Why We Get It Wrong

by WILLIAM S. LIND

One of the few consistencies of the war in Iraq is America’s ability to make the wrong choices. From starting the war in the first place through outlawing the Baath and sending the Iraqi army home to assaulting Fallujah and declaring war on Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, we repeatedly get it wrong. Such consistency raises a question: can we identify a single factor that consistently leads us in the wrong direction?

I think we can. That is not to say other factors are not also in play. But one wrong notion does appear to underlie many of our blunders. That is the belief that in this war, the U.S. military is the strongest player.

We hear this at every level from the rifle squad to the White House. In Fallujah, Marine privates and sergeants want to finish the job of taking the city, with no doubt whatsoever that they can. In Baghdad, spokesmen for the CPA regularly trumpet the line that no Iraqi fighters can hope to stand up to the U.S. military. Washington casts a broader net, boasting that the American military can defeat any enemy, anywhere. The bragging and self-congratulation reach the point where, as Oscar Wilde might have said, it is worse than untrue; it is in bad taste.

In fact, in Iraq and in Fourth Generation war elsewhere, we are the weaker party. The most important reason this is so is time.

For every other party, the distinguishing characteristic of the American intervention force is that it, and it alone, will go away. At some point, sooner or later, we will go home. Everyone else stays, because they live there.

This has many implications, none of them good from our perspective. Local allies know they will at some time face their local enemies without us there to support them. French collaborators with the Germans, and there were many, can tell us what happens then. Local enemies know they can outlast us. Neutrals make their calculations on the same basis; as my neighbor back in Cleveland said, one of Arabs’ few military virtues is that they are always on the winning side.

All our technology, all our training, all our superiority in techniques (like being able to hit what we shoot at) put together are less powerful than the fact that time is against us. More, we tend to accelerate the time disadvantage. American election cycles play a role here; clearly, that is what lies behind the June 30 deadline for handing Iraq over to some kind of Iraqi government. So does a central feature of American culture, the desire for quick results and "closure." Whether we are talking about wars or diets, Americans want action now and results fast. In places like Fallujah, that leads us to prefer assaults to talks. Our opponents, in contrast, have all the time in the world – and in the next world for that matter.

Time is not the only factor that renders us the weaker party. So does our lack of understanding of local cultures and languages. So also do our reliance on massive firepower, our dependence on a secure logistics train (we are now experiencing that vulnerability in Iraq, where our supply lines are being cut), our insistence on living apart from and much better than the local population. But time still overshadows all of these. Worse, we can do nothing about it, unless, like the Romans, we plan to stay for three hundred years.

Until we accept the counterintuitive fact that in Fourth Generation interventions we are and always will be the weaker party, our decisions will continue to be consistently wrong. The decisions will be wrong because the assumption that lies behind them is wrong. We will remain trapped by our own false pride.

What if we do come to understand our own inherent weakness in places like Iraq? Might we then come up with some more productive approaches? Well, the Byzantines might have something to teach us on that score. Greek fire notwithstanding, what kept the Eastern Roman Empire alive for a thousand years after Rome fell was knowing how to play weak hands brilliantly.

WILLIAM S. LIND is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation

 

 





Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington