When the victor belongs to the spoils of war

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…]

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3 thoughts on “When the victor belongs to the spoils of war

  1. delia ruhe

    “The United States finds itself today pretty much where the British were back in the 1920s and 1930s. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew. The only problem is that there’s no readily available sucker to whom we can hand off the mess we’ve managed to create.”

    In more ways than one does the US recall Britain of the 20s and 30s — not to mention the Weimar Republic. Government rendered dysfunctional through too much interference by the economic elite; an economic elite made hysterical by the influence of the Soviets (much like today’s Western hysteria over Chavez — even in death, Chavez inspires waves of outrageous propaganda); fascism as a welcome alternative (although, today, one searches for a label without so much baggage).

    Unfortunately, there will probably be nobody sucker enough to take on the mess the US has created. It’s also unfortunate that all of America’s vassal states voluntarily tied their fate to America’s falling star, so we will all go down with it.

  2. DE Teodoru

    Diplomatic historians seem to be the most reductum ad absurdum raconteurs, relying on “dynamite quotes” and simplistic journalistic constructions.Complexity is seen by them as “muddling” and lack of a driving theory as “bad writing” that’s hard to follow, becoming boring. Afterall, most historians got there because they couldn’t handle college math. Is it little wonder then, that the “professional” protagonists of history disregard the “academics” and thus proceed to repeat the same dumb mistakes over and over again on the theory that their own lottery ticket is the one, unlike that of the others who preceded them?
    J’accuse Obama of utter criminality in hidding the truth about GW Bush Administration stupidity and incompetence at every level from the top idiots to the lower sycophants. And yet, historians write the history just as stupidly as if truth were not their target but rather a journalistic scoop or a novelist’s good read were their ticket to careerist fame and fortune. Obama thus raped and battered poor Clio by breaking his public oath and covering up for Bush and the very neocons that will bring him down in the pages of America’s history through simplistic propaganda shadowing any analytic light which falls upon it.

  3. DE Teodoru

    Look at the new Vietnam and Cold War books. They are written by the same ideologs and say the same simplistic untruths as they did 40 years ago.

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