Richard Haass marks Memorial Day with an awful comment:
memorial day thought is not to never undertake wars of choice, but to be sure likely benefits outweigh costs & better than other options
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) May 25, 2015
It is warped to commemorate America’s war dead by emphasizing the need to wage wars of choice. Why would anyone think that this is a suitable thought for today? One would like to think that the people most likely to support wars of choice would have some idea to judge whether the “likely benefits outweigh” the costs, but again and again the people that presume that the U.S. “must” intervene somewhere have an extraordinarily poor understanding of how great the costs of intervention will be. Iraq war supporters, including Haass, were very sure that invading Iraq and toppling the regime would yield enormous benefits at low cost. They were horribly wrong, and it was fairly obvious that they were very wrong at the time, but they were very sure of themselves and their estimates.
Not only do supporters of these unnecessary wars fail to anticipate the losses that the U.S. will suffer, because they always underestimate how difficult and dangerous a war will be, but they usually pay no attention at all to the losses that will be inflicted on the country harmed by the intervention. One of the most horrible things about this is that such wars could all easily be avoided if policymakers and their advisers were any good at grasping how ruinous they are. We know from Iraq and Libya that hawks from both parties are unable or unwilling to understand this. Another horrible thing about unnecessary wars is that fighting and lose one seems to have absolutely no long-term effect on the ability of U.S. policymakers to avoid fighting the next one. The U.S. will keep repeating the same blunders in decades to come as long as our debates are shaped by people that think that the U.S. should be fighting wars of choice.
A war of choice is one that the U.S. doesn’t need to fight in order to remain secure. It is a war that the U.S. could easily refuse to fight, but which the government opts to fight because of this or that dubious rationalization. Almost every war of choice that the U.S. has waged since 1945 has inflicted needless losses on both the U.S. and the countries affected by our wars. In every case, the country where the U.S. chooses to intervene suffers losses and destruction that didn’t have to happen. It is wrong and senselessly destructive to wage unnecessary wars, and using the military to fight those wars is an egregious abuse of those that have joined to defend their country.