How We (US) Lost in Iraq and Afghanistan

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  • #36
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Czcibor's made the only comment regarding Afghanistan so far, and no one's taken issue with it --- "Stet?" No specific position on "wins or losses?"
(snip re. Iraq) With Afghanistan? USA credibility was at the stake and there was no good move. There were not many targets there that could have been destroyed in a retaliatory air campaign. The only idea that I've heard of that would not involve puting there troops and would have adequate chilling effect for other terrorist harborring regimes, presumably involved using... WMDs. (which would be politically too expensive)
Invasion of Afghanistan either in a punitive raid, or in an effort at "nation building" was an almost inevitable consequence of "9-11."
Every President since at least George H.W. Bush has said we shouldn't get involved in nation building, and every President since at least George H.W. Bush has ended up nation building. The US tries to use the military for this, because they aren't allowed to say "no", (emphasis added: hadn't thought of it this way) but fundamentally, this is not their job: their job is to break things.(snip)
No specific position on "wins or losses."
"Nation building" was applied successfully as an endgame in Cuba following the Spanish-American War, W. Germany, Japan, and the Philippines following WWII, arguably in some of the "mandated territories" at the end of WWI. It has been tactically attractive for military purposes at various times in various places, with varying degrees of success, Republic of Texas a success, RVN not, ROK unknown as yet, upshot being that military minds don't always want to say "no."

Getting into Afghanistan involves passing through or jumping off from one or more of the neighboring nations, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. Iran is "out" diplomatically, and the rest excepting Pakistan are out geographically. An ideal scenario, with the cooperation of the Pakistani government would have been to go in, round up the Taliban, and leave the keys under the doormat at the Khyber Pass within six months to a year. The Soviet Union's experience suggests that wouldn't be too likely. Long term cooperation by the Pakistani government was also a very uncertain premise at the time. This brings us to the question, "How does one extract, or at least protect coalition forces from Iranian interference in the event of a fundamentalist takeover in Pakistan?" The Khyber and overland logistics are blocked, and a trapped army might have been more temptation than A-jad and Khameini could resist. "Invade Iraq?" Keeps Teheran looking over both shoulders. Takes Sadam, Uday, and Qusay off the table. Makes a statement. Balances the demographic disparity between Arab Islamic and central Asian Islamic extremist POWs. Opens a second killing ground (my apologies to the pacifists, but "Whack a mole" has already been discussed in another thread by at least one among us). The PR campaign in the UN gave nothing away to Iran IF this was the case. WMDs? Sadam's complicity in bankrolling 9-11? Harboring terrorists? More "red herring?" We won't know for fifty to a hundred years. DoD does pay attention to such details. It's a high stakes game, and you don't play your cards from face up on the table in front of news cameras. Come to think of it, the Pakistanis did close Khyber a couple times over some sort of squabbles, plus a couple fuel and supply convoys being burned. Might not be so far-fetched a concern.

Couple of us definitely feel that Iraq and/or inadequate equipment are proximal causes for "losses."
IMHO, We lost Afghanistan when we invaded Iraq. Then the Defense Department assumed that armored Humvees wouldn't be needed once the invasion of Iraq was over.
Essentially we lost Afghanistan as soon as we invaded Iraq. Read this blather by Rumsfeld concerning the failure to provide the troops with up armored Humvees and you will now why we lost Iraq.
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military-july-dec04-armor_12-9/
Ugh. Rumsfeld...:mad:. How people can think we're worse off now than when he and his buddies were in office, I'll never understand.
It's why we started a war that is not winnable.
Ok then, in your narrative: "we" joined a war -- an old, old war, with a story line we were not aware of. And why? Why did we do that? Who thought that would be a great idea? Rummy and his ilk, that's who.
So much blood on their hands, IMO. I don't know how they sleep.

The invasion of Iraq was being discussed before 911.(snip).
If not the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, are you referring to the post-1991 Gulf War (or, for anyone who buys into my "1500 Year War," the 1991 Battle of Kuwait) "Monday morning quarterbacks" vs. the "power-vacuum consequences" debate?

