the guns of august....redux
August 12, 2006 2:39 AM   Subscribe

Richard Holbrooke delivers an analysis and forecast of how the current situation could trigger a chain reaction that would lead to world war. He refers to Barbara Tuchmans Guns of August, apparently a political science classic, that has been mentioned here on mefi. Here's the article in dutch with an appropriate picture of the murder of archduke Franz Ferdinand.
posted by jouke (22 comments total)
Here's the article in dutch...

posted by pracowity at 2:59 AM on August 12, 2006

Oops, here.
posted by jouke at 3:08 AM on August 12, 2006

Oh whatever, reads like a bunch of wishful thinking by war-porn enthusiasts. Many of the 'issues' he mentions don't come anywhere near the 'lets slaughter each other' level. India and Pakistan? They both have nukes, so it's unlikely anything will happen. Turkey and the Kurds? No way does turkey do a full scale invasion with the U.S. sitting right there (The US and turkey are so close that the U.S. stationed nuclear weapons there in the 60's)

Egypt and Saudi Arabia "supporting" Hezbollah? So what, they already have all the support they need. Israel isn't invading supporters, so that won't make any difference.

Uzbekistan? Who cares? It's not going to be a player and it probably won't even destabilize.

Like I said, a bunch of war-porn masturbation. Like articles talking about China invading Taiwan and what would happen.

I will agree that Israel has definitely got itself into a trap, like the US in Vietnam. They can't get out without losing face, and they think they need face in order to win. But I don't think they're stupid enough to go after Syria or Iran, which would definitely end up dragging the US into the whole thing.

I bet there are some Neo-con wankers in the bush admin trying to get Israel to invade Syria though.
posted by delmoi at 3:46 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

wishful thinking by war-porn enthusiasts

"war enthusiasm" was a characteristic of pre-WWI Europe.
posted by stbalbach at 5:11 AM on August 12, 2006

But what's Hal Holbrook's take on things?
posted by techgnollogic at 5:50 AM on August 12, 2006

> But what's Hal Holbrook's take on things?

Gotcher Hal Holbrook right here.

If the bubble reputation can be obtained only at the cannon's mouth, I am willing to go there for it, provided the cannon is empty. If it is loaded my immortal and inflexible purpose is to get over the fence and go home. My invariable practice in war has been to bring out of every fight two-thirds more men than when I went in. This seems to me Napoleonic in its grandeur.

- "Mark Twain as a Presidential Candidate," New York Evening Post, 6/9/1879
posted by jfuller at 7:00 AM on August 12, 2006

I would hardly call Holbrooke a "war-porn enthusiast".
He is one the more thoughtful voices in international diplomacy and not given to flights of fantasy. He warned of the Balkan
Crisis spreading to Kosovo before it happened and every one
said the same thing: "It won't happen".
I don't find any of this implausable.
I would recommend "The Guns of August" as well, it is history that reads like a novel.
posted by archaic at 7:04 AM on August 12, 2006

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the “coalition” defeats continue slowly to unroll. In Lebanon, it appears Hezbollah may win not only at the moral and mental, strategic and operational levels, but, astonishingly, at the physical and tactical levels as well. That outcome remains uncertain, but the fact that it is possible portends a revolutionary reassessment of what Fourth Generation forces can accomplish. If it actually happens, the walls of the temple that is the state system will be shaken world-wide.

One pointer to a shift in the tactical balance is the comparative casualty counts. According to the Associated Press, as of this writing Lebanese dead total at least 642, of whom 558 are civilians, 29 Lebanese soldiers (who, at least officially, are not in the fight) and only 55 Hezbollah fighters. So Israel, with its American-style hi-tech “precision weaponry,” has killed ten times as many innocents as enemies. In contrast, of 97 Israeli dead, 61 are soldiers and only 36 civilians, despite the fact that Hezbollah’s rockets are anything but precise (think Congreves). Israel can hit anything it can target, but against a Fourth Generation enemy, it can target very little. The result not only points to a battlefield change of some significance, it also raises the question of who is the real “terrorist.” Terror bombing by aircraft is still terror...

