Thursday, April 03, 2003

American psyche needs victory in battle for Baghdad

Times Colonist (Victoria)
The United States is a nation whose character has been shaped by war. The American Revolutionary War gave the original 13 colonies their independence from the Britain. The U.S. defeat at the hands of British and Canadian forces during the War of 1812 caused the United States to look in a more southerly direction for its territorial expansion.

But perhaps the war that seared the American psyche the most was the American Civil War. It was the first of the modern wars in that it brought industrial age technology to the battlefield. With it came unheard-of casualty rates where entire divisions of men were blown to pieces or mowed down in a hail of bullets.

It also brought the concept of total war where the enemy was defeated not just by fighting on the battlefield but by destroying the enemy's ability to wage war by destroying their cities, burning their crops and tearing up their railways and telegraph lines.

In addition to preserving the union and ending slavery, the Civil War left the U.S. with a profound sense of terror at the prospect of ever having to face such an internal conflict again. Almost overnight was born the jingoistic patriotism that has become such a hallmark of American society.

The war left the U.S. with no illusions regarding the horrors of industrial age warfare. It was for that reason that the U.S. stayed out of the First World War until almost the very end of it. The horror of trench warfare caused the U.S. to adopt a firmly isolationist stance when war clouds once again gathered over Europe in 1939.

All that changed with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. From a tactical standpoint the Sunday morning attack was a tremendous victory for Japan. Along with thousands of sailors, much of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet lay on the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

But from a strategic standpoint it was disastrous. As Admiral Yamamoto predicted, all Japan had done was "awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."

The U.S. committed itself to the complete and unconditional surrender of Japan, Italy and Germany. The intention was to occupy those countries and to reshape them as democracies that would never again threaten the security of the U.S. And that is exactly what the U.S. did.

Then came the Cold War with the Soviet Union that was fought politically, economically and only occasionally militarily -- the three most notable conflicts being the Korean War which was fought to a draw, the Cuban missile crises which brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and the Vietnam War which brought about a humiliating defeat for the U.S.

With the economic and political collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. suddenly found itself the military heavyweight champion of the world with no one else even in contention for the title. Apart from chasing Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991 and reluctantly moving in with its NATO allies to stop the genocide occurring in the Balkans, the U.S. found itself in a situation where it was at peace and feeling pretty secure.

Sure there had been some troubling incidents, like the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia; and later some nutcase Islamic organization named al-Qaeda had blown up a couple of U.S. embassies in Africa.

But the U.S. had its own homegrown crazies like Timothy McVeigh to worry about. So to the extent they were catching grief, some Americans felt it was time the U.S. pulled in its horns and started focusing more on domestic issues.
When George W. Bush was running for president, he scoffed at the previous Clinton administration's penchant for "nation building." Bush made it clear that he had little knowledge of and even less interest in international affairs. All that, of course, changed with 9/11.

It was the first time New York had ever found itself under attack and it was the first time Washington had been directly attacked since the war of 1812.
With these audacious attacks Osama bin Laden was hoping to provoke the United States to unleash its military might indiscriminately on the entire Middle East, causing millions of innocent Arabs to die. Bin Laden then expected the survivors to rise up, overthrow their leaders and install Muslim regimes much like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Instead, the U.S. showed amazing restraint. With grim determination Americans planned their attack on Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban and put bin Laden and his merry band of sociopaths on the run. But what the U.S. now feels is a profound sense of vulnerability. Its response is a new policy of pre-emptive war.

Under this policy, any regime that is perceived to be threatening the security of the U.S. may find itself the subject of an invasion, particularly if that country lacks nuclear weapons. The first target of this new policy is Iraq.
The Battle for Baghdad will shape U.S. foreign policy for decades to come. If it is successful, the U.S. will continue to pursue an aggressive unilateralist approach to global affairs.

If the battle results in a bloody debacle then expect the United States to move to a far more isolationist and fearful position, where it brings most of its troops home and uses its nuclear arsenal to deal with on-going security threats like North Korea.