Archive for the ‘War’ Category

The Seinfeld Strategy

Michael Fullilove on America’s ‘Seinfeld’ strategy in Iraq, which means doing the opposite of everything your instincts tell you to do, a tactic once tried by Seinfeld’s Costanza:

First, military and diplomatic resources are finite and should be directed towards your greatest priority. An example of the opposite approach would be for a country that has been attacked by a non-state terrorist group to retaliate by removing a state regime that had nothing to do with the attack.

Second, take care not to weaken your intimidatory powers through poor military performance. Aim for short, sharp victories (such as that in the 1991 Gulf war) that get your adversaries worrying about the extent of US power. The opposite would be to launch a war of choice involving the drawn-out occupation of an Arab country – the kind of thing that gets your allies worrying about the limits of US power.

Third, you get by with help from friends. Although the powerful are sometimes tempted to go it alone, international support helps determine the perceived legitimacy of an action, which affects its risk and costs. Building this support requires discussion and compromise. The opposite would be to spurn real negotiations, slough off your allies, bin multilateral agreements you do not like and declare that you are not bound by the rules that govern everyone else.

Fourth, state-building is hard. Few of the international efforts at state-building since the cold war’s end have succeeded. Luckily there are numberless reports identifying lessons learnt. The alternative would be to do the opposite of what those reports recommend, for example by deploying insufficient troops and dismantling any extant national institutions such as the army.

Fifth, democracy is a blessing that requires patient nurturing. The opposite approach would be to seek to impose democracy by force of arms on a population traumatised by decades of vicious and totalitarian rule.

Sixth, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If two dangerous states are struggling for dominance of a strategic region, maintaining a balance between them may be the least worst option. The opposite would be to emasculate one of them, thereby greatly increasing the relative power of the other.

Finally, historians often cite the need for prudence in international relations, quoting the physician’s dictum: “First, do no harm.” The opposite would be: “Don’t think too much, just chance your arm and see what happens!”


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The Spanish Civil War

Edward Rothstein writes on the ambiguities of the Spanish Civil War.

The civil war, in fact, had more to do with Spain than with fascism. Hugh Thomas’s encyclopedic “Spanish Civil War” reveals stupefying patterns of legislative failure and manic enterprise in the years before the war. Spain had no strong democratic traditions or middle class. It was an anomaly: a European nation that even World War I had passed by, its agrarian, preindustrial stagnation accompanied by rigid social hierarchies and strong regional allegiances. When a republic was established in 1931, it proved as vulnerable to revolutionary extremism as conservative reaction: land reform could mean land seizure; church reform could mean violence. Anarchism, riots and rebellion were familiar companions of the Republic’s bumbling modernity.

By 1937, after the show trials in Moscow, it was apparent to many devoted idealists that the party’s high moral proclamations were not what they seemed. This is what George Orwell fitfully recognizes in his “Homage to Catalonia.” First he fights in an independent Marxist division that was apparently kept deliberately undersupplied. Later he fears for his life in Barcelona — Republican-held territory — as the party begins a planned purge, including killings and torture. Some recent research has suggested that even members of the Lincoln Brigade — some of whom “disappeared” — were not immune.

Something about the nature of war that both the right and left should keep in mind.

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