Syria: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

I haven’t picked up on this before because it requires some thinking, so not a bad time for a discussion of it on New Year’s Eve, when we are thinking about the future anyway.

Around 18 months ago, Sean Davis had some thoughts on the matter, which remain relevant.

There’s a pattern here, this is what we did in (and are doing) in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, arguably even in Vietnam. We started something that for whatever reason we are not willing to finish.

Everybody, even Islamists, respects people who are willing to see the job through, but not those who come in rattle around for a while and hunker down, taking casualties for no purpose whatsoever, except perhaps the self-glory of politicians, military and civilian.

I think the most apt analogy may well be the British in India. It took them about 300 years to turn most of India from a feudal country into a semi-democratic democracy, note that time frame, 300 years, and they were only semi-successful. Afghanistan was part of the Raj, as well. We’ve been in Germany for 70 years, but we started there with a country that was not dissimilar from ours, and I don’t think the job is done there either.

Who succeeded in what is now Afghanistan? Not Alexander the Great, not the British, not the Russians. Who succeeded was Ghengis Kahn, and he did it by killing a large proportion of the population.

I wrote a series on Afghanistan back in 2012, you can find it here, here, and here. Nothing whatever has changed, except we’re doing the same thing in Syria, the applicable quote from the series comes from Mark Steyn:

In the last couple of months, two prominent politicians of different nations visiting their troops on the ground have used the same image to me for Western military bases: crusader forts. Behind the fortifications, a mini-West has been built in a cheerless land: There are Coke machines and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Safely back within the gates, a man can climb out of the full RoboCop and stop pretending he enjoys three cups of tea with the duplicitous warlords, drug barons, and pederasts who pass for Afghanistan’s ruling class. The visiting Western dignitary is cautiously shuttled through outer and inner perimeters, and reminded that even here there are areas he would be ill-advised to venture unaccompanied, and tries to banish memories of his first tour all those years ago when aides still twittered optimistically about the possibility of a photo op at a girls’ schoolroom in Jalalabad or an Internet start-up in Kabul.

The last crusader fort I visited was Kerak Castle in Jordan a few years ago. It was built in the 1140s, and still impresses today. I doubt there will be any remains of our latter-day fortresses a millennium hence. Six weeks after the last NATO soldier leaves Afghanistan, it will be as if we were never there. Before the election in 2010, the New York Post carried a picture of women registering to vote in Herat, all in identical top-to-toe bright blue burkas, just as they would have looked on September 10, 2001. We came, we saw, we left no trace. America’s longest war will leave nothing behind.

That’s what I saw then, and its what I see now. I’m not sure who exactly benefits from wasting these brave young Americans (and Britons and Aussies too) but I have my suspicions and suspect you do as well, and they probably match well.

Later that year I wrote another piece on the way General Sheridan pacified the Shenandoah, under General Grant’s orders, remember this was a war by Americans on Americans. We knew how to win once upon a time.

[…] so Grant gave Sheridan some famous orders, amongst other things he told him to take the valley apart so thoroughly that “a crow flying across it will have to carry rations” which Sheridan did, even as Sherman was about to do to Georgia. He also dealt quite sternly with partisans, what we call guerrillas today.

So eventually the war ended and in 1870 Sheridan was in Europe observing the Franco-Prussian war. For some reason he and Otto von Bismarck struck up a friendship and von Bismarck asked Sheridan how to deal with the French guerrillas behind German lines. This was Sheridan’s answer:

 “The people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with after the war.” He advised that the insurgents be hanged, their villages burned and their lands laid waste until they begged for peace.

We simply are not going to win hearts and minds, either in Afghanistan or Syria, so it comes down to win or lose, and losing includes bleeding casualties for ‘a forever war’ that there is no profit (material or otherwise) in winning.

“In war, there is no substitute for victory.” There wasn’t when MacArthur said it, there wasn’t when his father won the Medal of Honor fighting for the Union, there isn’t now, and there never will be. Sadly, endless war can be profitable for some people, and those people put their profit ahead of America’s best interests.

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53 Responses to Syria: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

  1. Nicholas says:

    A lot to think about here, and it always blesses me to come across an American who shows respect to the British Empire, rather than labelling us in the way that the cultural Marxists do. To be sure a lot of the time, motives and actions were bad – the same could be said of the Crusades. But we both know that is not the whole picture and the great tragedy is that the Empire’s work was left unfinished. It should never have lasted forever – that would be inimical to the principle of growth it sought to foster – but it died in some places too early and we are seeing the results of that even now. The mistake made by so many Americans in their denunciations of our Empire is that of false equivalency: the Thirteen Colonies were not India or Kenya or Sudan.

    It is also true that the Empire, being a secular power, could never have achieved certain ends. The final work in all of us must be God’s: it is the power of the Gospel that truly destroys corrupt cultures and the Gospel must be chosen freely, not at the point of a bayonet.