Washington, which in its hubris ignores both its friends and its enemies, refusing to talk to the latter or listen to the former, does not grasp that if the flanks collapse, it is the end of our adventures in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also, in a slightly longer time frame, the end of Israel. No Crusader state survives forever, and in the long term Israel’s existence depends on arriving at some sort of modus vivendi with the region. The replacement of Mubarak, King Abdullah and the House of Saud with the Moslem Brotherhood would make that possibility fade.

To the region, America’s apparently unconditional and unbounded support for Israel and its occupation of Iraq are part of the same picture. For a military historian, the question arises: will history see Iraq as America’s Stalingrad? If we kick the analogy up a couple of levels, to the strategic and grand strategic, there are parallels. Both the German and the American armies were able largely to take, but not hold, the objective. Both had too few troops. Both Berlin and Washington underestimated their enemy’s ability to counter-attack. Both committed resources they needed elsewhere and could not replace to a strategically unimportant objective. Finally, both entrusted their flanks to weak allies—and to luck.

On War #178 Collapse of the Flanks

...The critical question is whether the current fighting spreads region-wide. It is possible that Hezbollah attacked Israel not only to relieve the siege of Hamas in Gaza but also to pre-empt an Israeli strike on Iran. The current Iranian government is not disposed to sit passively like Saddam and await an Israeli or American attack. It may have given Hezbollah a green light in order to bog Israel down locally to the point where it would not also want war with Iran.

However, Israel’s response may be exactly the opposite. Olmert also said, “Nothing will deter us, whatever far-reaching ramifications regarding our relations on the northern border and in the region there may be.” The phrase “in the region” could refer to Syria, Iran or both.

If Israel does attack Iran, the “summer of 1914” analogy may play itself out, catastrophically for the United States. As I have warned many times, war with Iran (Iran has publicly stated it would regard an Israeli attack as an attack by the U.S. also) could easily cost America the army it now has deployed in Iraq. It would almost certainly send shock waves through an already fragile world economy, potentially bringing that house of cards down. A Bush administration that has sneered at “stability” could find out just how high the price of instability can be.

It is clear what Washington needs to do to try to prevent such an outcome: publicly distance the U.S. from Israel while privately informing Mr. Olmert that it will not tolerate an Israeli strike on Iran. Unfortunately, Israel is to America what Serbia was to Russia in 1914. That may be the most disturbing aspect of the “summer of 1914” analogy.

On War #175 The Summer of 1914
From On War by William S. Lind
posted by y2karl at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2006

Rather than commenting on the specifics of the war with Iraq, I thought it might be a good time to lay out a framework for understanding that and other conflicts. The framework is the Four Generations of Modern War.

I developed the framework of the first three generations ("generation" is shorthand for dialectically qualitative shift) in the 1980s, when I was laboring to introduce maneuver warfare to the Marine Corps. Marines kept asking, "What will the Fourth Generation be like?", and I began to think about that. The result was the article I co-authored for the Marine Corps Gazette in 1989, "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation." Our troops found copies of it in the caves at Tora Bora, the al Quaeda hideout in Afghanistan...

Still, even such a capable and well-read commander as General Mattis seems to miss the point about Fourth Generation warfare. He said in his missive, "Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun. For all the ‘4th Generation of War’ intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc., I must respectfully say…’Not really…"

Well, that isn’t quite what we Fourth Generation intellectuals are saying. On the contrary, we have pointed out over and over that the 4th Generation is not novel but a return, specifically a return to the way war worked before the rise of the state. Now, as then, many different entities, not just governments of states, will wage war. They will wage war for many different reasons, not just "the extension of politics by other means." And they will use many different tools to fight war, not restricting themselves to what we recognize as military forces. When I am asked to recommend a good book describing what a Fourth Generation world will be like, I usually suggest Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century...

