A Continuation of Management by Other Means

On Reihan’s recommendation, I read Stephen Biddle’s tentative, diffident, hedged defense of the war in Afghanistan, in which he admits that continuing our counterinsurgency campaign in the Hindu Kush is not an easy case to make (hence the old “title phrased as a question” cop-out). Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the CFR, says “the war is a close call on the merits,” but follows that with perhaps the least stirring call to arms in recorded history: “failure is not inevitable.”

I’m willing to accept that we need a class of civilian military analysts along with our political leaders (to whom we assign moral responsibility for the exercise of power) and our military (whom we expect, rightly, to complete the mission they are given). I’ll accept for the moment that the complexity of modern security demands a special technocratic layer between warriors and their political leaders. Even so, is it too much to ask the academics of war to pay lip service to the unique moral burden of military decisions? To regard casualties as more than a political obstacle?

If arguing for your war of choice involves all of the following: describing it as “costly, risky and worth waging—but only barely so;” calculating “a net cost-benefit calculus perilously close to a wash;” resigning yourself to “a war whose merits skirt the margin of being worthwhile;” eschewing “clarion calls to great sacrifice for transcendent purpose;” you do not actually have a case for war. You have a policy proposal. I hope that our politicians and our generals alike can tell the difference.