Ignorance Fuels the Calls for War

Lack of knowledge never stops us.


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The New York Times ran an unfair headline the other day: "Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S." It was unfair not because it was inaccurate but because the latter phrase suggested there was something noteworthy in our surprise. When it comes to events abroad, surprise is our natural state.

This is particularly true in places where we have engaged in military hostilities. It may be hard to remember, but Libya used to be placed in the win column. Back in 2011, we deployed air power in concert with NATO on behalf of rebels fighting dictator Moammar Gadhafi—leading to his downfall and eventual death.

President Barack Obama went to the United Nations to proclaim, "Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one." Even Mitt Romney, who was then running for the Republican presidential nomination, gave Obama credit for the happy outcome.

So you may not have been expecting the subsequent developments. "Energy-rich Libya has slipped ever deeper into chaos since the toppling of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011," reports the Los Angeles Times. "The armed groups that were allies in the fight to depose him have turned on one another, fighting for oil wealth and political control."

We did not see any of that coming because before, during, and after our armed intervention, we knew little about Libya and made no effort to learn. Lack of knowledge never stops us. We were largely ignorant of Afghanistan when we arrived, just as we were grossly underinformed about Iraq at the time of our 2003 invasion.

President George W. Bush once described Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a man of "honor, courage, and skill helping to build a new and democratic Afghanistan." It therefore came as a bit of a shock when he turned out to be a corrupt autocrat who rigged elections and accused us of collaborating with the Taliban to kill Afghans.

The Bush administration likewise promised that we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq in a war that would be over in a few weeks or months. One of Bush's cheerleaders, William Kristol of The Weekly Standard, asserted in 2002, "We can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy."

He was one of many hawks who didn't know enough about Iraq or the Arab world to realize that the chain reaction we started would lead to a sectarian bloodbath that cost nearly 4,500 American lives.

The advocates had no clue of the realities of Iraqi society and politics—yet they acted as though they could clearly foresee the aftermath of our invasion. Years later, they retain both their ignorance and their confidence.

Kristol scoffs at those who called for a long debate over whether to bomb the Islamic State forces. "What's the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?" he asked recently. "I don't think there's much in the way of unanticipated side effects that are going to be bad there."

Conservative politicians echo his sentiment. Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said of the Islamic State jihadists, "The president should bomb the hell out of them to end this." Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said the U.S. should "bomb them back to the Stone Age."

From his blithe prescription you would never know that Kristol and his compatriots have a poor track record scoping out the unanticipated and bad side effects of military action. Their remarks bring to mind what allegedly are the most common last words among redneck males: "Hold my beer and watch this!"

They don't mention, and may not know, that the last war in Iraq spawned the very group hawks now want to bomb. The head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, spent five years in a U.S. detention facility there.

"At every turn, Baghdadi's rise has been shaped by the United States' involvement in Iraq," reports The New York Times. "The American invasion presented Baghdadi and his allies with a ready-made enemy and recruiting draw. And the American ouster of Saddam Hussein, whose brutal dictatorship had kept a lid on extremist Islamist movements, gave Baghdadi the freedom for his radical views to flourish."

Those who want to wage war against this group assume that our use of military power is bound to yield a positive outcome. Their recommendations should carry a warning: Actual results may surprise.

NEXT: What Happened on Friday Afternoon That Banished Rand Paul's Doubts About War Against ISIS? [UPDATED]

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  1. Even Mitt Romney, who was then running for the Republican presidential nomination, gave Obama credit for the happy outcome.

    Although he did say that it had contributed to spreading terrorism in Mali. For which he was naturally mocked by the media, because it's unpatriotic to question the war policies of the President.

    1. because it's unpatriotic to question the war policies of the """Democratic""" President.

  2. Think about whether going to war is a good idea?

    Ain't nobody got time for that!

  3. He was one of many hawks who didn't know enough about Iraq or the Arab world to realize that the chain reaction we started would lead to a sectarian bloodbath that cost nearly 4,500 American lives.

    It wasn't the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Hussein that led to the bloodbath and 4500 American dead- it was the idiocy of staying there and "nation-building."

  4. Oh, this comments section should go well.

    1. Don't they all?

      1. I do have to say, the comments sections here are definitely not the echo chambers that Tulpa, dumbphy, Mary Stack and others have said they are. We can't agree on shit. Like in the previous thread, there is a lot of disagreement. John is absolutely out of his mind with ISIS rage. Yet, at the end of the day, I still like John. Heck, I even have a soft spot for Tony and Shreek.

        I can't quit this place.

        1. Was that a Brokeback mountain reference?

  5. There was no way to foresee that the removal of a strongarm dictator would produce a power vacuum leading to violence and chaos. Cause that has never happened before.

