wouldn’t recognise). Then eventually, any party that intervened could do so with clean hands.

However, the world is as it is – fucked up by history. Virtually no country can do anything without having at some point done something to contribute in the first place. If no one could do anything good unless they had never ever done anything bad, no one could ever do anything at all.

Accidentally, I seem to be making the non-interventionist point. It might be a good idea if everyone stuck to the same principle. Alas, everyone won’t.

44

Phil 11.12.12 at 4:03 pm

Wasn’t the Sierra Leone intervention after Kosovo?

Oops. I do think the success of SL taught Blair, in particular, the wrong lessons about using military force, contributing to the hubris that led to Iraq II.

45

Neville Morley 11.12.12 at 4:19 pm

@LFC #41: agreed re Lebow and Monten – but the obvious point is that both of them have read all of Thucydides, carefully and probably many times, and they develop a reading of the text that’s complex and multi-layered with attention to rhetoric rather than extracting a few supposedly universal principles (“the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”) and ascribing them to Thucydides. Since the vast majority of IR theorists are unlikely to devote lots of time to reading the whole text and the relevant classical scholarship, I’m more inclined to follow David Welch’s line (Review of International Studies 2003): ‘Why IR theorists should stop reading Thucydides’ – and I speak as someone who’s professionally interested in as many people reading Thucydides as possible…

46

Neville Morley 11.12.12 at 4:21 pm

By the way, if you were thinking of the Landmark Thucydides, it’s got great maps but it’s still the old and rather dubious Crawley translation, conveniently out of copyright and therefore cheap.

47

Barry Freed 11.12.12 at 4:35 pm

I agree with much of this post and I’m no fan at all of intervention but I’ve long thought that a good deal of suffering in the former Yugoslavia could have been prevented by sailing elements of the US Sixth Fleet into the Adriatic in 1992 or 1993, or maybe even as early as 1991, after the shelling of Dubrovnik.

48

Hidari 11.12.12 at 4:43 pm

A good deal of the suffering ın the former Yugoslavia (presumably) could by the same logic have been prevented by elements of the Russian navy sailing into the Caribbean in 1998.

49

Matthew Yglesias 11.12.12 at 4:56 pm

Can we maybe think of Korea as “the exception that proves the rule” here? The DPRK and PRC accomplished nothing by striking south of the 48th parallel, the defensive battle waged by the ROK/US/etc forces looks pretty good in retrospect, but the counter-effort to overrun DPRK territory proved costly and pointless.

Moral of the story: If someone attacks you, fight back. If someone attacks an ally, consider helping them fight back. But attacking other countries—even other countries that just attacked you—doesn’t work out.

50

Bloix 11.12.12 at 5:04 pm

Ciaran, you’re exactly right – John Major had faded completely from my memory, and Blair takes up the full space for British PM’s who are lapdogs of American presidents.

51

Donald Johnson 11.12.12 at 5:06 pm

“The Israeli destruction of the Osirak reactor was pretty clean, bloodless and effective. It’s a pity that our elites had forgotten the episode twenty years later, when they were frightened by the prospect of Iraq adding uranium ore to their already abundant stockpile.”

“Fascinatingly, given that it’s seen as such a good thing today, “

You’re both assuming something–that it is universally accepted today that the Israeli raid on Osirak was a good thing. This isn’t true.

wikipedia article on Osirak

52

text 11.12.12 at 5:06 pm

But attacking other countries—even other countries that just attacked you—doesn’t work out.

I dunno, Matt. I am a dove in most instances, but this looks like an overgeneralization. The U.S. entered World War II because Japan had just attacked us, after all, rather than actually invading. They bombed Pearl Harbor and then retreated. Yet I think most would argue that we did need to get involved at that point.

53

Bloix 11.12.12 at 5:13 pm

Barry Freed-
During those years I became convinced that the official policy of NATO and the United States was that the Bosnian Muslims should just die, already, and stop being such a pain in the ass about it.

54

JohnTh 11.12.12 at 5:16 pm

Perhaps another way of thinking about Matt Y’s point above is that military action to restore the status quo ante following another party’s military action is much more likely to achieve long term objectives because you understand what the stable endpoint of your actions probably looks like. One thing that seems to almost universal about war in other contexts, whether it be advancing to the Yalu, freeing Kosovo or occupying Iraq is that introducing massive violence has big, game-changing implications, which can not be reliably predicted beforehand. (yes, in most cases, some people predicted the bad things that happened, but not reliably – others predicted ‘good’ things or ‘bad’ things that did not end up happening).
In general if you don’t understand what effects your actions will have, you’ll end up in the wrong place more often than not. Plus you will at the very least have killed quite a lot of people and spent an awful lot of money to get there.

55

ajay 11.12.12 at 5:26 pm

A good deal of the suffering ın the former Yugoslavia (presumably) could by the same logic have been prevented by elements of the Russian navy sailing into the Caribbean in 1998.

The what now? What was happening in the Caribbean in 1998? And by that time, the war in Bosnia was over anyway… do you mean 1988?

The U.S. entered World War II because Japan had just attacked us, after all, rather than actually invading.

Not exactly. Japan attacked and invaded the Philippines, which was then part of the United States (as the Commonwealth of the Philippines), on 8 December 1941.

56

CK MacLeod 11.12.12 at 5:29 pm

“Ending badly for all concerned” may not violate a grand strategic concept: If America’s main objective, as maritime empire operating from a physically secure base, is to contain or inhibit the development of global peer competitors or regional hegemons, while preserving and enhancing the broader expansion of its political-economic concept, then selectively wreaking havoc in and around the Middle East, Central Asia, the Pacific Rim, and even Europe can suffice even better than “victory” or other “desired outcomes” as commonly misunderstood.

57

Brett 11.12.12 at 5:31 pm

@Matt Yglesias

Can we maybe think of Korea as “the exception that proves the rule” here? The DPRK and PRC accomplished nothing by striking south of the 48th parallel, the defensive battle waged by the ROK/US/etc forces looks pretty good in retrospect, but the counter-effort to overrun DPRK territory proved costly and pointless.

I’m not so sure. The Chinese threat to intervene was if the UN forces came up to the Yalu River, not if they just went past the 38th Parallel. If MacArthur hadn’t been an over-reaching idiot, he might have been able to end the war on a more favorable territorial setting for South Korea than what actually happened.

In general, though, you’re likely right. It’s worth noting that the Korean War, like Gulf War I, was done with a much broader mandate than other US interventions – both had the support of the UN.

In response to some earlier points, I don’t think Korea was the starter for the US narrative of the spread of communism in East Asia. That was going to happen after China went communist regardless of what happened in Korea (I think Truman actually took some flack for “losing China”). Moreover, I question how much sooner the US could have improved relations with the Chinese, since it actually did take some time for them and the Soviets to alienate each other.

58

Josh G. 11.12.12 at 5:32 pm

The obvious conclusion is that war is almost always a mistake as well as a crime.

B-but Munich! Appeasement! Hitler!
Seriously, this is about how the average American would react. Never mind that WWII was in itself a failure mode of WWI, and had it not been for the Great War, there would almost certainly have been no Nazism, and probably no Leninist Communism either.

The real problem is that WWII, that extremely rare case of a war that really did have clear-cut bad guys and really did need to be fought, has become the normative case in the minds of most Americans. We don’t teach nearly enough about WWI in history classes, mostly because it just isn’t a very edifying story: Wilson stumbles into a pointless European war, violates civil liberties like crazy, and botches the treaty negotiations so badly that WWII is almost inevitable. In contrast, with WWII, we get to be the good guys, and the post-war settlement actually worked, so it gets all the press. At least Vietnam hasn’t completely fallen down the memory hole just yet, though there are far too many revisionists who think we could have “won” if only we had hung on a bit longer or tried a bit harder or not been stabbed in the back by those hippie traitors…

59

text 11.12.12 at 5:34 pm

In general if you don’t understand what effects your actions will have, you’ll end up in the wrong place more often than not.

This is a generalization I can get behind. Of course sometimes not doing anything is the riskiest movie — but very often it isn’t! I think in starting wars, especially, the best decisions are made from a stance of humility — understanding that you might be wrong about things, and planning for that too. The biggest failures in war often arise from the most specific and confident plans, offensive and defensive. I think you can find an example in almost any war. The Maginot Line and Schlieffen Plan come to mind, though I can claim an only superficial knowledge of them.

60

Tim Worstall 11.12.12 at 5:42 pm

“could by the same logic have been prevented by elements of the Russian navy sailing into the Caribbean in 1998.”

Wouldn’t have thought so. Insufficient elements of said navy were seaworthy enough to get there by 1998.

61

Hidari 11.12.12 at 5:48 pm

“Insufficient elements of said navy were seaworthy enough to get there by 1998.”

