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A War the West Cannot Win


A War the West Cannot Win

Andrew Bacevich

President Francois Hollande’s response to Friday’s vicious terrorist attacks in France, attributed to the Islamic State, was immediate and uncompromising. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” he vowed.

Whether France itself possesses the will or the capacity to undertake such a war is another matter. So too is the question of whether further war can provide a remedy to the problem at hand: widespread disorder roiling much of the Greater Middle East and periodically spilling into the outside world.


"It’s not as if the outside world hasn’t already given pitiless war a try. The Soviet Union spent all of the 1980s attempting to pacify Afghanistan and succeeded only in killing a million or so Afghans while creating an incubator for Islamic radicalism."

Exactly what was happening in Afghanistan at the time that required its pacification?


It was overthrowing a Soviet puppet/communist regime.


I would feel better about this if Bacevich offered even the slightest detail on the 'barriers" he has in mind. Wall off Europe from refugees? Station troops in Saudi Arabia? I was pro Gulf 1 (rest of the world joined in, including Arab states), VERY against Gulf 2 (both on the basics and because Bush is an idiot), but also for early diplomatic intervention in Syria (with goal of partitioning the country) when others on the left were opposed. Result of lack of early intervention was that war has spread. Damn if we do, damned if we don't..... In the wide area it nominally controls, ISIS can be defeated -- it is not a big force. But what's the end game? What are the real alternatives? Is it too late for partition? Do we defeat and then partition? What do the neighbors want?


It seems that the author would shut the door on refugees and perhaps contain populations in their countries behind physical walls and barriers.

What exactly does he mean by contain? Restricting movement or actual enclosure?


It looks as if we have all forgotten the San Remo declaration and the Legue of nations partions. Perhaps if we look more closely at this, we may be able to get a chance to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


I wish the US would mind its own business more and butt into other nations' business much less. Better to fight climate change by keeping fossil fuels in the ground, than to vastly increase emissions fighting a huge war against other nations. WAR is so wasteful!


To extend the first answer you received, let me add:

... while the US military "intelligence" complex intentionally funneled massive resources to radical Islamists in Afghanistan, in order to grow radical Islamism, as a proxy to cause troubles for the Soviet Union.

Read The Grand Chessboard by Brzezinski, who famously publicly rejected any second thoughts about that strategy, insisting that the strategic goal of disrupting the Soviet Union far outweighs any trouble the world might now have with radical Islamism. A pair of quotes:

"Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire."
Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998 (When asked if he regretted drawing the Soviets into a trap in Afghanistan)

"What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"
Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998 (When asked if he regretted contributing to the rise in Islamic fundamentalism)


An interesting article but delivered without appropriate history. there was no mention that terrorists were crossing the Soviet border from Afghanistan and doing their evil deeds in the Soviet Union. That was the impetus for the Soviet invasion. There was also no mention of American complicity in creating al Queda and the Taliban to use as US proxies against the Soviets. Well we all know how that played out don't we? So where might we be if al Queda and the Taliban had not been created? What can we do now that they have been? Another big question, why has the US been playing pussyfoot with ISIS for a year now with nothing to show for it? Then Russia comes in and within a few weeks has much more success than the US has had in a year or more!


Also, as Donald posted above, we need to go back further in history, to the post-WWI carve-up of the "Middle East" by the victorious Allied Powers, creating absurd and ahistorical new states, against the self-determination of the peoples who live there.


I'm sorry, Andy, but you are still in the shallow end of the pool. I do get weary of reminding the punditry, who likely know better, that victory is reflected in bank accounts around the world and not in military conquests and faux democracies. "War likes to come like a thief in the night. Professions of eternal amity provides the night." A Bierce.


I wonder if he regrets the use of the fundamentalists now?

I doubt that he would admit it if he did.

Strange how Bush and now Obama have leapt into that same abyss.


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I personally feel that fighting climate change with a greenhouse emissions tax with all revenue from that tax dedicated to buying fossil fuel reserves as mineral rights to keep in ground long term whatever is best buy for carbon content should work. That should bail out coal industry and also to lesser extent fossil fuel in general while still fighting climate change. Would need to add a tax on energy regardless of carbon footprint (when emissions tax works noticeably to reduce emissions) for revenue to continue to buy fossil fuel reserves as mineral rights.


I am moved by Bacevich's thoughtful and eloquent analysis of "A War the West Cannot Win" until he responds to his own charge that the West and particularly the U.S. "consider trying something different." Bacevich's suggestion that the West adapt a defensive position and "erect barriers to protect itself from the violence emanating from that quarter" fails to go up the proverbial river to attempt to uncover the root causes of the rise of fanatical Islamic fundamentalism. Decades of military intervention and occupation in the Middle East (in addition to other former and current colonized regions), essentially in the service of the world's economic and political centers of power, have taken millions of lives (mostly civilians), pushed millions more from their homes, and laid waste to the land. Without an analysis of colonial history, the rise of giant multi-national corporations, and the current neoliberal project that favors finance capital and the military-industrial complex while offering austerity to the rest of us, designing a strategy that has any chance of moving us toward a more secure world is wishful thinking.


He would never admit he screwed up, but i'm sure he would try to speak much more diplomatically now than he did then.

Yes strange to see the US regime following the same path, and this while Zbig is one of Obama's top foreign policy advisers.


Silly, Cold War terminology. Yes, the Afghan regime that was threatened by radical Islamists was a Soviet "puppet' in the sense that it was firmly in the Soviet camp, but it was infinitely preferable to the primitive religious jihadists that replaced it. During the Cold War, U.S. officials and others used the term "communist puppet" to label any regime that sided with the Soviets and/or maintained some independence from Washington. They blithely ignored Washington's dozens of puppets, most of those corrupt and ruthless dictators.


And there is effectively zero education for the mass of people inside these "economic and political centers of power" about the true history of colonialism, and present continuation in the neoliberal project. Most USans are steeped in inculcated ignorance of the primary forces of history.


Bacevich doesn't mention the obvious conclusion to be reached by the past half century of U.S. chaos-mongering around the globe: "Winning" wars is no longer the U.S. objective. The real objective is to keep low-intensity wars going perpetually -- because war-related activities fuel about 30 percent of the U.S. economy -- and to keep nonaligned regions constantly destabilized to prevent their valuable resources from falling into the hands of the Russians or Chinese. This silly obsession with the Russians and Chinese ultimately will bring about America's downfall, probably at the hands of some ragtag terrorist group that managed to acquire nuclear, bio/chemical and/or cyber warfare capability. It's difficult not to notice the striking resemblance between the U.S. and the declining Roman and British empires. Both the latter also were unable to adjust to new political and technological realities in a rapidly changing world.


Isis is being defeated in detail. The Peshmerga (with the help of US air strikes) have already driven Isis out from towns captured a year ago, and key communications lines are being cut.If Turkey gets involved on the ground, Isis will be toast. Then there are the people who live in Isis territory-who, given the chance, would love to slit Isis' collective throat. Only fear is holding them back.If Isis continues to loose territory-and prestige- it's only a matter of time before these people rise up and take revenge. Isis has nothing to offer conquered populations: only economic dislocation, falling living standards, the closing of schools, the repression of women, degradation and death. France knocking on the door may turn out to be the factor that brings their whole sorry house down. That house is looking pretty rickety right now. But I'm rooting for the Turks.