View Full Version : What does success mean in the war on Terror?

04-29-2004, 05:27 PM
Maybe we can argue the issues framed in a different way. This is sure to get some hot responses.

Defeat (http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0402-13.htm)
by Daniel N. Nelson

In post September 11 wars, the US secured rapid battlefield dominance in Afghanistan and Iraq. Do these triumphs mean victory? Or, could America be defeated?

Defeat is not the number of dead and wounded, unless political will evaporates as casualties accumulate. Failure to consummate battlefield success with the capture or death of enemy leaders has little to do with long-term prognoses if resistance is based on broad and deep antagonisms. Neither is defeat implicit when destruction of enemy forces or infrastructure is incomplete; other purposes may dictate avoiding annihilation even if that aim were in reach.

Defeat is not an event pinpointed in time, and cannot be reduced to a singular military disaster. A Dien Bien Phu or Mogadishu are painful moments in an otherwise continuous process of defeat that builds momentum towards calamitous occurrences. Defeats don't happen; they develop.

What, then, is defeat? At its most prosaic, defeat is being compelled to alter behavior to one's own detriment. Rather than imposed by others' strength, defeat can occur without war or an opponent. Defeat ultimately is self-failure - the symptoms of which are an irreparable imbalance between perceived or real threats and socioeconomic, political and military capacities. In that regard, defeat is the utter breakdown of individual, community, or national security.

Four traits fatally obstruct a balance between threats and capacities and make defeat possible and even likely. First, ignorance is a precursor of gross policy errors that enlarge threats and squander capacities. Not knowing other cultures, histories, or socioeconomic environments is a guarantee of commitments that extend well beyond realistic expectations. From here to the horizon is scattered human debris from interventions in places we knew not at all. Vietnam's long battle against the French was unknown in the U.S. in the early 1960s. Somalia was but an image of state collapse absent detailed on-the-ground knowledge. Iraq's Ba'athist regime was part of an "axis of evil". Attempts to alter local and regional political directions and traditions, however, are not the bailiwick of those without detailed preparations.

Moreover, defeat comes through arrogance. Capacity-driven behaviors are preceded by an assumption that power is deserved, and that deserved power embodies one with a mission to use such capacities for a greater goal. Such a missionary vocation is irrevocably intertwined with hubris - the conceit of power. Yet such arrogance conceals fundamental weakness. Every utterance of arrogant power generates fear, alienation and, ultimately, the development of countervailing and often asymmetric force. With each deception or evidently cosmetic spin, the power of trust and the legitimacy of just force wither. America the indispensable power, the salvation of democracies and the righteously vengeful nation after 9/11 has, in Iraq, found that creating post-war peace and reconstruction depends on far more than US Army occupation.

Distrust of friends, and dread of presumed enemy plots, join to produce the self-flagellation of paranoia. Everything is apprehension, and fright lies slightly beneath the surface. "Report suspicious behavior" flashes the sign above the Beltway - and George Orwell nods. Where one can trust no one, isolated strongholds are one plausible approach to world affairs. The alternative path taken by the Bush Administration is a foreign policy of global unilateralism - pre-empting through raw force whenever narrow national interests seem threatened, surrounding oneself with coalitions of the willing in lieu of genuine alliances. A pre-emptive strategy is one adopted by nations, groups or individuals for whom others harbor evil intentions, and whose presumed intentions warrant immediate countermeasures. It is but a short distance between such trepidation and an irrational paranoia.

Greed is also a quick route to self-defeat. Believing in nothing but today's material interests is another way of believing in nothing. War to end a regime of one leader or party, to capture resources, or to shift a strategic balance, while ignoring justice and other paramount values is a harbinger of defeat. Lie about motives, deceitfully spin information, conceal data or events - do all of these while wars and their aftermath generate huge unaccountable profits for corporate allies of decision-makers and one is sure to lose the normative war and therefore become the victim of peace.

To the degree that ignorance, arrogance, paranoia and greed are all present, those who make decisions about war and peace will pursue a capacity-driven strategy, conflate discourses of war and peace, and incessantly strive for security through strength. Such decision-makers will, thereby, create enemies from friends, replacing mutual trust with endemic suspicion and fear.

This is George W. Bush's America. With each pre-emptive step towards global unilateralism, enemies multiply, friendships wane, and the imbalance between threats and capacities approaches critical. The smell of defeat hangs in the air.

Daniel N. Nelson (Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University) is Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, University of New Haven. He has served in the State and Defense departments (1998-2002) and was Richard Gephardt's foreign policy advisor when he was House Majority Leader.

04-29-2004, 07:18 PM
Yes doom and gloom, if only we trusted the UN all our problems will be solved. We would have had to wait (maybe 10 years) before france and Russia did anything to address Saddams menace.

04-29-2004, 07:26 PM
"We would have had to wait (maybe 10 years) before france and Russia did anything to address Saddams menace."

How many years did we wait to begin with???

"This is George W. Bush's America. With each pre-emptive step towards global unilateralism, enemies multiply, friendships wane, and the imbalance between threats and capacities approaches critical. The smell of defeat hangs in the air. " Enemies multilpy....exactally...but didnt bush say this war on terror will make our country so much safer???YA whatever...

11 more soldiers died today..I sure hope its worth it

04-29-2004, 07:33 PM
I actually believe that bush is staving off the defeat that would occur if he were not taking the war to the enemy and trying to change the culture of the islamic world. It's a decayed, horrific culture that has produced nothing of value (except the suicide bomber). In essence america being willing to take on this terror directly instead of pulling back and trying to defend the indefendable (the us) is the best course. He could draw back and dis-engage from the world, inspect every cargo container. Do we think that would appease the terrorists? Not until they had re-established their prior islamic empires.

Pull out of the middle east and watch saudia arabia fall with only israel surviving ( assuming we continued to support israel, as many feel that this is the root cause of all of the unrest). What makes anyone think that once the greatest military on earth is humbled and pulls back, that the islamists will stop there. There's is a quest for world domination.

George Bush (like Reagan) will be seen as one of the greatest presidents in US history, unless the left manages to defeat the US again as they did in vietnam.

04-29-2004, 07:37 PM
I hope Kerry can fight a war without miltary personnel dying. I am sure he will say he can do that. Dont tell me he would not have gone to war with Iraq, he supported the resolution, may be he was fooled or did not mean it, or be he thought it was the politically correct thing to do .

04-29-2004, 07:40 PM
My big problem with kerry is that he's just not willing to stand up and speak plainly about much of anything really. Since I believe he is one of the most liberal senators that we have I could never support him. I'm glad he's the candidate instead of the nut dean/clark however.

I think he's toast, but we'll see. Maybe he will come around to believing something enough so that we don't have to guess what he's really thinking.

I for one believe he will cut and run immediately, as soon as the going gets tough.

04-29-2004, 08:13 PM
I admit Kerry's only chance to win is based on their opposition to Bush. He is a mediocre presidential candidate comparable to Ford or Carter.