Well that is a more valid point. Still one can dream, eh?

62

Hidari 11.12.12 at 5:54 pm

“Never mind that WWII was in itself a failure mode of WWI, and had it not been for the Great War, there would almost certainly have been no Nazism, and probably no Leninist Communism either.”

Absolutely. I was just thinking today that of all wars, probably the one where the pacifist case is strongest is WW1. The best case of all in WW1 would of course would have been for it not to have been fought, but apart from that the next best case would have been for the “Allies” to have collapsed immediately and let the Germans win. No Auschwitz, Gulags, Hiroshima, Somme….it’s a no brainer.

63

LFC 11.12.12 at 6:08 pm

Neville Morley @45, 46
Yes I was thinking of the Landmark Thucydides. I had forgotten it used an old translation. The copy now on my shelf (b.c as an IR type I must have Thucydides on the shelf even if I never look at it) is the Penguin Classics ed., trans R. Warner, intro. and notes M.I. Finley. Do you like that one or not? (I don’t read Greek so the orig. is out.)

64

ajay 11.12.12 at 6:12 pm

The best case of all in WW1 would of course would have been for it not to have been fought, but apart from that the next best case would have been for the “Allies” to have collapsed immediately and let the Germans win

Most of Europe becomes a German empire ruled by an autocratic anti-semitic dictator? Yep, that certainly has “best case outcome” written all over it from where I’m sitting.

65

Hidari 11.12.12 at 6:14 pm

“Most of Europe becomes a German empire ruled by an autocratic anti-semitic dictator?”

Yes…. whatever you might say WW1 certainly prevented that. What was I thinkıng?

66

PaulB 11.12.12 at 6:18 pm

No one’s mentioned the Falklands War/Guerra de las Malvinas, a war fought by both sides in defence of what they saw as their own territory, with clear and limited objectives which one side achieved. Was it worth fighting?

The good outcomes were that Argentina became a democracy, the Falkland Islanders got to keep their island, and Thatcher got re-elected.

The bad outcomes were that deaths in the war numbered about half the population of the Islands, colonial possession of Las Malvinas was perpetuated, and Thatcher got re-elected.

67

ajay 11.12.12 at 6:24 pm

Yes…. whatever you might say WW1 certainly prevented that.

*looks out of window in the general direction of Europe*

… yes, seems to have done.

68

Omega Centauri 11.12.12 at 6:33 pm

Ones where the balance of forces is extremely lopsided, and the population of the attacked country is not particularly unhappy with the result, think Grenada and Panama. A few instances where I think on net more good than harm include Bosnia, and Libya. So its not a rule of nature that says, intevention is always bad, but it should be a painful reminder that those planning -or contemplating war often look at it through rose colred glasses with disastrous results. The default position should be strongly biased against.

In terms of counterfactuals, Gulf War 2, if we had actually lived up to our rhetoric, and hadn’t completely botched the occupation, what with deBathification, and Bremmer’s attempt to convert the country into a neoliberal economic showcase/ profit center for weastern corporations, I wonder if it could have been concluded on different terms.

69

text 11.12.12 at 6:37 pm

How do you smart fellows and ladies think the most disastrous invasions are started? Aside from the over-cited first half of the 20th Century, how often is it the same parties goad themselves into a risky and ultimately disastrous adventure twice in a row? Is that how we should view the Napoleonic wars as well? But they seem to have been more successful, at least for awhile.

70

JohnTh 11.12.12 at 6:53 pm

I think the Falklands war is ndeed an interesting example where a war was fought (by the British) to restore a status quo ante without necessarily passing a cost/benefit trade-off. The results of fighting and winning the war were (again, to the British) reasonably predictable, whereas folding would have been cheaper but had unpredictable outcomes for British interests and national morale (and reasonably certain outcomes for Thatcher’s hold on power!) . Meanwhile the junta demonstrated that they hadn’t quite thought through what would happen if they attacked and the British fought back – and got kicked out of office.

The Argentinians, whatever the justice of their claims, could not be said to be fighting to restoring the status quo . Fighting to restore a status quo that ceased to be operative more than a decade ago is just as risky as anyother kind of aggression – given the passage of events, such an attack would create a new – and therefore unpredictable – situation, not restore an old one. (a possible borderline counterfactual might have been the Yom Kippur war if the Arab powers had won but not gone past the 1967 borders – which seems a pretty implausible scenario).

71

Hidari 11.12.12 at 7:07 pm

“looks out of window”

Yes and it prevented rain as well. It’s not raining today. Proof if proof were needed.

72

rf 11.12.12 at 7:09 pm

It’s been raining all day

73

Bloix 11.12.12 at 7:10 pm

“a German empire ruled by an autocratic anti-semitic dictator”

The Jews did very well in the German empire. Their rights were protected by the 1871 Constitution and they prospered economically and professionally after unification. In return, Jews were enthusiastic German patriots and served and died in higher percentages than other ethnic groups in the German army during World War I.

If we imagine a German empire from the Baltic to the Adriatic, balanced to the West by France and the British empire and to the East by the Russian and Ottoman empires, would that have been a situation less likely to advance human freedom and happiness than the result that Europe eventually got?

74

ajay 11.12.12 at 7:10 pm

The results of fighting and winning the war were (again, to the British) reasonably predictable, whereas folding would have been cheaper

If this is implying that the war’s outcome was predictable, it’s wrong… no one has ever, before or since, tried to conduct a campaign under the sort of constraints that existed in the Falklands (8000 miles from home, 4000 miles from the nearest friendly port or airfield, against an enemy with equivalent technology). The odds were in favour of a British victory but it certainly wasn’t a sure thing.

The cost/benefit tradeoff argument ignores the benefit to the islanders, 2,000 of whom were able to go on living under the government they wanted rather than that of a rather unpleasant dictatorship. It’s tricky to put a monetary value on this benefit, though revealed preferences – for example, the price paid by Hong Kong natives to get a Canadian passport as a safeguard in advance of 1997 – implies it’s fairly high.

75

Bruce Wilder 11.12.12 at 7:14 pm

Josh G. @ 58 “We don’t teach nearly enough about WWI in history classes, mostly because it just isn’t a very edifying story: Wilson stumbles into a pointless European war, violates civil liberties like crazy, and botches the treaty negotiations so badly that WWII is almost inevitable. In contrast, with WWII, we get to be the good guys, and the post-war settlement actually worked, so it gets all the press.”

It seems to me that WWII worked out as well as it did, because the experience of WWI, and the happy accident of FDR, led to an historically unusual effort to think hard about ends and means, and liberals and principled conservatives (yes, Virginia, historically, there were such creatures walking the earth in the age of the dinosaur) took charge of policy. As Glen Tomkins @ 42 says, we don’t think hard enough about war, or the alternatives.

Broadly, we don’t like to think about domination in human affairs — it is the central problem of politics: who will guard the guardians? how do we found a peaceful order on justice? The core deficiency of American political discourse, since about 1980, has been the conspiracy of neoliberals and libertarian conservatives to pretend that the problem doesn’t even exist, and so doesn’t require any thinking, whatsoever. We don’t even have to go to war to bring about horrific consequences, for which we take no responsibility; we can impose “economic sanctions” with no more rationale or moral sense. War, then, is merely a continuation of teh Stupid by other means.

The entropy of mind, which takes hold, insists that great enterprises of state should be conducted in accordance with “principles”, which are nothing more than slogans, which derive their cardboard cutout meanings, from the context of fairy tale re-tellings of the past. The tragedy of Vietnam was the product of a determined re-telling of the story of Chamberlain appeasing Hitler at Munich, mixed in with reactionary fantasies about how “we” “lost” China. Underneath the story-telling was the purge of fags, pinkos and other sensible people from the Foreign Service and military establishment (thanks to Uncle Joe McCarthy and the cowardice of the liberal anti-commies), which, in turn, left the CIA, the Army and other key institutions, to successive generations of increasingly incompetent conservatives and reactionaries, serving corporate interests, but still mouthing the ideals of liberal internationalism as rationalizations — this continued right thru George W. Bush’s parody ultimatums to Saddam Hussein and the unbelievably corrupt and incompetent Reconstruction of Iraq. And, now we have soi disant liberals defending/ignoring Obama’s policy of mass-murder-by-drone.

This problem of failing to think thru the hard, hard problems of both using and constraining the use of power to organize and dominate won’t be solved by Matthew Ygelsias @49

Moral of the story: If someone attacks you, fight back. If someone attacks an ally, consider helping them fight back. But attacking other countries—even other countries that just attacked you—doesn’t work out.

As soon as he wrote “moral of the story”, it was pretty much certain that the rest would be idiocy. You cannot derive moral principles from Aesop’s fables, and then leave a reactionary semi-competent like MacArthur unsupervised, and hope for the best — it really will not work out well.