And, there are a couple of us who aren't buying the "loss" premise.
Those who contend Iraq was lost need to contend first with the comments of the current administration.(snip)

And the post mortem cliche ---
A 3-Star General Explains 'Why We Lost' In Iraq, Afghanistan
(snip) Trained for regular conflicts, the military seems ill-prepared for counterinsurgency. Seems like the same situation in WWI when the old 19th century way of combat did not work when confronted with mechanized/industrialized combat with machine guns, mortars, armored cavalry (tanks), air craft, landmines, poisonous gas, . . .
"They weren't prepared." has been said of almost every army in almost every war in history.

Bolger? The Wall Street Journal's review http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-why-we-lost-by-daniel-p-bolger-1415922914
 
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lisab
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OK, so I ended up buying and reading the book. It took a while since I don't have a lot of free reading time. And it's quite long.

Frankly with a title like "Why We Lost", I expected the book to be an analysis of the Middle East from a distance...the view from 30,000 feet, so to speak. Instead, Bolger spends much time down in the dirt - well, sand - at the boots-on-the-ground level, describing battles shot-by-shot. I believe he did this as praise for the troops. Understandable, the troops are amazingly praiseworthy. I think he wanted to be clear that the failures were not due to the troops.

His synopsis: the Generals did not give good advice to the "suits" (the Bush and Obama administrations). At several junctions, we had three options: increase troop levels, keep doing what we were doing, or pull out. No one ever gave enough thought to the "pull out" option, and that was a failure on the Generals' part. He also says (albeit briefly) that Saddam was basically contained and probably could have stayed that way indefinitely, but in the heat of the post-9/11 fever that option was not considered. He faults Obama for setting a timeline for withdrawal, but ultimately agrees pulling out was the right thing to do, and that it probably should have been done earlier.

Some of his final analysis:

The 2007 surge did not save the Iraq campaign. It was too late for that. But it gave America space to withdraw on its own terms and provided Iraq, however ungrateful, a chance to chart a course as a responsible nation-state.

The 2010 surge in Afghanistan achieved less. In a lot of ways, it reflected the near bankruptcy of military planning by that point. As the old joke goes, when all you own is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

From a historical perspective, Bolger's book might have importance, as is seems to be an interpretation of Iraq and Afghanistan in the short period between when Bolger retired (2013, according to Wiki) and before ISIS came into the picture.
 
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  • #38
mheslep
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He also says (albeit briefly) that Saddam was basically contained and probably could have stayed that way indefinitely,
I think that policy would have meant, at least, maintaining the air patrols for the Iraq no-fly zone indefinitely. The patrols went 10-11 years as it was.

His synopsis: the Generals did not give good advice to the "suits"...
At least one general was fired by the suits.
 
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lisab
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I think that policy would have meant, at least, maintaining the air patrols for the Iraq no-fly zone indefinitely. The patrols went 10-11 years as it was.

Exactly. Now compare that to the path we chose. Had we chosen to stand pat, it would have been so much cheaper, and all those American soldiers would still be alive.

And who knows, ISIS might not be in Iraq right now.

At least one general was fired by the suits.

Bolger covered that thoroughly.
 
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Had we chosen to stand pat, it would have been so much cheaper, and all those American soldiers would still be alive.

And who knows, ISIS might not be in Iraq right now.
This is one alternative history? Are there other possibilities?
 
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mheslep
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Exactly. Now compare that...
That being, the continuation of a Iraq no-fly zone with 50 US aircraft at a time, ongoing even now in 2015? I don't mention the Iraq no-fly as the one and only task to trade off, but only one aspect of the consequences of leaving Saddam in power. I also don't argue here that the war in Iraq was the right thing to do, but I do seriously doubt that doing nothing but some air patrols would have stabilized the problem, or have been otherwise cost free to the US in lives or treasure.

Bolger covered that thoroughly.
I mention the firing to make the point that the suits as Bolger calls them were not always listening to their best generals, to advice good, bad or indifferent. As Gates said in his book:

“All too early in the [Obama] administration,” he writes, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders.”
 
