I posted back in October about Jeffrey Record's fresh and challenging analysis of the appeasement policies of Britain and France in the 1930s toward Germany. In Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo, he looks at how American foreign policy and military managers applied the "lessons of Munich" and the "lessons of Vietnam" to the decisions they faced.
Although its publication date is 2002, the text makes no mention of 9/11, and he just refers to George W. Bush as Bill Clinton's successor in the Presidency. So it was almost nostalgic to get a glimpse back at the state of the debates on the use of force in foreign policy from the immediate pre-9/11 perspective.
In those days, discussion over the use of force were dominated by the advocates on the one hand of the Powell Doctrine, a semi-isolationist, semi-militarist notion popular among "realist" Republicans and much of the officer corps, and on the other hand the kind of cautious but asertive liberal internationalism of the Clinton administration.
The historical and analytical narratives built around the various lessons of "Munich", i.e., the appeasement of Hitler and its unfortunate outcome, and those of the Vietnam War aren't going away. But they clearly will now share the stage with the "lessons of Iraq", which are not in the early stages of being hashed out.
Record's book is a reminder of the ways that History can inform decisionmakers' understanding of current situations as well as limit and distort. In recent years, the road to the Iraq War was paved with Second World War analogies. For the neoconservatives, it has been said, it is always 1938 and the West is always on the verge of selling out Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Bush's favorite historian Victor Davis Hanson is the world master of the hack Second World War analogy. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is one of the main figures in the rightwing Israeli Likud Party whose philosophy has so heavily influenced the neocons, actually said just this past week, "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany." (Natanyahu: It's 1938 and Iran is Germany; Ahmadinejad is preparing another Holocaust by Peter Hirschberg Ha'aretz 11/14/06)
Record shows that the "Munich" analogy was poorly applied in the Vietnam War and in Kosovo. Jeffrey Record is no Victor Davis Hanson, so when he examines how well the Munich analogy fits to a given conflict, he's not simply applying some propaganda label. He argues on a variety of grounds that the Vietnam War was a bad policy choice for the US, arguments which he explains at greater length in The Wrong War: Why We Lost Vietnam (1998).
The reason that the Munich analogy as applied to Vietnam by successive administrations was so misleading was that it encouraged a fundamental misunderstanding of the conflict. We now know that the split between the Soviet and Chinese leaders was becoming pronounced in the late 1950s. But in the years leading up to Lyndon Johnson's decision to have American forces assume a direct role in the Vietnam fighting in 1965, the USSR and China were widely understood in America as a fully cooperating Communist bloc. To American policymakers, North Vietnamese and NLF (Viet Cong) attacks in South Vietnam represented international aggression by an expansive force. And "Munich" had taught them that such aggression had to be stopped, or it would spread further and further.
In fact, the conflict in Vietnam was primarily a civil war among Vietnamese, no matter how much outside powers may have intervened on both sides. Ho Chi Minh and his Vietnamese Communist Party were heavily nationalistic - though certainly also serious about Communist doctrine. Their territorial ambitions were largely confined to the need to control all of Vietname and to dominate the other Indochinese nations of Laos and Cambodia.
The "Munich" assumption also led American policymakers to ignore the very long-standing relationship between Vietnam and China, in which Vietnam repeatedly strove over centuries to maintain independence from China. A more carful and infomred look might have led them to question whether North Vietnam was fighting on behalf of Chinese expansionism.
The "lessons of Vietnam" didn't supplant the Munich analogy but were added to them as paradigms for policymakers. Soviet actions in various parts of the world were misinterpreted by conservatives and many liberals as well through the prism of "Munich" as they understood it. Record argues that there is reason to think that the US defeat and withdrawal from Vietnam encouraged Soviet adventurism in Third World countries. Yet he also argues:
But at this point analogies with the 1930s in Europe quickly turn sour. Soviet gains in the Third World in the 1970s and early 1980s were gains along the Cold War's periphery. They did not affect the central balance of military power between the United States and the Soviet Union; on the contrary, those gains quickly turned out to be liabilities. In contrast, Hitler's successes in the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia undermined the European balance of power and sped the planet to another world war. To equate, as [Michael] Lind did in Vietnam: The Necessary War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to say nothing of Soviet "triumphs" in places like Ethiopia and Guinea-Bissau, with Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia is to dismiss the critical distinction that George Kennan made ... between the center and the periphery. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a strategic dead end in very much the same way that intervention in the Vietnam War proved to be for the United States. Indeed, both interventions reflected not only an overvaluation of the Third World's strategic importance as a whole but also a failure to make key distinctions of importance within the Third World. For the United States, who runs Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Guinea-Bissau is simply not as important a question as who runs Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Mexico. Strategically, "dominoes" come in different weights and sizes, and the fall of one here may not matter compared with the fall of one there.
