War is not a weapon you can aim
In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work — and Iraq has formed a government — we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.
—Barack Obama, Remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014
This is a promise that is foolish to make. Maybe he’s right that the proxy wars on the ground and the U.S. war in the air won’t end up dragging U.S. forces deeper into a quagmire on the ground. But there is no way he can confidently promise this. War is not a weapon that you can aim, not even if you are President of the United States, and expect that you’ll hit exactly what you hoped to, with no complications or unexpected results. Modern wars are always conducted on the basis of classified information, secret strategic interests that are not disclosed to the public, half-accurate information and politically-filtered intelligence. They operate away from any possibility of informed consent by ordinary people, who don’t have access to the information government keeps secret, and indeed even away from the possibility of informed decisions by that government, which finds itself blundering through the fog of its own secrecy, errors, self-deception and political rationales. Wars develop a logic of their own and they always involve both deception of the public about the likely outcomes, and also consequences unintended or unforeseen even by their architects. It wouldn’t be the first time that U.S.
military advisors got drawn into a land war in Asia. It wouldn’t even be the first time that U.S. build-up was really only a prelude to a wider war in Iraq.
Certainly, it has already proven a prelude to bringing the U.S. war power into a wider regional war.
The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or to criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground.
The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.
–Randolph Bourne, War and the Intellectuals ¶ 12
Seven Arts (June, 1917).
End all war, immediately, completely, and forever.