Comments on New York Times Op-ed “Falling In and Out of War”

Today I would like to draw our readers’ attention to an outstanding op-ed in the March 19th edition of the New York Times by Bill Keller, entitled Falling In And Out of War.” It addresses a lot of issues that our blog, “Rethinking National Security,” is all about. Keller notes the need to rethink our strategic options and choices and ask very hard questions. He sets forth, specifically, five questions that need to be asked, including: “How is this our fight?”; “At what costs?”; “Or what?” (Looking at alternatives to war); “And who else?”; And finally, “Then what?”

Having been around the decision making bureaucracies when wars were considered, wars were undertaken, and wars were averted, I find Keller’s arguments and perspective compelling and worth our full attention and reflection.

I especially like his last comment, “before you deploy the troops, deploy the fact checkers.”  I remember asking who was around when the decisions were made about the Vietnam War that was in the know and close to the top, and being told that rarely, if ever, was there in the room itself anyone who really knew Vietnam.  We know that those who were skeptical and really knowledgeable about Iraq were kept from the table and those who knew little and made the decisions had only blind ideology as a guide.

As cries go out to make war on Iran now, this is an excellent antidote to these ignorant and unthinking voices who themselves you can bet won’t go to war.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

8 thoughts on “Comments on New York Times Op-ed “Falling In and Out of War”

  1. Harry C. Blaney III April 9, 2012 / 12:55 PM

    Mr. Sack, perhaps I was not clear but “preventive diplomacy.” is the use of diplomacy and is not aimed as a military option but is indeed preventive. I agree with you on the point that It used to be (is) the “other way around” : diplomacy was intended to make military action unnecessary (if possible). But again based on my experiences over decades of diplomacy things are interconnected and we need to recognize that and act to seek broad regional solutions before war gets started.

  2. Harry C. Blaney III April 9, 2012 / 10:58 AM

    The real question is not whether “stability” is used by the military it is what action, including diplomatic, will advance our security and that of our allies and for that matter bring peace to areas of real and potential conflict.

    I agree with Mr. Stack that Afghanistan is not in itself a “global threat” but I think that the region I cited which includes the nuclear nations of Pakistan and India, and the key nation Iran and reaches to the Middle East is of critical interest in ensuring ‘stability,” which I would define as peace and security for the people in the region and beyond. I do believe that we are seeing a “high risk” world in many ways and think that what I would call “preventive diplomacy” is our best option. That means real engagement with our allies and often with those that oppose us in various ways to seek peaceful outcomes when conflict is a possible even likely result if grievances and events are permitted to fester on their own.

    I thank you for your comments appreciate your thoughtful additions.

    • Paul Sack April 9, 2012 / 12:19 PM

      The goal of the U.S. military, you say, is to bring “stability” to “the Middle East…for the people in the region and beyond” and to “bring peace to areas of … potential conflict.” You are pretty much including everyplace on the planet and justifying military intervention as “preventive diplomacy.” It used to be the other way around: diplomacy was intended to make military action unnecessary.

  3. Paul Sack April 3, 2012 / 2:36 PM

    It is highly questionable that anything that happens in Afghanistan will seriously affect global security. As the late Professor Chalmers Johnson pointed out, “stability” is the goal that our military have adopted as their reason for being, since the end of the Cold War with the late USSR. It is amazing how often those who promote military action cite “stability” as the justification.

  4. Harry C. Blaney III April 2, 2012 / 1:23 PM

    There are many military views on the war in Afghanistan. Some military are indeed pushing for a more extended stay, but I doubt this will prevail in presidetial decisions as we move forward as we approach the key dates for reductions and ending active military actions. In this context there are military, active duty and retired leaders, who favor pulling out as quickly as possible and many who back the president’s time line.

    Further, the American public has in polls shown a move towards getting out as soon as possible. Yet the reality remains that there is a need to create a regional context that will promote stability and a measure of security not only in Afghanistan but in this very key region where if things go “wrong” the results can be catastrophic for The Middle East/South Asia and thus for global security.

    This President, as I noted, does not look like the kind of person to be “rolled.” Try looking at the quotes by GOP candidate Sanctorum on this blog if you want an example of being “rolled.” Or look at the views of the “foreign policy advisors” of Gov. Mitt Romney and his own words.

    We also need to consider the reality that we will always see a changing and unpredictable global security landscape and we will need to act with our many diplomatic tools to mitigate new dangers and try to prevent wars and mass killing. Again the best option for doing so will be via multilateral instruments and not alone and not, if possible, with the use of military force.

  5. Paul Sack March 24, 2012 / 1:00 PM

    The military is continuing to try to roll the President. Although President Obama has announced his intention to withdraw almost all our troops by 2014, the military have not agreed to follow their commander but are arguing they need to stay for ten years and really have no intention of willingly getting out even then. They are preparing permanent bases for decades of occupation.

  6. Harry Blaney March 23, 2012 / 11:46 PM

    I think that overall President Obama has done a better job at asking serious questions of the military than was the Case with Bush II who got us into a mindless and unneeded war in Iraq.

    He pulled out of Iraq which he promised despite some military leadership opposition. That does not sound to me as being “rolled over.” He was very thoughtful and careful about our activities in Libya. The same with Syria….but here the question is a need to stop the killing via international action.

    In Afghanistan this was a war that almost all sides supported after 9/11. The landscape of that nation that Obama inherited was a mess and he decided on a strategy to create a space for the Afghan government to be responsible for its own security in a very dangerous and messy part of the world. He choose the moderate option and not the one the military would have most liked. In some ways the strategy had some success but he faced an almost impossible set of problems which the others options on the table would likely have made worse in my opinion. As I have noted before here we need to work at a regional solution and use of many forms of active diplomacy — and that seems the option that Obama has been trying. Further he has set a course of reducing our boots on the ground over time. .

  7. Paul Sack March 19, 2012 / 3:37 PM

    The military are always in favor of war; that is their business. Unfortunately, they have found it easy to roll our presidents, who need to be more skeptical of what the military tells them.

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