Exit Strategies, a Lesson in Impotence

KissingerHenry Kissinger’s written a long gas about exit strategies, as in the one we didn’t have in Vietnam and the one we should have had in Iraq.  Henry’s old enough and craggy enough that most people have forgiven him for being such an international terrorist when he was Nixon’s National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State.  But old Hank, hawk to the end and model for Dr. Strangelove, was never one personally to back away from the endangerment of other people’s lives.

But it strikes me that we “negotiate by other means” with our hands tied when we start shooting at and bombing various and sundry miscreants with a declared “exit strategy” thrown in.  It’s a great thing to have an exit strategy in the business-takeover game or maybe even in such things as marriage (what else is a prenuptial agreement?).  But murderous as both those endeavors might end up being, they start out with everyone hoping for mutual success.

If I understand wars properly, the home team starts out hoping the invader will decide that getting killed so far away from mom and dad has only limited appeal and that he’ll pack up what’s left of his tanks and pride and get the hell out.  If you’re a powerful nation there are a lot of ways to make that point, but the fact is today there are no powerful nations left but ours.  Hence, the possible targets of our ire throughout the world, as we sweep that national cross-hairs from horizon to horizon, have had to make themselves too bitter for consumption.

And they’ve been good at it.  Home-boys accomplished that goal in a single afternoon in Mogadishu.  We got out in a double-quick-time after the bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon. It’s not a great strategic idea to advertise the terms under which you will take your marbles and go home. We thought no one was listening when our Senators grilled their generals about an exit strategy.  Because of that singular example of honesty in government, the new paradigm for fighting America makes quick reading:

  • Don’t field a uniformed army or an air defense
  • Keep your fighters in heavily populated civilian centers (2nd choice is mountains but not all countries have them)
  • Kill Americans relentlessly in small but continuous numbers
  • Execute your prisoners, always by the most horrific means possible, remembering always to take videos and keep the light in front of the camera
  • Never stop announcing that you have unlimited patience
  • Take terrorism to American shores as well as to its allies
  • Discourage the weakest allies first, the rest will fall
  • Never let them forget you and how to spell your name
  • Advertise, advertise, advertise, preferably on Al Gore’s invention, the Internet

As recognized as these issues are by everyone this side of Dick Cheney, it’s a wonder that we ever actually go to war anymore.  North Korea knows this and so does Iran. But major powers learn slowly and it’s taken us two and a half generations to not yet learn this lesson. 

But we’re getting close.

Exit strategies are an outgrowth of America’s unwillingness to sacrifice its children for anything other than the absolute defense of its survival.  We extend that from time to time to people we really care about.  That would include Canada, but maybe not Mexico and it surely and repeatedly includes England.  But that’s pretty much it.  Don’t kill our kids for domino-theories or ill-conceived policies.  We’re very wary as well of police-actions ever since Korea, but we’ll send a few troops in blue helmets to Kosovo or Bosnia. Those are the rules.  Write them on Cheney’s cuff, so he won’t forget.

This current mess we’re in is an excellent example of why major powers are no longer major powers.  It’s one thing to threaten someone with Cruise missiles, but quite another to actually land troops and without landing troops (the current myth instructs) you can’t force regime change.  The new truth is that even regime change doesn’t mean anything if you have no say in who the new regime will be. And we clearly won’t in either Afghanistan or Iraq.  Afghanistan will be Taliban again in five years, maybe less.  Iraq will host a struggle of various warlords over the next twenty years and the only thing that will come out of that will be a total devastation of their already creaky oil industry. 

Afghanistan will settle for life under the Taliban and Iraq will look with some degree of nostalgia at the long-gone days of Saddam Hussein.  Both countries will move resolutely back in time.

We are not getting anywhere near the end of fighting, but we are approaching the end of wars.

Read more of my musings on the war in Iraq at my personal web site.

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