I was struck by this passage from Mark Moyar’s review of The Right Way to Lose a War by Dominic Tierney:
He acknowledges that withdrawal can have a great many unfavorable effects. Pulling out American forces can “undermine the credibility of our promises elsewhere,” he writes. “Allies may desert us and enemies may no longer be deterred.” Hence the need for a temporary surge, astute diplomacy and careful withdrawal.
If Tierney thinks that withdrawing U.S. forces can undermine “credibility” elsewhere, it would be interesting to know why he thinks this. It doesn’t make sense that U.S. promises to its allies elsewhere in the world would suffer from U.S. withdrawal from its wars of choice. Withdrawing from these wars would put the U.S. in a better position to come to their aid if needed, and the U.S. decision to withdraw from a given war doesn’t tell us anything about its commitment to other allies. There is no doubt that supporters of our unnecessary wars claim that withdrawal would harm U.S. “credibility” elsewhere, but that relies on a misunderstanding of how other states judge U.S. commitments.
After all, why would an ally have deserted the U.S. after the withdrawal from Iraq? We know that no such thing happened, but it isn’t reasonable to expect that it would. Putting an end to a war that many of our allies vocally opposed and viewed as a horrible blunder can only reassure them that our government has come to its senses. For that matter, why would an enemy no longer be deterred because the U.S. ended one of its wars of choice? Calling off a wasteful expeditionary campaign where the U.S. actually has very little at stake doesn’t tell a hostile state anything useful about our willingness to defend genuine allies and truly vital interests.
Moyar writes later on:
Mr. Tierney sagely rejects the notion that the U.S. should sit out of all messy wars simply because it finds them unpleasant.
I’m not sure why this is evidence of Tierney’s sagacity. It seems to take the most obvious lesson from the post-1945 American experience in foreign wars–don’t enter into foreign conflicts unless absolutely necessary–and casts it aside. Of course, the problem with these wars is not that Americans find them “unpleasant,” but rather that they have usually not been the least bit necessary for U.S. or allied security. The danger is not that the U.S. “sits out” too many wars of choice, but that it keeps finding excuses to be drawn in to conflicts where its interests are not at stake. Even if the U.S. could find a way to win more of these wars, that is no reason to be fighting them in the first place.