    They have chosen liberty – they must now live with its consequences. Liberty is to be maintained and treated as the high law to which king and parliament must equally submit. I applaud the President’s decision to pull out of Syria. Only until those nations finally reject Islam will they be free: we cannot do that for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Your first paragraph is spot on. The colonies that started the United States were not so much colonies as they were England transported to a (more or less) virgin continent. The comparison with feudal India is a false comparison. It is true for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well, in almost all other cases it is not. Kipling’s Recessional puts it well:

      If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
      Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
      Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
      Or lesser breeds without the Law—
      Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
      Lest we forget—lest we forget!

      For you, and we daughter countries are the final (and perhaps greatest) flowering of the English genius for political ordered liberty, and yes, under God.

      Much of our anti-colonialism came from a time when our interests were much more insular, and as we have gone out in the world ourselves, a lot of it has dropped away from those of us with eyes to see, and minds to think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicholas says:

        It is a difficult issue, and much as the anger inside me at what has been inflicted on my nations say, “Let us return and show them!”, the cooler voice inside says that we cannot return to those days. We must all just muddle on – but we can do a better job of securing our borders and forming domestic policies and documents that state our principles plainly. I hope that, somehow, you can get the Wall built and that we can gain a government that would embody the principles behind Brexit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Indeed, I’m no isolationist, nor am I afraid of committing military forces. But it must be thought through, with clear objectives and stick to them. It doesn’t always have to be complete victory, say with China, keeping the sea lanes open may be a valid reason. But we are not going to remake the world in the Anglo American mold in any reasonable time frame, and it is time we quit trying.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Absolutely agree. I’d like to see us ramp up our navies, get out of any unnecessary treaties, and mostly stick to the Five Eyes. It’s time we stopped trusting the rest of the world and let them earn our respect.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          With me you’re preaching to the choir, I’m a maritime/air sort of guy. It’s why the Pax britannica worked so well and why the Pax Americana works at all. We are trading people, good at war, but it’s not our prime motivation. When we get away from it, we’re not at our best.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Indeed – leave the Englishman to conduct his contracts unmolested by court or pirate and the world, on the whole, is a better place. Interfere and, in the old days, you got the British Navy coming to a theatre near you.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          You still might, although you might well see USMC aircraft flying from a carrier flying the White Ensign, something overdue, that the Tories are jeopardising in my view. Not many people in the world we trust that much, only Britain, in fact, ever.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Scoop says:

    Concur on the Middle East front; senseless and there is no goal or end that is apparent and drives us to finish what hasn’t got a finish line to aim for.

    As to the remarks of Sheridan above, it seems to me that he was only following the strategy of the French Revolution and what the end looked like was Christianity in ruins. We are still fighting the ‘ideas’ stirred up in the Civil War here in America and I might even say that they are the underlying divide that all the other divisions have henceforth spawned. I like to win . . . but was it a lasting peace that was attained? Maybe there is no such thing but enemies of the state must be defeated at least to a point where a peace treaty can be signed. Haven’t seen that happen since before Korea.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nicholas says:

      I think that is an interesting piece of analysis. My mother undertook a great deal of study about the American Civil War when we lived in PA and she made the comment as you have that there were still scar marks long after.

      After WWI, the French wanted to break Germany up into the principalities, duchies, etc it had been before the Prussians had unified it. Sometimes I wonder whether that might have been better than the middle course that we actually steered.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Scoop says:

        Well people speak a lot about winning hearts and minds but I have rarely seen it take full root. It seems to be something that has to come within driven by say, Christian values and principles, or it doesn’t happen. And that is because their throwing off of chains from an unjust regime requires their own heart, blood, sweat and tears . . . not some other country’s sacrifice as some kind of knight in shining armor to come in and save the day. They don’t like it anymore than I think our boys in uniform like it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Yep, if you want to be free, you have to do it for yourself, and it will entail sacrifice.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Indeed so. Our great world wars saw a united people stand up to oppose a common threat of being ruled by regimes that desired world conquest. Since then what unites us . . . our specific politician, tactician, president or other personal desire? So we don’t win when we are of varying minds about the threat and have to be sold on it. It has to be serious enough and plain enough for the common man to sense that it is the only way forward.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Yep. Blowing up Afghanistan was fine, trying to make it like us was not.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Agree. Blow the hell out of rogue states behaving badly and putting us at risk. But that’s it. If they do it again they know that if tell them to stop it will be another round of the same. I sometimes wonder if the idea of nuking North Korea after all those years of war with Japan might not have been the proper response. I think we have only delayed the inevitable future that will now feature a nuclear NK in the mix and it will be far bloodier and will drag in many more nations than we are prepared for. But that is another armchair (after the fact) analyses that might be had at some later date. As it is now; the world is a frightfully dangerous place politically and economically.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          The real problem was China, don’t forget they took a million casualties, including Mao’s son killed, in Korea. It wasn’t a doable war then, and I’m reasonably sure it’s not now. Land wars in Asia against even semi-competent opponents are fraught affairs, that’s on valid lesson from Vietnam.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Nukes were considered before Mao decided to get involved. Had we done so, I doubt anything would have happened. He had his own change of regimes in China to occupy his thought.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Possible, maybe probable. I simply don’t know enough, neither did Truman and Marshall as it happens.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          True enough. Hard to analyze that which they faced when we have the reality of what unfolded as a huge advantage in making our comments or decisions.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Yep, and both of them were pretty firmly focussed on Europe.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Scoop says:

          Indeed they were. But Korea seems to be the first of long string of failures for uniting people against a ‘common enemy’. And it continues to this day. I’m no isolationist to the extent of not hiding our head in the sand but leaving our enemies in isolation with their heads in the sand seems to me as good as we can do. We will never ‘teach’ them to love democracy, liberty or freedom nor will we get them to adopt our Judeo-Christian morality.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Agree, and you know leaving our enemies with their head in the sand makes kicking their arse much easier.

          Nope, we have our ways, and they have theirs, and the twain shall never meet. I think we are quite a lot superior myself. I Thank God everyday that my Great Grandparents had the foresight to make me an American.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Scoop says:

          As do I. There but for fortune am I. I don’t have the foggiest idea what it must be like for those people coerced in their beliefs and taught in the schools and by their societies. And yet, there is no way I can reason with them, coerce them by force or change their lot in life. It is above all our pay grades. Send the Holy Spirit to change hearts and minds and give them the courage to eradicate the evil that controls every aspect of their lives. We cannot do it no matter how ‘smart’ our bombs are or how generous we are and ‘welcoming’ to their culture into our own . . . which seems a form of castration for our own societies to make room for theirs. Sorry . . . create a western society on your own . . . it ain’t my job and I can’t do it for you.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Concur. Things that we obtain cheaply we don’t value, and such thing as freedom are very costly, far more than most people will pay. To steal a bit of Thomas Paine.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          We also have the media problem in all of this: we get blamed for not sending in troops to stop the killing of innocent children, then we get blamed after sending them in – you can’t win. Better not to play their game: turn off your sets, shut the papers, and play Call of Duty – before it got SJW-ed.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          I consider the mainstream media as agents of the world that hate America . . . and I give them the respect due to an enemy of the state.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Wise policy.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Concur, noting that all major US media are owned by about six corporations.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Indeed and they are all multinationals and we have lost the independent American news media (in large). We find the small independent types on the internet for the time being and they are trying to shut them up and ban them out of existence and probably someday they will succeed.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Or we will win – too soon to say. I really don’t have a problem with a partisan press. I do have a problem with a partisan press that insists it is objective.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          Or the moral conscience of the entire globe . . . better think of them as the anti-Christ in that case.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          Fundamentally they don’t understand us. You can see real amazement, real surprise, in the eyes of some interviewers when they hear certain conservatives speak. It’s as if they had never heard anyone speak words like that with real conviction before.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          That was a sad read, but not really surprising: this is what the cultural Marxists have done to our universities. Is it any wonder that conservative Christians aspire to have conservative universities. There was a time when Tory and Whig alike could be called open-minded – well, those days are gone.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I’ve one in mind on Jefferson’s read of David Hume, based on an article I read last night, it rather goes to your point.

          Liked by 1 person

      • NEO says:

        The other salient comparisons are England/France and France/Germany. The Hundred Years War still echoes, and one of the reasons for Versailles was the Franco Prussian war.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Nicholas says:

          In a way, I think the collapse of the EU would be good for them. A spur to rethink a lot of principles and rebuild – but I’m not sure it will work out quite like that. I’m no prophet, but I don’t see a shining Europe going forward: I see bright spots and big splotches of darkness.

          Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Yep, as do I. I see lots of predictions that the UK will be hurt by Brexit, but I think staying the EU will hurt it more.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Yes. For me it is about doing the right thing and not about the cost as such. The way things are now is not right. If we have to suffer in the short term to achieve a better future, so be it. But I will not go quietly while the elite hand over my liberties to Brussels.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          It is always better to die on your feet than live on your knees, excepting God, of course.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. the unit says:

    I assume the question is should we adopt Sheridan’s advice to be used in Syria?
    Well, get us out and let them do it to each other.
    Of course, somebody everywhere has something somebody here and every place else wants for their own (tea, spices, oil, gold, you name it, sex robots with real feel like skin 🙂 )
    Mattis inherited Otto’s eye bags. Other current political generals probably inherited Sheridan’s advice to von Bismarck.
    Looks bleak to me here, in our own, if we don’t use the vote right whilest we can.
    Don’t take my facetiousness seriously now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. the unit says:

    Time to to home. 🙂

    Like

  5. the unit says:

    Happy New Year everbody.
    Pop a cork if you can. Think I’ll try to be here next year for another round. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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