10 Comments
Aug 31, 2021Liked by Robert Wright

Yeah all that. No more war.

Expand full comment
Aug 31, 2021Liked by Robert Wright

Hi Bob, "America's longest war" is, well: What about the Indian wars? Say from 1776 to 1890? Or is each tribe/nation's defeat a separate war?

Lessons learned? Seriously? You sort of address this in your very good book 'THE MORAL ANIMAL' (1994, pgs 238-250) I highly recommend y'all give it a read. In Jared Diamond's book 'THE THIRD CHIMPANZEE' (1992) the epilogue is "Nothing Learned, and Everything Forgotten?" taken from a Dutch explorer and professor in 1912.

Like you, Diamond is "cautiously optimistic". If only ... . We have to be, right?

Looking forward to your GUT. cheers

Expand full comment
Aug 31, 2021Liked by Robert Wright

Well said.

Expand full comment

Your fourth lesson (“We should try really, really hard to avoid military interventions in the future”) worries me. You don’t mention successful military interventions (e.g. Korea, early Afghanistan), and “military” excludes police actions, e.g. drug interdiction in Latin America.

America’s longest war is the War on Drugs, which arguably predates Richard Nixon’s declaration in 1971. Afghanistan produces 80-90% of the world’s opium, and recently overtook Morocco to become Europe’s top provider of hashish, representing 20-30% of Afghanistan’s economy and a great deal of the Taliban’s tax revenue. After our experience with Alcohol Prohibition and the Drug War in Latin America, it should come as no surprise that a drugs black market creates government corruption and powerful, ruthless criminal organizations. It is shameful that we blame the resulting violence, unrest, and migration on the local people rather than on our own meddling.

The author of 'The Kite Runner' just gave us some advice here:

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/21/world/khaled-hosseini-afghanistan-taliban-qa-trnd/

Q: "What other Afghan authors should we be reading right now?"

A: "Fariba Nawa, who is a journalist and a wonderful writer, has written a book called "Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman's Journey Through Afghanistan." It's a family memoir about the opium trade in Afghanistan. It also provides a perspective on Afghanistan over the last 30 years or so."

So I’d say that the general lesson is that we shouldn’t meddle, whether domestically or internationally. The US founding documents provide guidance for where to draw the line between meddling and legitimate government action. However, a specific unlearned lesson is this: Black markets corrupt governments, create organized crime, finance terrorists, bloat and distort the criminal-justice system, and breed disrespect for the law, so we should be really, really cautious about prohibiting victimless goods and services.

Expand full comment

In a perfect world Lesson #2 could be addressed by proper oversight on the civilian side, but that has its own problems with wanting to prioritize the good news over the bad for short-term political reasons. With the expansion of the executive branch since WWII (particularly in defense, intelligence, etc.) I wonder if the creation of a sort of policy ombudsman oversight board that, like a cross between the Supreme Court and the Senate, can hold hearings/inquiries that are shielded from short-term political pressures. Obviously a lot of issues and pitfalls, and not something I've thought out in any detail.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

In a perfect world where Congress actually did its job of proper oversight, it would call witnesses and experts that included non-Americans to provide their perspective on what's happening.

Expand full comment

It's remarkable how the 1990s have been dropped from discussions these days, the argument usually goes Korea-Vietnam-Afghanistan-Second Iraq War. The interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo/Serbia, and the non-intervention in Rwanda don't fit that narrative arc, yet they're important. (Bob mentioned the Serbia/Kosovo bombings in passing in conversation with John Mearshimer recently, though may have mixed up the 1999 bombing (which alienated Yeltsin) and the Feb. 2008 sponsorship of Kosovo's declaration of independence (which irritated Putin and was cited as precedent in Russia's August 2008 invasion of Georgia))

Somalia and Bosnia were UN-sanctioned, Kosovo-Serbia wasn't, and of course we just let the genocide happen in Rwanda. All of these, though, were humanitarian emergencies that triggered what we later called the "responsibility to protect" (R2P), something else that's been quietly dropped.

It's hard to argue the U.S. was too fast into Bosnia; rather, both Bush and Clinton arguably contributed to dragging the conflict out, before intervening in 1994-95; the decisive step was arm-twisting Croatia and the embattled Sarajevo government into an alliance and then backing (with 'advisers' and covert arms sales) Croatia's build-up which effectively defeated the Bosnian Serbs in the fall of 1995. Though late, the intervention worked. It's hard to argue Bosnia or the Balkans would be better off today without it; there could easily have been a far worse outcome. Kosovo is more controversial, but while without UN sanction it was broadly multilateral within Europe and NATO, and again it is hard to say either Serbia or Kosovo would be better off today had the war been allowed to continue.

These don't fit easily into the framework of the four lessons here. Perhaps we need another lesson?

Expand full comment

I'd love to hear Bob discuss Afghanistan with Fred Kagan. He did a "friendly" with Dan Senor at Post Corona, but I think a back & forth with Bob would be enlightening regardless of where one currently stands on the issues.

Here's the Post Corona podcast link:

https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5zaW1wbGVjYXN0LmNvbS81Z3pNbE9HMQ/episode/Zjc2NjM2YzYtNTc3OC00NmRkLWEwNGYtMTRhYzVlZjQ0NmI4?ep=14

Expand full comment

The Bush I Gulf War has been skipped in all the "lessons learned" coverage I've seen. It was hardly a perfect project -- but the US assembled an international coalition, set a goal of getting Iraq out of Kuwait, and closed down the conflict after Iraq retreated. I recall criticism of deserted allies at the end of that conflict also (there was some discussion of the continuing peril of Marsh Arabs, for example, as well as Kurds). And it was a harbinger to disasters to come, of course: US troops remaining in Saudi Arabia was one of the grievances driving Osama bin Laden, and some subset of the US architects of the Gulf War were itching to finish off Saddam Hussein. Still, I'm curious as to why it's not included in analyses, or offered as a counter-example to the Endless War option.

Expand full comment

I rarely go to poetry, but when considering the folly of America's (or any major empire's) repeated mistakes and misadventures, these lines seem apt (from a poem by Friedrich Rueckert, translated by James Clarence Morgan):

SOLOMON! where is thy throne? It is gone in the wind.

Babylon! where is thy might? It is gone in the wind.

Like the swift shadows of noon, like the dreams of the blind,

Vanish the glories and pomps of the earth in the wind.

Man! canst thou build upon aught in the pride of thy mind?

Wisdom will teach thee that nothing can tarry behind;

Though there be thousand bright actions embalmed and enshrined,

Myriads and millions of brighter are snow in the wind.

Expand full comment