America--so as not to appear to be a superpower bully--usually encourages the token participation of allies in its military adventures. Yet allied sensitivities usually prevent the United States from prosecuting the all-out war needed to dispose of the odious despot of the day. NATO allies would have vociferously opposed any U.S. plan to remove Milosevic using an offensive against Belgrade. Similarly, during the Gulf War, a major reason the United States refrained from going to Baghdad was the certainty that its Arab allies would have abandoned the coalition. Furthermore, in each conflict, plans to remove the annoying strongman--bringing the prospect of heavy U.S. casualties--probably would have eroded support for the war in the United States.
Thus, the United States usually conducts a limited war and then becomes mired in an attempt to contain the dictator. But the American publics limited interest in the foreign policy elites objectives in far-flung regions allows the despot to outlast the containment policy. Already Congress is talking about mandating the withdrawal of American forces from Kosovo. Similarly, sanctions against Iraq are eroding and the United States no longer has the will to wage war to compel Saddam to permit the reentry of weapons inspectors.
The American public becomes interested only when significant casualties occur (for example, in the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon) or when a protracted involvement is floundering (for example, in Vietnam). Then the drumbeat to withdraw U.S. forces becomes deafening. Therefore, frustrating experiences with Yugoslavia and Iraq, as well as painful lessons in Vietnam and Lebanon, should make a republic such as the United States leery of fighting regional wars in the worlds backwaters.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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