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lisab
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That being, the continuation of a Iraq no-fly zone with 50 US aircraft at a time, ongoing even now in 2015? I don't mention the Iraq no-fly as the one and only task to trade off, but only one aspect of the consequences of leaving Saddam in power. I also don't argue here that the war in Iraq was the right thing to do, but I do seriously doubt that doing nothing but some air patrols would have stabilized the problem, or have been otherwise cost free to the US in lives or treasure.
We'll never know what might have happened had we chosen that option, but it seems Bolger disagrees with you.

And again, it's a good bet ISIS wouldn't be holding ground in Iraq right now if Saddam were still in charge.

I mention the firing to make the point that the suits as Bolger calls them were not always listening to their best generals, to advice good, bad or indifferent.
McChrystal wasn't fired for what he said to his bosses, he was fired for speaking too openly to the media. Had he directed his doubts/criticisms/opinions more appropriately, he'd likely still have his job.
 
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  • #43
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Every President since at least George H.W. Bush has said we shouldn't get involved in nation building, and every President since at least George H.W. Bush has ended up nation building. The US tries to use the military for this, because they aren't allowed to say "no", but fundamentally, this is not their job: their job is to break things. The US would be well served by creating another service, perhaps run out of State and not Defense, whose job is to build nations.

How many times does one's house have to catch fire before one buys some fire insurance?


I couldn't agree more. Imagine being part of the group that marched into Baghdad, surrounded by cheering citizens, days later unrest, days later still being fired upon by people in "civillian clothes". "Hey Sam who is the enemy now that there is no formal Iraqi military?" - "Uhhh, we're not sure at this point. Are you able to kidnap some "bad guys" and try and find out who we should "remove"?"

Perhaps a distinguishing feature between a war of nations and an invasion of one.
 
  • #44
We'll never know what might have happened had we chosen that option, but it seems Bolger disagrees with you.

And again, it's a good bet ISIS wouldn't be holding ground in Iraq right now if Saddam were still in charge.

Saddam was far worse than ISIS. In Iran/Iraq war which he started, estimated one million people died.

People who entertain a thought "that dictator wasn't so bad after all" are overwhelmingly people who have no idea what it's like to live under a dictatorial government. The feeling of having no hope to change anything about your country. Not even being allowed to voice a dissenting point of view.
 
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"— in part because of our moral commitment to the Iraqi people — ... ...sorting out who is or is not a terrorist in civilian areas ..."

These generals must know their history well. How could they not have respected this difficulty given our performance in Vietnam.

His synopsis: the Generals did not give good advice to the "suits" (the Bush and Obama administrations). At several junctions, we had three options: increase troop levels, keep doing what we were doing, or pull out.

General's jobs are to win wars. It's not hard to imagine some Generals being stubborn.
 
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mheslep
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Hyperbole.
Saddam once gassed 5000 Kurds in one day, with 10000 more surviving victims.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halabja_chemical_attack
And started a war with Iran that killed ~250K and wounded ~800K. I also don't see IS developing SCUD missile capability with which to target Tel-Aviv or building nuclear reactors for plutonium production.
 
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  • #50
Czcibor
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Saddam was far worse than ISIS. In Iran/Iraq war which he started, estimated one million people died.

People who entertain a thought "that dictator wasn't so bad after all" are overwhelmingly people who have no idea what it's like to live under a dictatorial government. The feeling of having no hope to change anything about your country. Not even being allowed to voice a dissenting point of view.

OK, you can use the argument that was worse because of Iran-Iraq war, but Americans on this forum would be uneasy about it, after all they were selling weapons to Saddam and sharing with him satelite photos.

As stock market analyst are expected to say: “Past performance does not guarantee future returns.” The first problem here is that Saddam wasn't seriously looking as if preparing for a new war, so if haven't been invaded would just moderately oppress his citizen. (of course upraise could happen, like in case of Assad, and in such case support for insurgents may be advised)

The other problem here is that as a general rule in stable dictatorship your chance of being murdered (by thugs hired by gov or freelance thugs) is actually dramatically lower than in unstable democracy (by freelance thugs), not mentioning countries that effectively turned into a permanent war zones. (yes, you may use different metric, but I'm just pointing out that one metric here favours dictatorship) Additionally the less educated society the harder would be to achieve working democracy.
 
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OK, you can use the argument that was worse because of Iran-Iraq war, but Americans on this forum would be uneasy about it, after all they were selling weapons to Saddam and sharing with him satelite photos.