The lesson of WWI ought to have been that you cannot trust either foreign affairs or military organization to elites of hereditary, landed aristocrats and their authoritarian, reactionary sycophants. Ditto for hedge fund managers and corporate multinationals. There are no simple principles, pacifist or otherwise, which will do any good, whatsoever. What is needed is hard practical thinking and political organization to guard the guardians, to force public deliberation and accountability into politics, against the wishes of the politicians and those, who would hire the politicians to work against any genuine attempt to define or pursue a broad, public interest or good.

76

ajay 11.12.12 at 7:16 pm

73: I was assuming that Ludendorff would have ended up in charge. But autocracy isn’t great even without the anti-semitism.

If we imagine a German empire from the Baltic to the Adriatic, balanced to the West by France and the British empire and to the East by the Russian and Ottoman empires, would that have been a situation less likely to advance human freedom and happiness than the result that Europe eventually got?

Er, yes? Because empires?
And, hang on, “from the Baltic to the Adriatic”? You seem to be under the impression that Germany was in the war to conquer Austria-Hungary.

77

Marc 11.12.12 at 7:16 pm

@74: And why would a successful Kaiser have left France around as an effective counterweight? Do people not actually remember the combatants in WW I?

78

Mao Cheng Ji 11.12.12 at 7:44 pm

“People are just as dead if killed by their own government as they are when killed by outsiders.”

Societies evolve, some phases involve violence. Outsiders come, kill some, interrupt, roll back the development, and the bloody phase that was interrupted will, in all likelihood, be repeated.

79

Voltaire 11.12.12 at 7:49 pm

As the former International Court of Justice´s judge Simma says:
as long as claims behind the disregards for the law are being met not with resigned silence but with firm counterclaims for a return to legality, international law will not give way to the short-sighted arbitrariness and apologetism aspired by a powerful few.
So, the only way for peace is to stay behind the UN-Charter and not the new Monroe-doctrines!

80

Bruce Wilder 11.12.12 at 7:59 pm

“the cost/benefit tradeoff”

The neoliberal/libertarian idea that “cost/benefit analysis” is the height of political rationalism has to be one of the most pernicious, mind-numbing notions ever to infect the political discourse. Are we shopping at the mall? Reading off a menu of prepared dishes at fixed prices?

The point of trying to dominate, by dint of organization and violence, is to strategically control the terms of the social contract governing the cooperation of states and peoples, presumably against opposition.

(Logically, a “cost/benefit tradeoff” is a frontier condition, given some extant degree of organization. It simply makes no sense in a context in which, by definition, the social contract holding organization together is in suspension/dispute. In game theory terms, war is choosing non-cooperation/punishment, in the hopes, one presumes of establishing cooperation on better terms.)

The U.S. has a remarkable mastery of violence, combined with a paucity of understanding of what can work well as international economic and social cooperation, as a global social contract for political governance. The first Iraq War failed to win the peace, and so did the second Iraq War. Leaving Saddam Hussein in charge , and trying to persuade him to behave better by elevating infant mortality, did not work out. Putting Paul Bremer and Halliburton in charge, supervised by Dick Cheney, informed by ideas of political economy not dissimilar to those of Casey Mulligan, did not work out well, either.

Imagining that we don’t have to get much, much smarter about how to organize the global political economy, is pretty silly. As is, the notion that resort to compulsion is not a necessary element in social organization. (Yes, libertarianism is irresponsible idiocy.)

U.S. military spending is absurd, and cannot be sustained, but what comes after, has to be the building of effective global institutions, to tackle unprecedented problems of global commons: global warming, climate change, collapse of the ocean ecology, peak oil, etc. We can cut U.S. military spending — or just wait for imperial overreach to blowback hard enough to destroy the U.S. military — and not build institutions for global governance, and the result will not be pretty. The problem, as always, does not begin or end with the management of war, but the management of peace.

81

Josh G. 11.12.12 at 8:09 pm

ajay @ 64: Please explain how a situation where the Allies “collapsed immediately” (as stipulated by Hidari’s hypothetical) would have resulted in Erich Ludendorff becoming dictator of Germany. It wasn’t until August 1916, two years into the war, that he succeeded Erich von Falkenhayn as chief of the general staff (a position he renamed to General Quartermaster) and thus became part of the Third Supreme Command with the Kaiser and von Hindenburg. Even then, this makes him one of the three most powerful people in Germany, not its unquestioned ruler – the Kaiser has the legitimacy, and Hindenburg was more popular (as shown by his long tenure as President during the Weimar Republic).
It’s possible to imagine hypotheticals where Ludendorff takes command, but it’s a low-probability event. Avoiding the war altogether is more likely. A quick German victory won’t put Ludendorff in charge. And a long war without U.S. involvement probably means a bloody stalemate that results in an exhausted peace on status quo ante bellum terms, and the discrediting of warmongers on all sides (and therefore no WWII).

82

leederick 11.12.12 at 8:11 pm

“Sierra Leone? I’d count that as a pretty successful intervention.”

I’m not sure it was a war of intervention in John’s sense. They weren’t sent over with the intention of intervening in anything, it was an evacuation operation that responded in self defense after being attacked and then went somewhat off mandate.

83

Bruce Wilder 11.12.12 at 8:21 pm

Bloix @ 73: “If we imagine a German empire from the Baltic to the Adriatic, balanced to the West by France and the British empire and to the East by the Russian and Ottoman empires, would that have been a situation less likely to advance human freedom and happiness than the result that Europe eventually got?”

Counterfactuals are rarely evidence of anything, but the poverty of theory and interpretation.

A key word, here, is: “empire”.

World War I wasn’t a product simply of horizontal rivalries among imperial states; the hereditary aristocracies controlling those empires were in a vertical contest with the aspirations of various groups, organized as nationalities. World War I belongs in the long series, which began with the Dutch Revolt, and including the English Civil War and the French Revolution, and which brought about the overthrow of a “feudal” order.

The balance of power arrangements between states, which had kept wars in Europe, short and limited in scope from 1815 to 1914, broke down in World War and the incredibly bloody military stalemate of the Western Front. But, what provoked the war was not the inability of the Great Powers to get along with each other (which was altogether too well-practiced), but the unwillingness of reactionary regimes to adapt to the rise of nation-states and the ambitions of modernists in their midst.

Organizing politically along nationalist lines had its own, potentially ugly implications, but these competed with some pretty ugly implications of the imperial projects of the Romanovs, Ottomans, Hohenzollerns, and Hapsburgs. There was never an easy, pure ideal path, here, and the survival of the feudal empires, and their incompetent, irresponsible elites, was never a realistic option.

84

Bruce Wilder 11.12.12 at 8:37 pm

Since the author of the original post is an economist, maybe we could consider the failure of economists.

The French Revolution came apart because the revolutionaries couldn’t seem to solve the monetary/fiscal problem that brought the ancien regime down. Napoleon eventually became emperor, not on the battlefield, but because he was willing to let the Swiss bankers create a Bank of France, a seemingly obvious step, that no one was able to assemble the political will to do, up to that point. Germany’s path to fascist dictatorship was paved by the inability of the Weimar liberals to manage the economy properly (given the constraint of reparations and the conventional wisdom throughout Western Europe that returning to the gold standard was, somehow, sensible.) And, now, we have Germany self-righteously letting neoliberal technocrats grind Greece, Spain and Portugal democratic welfare states to dust, while throwing Italy’s democracy out a window. Before blaming everything on bloodthirsty generals, maybe Quiggin would like to do a bit of gardening at home.

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John 11.12.12 at 8:48 pm

replying to Ajay at 74 – I was certainly not saying that Britain’s victory in the
Falklands could be predicted/guaranteed. I was saying that the implications of a British victory, if one was achieved, could be reasonably well predicted by the British government. My point is that (1) having a high level of confidence around the predicted long-term outcome of military attack assuming you win is something of a wise pre-condition to set before launching one and (2) unless you are specifically trying to turn back the clock to the recent past I do not think it possible to be very confident about the outcome of victory (and if you are confident that you know, you’re almost certainly wrong, based on the past century worth of history). And that’s just from a rational perspective.

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Emma in Sydney 11.12.12 at 8:52 pm

Josh G @ 58 “We don’t teach nearly enough about WWI in history classes, mostly because it just isn’t a very edifying story: Wilson stumbles into a pointless European war, violates civil liberties like crazy, and botches the treaty negotiations so badly that WWII is almost inevitable.”

Australians of a certain age, like JQ and me, were taught WWI history up to the back teeth, but unfortunately, that history told us a different story. Plucky little Oz, newly minted nation, came bravely to the aid of the mother country, fought gallantly in a range of horribly miscommanded engagements, trenches/rats/mud/slouch hats etc, Oz ‘came of age’ as a country, all hail the courageous ‘diggers’, PM Billy Hughes gave them all what-for at Versailles. The end.

