Academic journal article Policy Review

War and Aftermath

Academic journal article Policy Review

War and Aftermath

Article excerpt

THE UNITED STATES HAS just fought two wars against enemies thought to be difficult to defeat and has won decisively, rapidly, and with minimal loss of life. The military performance in both cases was impressive. With virtually no American troops on the ground in Afghanistan, U.S. forces aided by local Afghan militias destroyed the Taliban government and shattered the al Qaeda bases and infrastructure that had been used to plan and prepare the September 11 attacks. In Iraq one British, one U.S. Marine, and two U.S. Army divisions, supported by advanced precision-guided munitions, sufficed to crush both the Iraqi army and Saddam Hussein's regime in a matter of weeks.

In both cases, the U.S. has been far less successful in winning the peace than it was in winning the war. In Iraq, the widespread looting and rioting that followed the collapse of the Baathist regime and the disorder that continued for weeks to rage in many parts of the country, including Baghdad, badly tarnished the image of the American occupying forces. It hindered U.S. efforts to establish a new, stable Iraqi regime that commands the loyalty of the Iraqi people.

The situation in Afghanistan was much worse. For more than a year after the fall of the Taliban government, the new government of Hamid Karzai did not command the respect of the majority of the Afghan people and could not make its writ run outside of Kabul. Warlords established themselves in almost all of the other key cities and regions of the country, the roads became unsafe, and violence, both directed and random, became the order of the day. It remains unclear at present whether it will be possible actually to establish a stable and legitimate government in Kabul--and at what cost.

Why has the United States been so successful in recent wars and encountered so much difficulty in securing its political aims after the shooting stopped? The obstacles in the way of establishing stable polities in Kabul and Baghdad were always considerable. It was never likely that the road to peace and stability in postwar Iraq and Afghanistan would be short or smooth. The nature of the American military operations in both countries, however, multiplied those obstacles instead of reducing them and greatly increased the chance of failing to achieve the political objectives that motivated both wars.

The reason for this fact lies partly in the vision of war that President Bush and his administration brought into office and have implemented in the past two wars. This vision focuses on destroying the enemy's armed forces and his ability to command them and control them. It does not focus on the problem of achieving political objectives. The advocates of a "new American way of war," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Bush chief among them, have attempted to simplify war into a targeting drill. They see the enemy as a target set and believe that when all or most of the targets have been hit, he will inevitably surrender and American goals will be achieved.

War is not that simple, however. From the standpoint of establishing a good peace it matters a great deal how, exactly, one defeats the enemy and what the enemy's country looks like at the moment the bullets stop flying. The U.S. has developed and implemented a method of warfare that can pro produce stunning military victories but does not necessarily accomplish the political goals for which the war was fought.

If these two wars represented merely isolated cases or aberrations from the mainstream of military and political developments in the U.S., then the study of this problem would be of primarily academic interest. That is not the case. The entire thrust of the current program of military transformation of the U.S. armed forces, on the contrary, aims at the implementation and perfection of this sort of target-set mentality. Unless the direction and nature of military transformation change dramatically, the American public should expect to see in the future many more wars in which U. …

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