REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic photo
It's hard for most people in the United States, even dedicated peace activists, to comprehend the one simple truth: the US is currently losing -- actually has lost -- two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We just can't take it in. We've got all the high tech weapons; we're the biggest and meanest giant on the planet; we're the richest society around spending enormous sums on a war-fighting apparatus full of smart, dedicated people -- how can we be losing militarily? It must be a mistake; maybe George W. and Rummy were just incompetent.
In fact, the U.S. is repeating a pattern here, one that has existed since the U.S. emerged as top empire after World War II. One of the best historical dissections of the U.S.'s Vietnam debacle is James William Gibson's The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. Gibson made a nuanced argument that capitalist development in the U.S. ensured that our leaders and military were mesmerized by their technological capacity into believing that they could override any political obstacle to their plans for Southeast Asia by applying sophisticated technology. A few choice quotes give the flavor of Gibson's analysis:
Gibson quotes Henry Kissinger writing in the Vietnam era:
And he describes a study by a U.S. military analyst, Stephen D. Westbrook, who was trying to fathom how the United States could have been tossed out by the technologically inferior Vietnamese forces:
Gibson goes on to point out that because losing the war to technological inferiors seemed impossible, aside from a few serious military historians, both military and politicians sought to blame civilian authorities for "exercising self-imposed restraint" in killing enough Vietnamese. The Vietnamese might beg to differ.
These days, an historians of Vietnam, Gabriel Kolko, is trying once again to explain how the U.S. could be losing wars to technologically inferior enemies in interviews in Der Spiegel here and here.
Against a determined enemy, technology doesn't necessarily prevail even at the operational level:
Even though our rulers don't get it, it is important that the peace movement understand and proclaim loudly that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are well and truly "lost." We owe it to the suffering people of those countries who bear the vast preponderance of the pain. We owe it to U.S. grunts who are getting killed to disguise the loss so that politicians (and generals) now in power can push blame off onto future rulers. We owe it to ourselves, because unless we can ensure a true history of these debacles, we'll just live them again.
Knowing that these are lost wars -- wars that no new tactics, or "surges", or even redesigned new armored personnel carriers, are going to "win" -- clarifies that all the arguments about "responsible phased withdrawal" are just hot air. U.S. military forces aren't doing anything in Iraq or Afghanistan but killing and dying -- the meaning of those conflicts is already set. The U.S. launched aggressive wars and lost. Extending the killing and dying won't change a thing, but will increase human misery and U.S. guilt.