09 March 2011

Never fight a Land War in Asia ...

(... except when you have to ?)

George Friedman in his peice at Stratfor wants this old and glib defeatist rubric (allegedly uttered by Douglas MacArthur to JFK and kinda quoted more recently in the movie "Princess Bride"), elevated to "a principle of U.S. foreign policy".

It looks to me more like a thin and easy assertion of tactical rhetoric masquerading as grand strategy (how apt therefore that its source should be the egomaniacal MacArthur). The more compelling proposition is probably something more like: now that China is a real military threat to the US, a land war in Asia is more likely than ever to be a disaster. This is just a statement of the obvious.

Friedman's (and MacArthur's) proposition however seems to wilfully elide some more important issues. Firstly, to publicly proclaim such a doctrine would be to unilaterally substantially weaken the US's ability to influence events in Asia. And that is just plain dumb. Secondly, it bespeaks of a Kissinger like return to mere realpolitik pragmatism in US foreign affairs that would represent a pusillanimous retreat from grander strategic goals. The US has since the Great War, with a few of isolationist intervals, seen itself and held itself out as being prepared to stand up for democracy and a belief in the primacy of human freedom against totalitarianism. If the US is to continue to stand for and support such ideals it must also, in extremis, still be prepared to fight land wars in Asia again, as it has done in the past

A brutal dictator was deposed and there is a now democracy in Iraq. The Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan. The dominos of south-east Asia did not fall to communist dictatorships after the US intervention in Vietnam. South Korea is a prosperous capitalist democracy because the US stood up for it. These land wars in Asia by the US had huge costs in blood and treasure on all sides. Were such interventions worth these incalculable sacrifices? Only if one believes that the value of democracy and freedom is also incalculably great to humanity. Should we now just give up on fighting for these ideals in some geographic regions and not others, because the going has become too rough? None of these things would have come to pass if the US then had had a doctrine such as the one proposed by Friedman in this essay. The consequences of not standing up for what you believe in even when it is difficult and the risks are great is that other even worse adverse consequences are likely to prevail.

I disagree with George Friedman's proposition. Adopting it would be adverse to the strategic interests of the West and the civilizational values of humanity.


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