The near-idolatry of World War I commemoration in Australia, at Anzac Day and at Remembrance Day is probably what prompts JQ’s posts on it every year. It’s now quit impossible to say out loud that WWI was a mistake that Australia should never have got into, that 60,000 volunteers died for absolutely nothing, skewing the demographics of a small country for a generation or more. Eric Bogle’s song, referenced above, which does point that out, doesn’t get much airplay now.

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rkka 11.12.12 at 9:30 pm

“If every littoral state knows that a war will inevitably turn out very badly for any state that goes to war with the nation with the great big f*** off Navy, well, it depends really.”

Tim, the trouble with this is, the nation with the navy seems to go looking for wars.

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dsquared 11.12.12 at 9:43 pm

Sierra Leone? I’d count that as a pretty successful intervention.

The forces in Sierra Leone were there at the request of the legitimate government, and they were fighting against a bunch of criminals and terrorists who had kidnapped a UN peacekeeping force. It’s not really the sort of thing people mean by “intervention”

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Neville Morley 11.12.12 at 9:44 pm

LFC @ 63: Warner is my default translation of Thucydides; decent rendition of the Greek, doesn’t get too imaginative at the tricky bits, generally readable. However, I’m rubbing my hands at the prospect of at least one new translation (due from CUP in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series next year) and perhaps as many as three (Clifford Orwin and Ryan Balot at Toronto are certainly working on one, and there are rumours of some classicists at Cornell working on another). And I suspect that most people will still use Crawley, as he is so very readable, even if it’s not actually Thucydides half the time but his own imagination.

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John Quiggin 11.12.12 at 10:00 pm

@Bruce W That’s some pretty impressive whataboutery but it doesn’t fly with me. Since I’ve already written plenty about the evils of the ECB, the Bruning deflation and so on, I’m unimpressed by your suggestion that I should tend my own garden first. And, while it’s true that incompetent economists can do almost as much harm as incompetent generals, it’s not the case that competent generals redress the balance – they do more harm because they are more successful.

Finally, if you don’t like talking about benefits and costs, call them good and bad consequences – I’m happy either way.

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William Timberman 11.12.12 at 10:04 pm

If we absolutely must theorize about how to construct a just, stable and above all international political and economic order, I’m with Bruce Wilder — it’s probably better to start with the United Nations than the Battle of Jutland. What’s needed that neither of those models offer is the willingness of those with power to put a substantial amount of that power at risk by lending it to those who haven’t any of their own, and doing so at a non-usurious interest rate.

Once upon a time, for few years after WWII, there were people around who actually thought about trying this. Unfortunately for us, they didn’t last very long. The non-nefarious aspects of the Marshall Plan, and later the Peace Corps — and there were some — weren’t such a bad blueprint, nor was/is the evolving design of the European Union.

So it’s not as though we had to begin at the absolute beginning when looking for a theoretical model, but we really do have to be clear about what we want. And no matter what the full spectrum dominance boys are currently wetting their pants about, what we want should definitely not be yet another reason to wave whatever flag it is that our friends and neighbors insist is ours.

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Phil 11.12.12 at 10:11 pm

Plucky little Oz, newly minted nation, came bravely to the aid of the mother country, fought gallantly in a range of horribly miscommanded engagements, trenches/rats/mud/slouch hats etc, Oz ‘came of age’ as a country, all hail the courageous ‘diggers’, PM Billy Hughes gave them all what-for at Versailles. The end.

Wait – there were Australians at Versailles?

(Wilson being idealistic with other people’s borders, check; Clemenceau dit le Tigre not being particularly constructive, check; Lloyd George talking about making the pips squeak in pubic and being cunning behind closed doors, check. Don’t remember anything about any Aussies.)

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Phil 11.12.12 at 10:11 pm

In public dammit. Metaphor from cider-making.

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LFC 11.12.12 at 10:19 pm

N. Morley @89: interesting, thanks

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Emma in Sydney 11.12.12 at 10:19 pm

Phil @92 ” Wait – there were Australians at Versailles?”
From Wikipedia, as good a source as any: ” In 1919, Hughes and former Prime Minister Joseph Cook travelled to Paris to attend the Versailles peace conference. He remained away for 16 months, and signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of Australia – the first time Australia had signed an international treaty. At Versailles, Hughes claimed; “I speak for 60 000 [Australian] dead”.[17] He went on to ask of Woodrow Wilson; “How many do you speak for?” when the United States President failed to acknowledge his demands. Hughes, unlike Wilson or South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts, demanded heavy reparations from Germany suggesting a staggering sum of ₤24,000,000,000 of which Australia would claim many millions, to off-set its own war debt.[18] Hughes frequently clashed with President Wilson, who described him as a ‘pestiferous varmint’.”

By all accounts, he was a pestiferous varmint too. But annoying Wilson has to be a plus.

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John Quiggin 11.12.12 at 10:27 pm

As I recall, Hughes’ main effort was to resist Japan’s demands for the inclusion of language about racial equality. It would be interesting to know where Wilson stood on that. And

Having grown up in a Labor party household (both Cook and Hughes were rats, Hughes much more famously so) “pestiferous varmint’ is among the kinder descriptions of Hughes that I’ve heard.

Emma, I fixed your double post for you. Happens to me too.

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rf 11.12.12 at 10:35 pm

Also from wiki:

“The Australian delegation, led by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, wanted war reparations, annexation of German New Guinea and rejection of the Japanese racial equality proposal. Hughes obtained a class C mandate for New Guinea.

President Wilson was especially offended by Australian demands and asked Hughes if Australia really wanted to flout world opinion by profiting from Germany’s defeat and extending its sovereignty as far north as the equator; Hughes famously replied: “That’s about the size of it, Mr. President”

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Emma in Sydney 11.12.12 at 10:39 pm

So, you can see why the glorification of Australia’s WWI history, and the jingoism it inspired is so distasteful. It all depends which history of WWI gets taught — they are not all the same. As a historian, I’m dreading the centenary of Gallipoli in 2015 — it’s already the best funded centenary ever, with millions going to the Australian War Memorial, while history in general languishes for want of funding. Blechhh.

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Peter T 11.12.12 at 11:01 pm

World War I is a good example of my point about the need to think through the actual case – not operate in generalities. World War I arose because the coalitions of landlords, industrialists and aristocratic politicians that ran Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia all preferred war to a peace that they saw as leading inevitably to their political and social extinction at the hands of liberals and social democrats. The point of the war to them was that, if they won, it would weaken the liberal powers and free them to take drastic measures against their domestic opposition (Wilhelm, Bethmann-Hollweg, Turpitz, Hotzendorf, Sazonov and others are documentedly explicit on this) . So what you would have got from a German victory was not the old Wilhelmine Germany, but new tough anti-liberal, anti-social democrat Wilhelmine Germany. And, yes, liebensraum in the east was a major part of the agenda too, so goodbye Poles and Ukrainians. World War II arose in large part because the same coalition in Germany refused to accept that they had lost. It was so much more horrible because they got behind someone who took all their worst fantasies as a definite program, and had the ability to hold them to the job to the bitter end. Those who died in both wars opposing this vision of how Europe should be run did not die in vain.

BTW, a lot of the discourse assumes that, if we don’t pay the price, no-one will, or at any rate no-one who counts. The high policy attitude to the Bosnians was that if they were going to be raped anyway, could they just keep the screaming down because it was really hurting the ears of the bystanders. The comparable attitude to World War I is that, hey, Belgians, Poles, Serbs and a few others may suffer a bit under the German new order, but they’ll get used to it.

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rea 11.12.12 at 11:15 pm

At Versailles, Hughes claimed; “I speak for 60 000 [Australian] dead”. He went on to ask of Woodrow Wilson; “How many do you speak for?”

And did Wilson respond by saying, “115,000”?

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Jamey 11.12.12 at 11:46 pm

I don’t want to come off like a conspiracy theorist here suggesting that the military industrial complex is pulling all the strings but asking generally speaking “Was more lost than gained? Were the national aims achieved?” might be an interesting question philosphically and historically but in terms of practical politics all that matters is what particular parties gained and lost. The Iraq War was not a disaster for everybody. The shareholders of defense contractors did pretty good. If you ask them, the Iraq war as spectacular success (although they probably wouldn’t let you quote them on that). The W’s and Rumsfeld’s of the world didn’t lose anything personally other than having a black smudge on their name in the history books but they’ll live out the rest of their days wealthy men eating steak and playing golf. Obviously, the people who fought the war and live in the war zone paid a high price but let’s not get kid ourselves that any of those people really matter much to anybody in Washington or Wall Street.

