Andrew J. Bacevich writes: Judgments rendered by history tend to be tentative, incomplete and reversible. More than occasionally, they arrive seasoned with irony. This is especially true when it comes to war, where battlefield outcomes thought to be conclusive often prove anything but.
Rather than yielding peace, victory frequently serves as a prelude to more war. Once opened, wounds fester. Things begun stubbornly refuse to end. As the renowned strategic analyst F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed, “The victor belongs to the spoils.”
Next year marks the centennial of the conflict once known as the Great War. Germany lost that war. Whether France and Britain can be said to have won in any meaningful sense is another matter. Besides planting the seeds for an even more horrific bloodletting just two decades later, the fighting of 1914-1918 served chiefly to provide expansion-minded British politicians with a pretext for carving up the Ottoman Empire. It proved a fateful move.
What London wanted from this new Middle East that it nonchalantly cut and pasted was profit and submission; what it got was resentment and resistance, yielding a host of intractable problems that in due time it bequeathed to Washington. In effect, victory in 1918 expanded Britain’s imperial domain only to accelerate its demise, with the United States naively assuming the mantle of imperial responsibility (euphemistically termed “leadership”). Thank you, Perfidious Albion.
Many another storied triumph has contained its own poison pill. More recent examples include the Six Day War, which saddled Israel with a large, restive minority that it can neither pacify nor assimilate; the ouster of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, giving rise to the Taliban; and Operation Desert Storm, after which the garrisoning of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia helped light the long fuse that would eventually detonate on Sept. 11, 2001.
Think you’ve won? Wait until all the returns are in.
With the passage of time, near-term military results matter less than long-term political consequences. [Continue reading…]