Thursday, June 26, 2008

In war the result is never final

The two most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq speak volumes in support of Clausewitz who wrote in his seminal book, On War, that the ultimate outcome of war is never to be regarded as final. According to Clausewitz, the outcome of war is merely a transitory evil, for which the remedy is political.

When the Americans finished bombing Afghanistan, ousting the ruling Taliban government and driving Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to its hideout deep in the rugged mountains that border Pakistan, America`s war against radical Islamic terrorists was just about to start. Using the pretext of Iraq stock-piling weapons of mass destruction, once again America`s military might leading a multinational force invaded Iraq and destroyed Saddam Hussein`s dictatorial regime. Hussein was captured and brought to trial before a kangaroo court that sentenced him to die in the gallows.

Both the outcomes of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq showed the superiority of American air power and its advanced arsenal of weapons but there was no military victory on the ground. What ensued after all the sirens and roar of American fighter jets in the skies subsided was the beginning of a protracted counterinsurgency, the end of which is perhaps more elusive or even deadlier. Worse, America`s sworn enemy, radical Islamic extremism, has become even stronger with the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the rise of Iran-backed Shia militants in Iraq.

Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States in the upcoming elections in November, told a few hundred protesters at the time George Bush had declared war on Iraq in 2002, that the invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale would only fan the flames of the Middle East conflict and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. ``I don`t oppose all wars. I`m opposed to dumb wars,`` Obama stressed. Six years later, Bush`s approval rating plunged to a record low and Obama`s opposition to the war in Iraq helped him clinch his party`s nomination.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq did not help George Bush solidify the legacy of his presidency, which may yet be the ultimate cause of the loss of the Republican Party in the November elections. Meanwhile, the rise of counterinsurgency against the American occupation in Iraq has been hampering the transition to democracy and peace as originally flaunted by George Bush as his principal objective after the invasion. The new shift to a surge in the U.S. military strategy and campaign on the ground has only intensified everything, and may prove a significant obstacle to the achievement of a viable and lasting political solution to the Iraqi crisis.

With no end in sight, one wonders, why war? This is the same question Albert Einstein asked Sigmund Freud. Exasperated with the inability of science to explain why human beings resorted to killing their kind, Einstein wrote to Freud asking him what he thought about war. He was hoping that the discovery of the theory of psychoanalysis might offer a different diagnosis, and perhaps, a cure.

In his response, which was neither a real diagnosis nor a real cure, Freud explained that violence and inequality are natural to mankind. Weak people, by historical evolution, banded together to oppose strong individuals with the hope that their collective strength would eventually constitute a new legal order, the one that could bring about everlasting peace. But this was a utopian state of peace, according to Freud. It was only theoretically conceivable because in practice, inequality, aggression and strife are endemic to human existence.

Although much preoccupied with the strategy and tactics of war, Clausewitz nevertheless considers war as a mere continuation of policy by other means. The political object is the goal; war is the means of reaching it. War should never be considered in isolation from its political purpose.

On the other hand, Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese theoretician of war, argued that it is better to achieve one’s aims by negotiation rather than by force. However, in this day and age where military power is might, it seems much easier and more tempting for generals of armies to behave like cavemen, to be motivated by greed and fear, and not to resist fights.

There could be a finality to war, after all, and that is when a great empire eventually collapses. When Croesus inquired from the Delphic oracle if he should wage war on Persia, the oracle replied, “If you do, you will destroy a great empire.” Buoyed up by the oracle, Croesus went to war, and indeed destroyed a great empire: his own. The might of the U.S. military may eventually self-destruct in the end, and America could be the last of the superpowers to fall.

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