Record traces the evolution of the "lessons of Vietnam". There was the Nixon Doctrine, which "essentially recognized the limits of American power and called for greater selectivity in picking fights".
The administrations of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and also the hawkish Ronald Reagan were constrained by public and Congressional reluctance to become involved in "another Vietnam".
Reagan's intervention in Lebanon of 1982-84 presented the contending perspectives that largely dominated use-of-foce discussion until the 9/11 attacks in2001. On the one hand, Secretary of State George Schultz pushed for stationing troops in Lebanon, then torn by civil war, as a tool of diplomacy. The diplomacy in this case being to restrain Israel's internvention into Lebanon. (Times have changed!) Defense Secretary Caspar Winberger believed that military forces whould be used "only for a major war", in Record's words. In fact, as Lou Cannon wrote in President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (1991), "the cause in Lebanon, unlike Vietnam, had never been supported by the president's generals or by his secretary of defense".
On October 23, 1983, a suicide truck bomber struck a Marine barracks, killing 241 US Marines. As Cannon describes it:
<blockquote>The terrorist bombing that killed the 241 Marines did, in fact, drive the United States from Lebanon, although it would take three and one-half months for events and advisers to persuade Reagan to agree to the withdrawal plan. The withdrawal was steadfastly opposed by Shultz, who continued to believe that U.S. diplomatic interests required the United States to remain in Lebanon. "We are in Lebanon because the outcome in Lebanon will affect our position in the whole Middle East," Shultz testified to Congress on October 24. "To ask why Lebanon is important is to ask why the whole Middle East is important - because the answer is the same."
Weinberger would never see it that way. He thought that Lebanon was hopeless and that the Marines had no useful purpose there. "I've never seen Cap look as sad as he did after the Marines were killed," said Colin Powell. Recalling the NSC debate of the previous Tuesday, Weinberger told Powell, "I wished I had been more persuasive with the president."
Record describes the outcome this way:
The intervention began with the best of humanitarian intentions, but slowly and inexorably the U.S. military was drawn directly into the strife, provoking deadly retaliation by those opposed to the American presence. Lebanon seemed to validate the Vietnam analogy, and it clearly contributed to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's determination to speak out on the issues of when and how force should be used.
The Reagan Doctrine stressed the need to counter Soviet expansionism in the Third World (the Munich analogy at work) without direct USmilitary involvement (the lessons of Vietnam).
In 1984, Weinberger in a speech called "The Uses of Military Power" elaborated a conservative doctrine on use of force that was first known as the Weinberger Doctrine. Colin Powell became such a champion of it that it later came to be called the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, and eventually just the Powell Doctrine. Drawing heavily on the lessons the officer corps took from the Vietnam War, the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine is a major element in the criticism of the Iraq War that we see coming from retired generals and, more quietly, from the current officer corps.
Weinberger laid out what he called six "tests" for using US military power (test #2 refers to the lessons of appeasing Hitler):
(1) First, the United States should not commit forces to combat overseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies. That emphatically does not mean that we should declare beforehand, as we did with Korea in 1950, that a particular area is outside our strategic perimeter.
(2) Second, if we decide it is necessary to put combat troops into a given situation, we should do so wholeheartedly, and with the clear intention of winning. If we are unwilling to commit the forces or resources necessary to achieve our objectives, we should not commit them at all. Of course if the particular situation requires only limited force to win our objectives, then we should not hesitate to commit forces sized accordingly. When Hitler broke treaties and remilitarized the Rhineland, small combat forces then could perhaps have prevented the holocaust of World War II.
(3) Third, if we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas, we should have clearly defined political and military objectives. And we should know precisely how our forces can accomplish those clearly defined objectives. And we should have and send the forces needed to do just that. As Clausewitz wrote, "no one starts a war - or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so - without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war, and how he intends to conduct it."
War may be different today than in Clausewitz's time, but the need for well-defined objectives and a consistent strategy is still essential. If we determine that a combat mission has become necessary for our vital national interests, then we must send forces capable to do the job -- and not assign a combat mission to a force configured for peacekeeping.
(4) Fourth, the relationship between our objectives and the forces we have committed - their size, composition and disposition - must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary. Conditions and objectives invariably change during the course of a conflict. When they do change, then so must our combat requirements. We must continuously keep as a beacon light before us the basic questions: "is this conflict in our national interest?" "Does our national interest require us to fight, to use force of arms?" If the answers are "yes", then we must win. If the answers are "no," then we should not be in combat.
(5) Fifth, before the U.S. commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress. This support cannot be achieved unless we are candid in making clear the threats we face; the support cannot be sustained without continuing and close consultation. We cannot fight a battle with the Congress at home while asking our troops to win a war overseas or, as in the case of Vietnam, in effect asking our troops not to win, but just to be there.
