Sunday, March 30, 2008

Professor Nacos warns about Senator McCain's "100 years" in Iraq

From National Review Online, posted on the CBS News website: He was asked about President Bush’s comment that we could stay in Iraq for 50 years. McCain replied, “Make it 100. We’ve been in South Korea . . . we’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’s fine with me. I hope that would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting and equipping and motivating people every single day.”

Professor Nacos, as a warning to battling Obama and Clinton supporters who claim they would vote for McCain rather than the other Democrat (I don't believe they would), points at McCain's "100 years" comment as a scary portent. I replied (edited):

Professor,

C'mon - you know - as much as anyone who lived through the 20th century - what Senator McCain meant. You, better than most. "100 years" doesn't sound so scary to me, considering that, as an American soldier, I served on a driver-escort detail in Seoul during the 50th anniversary of the Korean War commemoration. Our forces have served as a war-fighting or stabilization and security presence in Korea for over 60 years (we often forget to count the period before the Korean War), and the same can be said for our forces in Europe, especially Germany. Will our forces still be in E.Asia and Europe in 2045? Who knows, but "100 years" in either place is something we seem prepared to do. As much as those relationships seem normal now, I'm sure the prospect was as disconcerting in the early 1940s as the prospect of long-term organic partnerships in the Middle East today.

Of course, if you consider the start point of American entry into Europe as World War One, then we are now over 90 years as an organic presence in Europe, which makes "100 years" realistic, indeed. (Arguably, President Bush Jr is the most controversial liberal US President since President Wilson. At least President Truman could blame the USSR and Maoist China for the Korea War.) I suppose for any remaining die-hard southern American Confederates, American presence in the lands of the short-lived CSA is now close to 147 years and counting.

Which goes to show that even in the nation-v-nation wars we're familiar with, sustained presence, even "100 years", is not abnormal. The key is to remember that each of those years is dissimilar and the American military has historically performed a myriad of functions in service of our nation's foreign policy. When I served before 9/11, we already grumbled then how much soldiers, we active-duty types as well as reservists, were being deployed away from home.

Today's Global War on Terror, or Long War, is a different kind of war. It's very much the insurgency-v-counterinsurgency that President John Kennedy prognosticated before his assassination, rather than the Cold War formula we're more comfortable with. If sustained involvement has been a regular feature of even our more-traditional nation-v-nation wars, then it is a central feature of an insurgency-v-counterinsurgency war.

After decades in which our counterinsurgency capability was deliberately starved by 'realist' policy makers inside and outside the military, at the same time insurgency matured as the sensible exploiter of an obvious American weakness, we've only begun - with GEN Petraeus as its chief champion - to institutionalize counterinsurgency and its emphasis on peace-building. In a changing world in which our competitors learn in evolutionary fashion, it's critical that we allow the time, space, and resources so our counterinsurgency capability can mature in Iraq, not only for the good of Iraq, but for long-term American foreign policy strategy.

Final note: Of the remaining presidential candidates, I believe Barack Obama has the potential to be the best representative of President Bush's definitively liberal strategy in the War on Terror. However, his assertion that the Democrat victories in the 2006 senatorial elections are the cause of the "Surge"/Counterinsurgency successes under GEN Petraeus is far more jaw-dropping for a prospective US President than Senator McCain's gaffe about who sponsors which Islamic extremist insurgents in Iraq.

Update: Professor Nacos' reply and my response.

Eric

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