"How did it come to pass that an opposition's measure of a president's foreign policy was all or nothing, success or "failure"? The answer is that the political absolutism now normal in Washington arrived at the moment--Nov. 7, 2000--that our politics subordinated even a war against terror to seizing the office of the presidency." - Daniel Henninger - WSJ 11/18/05
"the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." - George Orwell

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Victory has a Hundred Fathers, but Defeat is an Orphan

Yesterday saw the publication of an OpEd in The NY Times regarding the Iraq Theater in the war on terror written by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack entitled, “A War We Just Might Win.” Say, have you heard about it?

Today, possibly as a counterbalance (as opposed to the editorial page’s usual ever so slight, falling over LEFTIST tendency), to yesterday’s opinion is one submitted by Nicholas Thompson, a senior editor at Wired magazine, “A War Best Served Cold.” Thompson is currently authoring a biography about George F. Kennan, a career foreign service officer who is credited with formulating the policy of “containment,” against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

According to Thompson, Kennan “gave American strategy a name, but not much else. Also the article, “X” published in Foreign Affairs “sixty years ago this month” was basically “grounded in a misunderstanding. Kennan didn’t make clear whether he intended containment to be primarily a political or military strategy. Despite the article’s ambiguity, everyone assumed the latter.

Admittedly, Thompson says of the Kennan view of “containment” that:

“we can’t know for sure how his recommended, wholly political version of containment would have fared in the cold war. But we do know that a militant foreign policy didn’t lead to nuclear war and did, eventually, help bring about the collapse of Soviet communism. We also know that a strong offensive policy has yet to succeed against Al Qaeda.”

Which is an honest enough assessment of not knowing how things would have turned out had we done X rather than Y, but in writing of the almost half century long Cold War it appears a bit incongruous to point out that “we also know that a strong offensive policy has yet to succeed against Al Qaeda.

Thompson takes Kennans explanation of containment, which lacked the clarity of whether it was “primarily a political or military strategy,” and turns it into his own version lacking clarity by making it an outright “political” one, forsaking a “military” side to the equation:

“A 21st-century rendering of X’s vision of containment would involve the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, an unambiguous renunciation of torture and an abandonment of the notion that our legal and moral norms don’t apply to the current struggle. Kennan believed we gave our opponents a propaganda victory each time we acted in a manner unfitting of our ideals.”

Thompson’s assessment sounds more akin to the arguments we have been hearing over the past few years, but with a “twist of Kennan” to somehow give it more credibility. Ultimately though it falls flat and could just be that based upon the opinion of an author in the throes of writing a book about and honorable and intelligent subject.

It would seem more likely that today’s generational war will be best accomplished with various pieces of past lessons paired with adjustments to the ever-changing landscape of war in general.

Yesterday also saw an NRO Symposium entitled “Turning Point? If you haven’t read it, it is a must read:

“The New York Times ran a piece Monday by two non-“neoconservatives” — Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack — arguing that the war in Iraq can be won. Is this indicative of some kind of mood change afoot? Could we really win this war? Could the rhetoric in Washington really change? National Review Online asked a group of experts.

Read the responses from; Frank Gaffney Jr., Victor Davis Hanson, Clifford May, John McCain, Mackubin Thomas Owens, James Robbins, Peter Rodman, Joseph Morrison Skelly and Michael Yon.

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