If the current GOP primary has made anything clear, it’s that the mainstream of the GOP has learned absolutely nothing from the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rick Perry said we should go back to Iraq. Gingrich has a dubious history with neocons that means he’d be quite likely to go to war with Syria and Iran. Romney spoke of the many “victories” won in Iraq before backtracking. (Cue etch-a-sketch jokes.) And I don’t even know where to begin on the foreign policy abyss that is Rick Santorum: The Palestinians don’t exist. His paranoid ramblings about Iran. (His website really speaks for itself, here.) He still supports the war in Iraq. He wants to use air strikes against Syria. Oh, and there’s that whole he-supports-torture thing.
All that to say, one of our two leading political parties is resolved to learn absolutely nothing from Iraq. Hence the importance of this excellent piece from Foreign Policy.
The U.S. military has many virtues, but it is not good at running other countries. And it is not likely to get much better at it with practice. We have a capital-intensive army that places a premium on firepower, and we are a country whose own unusual, melting-pot history has made us less sensitive to the enduring power of nationalism, ethnicity, and other local forces.
Furthermore, because the United States is basically incredibly secure, it is impossible to sustain public support for long and grinding wars of occupation. Once it becomes clear that we face a lengthy and messy struggle, the American people quite properly begin to ask why we are pouring billions of dollars and thousands of lives into some strategic backwater. And they are right.
So my last lesson is that we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to figure out how to do this sort of thing better, because we’re never going to do it well and it will rarely be vital to our overall security. Instead, we ought to work harder on developing an approach to the world that minimizes the risk of getting ourselves into this kind of war again.