Or to put it another way, the reason why we never learn anything is because is there is no we.

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Emma in Sydney 11.12.12 at 11:55 pm

rea @100 Australia’s population was approximately 1/25th of the US’s at the time. It really was quite a lot of dead people, in relative terms.

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JanieM 11.12.12 at 11:59 pm

Or to put it another way, the reason why we never learn anything is because is there is no we.

Amen to that.

It is a growing obsession of mine to call attention to how often *we* use the word “we” without any definition whatsoever of who/what *we* mean by it.

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rf 11.13.12 at 12:39 am

@Emma in Sydney
“The near-idolatry of World War I commemoration in Australia, at Anzac Day and at Remembrance Day is probably what prompts JQ’s posts on it every year.”

Does Anzac day only commemorate the world wars? I remember when I lived in New Zealand someone explained the concept after I was surprised at it being a joint commemoration, but I’ve forgotten now (and wikis not much help)? Do Aus and New Z still commemorate *all* their war dead together (including with recent wars) or is it just from WW1 and 2?

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MPAVictoria 11.13.12 at 3:13 am

“The point of the war to them was that, if they won, it would weaken the liberal powers and free them to take drastic measures against their domestic opposition (Wilhelm, Bethmann-Hollweg, Turpitz, Hotzendorf, Sazonov and others are documentedly explicit on this) . So what you would have got from a German victory was not the old Wilhelmine Germany, but new tough anti-liberal, anti-social democrat Wilhelmine Germany. And, yes, liebensraum in the east was a major part of the agenda too, so goodbye Poles and Ukrainians.”

This seems to be a more accurate interpretation of the events than those posted earlier.

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Nick 11.13.12 at 3:55 am

rf, Anzac Day commemorates those who fought in all wars, but as Emma in Sydney reports, WWI is most definitely its focus, and always has been (it’s the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, after all). It began during WWI – Australia having no conscription then, it was designed rather explicitly as a propagandising/myth-making recruitment tool, aimed at countering what had too quickly become common knowledge. ie. thousands of those who’d signed up originally had been slaughtered under the inept command of landed British public school general types, and you’d have to be a fool to want to join them.

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Eric Titus 11.13.12 at 5:29 am

I think it’s the occasional success stories that leave liberals open to entering conflicts despite all evidence to the contrary. I think John’s point is not that there have never been interventions that were, in retrospect, justifiable. Rather, our first instinct should be to run away screaming from whichever pundit or politician is recommending war, then only to return if the prospects of inaction are so horrific that even a military intervention gone horribly wrong wouldn’t be much worse. Dictatorships that aren’t actively killing off thousands of citizens probably don’t qualify.

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js. 11.13.12 at 5:41 am

If we imagine a German empire from the Baltic to the Adriatic, balanced to the West by France and the British empire and to the East by the Russian and Ottoman empires, would that have been a situation less likely to advance human freedom and happiness than the result that Europe eventually got?

What the fuck? I mean, yes. Also: obviously! Yeah, fits and starts and all that, but unless you want to be a Berlinite (that’d be of the Isaiah variety) of an exceptionally hardcore and intransigent sort, a bunch of fuckin’ empires runnin’ east to west and north to south aren’t particularly conducive to human freedom.

I really seriously thought this was obvious to everyone except Isaiah Berlin.

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Hidari 11.13.12 at 6:21 am

Interesting fact not generally known: the Britısh Empire reached its greatest extent in the 1920s, after WW1.

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Bogdanov 11.13.12 at 7:13 am

@75 “It seems to me that WWII worked out as well as it did, because the experience of WWI, and the happy accident of FDR, led to an historically unusual effort to think hard about ends and means, and liberals and principled conservatives (yes, Virginia, historically, there were such creatures walking the earth in the age of the dinosaur) took charge of policy.”

It’s this kind of lionizaton of individual political figures like FDR (or Petraeus…?) that fuels the cycle of stupidity leading to war, and the notion that “this time we know what we’re doing.”

WWII did not “work out well” (if you can say that…) because of the genius of FDR or the Americans, or of any strategist or nation. The fact that Germany lost the war was as much a product of a fortuitous rasputitsa on the Eastern Front, or any other number of random occurrences well beyond the control or foresight of any human being. Nobody learns anything from any war, and each one is as senseless and random as the last.

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Phil 11.13.12 at 9:09 am

As a historian, I’m dreading the centenary of Gallipoli in 2015

As a folksinger, m3 t00. The second time I heard “And the band played Waltzing Matilda” I was already sick of it – and the second time I heard it was a long time ago.

our first instinct should be to run away screaming from whichever pundit or politician is recommending war, then only to return if the prospects of inaction are so horrific that even a military intervention gone horribly wrong wouldn’t be much worse

I think this is exactly right. The question should always be “What’s the worst that could happen?”, not “Is there a chance of a good result?” The trouble is, who’s having these discussions? For we-the-CT-commenters to get things straight in our own minds is one thing, but it doesn’t necessarily have any purchase on what goes on in the credentialled punditsphere, let alone in government.

And governments think about war differently from us(-the-CT-commenters). Firstly there’s the hammer/nail problem, exacerbated by personal vanity and groupthink: waging war may not be the only thing a government can do, but it’s one of the more immediately visible options and particularly easy to associate with an individual leader. Then there’s the fact, already alluded to, that individuals in government & powerful interests close to government actually do rather well out of war. I don’t think I’d go all the way with this, though. Here’s something I wrote a few years ago:

The other day I attended a seminar addressed by Giancarlo Aragona (the Italian Ambassador) and Steven Haines – an interesting speaker who was on particularly good form. Haines’ answer to one question from the floor struck me. An International Relations lecturer asked him where he’d place Bush and Blair on the classic idealist/realist spectrum: I mean, they may like to present themselves as idealists, but can they be really? … Haines was having none of it: the Foreign Office and the MoD were mostly staffed by realists, he said, and they certainly didn’t think Blair was a realist.

That said, of course, those powerful interests can’t be wished away. I think what we had with Bush/Blair was the worst of both worlds – genuine idealists, in their own policy bubble, working the levers of a government machine which was itself predisposed to war.

And out of all that came the message from the news media that we would no longer tolerate this or that and we would commit our forces to stop it happening. As I wrote somewhere else about something else entirely, the problem isn’t what we think – the problem is that there isn’t a “we” in the first place.

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Z 11.13.12 at 9:16 am

Interesting fact not generally known: the Britısh Empire reached its greatest extent in the 1920s, after WW1.

Same is true for the same reason for the French Empire.

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John Quiggin 11.13.12 at 9:19 am

@Phil If you look at the recent outbreak of interblog naval warfare, it’s clear there’s a “we” intersecting with the CT commentariat that needs convincing on this.

@JanieM Sure, the military industry benefits from wars. But equally the arts industry benefits from public funding for the arts. Why does the military lobby (and, in the US, the prison lobby) win, while the arts lobby loses? To explain this, we need to go back to the questions raised in the OP.

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Emma in Sydney 11.13.12 at 9:31 am

Phil, I don’t think ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” will be on the playlist for the Australian centenary of Gallipoli. Far too much of a downer. It’ll be all golden youths and the Light Horse and standing by yer mates and so on. ‘Soldiers of The Queen’ and ‘For the Fallen’. No hippie folk singers allowed.

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Tim Worstall 11.13.12 at 9:35 am

“The forces in Sierra Leone were there at the request of the legitimate government, and they were fighting against a bunch of criminals and terrorists who had kidnapped a UN peacekeeping force. It’s not really the sort of thing people mean by “intervention””

Quite possibly true. But certainly an operation which shows the value of having a navy with aircraft/helicopter/marine landing ships when dealing with a littoral state…..

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Keith 11.13.12 at 9:37 am

re:113, The arts lobby get money via the tax deductions under the income tax as do other charities. In the UK and USA. Military spending is direct but the state has many methods to respond to lobbies. And does so.

re:110, I think the post war planning during the second world war and immediately after its end was very good and clearly informed by a desire to avoid both another European war and another great depression. The expansion of the welfare state and demand management for full employment are explicitly planned for while the hostilities are going on. The aim to make war a spring board for a better tomorrow was largely successful for decades. So some learning from history for once.

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Katherine 11.13.12 at 9:52 am

The forces in Sierra Leone were there at the request of the legitimate government, and they were fighting against a bunch of criminals and terrorists who had kidnapped a UN peacekeeping force. It’s not really the sort of thing people mean by “intervention”

Well now, hang on there, you’re moving the goal posts now. If you’re going to say that intervention is bad, and by intervention we only mean the bad sort of intervention, then you’re engaging in a tautology.

