Wednesday, November 16, 2005

[politics] Iraq is not Vietnam

Keith Olbermann mentioned something in passing the other day that squares with a thought I've been thinking for a while: that the Iraq War resembles nothing quite so much as the Spanish American War:
With the political picture finally focused - oh, I see, Iraq isn’t a 21st Century Vietnam War, it’s the 21st Century Spanish-American War (national post-traumatic stress disorder, international scapegoats required, most villainous enemy nominated, evidence massaged to make it seem plausible, everything except the title "Operation Remember The Maine!") - let me digress again.
No such digressions here, of course. Personally, I'd agree with Keith on everything except his last statement - our version of 'Remember the Maine!' has been to repeat '9/11!' over and over. Something else Keith leaves out is that the Spanish-American War was arguably our first 'real' Imperialist war, and the conduct of it was driven at least in part by the profit motives of large corporations. So, if Iraq is the Spanish-American War, what is Afghanistan? The fight against the Moros in the Phillipines? Or the Punitive Expedition to Mexico? While both of these conflicts come after the Spanish-American War, both are classic low-intensity warfare, neither is well-remembered today (both were pretty quickly forgotten by everyone except those who served), and, in the case of the Punitive Expedition, the stated target of the Expedition (Pancho Villa) escaped unscathed because of other political considerations (the onset of WW1). Of the two, I'd vote for the Punitive Expedition as being closer to Afghanistan - it even has the elements of superior military forces against an irregular enemy, cultural and linguistic differences, reliance upon local assets to augment your force structure, and so on. They're far from perfect analogies, but there are probably some valuable lessons to be learned from the outcome/aftermath of both of these conflicts... First, the Spanish-American War resulted in our occupation and administration of Cuba - and we all know how well that turned out. Second, neither are really seen as shining moments in our history, militarily or diplomatically. Are these the sorts of misadventures we're asking our military to engage in? Ill-concieved Imperialist land grabs that end in an anti-American revolution 50 years later? Failed cat-and-mouse games where we are unable to capture or kill our number one target? The precedents do not look good. Update 17-Nov-05 10:45PM PST In discussing this with a friend of mine over lunch today, another similarity was arrived at: the Spanish-American War is also known for obscene and rampant profiteering by the suppliers and contractors. Hmmm... When was Halliburton founded again?

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