The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War

“In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history.”  This sentiment, introducing the essay that made Francis Fukuyama a household name, commands renewed attention today, albeit from a different perspective. Developments during the 1980s, above all the winding down of the Cold War, had convinced Fukuyama that the “end of history” was at hand.  “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea,” he wrote in 1989, “is evident… in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” Today the West no longer looks quite so triumphant.  Yet events during the first decade of the present century have delivered history to another endpoint of sorts.  Although Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal, the Western way of war has run its course. For Fukuyama, history implied ideological competition, a contest […]

What Sebastian Junger and Restrepo Won’t Tell You About War

I’ve never heard a shot fired in anger.  But I might know a little bit more about war than Sebastian Junger. Previously best known as the author of The Perfect Storm, Junger, a New York-based reporter who has covered African wars and the Kosovo killing fields, and Tim Hetherington, an acclaimed film-maker and photographer with extensive experience in conflict zones, heard many such shots, fired by Americans and Afghans, as they made their new documentary film Restrepo — about an isolated combat outpost named after a beloved medic killed in a firefight. There, they chronicled the lives of U.S. soldiers from Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, during a tour of duty in eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The film has been almost universally praised by mainstream reviewers and was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  A New York Times […]

As Petraeus Takes Over, Could Success Be Worse Than Failure?

July 12, 2011, Washington, D.C. — In triumphant testimony before a joint committee of Congress in which he was greeted on both sides of the aisle as a conquering hero, Gen. David Petraeus announced the withdrawal this month of the first 1,000 American troops from Afghanistan.  “This is the beginning of the pledge the president made to the American people to draw down the surge troops sent in since 2009,” he said, adding, “and yet let me emphasize, as I did when I took this job, that our commitment to the Afghan government and people is an enduringone.” Last July, when Gen. Petraeus replaced the discredited Gen. Stanley McChrystal as Afghan war commander, he was hailed as an “American hero” by Senator John McCain, as “the most talented officer of his generation” by the New Yorker’s George Packer, and as “the nation’s premier warrior-diplomat” by Karen DeYoung and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post — typical […]

But the War Machine Grinds On and On and On

President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy isn’t working.  So said a parade of Afghanistan watchers during the flap over war commander General Stanley McChrystal’s firing.  But what does that phrase, so often in the media these days, really mean?  And if the strategy really isn’t working, just how can you tell? The answers to these questions raise even more important ones, including: Why, when President Obama fires an insubordinate and failing general, does he cling to his failing war policy? And if our strategy isn’t working, what about the enemy’s? And if nothing much is working, why does it still go on nonstop this way?  Let’s take these one at a time. 1.  What do you mean by “it’s not working”? “It” is counterinsurgency or COIN, which, in fact, is really less of a strategy than a set of tactics in pursuit of a strategy.  Counterinsurgency doctrine, originally designed by empires intending […]