General Mattis is correct that none of this is new. It is only new to state armed forces that were designed to fight other state armed forces. The fact that no state military has recently succeeded in defeating a non-state enemy reminds us that Clio has a sense of humor: history also teaches us that not all problems have solutions.
Understanding Fourth Generation War
posted by y2karl at 7:31 AM on August 12, 2006

thanks, y2karl.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:38 AM on August 12, 2006

I thought the Lamont win was supposed to bring about WWIII?
posted by mr.curmudgeon at 8:47 AM on August 12, 2006

Let's get back to the point: all of us, especially our political and military leaders, would be much better off if they read their Tuchman.

Man, that lady could write. And think.

I typically suggest her "The First Salute" to interested readers, a great and not often considered look at the American revolutionary war. Oh, and "The March of Folly", of course.
posted by cptnrandy at 8:55 AM on August 12, 2006

Thanks, y2karl. Reading Lind's stuff gives me the chills.
posted by kgasmart at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2006

I'm not saying the war can't spread to syria and Iran, although I doubt it will. I'm saying I really don't think india, pakistan, uzbekistan, etc are going to be drawn in.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 AM on August 12, 2006

I've read The March of Folly. Great read.
posted by delmoi at 11:56 AM on August 12, 2006

If the Bush administration is not very careful in the next few weeks, history may well record that this bloody summer was one in which:

1. Arabs realized, once and for all, that Israel had definitively lost its façade of invincibility. Hezbollah – which humbled America in 1983 and drove Israel out of south Lebanon in 2000 – has won this war by the very fact that it fights on. Israel’s survival has always depended on the perception of strength. The implications of the loss of that psychological armor are profound, both for its impact on Israel’s enemies and the potential destabilizing effect of an Israel that must restore the balance of fear...

3. Iran re-emerged as the region’s broker of war and peace. Already empowered by America’s toppling of its one real rival, Saddam Hussein, the Tehran regime – even without nuclear weapons – sent a strong message to both Washington and the conservative Arab governments: Don’t mess with us. The Gulf could once more become the Persian lake it was under the Shah.

4. The leaders of the “old” Arab world were rocked by the power of the Arab street. The initial condemnation of Hezbollah by the governments of key Sunni countries has sparked a popular backlash. Suddenly the democracy so ardently sought by the Bush administration is taking form in a way never anticipated; public opinion is driving policy – in a direction counter to U.S. interests and dangerous for existing regimes...

10. A new terrorist force was awakened. Hezbollah has not targeted U.S. interests since the 1980s. But America’s support for Israel’s attempt to annihilate it may change all that.

The last time a U.S. administration tried to isolate and marginalize Syria and Iran, the result was the birth of Hezbollah, the dawn of suicide bombing and the humbling of a superpower. Now, America is at it again.
Future History: A Glimpse Of What U.S. Lebanon Policy Could Spawn
After throwing off the Turkish yoke by force of arms in 1876, the Serbs were denied their aspirations for national unity by the European powers at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Serbia's attempt to wrest historic territory out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire provoked World War I, in which Serbia lost more than half of its male population and more than a quarter of its total population, a sacrifice far exceeding that of any other nation in any modern war. Serbs resisted German occupation during World War II with more tenacity and success than any other people. Serbian refusal to abandon the historic heartland of Kosovo prompted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) aerial bombardments of 1998-99.

It took more than a century, two World Wars and an attack by NATO against the isolated Serbs to crush their national ambitions. What will it take to suppress Iran and its supporters in Lebanon and Iraq? The West should prepare itself for a war that will be prolonged and merciless. Iran's national ambitions are in play, but Islam is not a national movement, and Iran's plight will attract the sympathy and ardor of disaffected Muslims in many places, not least Western Europe. The medium-term consequences of US-Iranian confrontation might include civil unrest in European countries with substantial Muslim populations.
The Gumps of August
posted by y2karl at 12:07 PM on August 12, 2006

A new study by Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes concludes that the total costs of the Iraq war could top the $2 trillion mark. Reuters reports this total, which is far above the US administration's prewar projections, takes into account the long term healthcare costs for the 16,000 US soldiers injured in Iraq so far.