For the record, I entirely agree with Eric Titus that our first instinct should be to run away screaming from whichever pundit or politician is recommending war, then only to return if the prospects of inaction are so horrific that even a military intervention gone horribly wrong wouldn’t be much worse.

But you still have the problem of accurately measuring the prospects of inaction. There will always be someone to say that the consequences of your action were terrible, therefore it shouldn’t have been done, because by taking an action you don’t actually see the consequences of inaction.

A bit like people criticising the extreme measures to combat SARS because look it only killed a few people in the end, or people wondering about all the money spent on sorting out the 2k bug when it didn’t turn out to be a problem at all.

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John Quiggin 11.13.12 at 10:03 am

@Keith It would be an excellent outcome if the military were funded entirely by tax-deductible donations. We’d probably get the budget about right in that case.

In particular, it would be fascinating to see how charitable appeals for wars of choice went. I can just imagine “Give now! Just $5000 from every American would be enough for a change of government in Iraq”

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ajay 11.13.12 at 10:26 am

118: come on, JQ, you’re more intelligent than that. This is bumper sticker territory.

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ajay 11.13.12 at 10:29 am

A bit like people criticising the extreme measures to combat SARS because look it only killed a few people in the end

916, actually.

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Katherine 11.13.12 at 10:33 am

Alright, relatively few then. I meant in relation to the number of people it could have killed if said extreme measures hadn’t been put in place, yes?

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Hidari 11.13.12 at 10:49 am

“But you still have the problem of accurately measuring the prospects of inaction. “
Exactly…and this is ınherently a subjective judgement. Which is why since the famous (or notorious dependıng on your point of view) Treaty of Westphalia most people have been highly highly suspicious of “humanitarian intervention”. I return to what I said in point 4. The criteria set out currently in International Law as I understand it sets the bar absurdly high for war. Which is a very good thing.

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bad Jim 11.13.12 at 10:49 am

Thanks to all for the instruction about my uninformed comments about the Osirak attack. It appears that it didn’t set back the Iraqi effort to build a nuclear weapon (and given the reactor’s design, it couldn’t have) and yet they never did manage to achieve a nuclear capability. Funny, that. Pakistan’s puny nuclear might hasn’t kept the U.S. from policing its ungovernable borders with death from the skies, and Israel’s nukes don’t seem to have kept its neighbors from lobbing occasional missiles.

Having overwhelming power isn’t necessarily all that useful. It’s a funny thing: over the last couple of decades I’ve never had an occasion to bring my shotgun to a discussion with my neighbors. My checkbook is another matter.

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Chris Williams 11.13.12 at 11:06 am

A historian writes: Is it just me? Every time someone asserts something about the giant impact of the Treaty of Westphalia and its definition of the state, I think “That is utter end-to-end bollocks.” Did I miss a memo?

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John Quiggin 11.13.12 at 11:10 am

@ajay I was responding to Keith’s point. But, having done so, I’m happy to push it a bit further. I expect that the US military could raise $300 billion a year (roughly, 2 per cent of US income) from tax-deductible donations, which is more than the combined spending of Russia, China and India. That would be enough to defend the US and its allies against any plausible threat of invasion. Wars of choice could be funded by referendum. What’s the problem?

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Peter T 11.13.12 at 11:29 am

I spent a number of years working closely with the military. The senior ones were mostly pretty smart. They were also very aware that war is chancy, always more costly than you think, and a matter as much of what your enemies do as what you do. Those who had been in a war were the most aware. The military-industrial complex is more industrial than military, I think. And a lot of the conviction that you can calculate the likely costs and benefits of war comes from people who never stop to think about the appalling amount of creativity, energy and intelligence your potential enemies will put into nullifying, upsetting or perverting your calculations.

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JanieM 11.13.12 at 12:05 pm

JQ @ 113 — I think you might have been responding to Jamey @ 101, and not me…? Just FTR.

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Katherine 11.13.12 at 12:18 pm

The criteria set out currently in International Law as I understand it sets the bar absurdly high for war. Which is a very good thing.

Not to be awkward, but it depends what you mean by “absurdly high”. A resolution from the Security Council will do it. Granted, in many situations this has been an extremely high bar, politically. Doesn’t have to be though. The Security Council approved military action against Libya for example.

A Security Council resolution doesn’t require high standards of evidence, it just requires the member to vote for it and none of the permanent members to veto it.

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Hidari 11.13.12 at 12:53 pm

It’s highly likely that the Lıbyan “intervention” was NOT legal (see link below) and in any case it’s irrelevant as the attack was not authorised by Congress and was illegal under US domestic law in any case. But getting legal, proper, authorisation under ınternational law for war is extremely difficult as it should be. But this picture is complicated of course because in reality all countries on Earth must obey international law except the US (and countries “allied” to it).

http://www.academia.edu/576116/The_Libya_Humanitarian_Intervention_Is_it_Lawful_in_International_Law

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Tim Wilkinson 11.13.12 at 12:58 pm

dsquared: The forces in Sierra Leone were there at the request of the legitimate government, and they were fighting against a bunch of criminals and terrorists who had kidnapped a UN peacekeeping force. It’s not really the sort of thing people mean by “intervention”

Yes; and the reasons for intervention did actually apply rather than being lied about, provoked or assisted (or all three or perm 2) by those seeking to intervene. This makes it very different from most if not all recent ‘interventions’, which were shall we say seriously compromised on that basis alone even before one engages JQ’s points. (Alternatively, btw, on the topic of military budgets, savings should perhaps be made by abandoning covert action capabilities, since they seem pretty useless.)

If the official account is to be believed – as I think it is – then the SL intervention was kicked off, without official authority, by an actual soldier actually on the ground who actually reacted to reality using actual strategic (tactical anyway) expertise. What lessons if any are to taken from this I am genuinely unsure. Not much use as a template since it was (a) a gamble (b) essentially anomalous, but perhaps a more effective and less politicised UN military capability might be an idea (also, magic tigers for all).

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Katherine 11.13.12 at 1:09 pm

in any case it’s irrelevant as the attack was not authorised by Congress and was illegal under US domestic law in any case.

Only irrelevant if you’re American, which I’m not.

Anyway, the trouble with International Law is that you can be technically correct, or incorrect, and it will matter not a jot if the “right” powers are behind something.

Who, exactly, do you appeal to if the Security Council has passed a resolution but you think that is illegal? There is no court that can bind them. Sure, there’s the International Court of Justice, but who do they turn to when they make a judgement and a state doesn’t comply. Whoops, the Security Council.

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James 11.13.12 at 3:54 pm

Only irrelevant if you’re American, which I’m not.

Its very relevant even if your not American. The President of the United States has at his(or her) disposal a very powerful and mobile military force. The US does not recognize any external authority concerning the use of this force. The fact that the President ignored the one internal authority US law requires he check with (minus a 90 day gratis), should cause you some concern. There is now a precedence, that this or future Presidents can use when deciding future military actions.

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Tim Worstall 11.13.12 at 6:37 pm

@125 “I expect that the US military could raise $300 billion a year (roughly, 2 per cent of US income) from tax-deductible donations, which is more than the combined spending of Russia, China and India.”

Hang on, isn’t that my line as the local neoliberal nutcase? That we’ll do just fine with the provision of public goods through purely voluntary action, no free rider problems at all, no siree? Higher education, no direct state funding needed at all. Just leave it to personal incomes and charitable donations. Health care for the poor and so on. After all, if the first great duty of the State, to defend it, can be met through such means then absolutely any other of those can and should be.

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Ralph H. 11.13.12 at 6:54 pm

Parallel cases are not always parallel. From a political standpoint I would argue that Korea and Vietnam were roughly parallel, but the geographic setting was drastically different. Korea was militarily winnable — and had we been less bombastically anti-communist and limited operations in North Korea, China may have stayed out of it. Vietnam was militarily unwinnable, entirely on the basis of geography. Harry G. Summers (_On Strategy_) was one of very few military men to figure this out and propose an “out of the box” solution.

I also submit that Iraq I was successful and had we kept a better understanding of the magnitude of our success in de-fanging Saddam in 1991, we would have seen that Iraq 2 was entirely unnecessary. After losing a third of his tanks, half his artillery, and all of his air force (with no prospect of replacement) Iraq posed no regional threat for the foreseeable future. Saddam’s WMD “threat” was all smoke & mirrors, and it put a rope around his neck as well as killing way too many Iraqi civilians. The only positive benefit to come out of this disastrous engagement is a greater sense of caution when it comes to Iran. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve learned our lesson.

135

quercus 11.13.12 at 7:37 pm

Is this really Crooked “I’m more structurally Leftist than thou” Timber arguing that absolutely nobody benefits from wars, because the majority of taxpayers don’t see any gain and lots of generally low-income folks get killed or wounded?

