Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, April 26, 2015

American Napoleons

Ross Douthat coughed up a column today about military policy.  In it, he says that Obama has tried to lay down some of the burdens of Pax Americana, especially in the Middle East and that this has led to "frozen conflicts" that America is managing rather than trying to win.

He quotes Napoleon: "When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna."  But here's a variation: "When you set out to take Moscow, rethink your plan."

As Clausewitz noted, you fight the wars you have to and you fight the wars you can win.  The idea that winning in the Middle East is possible should be fully realized as the fantasy that it is.  Wars can only be won against states.  We "beat" Iraq pretty handily.  We could "beat" Iran or Syria or Pakistan.  We can "win" any war we choose.

But that winning comes at a cost that isn't worth it.  And as we discovered in Iraq, once you've won, you have to govern an essentially ungovernable, occupied populace.

Napoleon conquered much of Europe.  But within two decades, he had lost it all and was imprisoned.  His country relapsed into the aristocracy that had been overthrown in the revolution that spawned him.

Napoleon lost.  Why on earth would that be your model?

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