    1. No way for a politician to foresee it. It wasn't on the list of intentions, and therefore was never thought of.

  6. ISIS isn't proposing to sell oil only to those willing to pay with gold dinars...

    1. "Hey, Maw, some guy is at the front door and he wants to sell us some rope!"

  7. If only Saddam was still in power, the Middle East would be a paradise.

  8. If you want to call the shots, you need to rule the block. Sorry, that's just reality.

    If y'all don't want to have anyone to trade with, or freedom of the seas, or the skies, or to travel, go ahead and let these kooks run rampant everywhere.

    You didn't get 50 years of Pax Americana by isolation. You got it by slaughtering bad actors in tremendous quantity.

    Either grow some spine and do it again or sit back and let the Chinese & Russians call the shots. They're all big time libertarians, right? I mean, those two nation-states just screeeeaaaaaam liberty!

    1. Dunno, bud. Trading nations want to trade. Just as it made no difference who sold Saudi and Kuwaiti crude, I don't see any trade disruption if America doesn't rule the waves.

      1. Disagree. British and then American dominance as well as their enforcement of the Mare Liberum principle has been an enormous boon for trade. Piracy is no longer endemic; there are not constant naval wars nor is smuggling necessary thanks to having a generally-accepted power controlling the sea and trading across it.

        1. Show me where it mattered who cleared the pirates. Show me, in fact, that naval power did clear the pirates; the very fact that they continued throughout history, including modern day Somali pirates, argues against you.

          Not only is smuggling good, but peace at seas has nothing to do with decreasing smuggling, nor does war at sea increase smuggling.

          You're as full of statist logic as any statist.

          1. Smuggling and piracy of the golden age of piracy sort are direct results of British (and the rest of Europes) mercantilism and their wars at sea which created an abundance of career military sailors which were unemployable during peace time.

            1. Smuggling and piracy have existed for thousands of years all over the globe. Trying to make conclusions about piract and sea control from a small section of European history is futile.

        2. Yes but, having 7 of the worlds 8 carrier groups, the ability to project air superiority to the other side of the world over all but the most well equipped nuclear powers, two vast oceans to the east and west and, largely, friendly neighbors to the north and south should be enough to protect the high seas and land based trade from barbarians that can't actually get anywhere in a large enough number to invade.


      You are a delusional moron. It's especially rich for someone who's so terrified of the world that they want the U.S. to play world cop to tell us to grow some spine.

      1. Dude, you have no clue. China has currently running the largest industrial and military espionage program the world has ever seen. They aim to claim everything within the "nine-dash-line", and control the oil and sea routes throughout the Western Pacific. China also has a projected surplus of around 30 million single military-aged-males, with no prospect of ever having a family. Large groups of single military-aged-males are historically a harbinger of revolution, and the PRC govt knows this. They literally need a war, and they need an external enemy to focus their population on external problems. They are actively, right fucking now, gearing up for that war. If you don't think China is a threat, it's either because you are ignorant of what they are currently doing, or you're a total fucking moron.

        1. Strange post from someone whose salary was in part paid for with money borrowed from China.

          1. Funny, your whole fucking welfare check was paid for by someone else.

            1. So I didn't need to get to the construction site by 7 this morning and stay until 6 this evening to inspect and direct field adjustments for my boss' design? And I don't need to show up tomorrow at the office to complete general and detail sheets for drafting before preparing specs and performing the cost takeoff? Cool!

    3. Actually, pulling out of the middle east and letting China and Russia have their turn at quagmire sounds like a viable plan.

      1. Only if you want the flow of petroleum and the security of trade routes controlled by dictatorships. That doesn't seem like an especially sound course of action for either a nation, or a global economy that relies on foreign trade and energy.

  9. WARNING: Prognostication in rear view media may be larger than they appeared at the time.

  10. No matter how bad the out comes neococns still can't grasp that their actions caused more problems then had existed before the Iraq war.This seems to be the main failing of all the political class in this country.Never admit a mistake and both the neocons and progressives are guilty of this,..More money ,laws and or troops are the answer,always

    1. How dare you suggest we not do something!

    2. I'm ok with not doing stuff. Not getting involved in Syria for instance.

      However, this is an untestable statement

      heir actions caused more problems then had existed before the Iraq war.

  11. President Barack Obama went to the United Nations to proclaim, "Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one."

    Very true.

    The lesson that was taught is that the international community, standing together as one, really can't do much that is any good.

  12. They've already beheaded two Americans, and has even one single mediahead even said the word "blowback"? So this time they'll make a high quality video of their guys poisoning a reservoir, victims dying in the street, hospitals full; or hiding the bomb, shielded camera capturing the explosion, multiple views of first responders . . . . And guess what. The media and politicians STILL won't get it.

  13. Chilly afterthought. Maybe they DID get it the first time. They're sticking with a successful strategy.

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