I mean, as said above, the Iraq war didn’t work out too well for the average middle-class or lower Iraqi, for the average U.S. taxpayer or for any of the US servicewomen and men wounded or killed. But getting re-elected was a pretty good outcome for Bush, and billions of dollars in no-bid un-audited contracts was a pretty good outcome for contractors, and moving from ‘enemy of the powerful dictator’ to ‘running the country’ was a good outcome for the current Iraqi leadership, even if the country they’re running is as a whole a lot worse off than it was with the dictator.

The problem with the OP is that it frames the question in a country versus country way, turning away from the obvious answer : political elites start wars because they get the benefits but don’t pay the costs.

Now, if the OP was asking “Why do publics support leaders who start wars, when the general public pays the price but gets little benefit?”, that’s an interesting question. But it’s not asking that question; it’s assuming that question away.

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rf 11.13.12 at 7:43 pm

But the Republicans didnt get any long term electoral benefits out of the war. And perhaps in the short term corporations close to the administration were well rewarded, but in the medium term US oil companies etc have not done particluarly well. And now Iraq is more closely aligned with Iran (even if that might be exaggerated) which was not an outcome beneficial to the US

137

Hidari 11.13.12 at 8:18 pm

@132

Time to wheel out this old chestnut methinks:

“Goering: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that
he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?

Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in
England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is
understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who
determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the
people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or
a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Gustave Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the
United States only Congress can declare wars.*

Goering: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the
bidding of the leaders. It’s easy. All you have to do is tell them
they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of
patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in
any country.”

http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/235519.html

*Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

138

John Quiggin 11.13.12 at 9:59 pm

@quercus I’ve posted on this point quite a few times. Where’s the evidence that leaders/political elites benefit from war? Obviously, as I mentioned above, capitalists the military industry benefits from war but at the expense of capitalists other industries. As regards politicians, the penalties for losing wars seem to be much greater than the benefits from winning them: see Saddam and the Bushes.

@Tim W Well of course, we need taxes to make the tax-deductible nature of the donations appealing. But to be boringly clear, I’m not actually proposing that the military be supported by voluntary donations.

139

GeoX 11.13.12 at 10:00 pm

I’ve never fully understood why everyone holds up Rwanda as an example where intervention should occur. It only needs a quick look at a map of Africa and a minimal knowledge of military logistics to know that a decisive military intervention with sufficient soldiers to provide ‘on the ground’ protection for civilians through the country would have been impossible in the timescale available.

How about Roméo Dallaire, the general in charge of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, who loudly told anyone who would listen that a scant few thousand properly-equipped soldiers would be sufficient to stop the genocide in its tracks, and was summarily ignored? I mean, maybe he would’ve been proven wrong, but I suspect he had a better idea of the situation on the ground than any of us do. I oppose war in almost all cases, but it would be very difficult to convince me that something couldn’t and shouldn’t have been done in Rwanda.

140

novakant 11.13.12 at 11:06 pm

Funny how the deadliest conflict since WW2 (Second Congo War) never gets mentioned. Also the question where all the weapons come from is rarely discussed. If you want peace, stop selling arms.

141

rf 11.13.12 at 11:17 pm

“I’ve never fully understood why everyone holds up Rwanda as an example where intervention should occur.”

The problem with all of these examples from the 90s is they ignore the progress that has been made. This might be overly optimistic but still a good rundown

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136502/jon-western-and-joshua-s-goldstein/humanitarian-intervention-comes-of-age?page=show

“Despite the international community’s impressive record of recent humanitarian missions, many of the criticisms formulated in response to the botched campaigns of 1992–95 still guide the conversation about intervention today. The charges are outdated. Contrary to the claims that interventions prolong civil wars and lead to greater humanitarian suffering and civilian casualties, the most violent and protracted cases in recent history — Somalia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia before Srebrenica, and Darfur — have been cases in which the international community was unwilling either to intervene or to sustain a commitment with credible force. Conversely, a comprehensive study conducted by the political scientist Taylor Seybolt has found that aggressive operations legitimized by firm UN Security Council resolutions, as in Bosnia in 1995 and East Timor in 1999, were the most successful at ending conflicts…..

Collectively, these new conflict management and civilian protection tools have contributed to a marked decline in violence resulting from civil war. According to the most recent Human Security Report, between 1992 and 2003 the number of conflicts worldwide declined by more than 40 percent, and between 1988 and 2008 the number of conflicts that produced 1,000 or more battle deaths per year fell by 78 percent. Most notably, the incidence of lethal attacks against civilians was found to be lower in 2008 than at any point since the collection of such data began in 1989.”

142

John Quiggin 11.14.12 at 4:27 am

It’s not correct to call East Timor in 1999 an “aggressive operation”. The Indonesian occupiers had agreed to leave following uncontrolled violence by pro-Indonesian militias, and a UN-authorized peacekeeping force was sent in. The militias fled, and apart from some minor firefights on the border, they did not resist. The second peacekeeping operation, following an outbreak of violence between political factions, was much the same.

There’s obviously a spectrum running from helping an overstretched police force, through peacekeeping operations and on to war. That’s why I avoided making definitive and unqualified statements. But, it’s still true that war almost always turns out badly for nearly everyone concerned, including elites as well as ordinary people.

143

Hidari 11.14.12 at 5:55 am

“Obviously, as I mentioned above, capitalists the military industry benefits from war but at the expense of capitalists other industries. “

Or to be more specific, capitalists ın other countries. Obviously some capitalısts dıd better than others out of the the invasion of Iraq, but one thıng that united them all was that they were all American.

Iraqi capitalists? Not so much.

144

john b 11.14.12 at 7:22 am

Hidari 143: that’s absolute rot.

Many Iraqi capitalists did well out of the invasion: as well as conmen like Chalabi who simply absconded with copious quantities of loot, plenty of money was made by local providers of supplies and manpower. And that’s before we get onto the more ambitious capitalists who opted for ransom and similar criminal mayhem.

Non-US companies that did well out of the invasion include the UK’s Aegis, ArmorGroup and BAE Systems, Kuwait’s Agility Logistics (currently awaiting court on accusations of systematically overcharging the US government for its exclusive logistics contracts in both Iraq and Afghanistan), France’s Sodexo, Japan’s Fujitsu, and many many more. Companies awarded oil contracts in postwar Iraq include Shell, Petronas, CNPC, Total, BP, Eni, Kogas, Lukoil, Statoil, Gazprom and TPAO, as well as Occidental and Exxon.

The current US model disproportionately benefits capitalists in developed countries outside the US who’re willing to play the role of camp followers, particularly those in favoured/friendly neighbouring countries (the Vietnam war provided a significant economic boost to the Thai economy and Thai capitalists, despite its horrific impacts on other neighbours).

145

John Quiggin 11.14.12 at 9:32 am

@Hidari What John B said. More directly, the war will cost the US government $2-3 trillion. A fair chunk of that is going to come out of profits. So, US capitalists as a group are among the big losers from the war.

146

Mao Cheng Ji 11.14.12 at 10:09 am

Shit gets blown up, new shit has to be produced: capital benefits, everywhere. In fact, contrary to the post, one could argue that most of everybody benefits: workers get jobs, newspapers sold, bloggers get to write in support of the war, and then to issue their mea culpas. How could one deny this and praise Keynesian economics at the same time?

147

GiT 11.14.12 at 10:48 am

Because one can create economic activity without blowing things up.

148

Peter Erwin 11.14.12 at 12:09 pm

John Quiggin @ 142:
It’s not correct to call East Timor in 1999 an “aggressive operation”… The militias fled, and apart from some minor firefights on the border, they did not resist

Was it obvious from the outset that this would happen?

Maybe it was; I’m admittedly rather hazy on the details of that operation. But it sounds like a little bit of post-facto justification: it didn’t end up a horrible mess, so it wasn’t an “aggressive operation”. Nothing really bad happened in the first few months of the Multinational Force in Lebanon’s intervention, and the initial phase of US-led, UN-authorized intervention in Somalia didn’t really have significant problems, either.

149

Mao Cheng Ji 11.14.12 at 1:38 pm

That’s different from saying that no one benefits from a war. Politically, it seems, war is the easiest way to introduce a massive stimulus. No one is complaining (ironically) that money is wasted or spent on undeserving scoundrels .

150

Vanya 11.14.12 at 2:11 pm

@99 Peter T

You’re talking about the allies losing the war. If Russia had simply decided to let Austria have a free hand to deal with Serbia, i.e. avoided war, none of your counter-factuals would have come to pass. Germany would have had to just sit and watch Austria embarass herself. Given Austria’s incompetence by 1914, the Serbs probably would done fine without allied help anyway. WWI is a good example of where each country’s decision to go to war simply made the situation worse for themselves.

