Sunday, March 9, 2014

You've got to believe!

In the context of the unfolding nightmare in Ukraine, a British commentator laid the mess at the feet of … NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The piece is a model of the diplomatic doctrine of “credibility,” the idea that there are certain things you need to do in order for other actors on the world stage to understand that there are certain things you will do.
Each Russian soldier in Crimea is lessening the chance of a united Ukraine emerging unscathed and without a civil war. They are 'proving’ to our Eastern allies that Nato is a paper tiger and to our Western friends that this is a pointless struggle. That is President Putin’s real goal.
He has tried it in the past, first with the cyber attack on Estonia in 2007 that closed down the government. At that moment, though, Nato was clearly credible – after all, it was fighting in Afghanistan and off the Horn of Africa.
Tugendhat doesn’t claim there’s some desirable goal that could actually be achieved by staying in Afghanistan. Rather, he seems to think that we need to fight in one place so that Putin will believe we’ll fight somewhere else, which in turn would mean that Putin would think twice before invading Crimea.

But what exactly would non-withdrawal from Afghanistan be expected to prove? Does he really think that NATO would or should have sent troops into the country of Georgia in 2008? Or that that would have been a good idea? Does he think we should be sending troops to Ukraine today?

The obvious alternative explanation for NATO’s withdrawal is that we’re leaving because we realized there was no objective we could accomplish without permanent occupation, and permanent occupation was an insanely high price to pay for those objectives, so it was time to go. In this case, staying in Afghanistan wouldn’t prove we were tough; it would prove we were too stupid to know when we were engaged in a futile exertion of force.

One of the beautiful things about love is that it grows with the practice of it: when you act lovingly, you experience love in return, and become more capable of loving. Tugendhat thinks that military force works the same way: When you act militarily, you experience submission in return, making you even more capable of militariness.

It’s true, there are too many naïve people who think that when you act militarily, you don’t just inspire fear and sullen obedience, but resistance as well—covert at first but growing bolder over time. And you set people on a search for means of effective response.

Naïve people also think that military action is constrained by physical factors, and by finance, and by the realities of domestic politics, so that when you act militarily you don’t multiply your power but instead tie down some of your forces in one place, making them unavailable for military action somewhere else.

And naïve people may think that if you can see the pointlessness of continuing a particular war, then people in other countries can see the pointlessness as well. And that if they see you continuing a pointless war, they’ll see that you’re weakening yourself militarily, and they’ll understand that you’re too stupid to make good policy decisions to keep your country safe, and so they’ll be emboldened to act against your interests.

Tom Tugendhat knows better. According to the article linked above, he runs a strategy consultancy, so he must be right that when you persist in a futile war, you display your awesome credibility, and then everyone backs down in front of you because you’re so awesomely credible, and they let you run the world just the way you want.

Credibility theory: the misplaced conviction that everyone else is as stupid as you are.

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