Like so many bloated Hollywood movies nowadays, America’s wars may bomb, but they always produce their own sequels.
Look at the latest news from Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars have persisted for more than a decade, with several re-releases to include “surges” and repeats. The latest from Iraq is preparations to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS, which promises a repeat of the level of destruction visited upon Fallujah in 2004. In this there are echoes of Vietnam: in Mosul, we may have to destroy the city to save it. Five Iraqi brigades, most likely supported by American airpower and some American troops on the ground (air controllers and Special Forces), are poised to strike as early as April. Doubtless they’ll prevail, at least for the moment, as the city and its civilians pay a price so dear as to be indistinguishable from defeat. Mosul will be “liberated,” but just look what happened to Fallujah, which after the American “victory” in 2004 is now a devastated city retaken by elements of al-Qaeda in 2014.
(As an aside, it’s interesting that the New York Times uses the word “epic” to describe the Battle of Fallujah from 2004. Surely a better word is “catastrophic.” What is epic about a battle that destroys a city, a battle that is ultimately inconclusive? Check out Bing West’s book about Fallujah, whose title, “No True Glory,” captures the frustrations and contradictions of that battle, mainly from the American perspective.)
Moving to Afghanistan, the latest is that American troops may stay longer than expected (surprise!). Despite all the talk of “progress” in Afghanistan, the takeaway is the following section, from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s recent visit to Afghanistan:
“Despite the aid of American air power, 2014 was the deadliest year for Afghan forces since the start of the war in 2001, and many Afghan and Western officials in Kabul believe that 2015 will likely be worse, particularly with less support from Western allies. That has begun to change the conversation about the possibility of slowing down in the [American] withdrawal.”
In other words, expect more micro-surges of American troops and assets in the coming years, as well as more reports of “progress,” however temporary or illusory (at least America’s best and brightest learned from Vietnam not to talk of seeing light at the end of tunnels).
America’s wars are much like the “Transformers” franchise of movies: thrilling and seemingly conclusive at first, with much talk of missions being accomplished, followed by sequel after sequel of repetitive battles, increasingly loud and destructive, signifying vapidity and intellectual bankruptcy even as a few profit greatly from them.
And no one (certainly none of the producers at the Pentagon) seems to be able to pull the plug on green-lighting ever more sequels to these wars. Even when they bomb.