I also have a hard time taking your sympathy for Poles and Ukrainians seriously if you think a German victory in WWI could have possibly been any worse for those two nations than what actually happened in that region over the next 30 years.

151

Stephen 11.14.12 at 3:54 pm

Vanya

I think your comment would be better directed to Hidari@62, who wrote
“the next best case would have been for the “Allies” to have collapsed immediately and let the Germans win.”

That is an argument I have met before. Oddly, I have never come across it in the inverse form: “the next best case would have been for the Germans to have collapsed immediately and let the Allies win.”

I’m not sure why that is so. One could argue, immediate German collapse impossible because of outstanding German army: but equally, immediate Allied collapse seems hardly possible because of wet wobbly stuff around Britain + outstanding Royal Navy, combined with Russia being too big and with too many Russians.

Maybe Hidari could explain why he regards hypothetical immediate victory for German autocracy as desirable, equally hypothetical victory for liberal democracies in France and UK as unthinkable?

152

Stephen 11.14.12 at 3:57 pm

PS. To avoid misunderstanding: when I said Russia was too big and had too many Russians, I meant that from the point of view of a rapid Russian defeat in 1914 (or 1812, 1941): not as a general statement about the country and its people.

153

Hidari 11.14.12 at 4:02 pm

@150 I’m good with either.

Incidentally neither the UK nor France were “liberal democracies” in 1914.

154

Stephen 11.14.12 at 4:19 pm

Peter T@126:
“I spent a number of years working closely with the military. The senior ones were mostly pretty smart. They were also very aware that war is chancy, always more costly than you think, and a matter as much of what your enemies do as what you do.”

Pretty near all of them are acutely aware of an obvious truth that doesn’t seem to have surfaced here: when two states go to war, at least one of them has made a serious mistake. Why the US, recently, is so often the one to have made a mistake is not a question I can answer.

Pedantic point: not always more costly, occasional exception. Consider the Anglo-Zanzibari War, 9:02 am to 9:40 am, 24th August 1896: one British sailor wounded but recovered, associates of the ex-Sultan paid for naval ammunition expended.

Also, the wicked imperialist British abolished slavery in Zanzibar.

155

Stephen 11.14.12 at 4:23 pm

Hidari: liberalness, and democracy, are always relative.

Reference an ideal, perfect liberal democracy, yes of course you are right in saying that neither France nor the UK were such in 1914. Was anywhere, then? Is anywhere, now?

Compared to even Germany, yes, they were very much more liberal and very much more democratic, weren’t they?

156

Stephen 11.14.12 at 4:23 pm

Hidari: liberalness, and democracy, are always relative.

Reference an ideal, perfect liberal democracy, yes of course you are right in saying that neither France nor the UK were such in 1914. Was anywhere, then? Is anywhere, now?

Compared to even Germany, yes, they were very much more liberal and very much more democratic, weren’t they?

157

Stephen 11.14.12 at 4:24 pm

Please delete inexplicable duplicate.

158

Bruce Wilder 11.14.12 at 5:53 pm

Stephen @ 150 I would suppose immediate allied collapse is plausible, because of the weakness of the French military combined with France’s strategic vulnerability. Germany & France threw the dice on a German advance into France three times (1870, 1914, 1940), and two of those times, France collapsed rapidly. Moreover, the German Grand Strategy deliberately sought such a French collapse as an achievable military objective; it wasn’t happenstance — it was the plan.

The British-French grand strategy at the beginning of the war — I am speaking of the politician’s view, ignoring the fanciful French military scenarios for battle — did not look for an immediate German collapse, but merely hoped that the Germans might be frustrated long enough for the Russians to mobilize and for the British to at least begin to raise an expeditionary force. The French seemed to hope that once the Russians and the British had come into the balance, that the allies would overmatch Germany materially, and Germany would negotiate a settlement.

In the event, that France did not collapse, was a very near thing indeed, and the outcome depended, crucially, on the Germans failing to understand certain details of how their own strategic and operational plan worked.

But, there was never a plausible scenario in which Germany collapsed militarily.

Once the initial German plan for a knockout blow against France failed, the incredibly bloody stalemate developed.

What ought to be curious is the inability, after 1914, of the Great Powers to arrive at a negotiated settlement, without a decisive military event.

One of the main uncertainties in war seems to turn on the inability (reluctance?) of those in possession of apparently great military power, to bring one to a timely dénouement, short of a dramatic and decisive climax in the contest of arms.

159

novakant 11.14.12 at 10:52 pm

As regards politicians, the penalties for losing wars seem to be much greater than the benefits from winning them: see Saddam and the Bushes.

What?! As far as I remember Bush and Blair got reelected, and have done pretty well for themselves since.

the war will cost the US government $2-3 trillion. A fair chunk of that is going to come out of profits. So, US capitalists as a group are among the big losers from the war.

US capitalism is nothing without US hegemony, so no, the capitalists are very happy.

160

Peter T 11.15.12 at 3:15 am

Stephen @153

“Pretty near all of them are acutely aware of an obvious truth that doesn’t seem to have surfaced here: when two states go to war, at least one of them has made a serious mistake. Why the US, recently, is so often the one to have made a mistake is not a question I can answer.”

The fundamental cause of war is a disagreement on relative power – one side thinks it has the power to make the other do something, and the other thinks it has not. But power – despite its ubiquity in human affairs – is a complex, unquantifiable, slippery shifting proposition (which is why economists spend so much time ignoring/evading it). Indeed most human social institutions can be thought of as attempts to make power more visible, more easily accounted, more legible.

War is about not just what power you have, but what you might mobilise, and often about what counts as power anyway. It’s the realm of raw power, untied. So military force counts, but so does political cohesion, financial stamina, willpower, the reliability of allies, the likely reaction of neutrals and much more. Each side will have a better idea of its own power than of the others, but even one’s own resources will often be opaque or unreckonable (will the Social Democrats support the war? How reliable are the Hungarians?). War is a reality check on relative power.

The US so often makes mistakes because it still thinks that the decisive forms of power are military and economic. Its adversaries have deliberately sought to minimise the effects of these forms, and shift the ground to where they have more strength – local political allegiance, religious mobilisation, tactics aimed at producing a steady stream of casualties and tying down US forces rather than taking resources. The US might do better to back off rather than see the ground shift further.

161

Randy McDonald 11.17.12 at 3:37 am

“I also have a hard time taking your sympathy for Poles and Ukrainians seriously if you think a German victory in WWI could have possibly been any worse for those two nations than what actually happened in that region over the next 30 years.”

Actually, it could.

There were very strong anti-liberal, nationalist, and imperialist views in Wilhelmine Germany. The point has been made that a rapid German victory over France, followed by success in the east against the Russians, would have strengthened those views and the people supporting these views remarkably. Even fairly early in the First World War, some German war plans envisaged the ethnic cleansing of large parts of central Europe and their resettlement by Germans.

A conflict like the Second World War, with an imperialistic and nationalistic Germany waging war against the rest of the world, may have been inevitable. Germany’s defeat in the First World War might have been necessary in order to keep it from starting with the domination of continental Europe.

If we’re going for a counterfactual scenario, it’s definitely

162

Hidari 11.17.12 at 8:10 am

I’m not going to comment on this thread again as some commentators are self evidently arguing in bad faith. However I would point out that like most Westerners it seems to be taken for granted here that WW1 was the only world war in history that was fought entirely ın France.

In reality this really was a world war and what happened ın France was not necessarily the most important thing. The war began after all as squabbling amongst the imperial powers in the Balkans as to who would get the scraps when the Ottomans were kicked out of Europe. The Ottoman Empire of course was kicked out of Europe and destroyed, wıth Britain and France expanding imperial control of the “Middle East”, and via Sykes Picot and the Balfour Declaration ensuring that the Middle East remained peaceful and democratic for centuries with results that can be seen even today if you turn on your TV sets.

After the commencement of hostilities the Allies immediately invaded German colonies world wide (e.g Togoland and Tsintao): Germany never got them back. Hence the reason the British and French Empires expanded after the War.

Incidentally below is a map that shows the geographical expanse of the Allies versus the Central Powers at the commencement of the wars. It puts the balance of power in 1914 into perspective.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WWI-re.png

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Bruce Wilder 11.17.12 at 12:05 pm

Hidari @ 162 You are misinformed.

164

MPAVictoria 11.17.12 at 10:34 pm

“Hidari @ 162 You are misinformed.”
I would say extremely misinformed.

165

The Noid 11.18.12 at 7:28 pm

If you subscribe to the Domino Theory, and the theory that the collapse of the Soviet Union (and thus the Comintern) was inevitable, then the Vietnam War was an American success to the extent that it delayed by ten years Vietnam’s fall into Communist hands.

166

The Noid 11.18.12 at 7:30 pm

(thereby preventing the fall of some of its neighbors).

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