Saturday, May 14, 2011

Learning From History

I'm right in the middle of an excellent book by Andrew Bacevich called Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. Bacevich is one of those apostates - like Chalmers Johnson or John Perkins or Wendell Potter - who spend a lifetime of privelege as an insider in this inside game of ours. Then, for one reason or another, they have a moment of clarity, a conscience that kicks in, an epiphany about the injustice they've been furthering. Their atonement has led to some excellent books, and Bacevich's is full of insights about the evolution of US security strategies from Truman to Obama.

Which is why I'm disappointed to see his comments in this BBC story on the ongoing stalemate in Libya:
"Nato has gotten itself into a real pickle. The way out seems pretty clear - taking Col. Gaddafi out of the equation will probably take the fight out of Libya's forces. Since Gaddafi probably can't be bought, he's going to have to be killed. My guess is that alliance leaders understand that, even if they won't say it out loud."

He may well be right - at least about what alliance leaders understand. It certainly seems like targeting Qadaffy for assassination is part of the plan. But what I'd hope Bacevich would understand is that martyring the Q-Ball won't necessarily take the fight out of the Libyan regime. Indeed, the ongoing bombing campaign against Tripoli - for an intervention that was sold as a way to prevent a slaughter in Benghazi - may be having the opposite effect.

Our 78 days of bombing Belgrade, with increasing ferocity, helped Milosevic to consolidate his support. Instead, the hope was that increasing the suffering of the civilian population would lead to pressure on the regime. Aside from the fact that this would seem to fit within most definitions of "terrorism," it rarely works. It tends to provoke a rally-round-the-flag response. The same anti-logic helped Saddam stay in power through years of punishing sanctions, gives sustenance to Iran's hardline mullahs, and accounts in large part for Fidel Castro's political longevity.

In fact, it seems possible that Prof. Bacevich may well have said something similar to the BBC reporter, but that his comments ended up defragmented on the hard drive. If not, it can only bring to mind the famous quote from George Bernard Shaw: "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history."

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