"Even taking a conservative approach, we have been surprised at how large they are," the study said, referring to total war costs. "We can state, with some degree of confidence, that they exceed a trillion dollars."

The higher $2 trillion amount takes a 'moderate' approach. Both figures are based on the projection that US troops will remain in Iraq until 2010, with steadily decreasing numbers each year. The economists also used government data from past wars, and included such costs as the rise in the price of oil, a larger US deficit and greater global insecurity caused by the war, the loss to the economy from injured veterans who cannot contribute as productively as they would have done if not injured, and the increased costs of recruiting to replenish a military drained by repeated tours of duty in Iraq. These are items which are almost never included by the US government when determining the cost of the war.
Report: Iraq war costs could top $2 trillion
posted by y2karl at 2:19 PM on August 12, 2006

"We know who our first enemy is: America," he shouted before tearful mourners at a funeral Wednesday for 30 civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike on Monday. The white-turbaned sheikh led the crowd in a militant chant: "Death to America! Death to America!"

Even as Israel continues to pound Beirut's southern suburbs, and agreed Wednesday on plans to expand its four-week-old offensive as far as 18 miles into southern Lebanon, many here increasingly blame the US for its extensive military and political support for the Jewish state.

"Israel wants to stop the war, but America orders them to continue," the sheikh asserted later in an interview. "This is the American freedom?"
Lebanese direct growing anger at US
In trendy central Beirut, a large banner looms over the now nearly empty streets of downtown: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stares intently, with piercing fangs and blood dripping from her lips.

"The massacre of children in Qana is a gift from Rice," the banner says. It's referring to a southern Lebanese town that's now synonymous with the word massacre after the deaths of at least 28 civilians, many children, in an Israeli airstrike on July 30, and another attack in 1996, when Israeli artillery killed more than 100 civilians.
Lebanon gripped by anti-American sentiment
posted by y2karl at 4:25 PM on August 12, 2006

I've got a question for you guys; sorry if it's obvious or stupid. Several times in the above-linked article, Holbrook states that the US must find "a stable and secure solution that protects Israel." Why? Why does the US have to protect Israel? Why is it so important to US interests that Israel exist?
posted by donkeymon at 11:20 PM on August 12, 2006

This is a terrible opinion piece, full of scaremongering. The guy is part of the same beltway consensus that brought us such debacles as the Iraq War. This extract from a Nation article may clarify things.
Virtually all the top advisers supported the Iraq War; Holbrooke, who's been dubbed the "closest thing the party has to a Kissinger" by one foreign policy analyst, even tacked to Bush's right, arguing in February 2003 that anything less than an invasion of Iraq would undermine international law.
posted by euphorb at 12:22 AM on August 13, 2006

> Why? Why does the US have to protect Israel? Why is it so important to US interests that Israel exist?

There's an important, influential body of U.S. voters, opinion makers and party contributors with a huge emotional committment to Israel. As to who might make up this body, I'll leave that as an exercise for the student.
posted by jfuller at 7:30 AM on August 13, 2006

Hmmm... I think it's more complicated than just lobbying efforts. The US and Israel have a complicated past. I'll mention the Suez Crisis and the Camp David process as two instances where the US has had to twist Israel's arm to do things that were, in many respects, not in Israel's interest.

I think it might be more accurate to state that at this moment, with Bush in power, the US sees Israel as a friend, or at least, an enemy of the enemies facing the US. So the idea is to find a solution that suits them. (Yeah, I know Holbrooke is a Clinton guy, but work with me...)

Support for Israel, based on historic trends, will probably wax and wane over the next few decades in the US. Hopefully, there will come a point where domestic politics in the US, Israel and the Muslim MidEast allow for some sort of peaceful settlement.
posted by newscouch at 2:59 AM on August 14, 2006

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