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Why We Fight…and Fail

Michael Blowhard asks why the US continues to get involved in unending military adventures that inevitably result in failure? Here are my answers.

  1. The U.S. still believes it’s the only superpower and that this obligates them to fix the world’s problems. There’s a kind of flattery going on.
  2. Most Americans have little idea how vociferously the rest of the world (even its allies) object to  interventionist policies.
  3. Mainstream news is 24 hour news, which focuses on “live breaking stories” (usually some general or secretary of defense making some pro forma announcement) instead of critical perspectives. The 24 hour format (and the need for ratings) makes it necessary to prettify the reporting with “soft news.” On CNN, news segments are repeated ad infinitum; unceasing war reporting would make the channel “too depressing.” They have to package the war in a way that doesn’t cause viewer paralysis.
  4. GWB is a particularly gullible and ineffectual leader.
  5. The US govt has very few institutional checks on its global application of power.
  6. (With regard to the Middle East specifically): the U.S. has generally declined to rebuke Israel for some of its most heinous policies, thus letting itself turn into a lightning rod for Arab criticism and enmity.
  7. The DOD has lost its focus, changing from defending the US to righting the world’s problems. This, I happily predict, is going to change. From now on, the focus will change from nabbing international terrorists and overthrowing troublemakers to defending the homeland and securing the borders. This is a positive development.

(Actually, Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon offer more methodical analysis in their article Why Hawks Win).

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Richard Cretan 2/2/2007, 1:42 am

    Nice comment, Robert.

    I disagree with none of it but would add the following to Point One: Brute self-interest often can be sold as righting the world’s problems, particularly when a culture is as devoted as is ours to exploiting distant altruistic military accomplishments.

    This is not so much a root cause of much subsequent failure as it is a facet of the schizophrenic identity of so-called altruistic superpower intervention.

    The root causes are fantasy (they’ll greet us as liberators), overweening ambition (world’s last superpower–hooah!), cultural ignorance (what’s a Sunni? what’s Tet?), rigid ideology (gotta stop those dominos!) and institutional inertia and ineptitude (cf. Tuchman on tunnel vision).

    Somewhat less clear but a persistent problem to imperial fantasists is the on-again, off-again appetite of Americans for slaughter. One day the public wants war, then it doesn’t. What’s a poor behemoth to do?

  • rjnagle 2/2/2007, 3:00 am

    Even I am amazed at how quickly the nation turned against Bush’s war campaign. Did anything really change between Oct 2004 and Oct 2006 (aside from the Lancet study, more extraordinary renditions and Israeli’s bombing of Lebanon?) The public is fickle in ways I cannot explain.

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