Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jack Kelly on September 21st

Today's Jack Kelly column, Jack Kelly / Poking the hornet’s nest: Half measures won’t defeat the Islamic State is interesting in that it re-examines Kelly's view on the the Vietnam war, a war he fought in as a young man. Kelly comes back to some of his favorite themes (if one can judge by how often he brings them up), that the US military could have "won" the war if it had been let off it's leash, and that Congress betrayed the Vietnamese people by not preventing the fall of Saigon a couple of years after we had left.

I have to give Kelly this: do I think he is correct that the US military was capable of so devastating the North Vietnamese military such that it would be incapable of launching any sustained military campaign in the South? The answer is yes. In fact, to some extent that is pretty much what we did in Korea a decade or so prior; after suffering an initial defeat, we were able to drive the North Koreans back. Then the Chinese intervened and the Korean "police action" entered a new phase. Would Chinese intervention have happened in the sixties and seventies if we had let the US military annihilate the North Vietnamese military? The fact that Vietnam had several low intensity border skirmishes with China in the late seventies makes that somewhat questionable, but pre "Nixon goes to China" ... who knows?

Kelly's point with today's column is that he believes once again, the US military could accomplish the particular mission of destroying ISIS if they were given a free hand. I will say that in this instance, given those parameters, I think Jack Kelly is right.

But I think that just defeating ISIS is not, and should not be, a foreign policy in and of itself. I guess Jack Kelly thinks that if you beat the tar out of what is supposed to be a tough opponent, all the other potential opponents will respect you. But I don't think that is necessarily the case. I don't think Saudi Arabia or Nigeria is going to sell us oil cheaper if we beat the tar out of ISIS. In fact, I suspect Saudi Arabia might start jacking up the price of oil, expelling US military personnel and generally siding with the people who don't like us if we thoroughly beat ISIS. Because if we do, I think it will create a whole new recruiting campaign for radical Muslims, who will want to blow up US targets yes, but also targets in countries that are our allies such as Saudi Arabia. Because even if we do beat the snot out of ISIS, it is not clear we will act that decisively towards the next threat, whomever they may be.

I did comment on the PG website, on the page of today's Jack Kelly column. I leave it to you whether you think I covered any or all of these themes. My comment follows:

More often than not, the key to understanding foreign policy is to look at the domestic situation. President Obama's seeming half measures are what he thinks the American public is willing to accept as reasonable action right now. Are they sufficient to achieve the goal of "degrading" the forces of the Islamic State such that other nation's ground forces can deal with them? I don't know, that depends on a lot of factors I don't know about.

But past that are bigger questions like what we hope to achieve with our foreign policy actions in general. Do we want to go to full blown war against IS? If the answer to that question is yes, then I also ask *why*? Do we think that killing thousands over there will make us safer at home? How many of those thousands we would kill would have come across the Atlantic to commit acts of terror here? And then the question is how many might come over to avenge the thousands of martyrs we would end up creating if we go to full blown war again in Iraq and apparently also Syria? We might try to remember the destruction in our country 19 men created in September of 2001.

Yes, we could have won Vietnam militarily. But what would that have accomplished geo-politically? Vietnam was not about a communist take over of the world any more than Iraq (II) was about keeping WMD's from being used by terrorists. But those two illusions killed thousands and tens of thousands of Americans. When do we start learning lessons that don't involve the deaths of American soldiers?

1 comment:

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