Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wars aren't short

Great article by Max Boot for the Wall Street Journal. He makes the very simple point that short and sharp wars are not the historical norm. He then sets out one interesting example of a long conflict, that between England and Scotland. Shorter wars are a creation of particularly determined European nation states more than anything.

As he says, this does recast Israel-Palestine. There is a solid argument that Americans, with a history of short wars, assume it is overdue to end. The reality could be that, regardless of whether the Palestinians have a state, this conflict will rumble on for decades yet.

This can be added to the list of myths about war that the War Nerd set out years ago: that wars involve battles, that you win by killing the enemy, that hi-tech beats lo-tech, that insurgents will quit and that everyone really wants peace. All these are myths. Understanding that brings home the real strategic challenges of the coming century.

6 comments:

Ruthie said...

I was listening to this piece on NPR recently by an advertising guy that speaks to the Israeli-Palestinian issue (and the Middle Eastern-Western communication problem).

It was enlightening. Obviously, it focuses on the U.S., but I think it's applicable to all Western countries.

Act Two, titled "America, the ad campaign" is the really interesting part. You can skip Act One. Click on "Full episode" and fast forward to Act Two.

I searched all over to find you a link, here it is:

http://thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=322

Having read some of the other things this guy (Shalom Auslander) has written, I think he's kind of a jerk, but he makes an interesting point.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Thanks, I'll take a listen later.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Americans have always done that - boom, boom, it's over. But it never is. You'd think they'd have learnt from Korea and Vietnam and from the Russian experience in Afghanistan.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Ruthie, I just listened to the podcast. Thanks for finding it for me. It reminded me of this quote from Salisbury, discussing the unrest in Ireland:

"The optimist view of politics assumes that there must be some remedy for every political ill, and rather than not find it, will make two hardships to cure one. If all equitable remedies have failed its votaries take it as proved without argument that the one-sided remedies, which alone are left, must needs succeed.

But is not the other view barely possible? Is it not just conceivable that there is no remedy that we can apply to Irish hatred of ourselves? that other loves or hates may possibly some day elbow it out of the Irish peasant's mind, that nothing we can do by any contrivance will hasten the advent of that period?

May it not, on the contrary, be our incessant doctoring and meddling, awaking the passions now of this party, now of that, raising at every step a fresh crop of resentments by the side of the old growth, that puts off the day when these feelings will decay quietly away and be forgotten?

One thing we know we can do in Ireland, for we have done it in India and elsewhere with populations more unmanageable and more bitter. We can keep the peace and we can root out organised crime. But there is no precedent in our history or any other, to teach us that political measures can conjure away hereditary antipathies which are fed by constant agitation. The free institutions that sustain the life of free and united people, sustain also the hatreds of a divided people."

In moments of despair, like the ones described in that broadcast, it seems prescient. I'm not sure that is right to draw such hopeless conclusions from his experience but, if he is, I think Salisbury's doctine is the only one that makes any sense.

Ruthie said...

That's an interesting parallel.

"May it not, on the contrary, be our incessant doctoring and meddling, awaking the passions now of this party, now of that, raising at every step a fresh crop of resentments by the side of the old growth, that puts off the day when these feelings will decay quietly away and be forgotten? "

How does a country bounce back from doctoring and meddling? Clearly an ad campaign won't neatly resolve our image problem or bridge the gap, so to speak.

How has it worked in the past? Is time the best remedy? Is inaction the best remedy? Or is the problem that we feel the need to seek a remedy?

Matthew Sinclair said...

Indeed. These are the kind of serious questions that paleoconservatism should be an important part of answering. As Ross Douthat says it is a shame that it is now a fringe, Ron Paul, position:

http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/01/ron_pauls_friends.php