Which is a wrong reason to feel uneasy about.
Americans supported Saddam after he started the war, because Iran was even worse. Their dictatorship is not one man's affair, death of any single individual in Iran leadership is not going to end it. Since the war has already started, what was making more sense - to let Iran win?

The other problem here is that as a general rule in stable dictatorship your chance of being murdered (by thugs hired by gov or freelance thugs) is actually dramatically lower than in unstable democracy (by freelance thugs), not mentioning countries that effectively turned into a permanent war zones. (yes, you may use different metric, but I'm just pointing out that one metric here favours dictatorship) Additionally the less educated society the harder would be to achieve working democracy.

Working democracy can be achieved only by trying to achieve working democracy.

Just conserving a dictatorship can't avoid a (potentially bloody) mess when it eventually falls, and people try to live differently. It just postpones it.

In order to learn how to ride a bike you need to try it. Even if you fall repeatedly at first.
 
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Which is a wrong reason to feel uneasy about.
Americans supported Saddam after he started the war, because Iran was even worse. Their dictatorship is not one man's affair, death of any single individual in Iran leadership is not going to end it. Since the war has already started, what was making more sense - to let Iran win?
OK, so he killed so many people in a war in which he was considered as lesser evil and armed accordingly.
Working democracy can be achieved only by trying to achieve working democracy.

Just conserving a dictatorship can't avoid a (potentially bloody) mess when it eventually falls, and people try to live differently. It just postpones it.

In order to learn how to ride a bike you need to try it. Even if you fall repeatedly at first.
That what you said contradicts somewhat historical cases:

Case 1: Poland. Before WW1 in occupying powers the most democratic thing was constitutional monarchy with parliament. Then in independent country we played with a democracy for a while. (a terribly unstable version) It ended up with a coup and soft line dictatorship. The system at the end by contemporary standards was comparably democratic to Putin Russia, but by standards of that era was very tolerant and humanitarian in comparison to nearby Soviet Union and Third Reich. Consequently there was a period of communism. The system that appeared after 1989, was already in theory fully democratic in 1991, while it needed a while more in practice.

(there was big jump in quality of democracy between Second Republic (1918-1939) and Third Republic (1989-). Such event don't fit your theory ("you need to try democracy to build democracy in long run").

Case 2: Asian Tigers - first become developed, then actually become serious about democracy.
Case 3: African countries - were not developed, when they became independent their system seriously devolved towards parody of democracy or just open military dictatorship/military rule.

My point that for democracy you need properly educated and mature societies. Otherwise there is not much point. And you can get the needed development level also under less enlighten system (monarchy / colonial subjugation / single party state / dictatorship), actually if you risk civil wars or high crime rate, then keeping a police state may be a part of the least harmful idea.
 
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  • #53
That what you said contradicts somewhat historical cases:

Case 1: Poland. Before WW1 in occupying powers the most democratic thing was constitutional monarchy with parliament. Then in independent country we played with a democracy for a while. (a terribly unstable version) It ended up with a coup and soft line dictatorship. The system at the end by contemporary standards was comparably democratic to Putin Russia, but by standards of that era was very tolerant and humanitarian in comparison to nearby Soviet Union and Third Reich. Consequently there was a period of communism. The system that appeared after 1989, was already in theory fully democratic in 1991, while it needed a while more in practice.

(there was big jump in quality of democracy between Second Republic (1918-1939) and Third Republic (1989-). Such event don't fit your theory ("you need to try democracy to build democracy in long run").

How does it "not fit my theory" when you said that first attempt at building democracy was not as successful as the second? That's _exactly_ my point.

There are more examples.

Consider Germany. First democracy (Weimar republic) fell apart, because people and politicians did not yet know what it is and how to use it. Both communists and nazis tried to seize power, and keep it forever, crushing opponents. Nazis did it first...

Case 2: Asian Tigers - first become developed, then actually become serious about democracy.

As I said: exactly my point. E.g. South Korea, while being nominally "democratic", at first was quite authoritarian in reality - they suppressed communists with quite brutal and in many cases illegal means. But gradually, it become better, and now they have well-functioning democracy.