(6) Finally, the commitment of U.S. forces to combat should be a last resort.
In today's situation, the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine's stress on restraint, prudence and planning sounds very appealing in contrast to the Cheney-Bush administration's faith-based recklessness. But the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine has its problems. Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously pointed out the central problem during the internal discussions about intervening militarily in Bosnia-Hezogovina, which then Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell strenuously opposed. In a moment of frustration she asked Powell, "What's the point of having this superb military you are always talking about if we can't use it?"
The Weinberger-Powell Doctrine assumes that the US should maintain the capability to bring overwhelming force to bear in foreign interventions. Yet the six "tests" call for intervening only in a situation where the US will be able to predict and control virtually every aspect of the fighting. And it assumes that peacekeeping, much less protracted "nation-building', are not part of the US military's job.
Albright put her finger on a central contradiction in the doctrine. If you set the bar for military action so high that the conditions will never be met, why do you need such a large, expensive, high-tech military establishment? Conversely, just having the capability available creates a mighty temptation, human being being subject as we are to the allure of power, to start using the capability. One caould argue that's what happened in the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, although as Record points out, there were real NATO interests involved there. But when the neocons and nationalists of the Cheney-Bush administration took control of the military establishment, they saw the capabilities and ignored the restraint, prudence and planning parts. Only sissies worry about that stuff, right?
The Weinberger-Powell Doctrine also assumes the lesson that the officer corps took from the Vietnam War on how to deal with guerrilla wars in the future, i.e., don't get involved in them. The military wanted to limit its job to fighting conventional wars. Even though Powell himself was cautious about immediate intervention to push Iraq out of Kuwait after Saddam's 1990 invasion, the Gulf War seemed to prove the validity of the doctrine. Andrew Bacevich explains in American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (2002):
[W]hen the Bush administration responded to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait by dispatching U.S. troops to the Arabian Peninsula, key officials went out of their way to show that there would be no repetition of the errors that had led to disaster in Vietnam. There would be no micromanagement, no political meddling, no half-measures, and no quagmire. In that sense, the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 became a test case for the Weinberger Doctrine. Senior civilians, beginning with President Bush, and senior military officers, led by Powell, made a concerted effort to portray Desert Shield and Desert Storm as military campaigns designed and conducted with Weinberger's admonitions in mind.
That the war ended in military victory, cheaply and quicklywon, seemingly validated Weinberger's approach. As principal steward of that approach and chief military architect of victory, Powell himself acquired enormous additional standing with the public and the press, so much so that in the media the Weinberger Doctrine was promptly eclipsed by a nearly identical Powell Doctrine. That Powell's own frequently expressed convictions - above all a belief in overwhelming force employed decisively on behalf of vital interests - would henceforth constitute "the American way of war" seemed all but self-evident.
Although the interventions of the Clinton administration - Somalia (intiated by Old Man Bush but extended by Clinton), Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and miliary strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sudan - departed from the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, Clinton's administration never established a doctrinal alternative that fit with their own brand of Wilsonia liberal internationalism. As Bacevich observes:
Viewed in isolation, the U.S. military response to each of these wildly disparate situations suggested an administration flying by the seat of its pants, relying on improvisation rather than principle. That perception was not entirely without merit. If by its actions the Clinton administration showed that it had discarded the Weinberger-Powell guidelines for using force, neither the president nor any of his chief lieutenants made any apparent effort to articulate a replacement. There was no particular speech or authoritative document promulgating an official Clinton doctrine.
However, Bacevich goes on to say, "By the end of the 1990s, habits hardened into a de facto doctrine for how the United States would fulfill its self-assigned responsibilities as star-spangled global enforcer." This should be a strong reminder to war critics and advocates of restraint in the use of military force that habits of intervention in the service of liberal-internationalist policies make it easier for advocates of preventive war or misguided "realists" to intervene in less worthy causes.
It's painfully obvious that the Bush Doctrine of preventive war not only throws the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine out the window. The Iraq War has shown that it's not sustainable without drastically increasing military preparedness for guerrilla war, reinstating conscription (the draft) indefinitely, and continuing to disregard the structure of international law to which the US contributed so much to constructing. The economic and Constitutional dangers are also real in practice, though threoretically not so inevitable.
We might say that the Iraq War and the Bush Doctrine represent a collision of the lessons of "Munich" with the lessons of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam lessons became embodied in the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine and the fixation of the military preparting nearly exclusively for conventional war, not counterinsurgency. The neocons are operating on a perpetual assumption that another "Munich" is at hand and must be avoided by attacking somebody.