What follows is a subject for open debate. It is a very serious subject, and I have had trouble solving the dilemma to my personal satisfaction. Please feel free to offer other conclusions because this really perplexes me. Here it is:
Why does US foreign policy/military interventions appear to be completely inept?
I have been asking myself this question, framed in various ways, for a long time. I mean, let’s face it, the 21st century has been pretty terrible for America so far. Anybody can list the failures, and many of these failures were both predictable, and predicted.
It really goes back to the Viet Nam war. After Viet Nam American intervention got into high gear with a military presence nearly everywhere on the planet. At first, the constant display of American power may not have been welcomed, but it was thought necessary as a counter against perceived Soviet and Chinese aggression. As the world changed, the Soviets seemed less of a threat, Nixon made nice with China, and the perceived aggression from the communist-bloc countries waned. But the American military presence, and American intervention, continued to grow nonetheless. Now, as the only superpower, America is increasingly thought of as a bully, interfering in places where we are not wanted, often with disastrous results.
I take it as a given that there are a lot of very smart people who have a major influence on US policy. Some may believe they constitute a hidden cabal of “illuminati,” but I believe there are small groups as well as individuals who simply have great influence in the halls of power. These are not necessarily the O’Reillys or Clintons or Kochs or any of the other seekers after personal legacy and power. They are in the military, CIA, NSA, Rand, GE, Morgan Stanley, and a hundred other places. Their number is relatively small, but they can tap legions of the best and brightest for answers to questions that most people wouldn’t even think to ask.
I also believe that the various war colleges and think tanks continuously run through every possible scenario that they can imagine to prepare for every possible outcome. Ike once said something like “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Anyway, Tom Clancy said it was so, therefore it must be.
If we have so many smart folks with such huge resources doing so much planning, how can we continue to make grievous foreign policy errors? Why does US foreign policy and military interventions appear to be completely inept?
When I run into a problem that doesn’t make sense I tend to drag out Occam’s Razor. If I apply the Razor to my initial question, the only place it works is with the word ‘appear’. Is it possible that US policy is not as inept as it appears? If I accept that US policy is not as inept as it appears, I must be misinterpreting the objective of the policy. OK, so let’s try to reinterpret a few things, with the old premise followed by the new premise (old/new):
1) Win the Iraq, Afghan wars/Contain the mess: The elected Pols and their appointees foisted unwinnable wars on a frightened and gullible public using Goebbels “Big Lie.” A cowed military initially tried to push back a little, but they weren’t willing to risk anything important. By any possible accounting the wars went badly, very badly. The “surge” was really just a bandaid operation that bought some time. There was no real pacification (who wants to stand next to an Iraqi soldier whose family was shredded by an American bomb a few years earlier?) The Sunni/Shiite rift is now more severe than it has been since the Iran/Iraq war. A US “win” in either Iraq or Afghanistan is no longer realistic.
The last thing we want is to just cut and run. America must wrap these two wars up with a ribbon. Anything less would be viewed as a failure by the entire planet. As I see it, the only option is containment. Iraq and Afghanistan are broken beyond repair, and the only resolution will be for the different factions to fight until they wear each other out. I think that is the objective, but ISIS has thrown a huge wrench into that plan. The hope is that we can get away with using only token ground forces. Any thoughts of pacification are now over. It is down to McCain’s Bomb, Bomb, Bomb. If, when, the mess does spread? Well, bombs are relatively cheap.
2) Let’s see how far we can push the Russians without starting WW3/Contain the Russkies: No doubt about it, America’s proxy military (NATO) has pushed east in an effort to box the Russians in. The US (NATO) has been relentlessly pushing to the very borders of Russia with only the Ukraine left as a buffer. The US instigated an uprising in Kiev in an effort to knock Russia off-balance, yeah that Kiev (first capitol of the Russ people.) We attack countries on the other side of the globe, and accuse the Russians of imperialism in their front yard.
The Russians aren’t trying to expand anywhere. They are reacting against American attempts (successful) to put a fence around them. I think the Russians are done and are willing to pull some kind of trigger if the US keeps it up. Putin has made his red lines pretty clear. Hopefully, America will be satisfied with what has been accomplished in containing Russia. To paraphrase an old Chinese expression: corner bear, lose face.
3) Challenge China in Asia/Contain the Chinese: A few hundred years ago China was the most advanced country on earth. Things changed, and went downhill. The Chinese remember, and they are throwing off a collective shame at having let things get so bad. That is over now, they are back, and they want their proper place in the global pecking order. They want to be first again. The USA says “settle for second.”
The Chinese push for control of worthless scraps of land (Daiyou/Senkakku islands.) China pulls a replay of the Monroe Doctrine and declares the South China Sea to be their version of the Caribbean. They begin a massive upgrade of their military (monetarily a pittance by US standards.) The US pushes back with symbolic overflights in areas where China has unilaterally (any other way?) declared no fly zones. The pushing and shoving will take some time before the boundaries solidify. Containing China will not be easy. They know what the Americans are up to because it is the same thing the Chinese are up to. Tip: Don’t buy property in Taiwan.
So, my best guess is that US long term strategy is all about containment, and maintaining the status quo with America as the world’s only superpower, for years maybe, not decades, certainly not centuries. I don’t think it is a secret, it just isn’t publicized. Just because I think some very smart people may be advocating it as policy doesn’t mean that I think it will be successful, I have my doubts.
The world is a much, much smaller place than it was when I started traveling overseas. There is no longer any room for more than one superpower. Soon there won’t be enough room for even one, and that is a recipe for conflict. The obvious winners would be those that Ike warned us about over sixty years ago, the Military Industrial Complex and multinational (read Stateless) corporations. I see no other beneficiaries, in any country. Even if the containment policy is effective, we will derive no good from it.
The US military published the results of a study on climate change recently. The conclusion was that global warming is real, and a major threat to military operations (mainly logistics.) That was published. I think they looked into the abyss and it scared the crap out of them. That was not published.
Look at a globe. North and South America are Islands with North America easily defendable against anything but nukes. Bomb, Bomb, Bomb cannot conquer territory, but it can quickly stop an invasion. If Russia and China can be kept contained and off-balance, then when the climate/population tipping point is reached then they will both end up fighting for survival against each other and everybody else they border on. Middle East oil will still be there. The USA will be able to watch from afar.
Please feel free to use a flamethrower on my thoughts above, but also try to answer the original question. Inept — or something else?
Through an unbelievable stroke of luck the US Army drafted, then trained Dan Mason as a telecommunications tech and sent him to Thailand during the Viet Nam war. So began a thirty-five year adventure, working and living overseas, to include Thailand, W. Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and China. Those experiences helped him to see and absorb different perspectives on world events and to read behind the headlines.