Case 3: African countries - were not developed, when they became independent their system seriously devolved towards parody of democracy or just open military dictatorship/military rule.

Africa and Middle East countries are either don't have democracy yet, or they are at "Weimar republic" stage, with high risks of it falling apart. They did not "devolve" from actual, working democracy to a parody - they never had "actual, working democracy" yet.

My point that for democracy you need properly educated and mature societies.

Where would "mature society" appear from? Thin air?

Can you ride bicycle well without ever trying?
 
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jim hardy
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I'm just pointing out that one metric here favours dictatorship) Additionally the less educated society the harder would be to achieve working democracy.

My point that for democracy you need properly educated and mature societies. Otherwise there is not much point. And you can get the needed development level also under less enlighten system (monarchy / colonial subjugation / single party state / dictatorship), actually if you risk civil wars or high crime rate, then keeping a police state may be a part of the least harmful idea.

There's the bitter truth.

We overthrew several dictators in last decade and look what a mess erupted.
Now we have civil wars. Our own Civil War was ended by Sherman's violent swath across the south. His idea was to inflict so much pain on the people at large they'd stop supporting the war.
But i don't think that's something we should do to a people who haven't militarily attacked us. It's up to them to put their house in order.



my two cents
 
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There's the bitter truth.

We overthrew several dictators in last decade and look what a mess erupted. Now we have civil wars.

The failure was that Bush was too stupid to realize that other places and cultures have very substantial differences from one he knows, and that it was vitally important to consult with specialists in Middle East, Arabs, And Iraqis in particular, before going to war with Saddam.

He did nothing of that. Almost anything that happened after Saddam was defeated was a surprise to his administration. Such as Sunnis and Shias turning on each other. It was predictable. With sufficient planning, maybe it was _avoidable_.

The war per se was won easily in military terms. It is actually something which needs to be studied in textbooks on military logistics and planning - winning a war on the other side of the globe from your country is _hard_.
 
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jim hardy
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Well, i lay it instead on whoever upset Lybia, Tunisia, Egypt, and almost Syria...

When i read Brzezinski's 'Grand Chessboard' , and Mackinder's "Heartland Theory" it became apparent to me the die was cast well before the 2000 elections.
Bellow's "Ravelstein" gives a glimpse into the world of men who play tiddlywinks with nations.
 
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  • #58
russ_watters
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Saddam was far worse than ISIS. In Iran/Iraq war which he started, estimated one million people died.

People who entertain a thought "that dictator wasn't so bad after all" are overwhelmingly people who have no idea what it's like to live under a dictatorial government. The feeling of having no hope to change anything about your country. Not even being allowed to voice a dissenting point of view.
ISIS has twitter and advertises their barbarism. That's all they really have - they are the Ray Rice of terrorist/militant groups. What they are doing is not unique or even especially creative*, much less of a large enough scale or organized enough to measure up to either Saddam or Assad.

*Saddam is said to have dropped political prisoners into a plastic shredder. THAT takes a special kind of creative evil. That he was able to be so insanely brutal while maintaining control of such a large country is truly remarkable.
 
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  • #59
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Since Daesh has only been active for about 9 years (since ~2006), given enough time, I think they would outdo Saddam who was President of Iraq from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003 (or about 24 years).

Hopefully, they will be deprived of that opportunity.
 
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russ_watters
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Oops, guess I fell for that one.
 
  • #62
Czcibor
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How does it "not fit my theory" when you said that first attempt at building democracy was not as successful as the second? That's _exactly_ my point.

There are more examples.

Consider Germany. First democracy (Weimar republic) fell apart, because people and politicians did not yet know what it is and how to use it. Both communists and nazis tried to seize power, and keep it forever, crushing opponents. Nazis did it first...

Well, I think that Nazi Germany is exactly a well picked argument against democracy and that both Germany and the world would be better off if Wilhelm II was still the kaiser.

I see one serious flaw in your reasoning - you assum



As I said: exactly my point. E.g. South Korea, while being nominally "democratic", at first was quite authoritarian in reality - they suppressed communists with quite brutal and in many cases illegal means. But gradually, it become better, and now they have well-functioning democracy.
But insctead of striving for democracy the priorities were economics/education and getting rid of communist in a way that's not democracy at all. Had they been more serious about typical features of democracy like human rights / freedom of speech actually they risked state collapse thus moving far away from becoming a democracy in long run


Where would "mature society" appear from? Thin air?

