May 28, 2002


War is Peace : a review of Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace (Derek Copold, 5/26/02, Texas Mercury)
Mr. Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace presents the reader with a mixed bag. Lurking within its covers are a bevy of entertaining and informative
historical vignettes which describe America's "small wars", conflicts which pit America's military against smaller guerrilla forces. This all too often ignored side of American history is given a good airing by Mr. Boot, an editor with the Wall Street Journal, and he deserves much congratulation for the work he did in bringing it to light, particularly when it comes to recognizing several heroes of these forgotten wars.

Unfortunately, Mr. Boot couldn't leave well enough alone and tacks on an overtly pro-intervention commentary at the end of each chapter, and he closes his book with yet another whooping session for what he himself calls "empire." [...]

...Boot draws three main conclusions about American intervention abroad. First, he tells us that it is wholly consistent with America's traditions, going all the way back to the Jefferson administration, a la the Barbary Wars. Second, Mr. Boot argues that the use of intervention is good for the world because it spreads democracy and free markets. Third, and lastly, Mr. Boot declares that American intervention ensures national security because the more democracy prospers globally the less likely it becomes that war will break out.

Mr. Copold does a nice job of deconstructing the interventionist position. The only thing I'd add is that the closing years of the Cold War seemed to show that our best interests may be better served by being on the other side of these guerilla wars. In Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola, etc., we made great hay by supporting guerilla movements against powers we wanted to topple. Combined with our own experience in Vietnam, these wars suggest that from a purely realpolitik perspective, it may be better to let our enemies take the reigns of government and then support their indigenous opponents. For one thing it works; for another it's cheap; and, for another, it doesn't cost much in American blood.

The recent Afghan War, where a fairly minimal U.S. commitment of forces enabled native rivals to get rid of the Taliban in mere weeks, seems like a useful hybrid that combines this lesson with American technology to create a kind of non-intervention intervention. This model might work equally well in Iraq. If we invest some effort in creating an armed and trained opposition force, perhaps combining elements of the Kurds in the North (though we'd have to remain cognizant of Turkish concerns) and the Shia in the South (working with the Iranians) with democratic expatriates, we might then be able to use bombing and air cover to enable these guerilla forces to drive Saddam from power.

This weird dynamic has grown up whereby people accuse us of being gutless for not putting ground troops into these situations. But why make ourselves the targets? Why risk large numbers of American lives in these fairly marginal wars? What's wrong with our enabling peoples to take control of their own countries, but requiring them to do much of the heavy lifting? It pains me to say it, but why can't we play France to indigenous Founding Fathers? Seems like it's at least worth trying this strategy out and Iraq seems like a good opportunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 28, 2002 9:25 AM
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