Thursday, September 09, 2010

What should the peace movement learn from Iraq?


Neither the Iraq war nor the Afghanistan war is over . But President Obama is trying to tell us the first is mostly done (tell that to the families of these dead soldiers). And elites are backing off from Afghanistan; see this or this. The U.S. will, one day, draw back from large scale troop commitments to these too visible wars.

But that doesn't mean the empire will stop throwing its weight (drone-fired missiles?) around. And that presents questions for people working for real peace and some sort of global international law. On an email list I participate in, a member asked recently:

How will the peace movement tackle covert and proxy war, with all its ills for the people in countries like the Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Algeria, Kenya, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, & Pakistan, to name a few of the 19 countries where this war is widening?

That certainly seems one of the right questions.

Steve Burns from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice suggested some lessons we might learn from Iraq (and Afghanistan) that seem worth pondering:

1) A popular insurgency, armed with not much more than surplus AK-47's and artillery shells wired to disposable cell phones, can defeat the most powerful military machine on the planet. This is a lesson that is being reinforced in Afghanistan, and the U.S. military is taking note of it, even if it's not discussed much in public.

2) The U.S. still retains enough power to make defeat look like something else. President Obama has said that wars no longer end with a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship, but they also don't end with people being plucked off the roof of the U.S. embassy by helicopter, either. The U.S. doesn't have sufficient military power to "win" (whatever that means) but it does have enough power to produce a muddled outcome which it can spin as victory. ...this is the most likely outcome for Afghanistan.

3) The public has learned the lessons of Iraq, even if our elites haven't. Opinion polls still show near 70 percent opposition to the war, despite a years-long PR campaign to spin the "surge" as a success and, now, to spin our departure as a victory. People aren't buying it, and this is a serious problem for elites, who can be expected to bemoan the presence of an "Iraq syndrome" that limits our ability to intervene militarily in the future.

4) U.S. wars are getting smaller. From nearly 700,000 troops and contractors in Vietnam in '68, the peak level of U.S. forces in that war, to less than 400,000 troops and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan combined (and troop levels in Afghanistan have probably peaked), the trend is clear: The U.S. no longer has the capability to send large numbers of troops into battle. Relatively small numbers of troops in Yemen and Somalia are probably about all the U.S. military is going to be able to muster in the future.

But none of this makes U.S. wars less bloody for us or their targets -- or more just. Responsible U.S. citizenship includes stopping these adventures. How do we go about it?

1 comment:

Bret “Ginx” Alan said...

How about... not electing corporate puppets?

Oh wait, you mean realistically how do we stop it...

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