Can you ride bicycle well without ever trying?
Main source:
- mass education. At best not done now but already such tradition of more than one generation
- respect for law/rules (there are some clear rules based on secular law, and they are enforced)
- cultural transfer from more advanced countries
- responsibility for your own choice (try first democracy on local level when you would directly feel pain of your bad decisions, while you would not cause collapse of everything)

(You can provide that all under authoritarian regime. Under perfect condition you organize a burial of the dictator (like Ataturk), call him in the speech the father of nation, thank him for all achievements in education and industrial development during decades of his reign, and while body is decomposed you prepare a free election)

Do you consider as good idea to try to ride bicycle when you haven't learned to walk yet? Or maybe in such a case it would be mostly a source of unnecessary bruises.
 
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  • #63
Vanadium 50
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both Germany and the world would be better off if Wilhelm II was still the kaiser.

A Kaiser 126 years old!
 
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>> Where would "mature society" appear from? Thin air?

>> Can you ride bicycle well without ever trying?

Main source:
- mass education. At best not done now but already such tradition of more than one generation
- respect for law/rules (there are some clear rules based on secular law, and they are enforced)

Neither of this is beneficial to authoritarian elite. Say, today's Egypt.
They _prefer_ to have uneducated, poor, gullible population.
They also prefer to enforce a simple rule "whatever we say is the law. Any laws we don't like are ignored".
 
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  • #65
mheslep
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Jonathan Foreman of Commentary Magazine has a http://jonathanforeman.info/coin-wars-on-daniel-bolgers-why-we-lostcommentary-magazine-april-2015/on Bolger's "Why We Lost". The review is critical of Bolger for failing to back his primary thesis. Foreman does cite some strong points, good writing, and at other times the resort to the petty.

...Regardless of who was in charge, Bolger believes the underlying situation [in Iraq] was impossible. “Replace Bremer with Henry Kissinger and Sanchez with Dwight Eisenhower, cancel the de-Baathification orders, and the stark facts on the ground still sat there oozing pus and bile,” he writes. “With Saddam gone, any voting would install a Shiite majority. The Sunni wouldn’t run Iraq again. That, at the bottom, caused the insurgency.” (Like many commentators on the war, Bolger often seems blasé about the oppression of Iraq’s Kurds and Shia under the Baathist regime and the dominance of the Sunni minority.)

Bolger makes sure to remind the reader of Petraeus’s relative lack of height, as if that might be the key to his character flaws.

In short Bolger insists that the military must pursue only “short, decisive conventional wars, for limited ends”. Those conditions might well make war clean for the US military and a big budget military industrial complex, though I don't see how outside of Hollywood films those conditions meet successfully with real threats to the US and allies.
 
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nickyrtr
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Did the US really lose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Saddam and the Taliban were both removed from control of their respective states relatively quickly, and they still haven't got it back. That's an important difference from Vietnam.
 
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  • #67
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But on the other hand, would it be any better to fight only wars that we could win and profit from? If we were to attack and invade Canada, we could seize her oil, gold, rare Earth minerals, timber, fisheries, fresh water and polar access. With all that, perhaps we could pay off the national debt and restore our reputation as a fearsome winner rather than a feckless loser? :rolleyes:

SHHHH! They might hear you and get "ideas!"
 
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Go into a country, select ten thousand people at random, then torture them in the most obscene possible ways. Surely this will win the trust and allegiance of their friends, relatives, and countrymen.
 
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Vice President Dick Cheney: Wrong Then, . . .
 
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This report hints that some type of deep game is being played in Syria, as it was in Iraq.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articl...0-spies-say-isis-intelligence-was-cooked.html

More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military's Central Command have formally complained that their reports on http://www.thedailybeast.com/features/isis.html and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned.

The accusations suggest that a large number of people tracking the inner workings of the terror groups think that their reports are being manipulated to fit a public narrative. The allegations echoed charges that political appointees and senior officials cherry-picked intelligence about Iraq’s supposed weapons program in 2002 and 2003.
 

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