The Army, it would appear, and, perhaps the nation, has learned nothing from its unhappy experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. This morning’s New York Times reports that Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno is setting off to restructure large pieces of his ground force to do in other regions, especially Africa, what they have done so well in those two unhappy countries.
What failed in Iraq and Afghanistan is doomed to even greater failure in other regions, to the detriment of our long-term security. It was a strategic error to invade Iraq, and a serious tactical error to let Iraq draw forces and attention away from Afghanistan, letting a culture of corruption and malfeasance brew. In neither country, have America’s military (or for that matter, its civilians) distinguished themselves as nation-builders, security-shapers, or developers.
The fundamental truth: the U.S. lacks the capacity (as does any industrial country) to reshape the internal characteristics of another nation. The history of colonialism is littered with failure, not success, in trying to do so. Americans are no better, however inexhaustible our good will, at executing such a mission successfully.
For the Army to imagine it can take phantom success from Iraq and Afghanistan and, through close collaboration between the ground forces and the Special Operations command, transpose it to Africa with an equally ghostly outcome, is to enter a land of fantasy, and apply money and American lives to the effort. It is doomed.
Moreover, to act out this fantasy has increasingly severe consequences for our security. Each new venture, each new failure, each intrusion into the lives and livelihood of others, seeking to “reshape” them, blows back on our reputation, creates new adversaries, and threatens our own well-being.
Where are the policy officials, the stewards of our foreign policy, the voices of caution, that will step in front of this moving bureaucratic train and call a halt for a moment’s reflection?