Gerecht on the Use of Force

One of the more interesting and accurate arguments made by neoconservatives about the American use of force abroad is that when we liquidate (what most people think are ill-advised) foreign deployments such as those in Lebanon or Somalia, Osama bin Laden and his ilk use it to make the case that the Americans are a “weak horse” and that if bloodied, we will retreat in disgrace.

The implication of this argument, particularly when it comes in the same breath as an argument for ever-more interventions, is that we should have stayed in Lebanon, and we should have stayed in Somalia. This is, to put it mildly, a fringe position. But Reuel Marc Gerecht has the candor today, in The New Republic, to admit this is what they mean. Describing how we should use force overseas, Gerecht advocates:

Air strikes and, yes, special forces deployments if the use of ground troops is called for (and it may well be). Historically, this certainly meant that the United States should not have run from Lebanon after we were bombed (we should have announced troop increases, our intention to stay, and very publicly deposited supplies on Beirut’s docks for the construction of American bowling alleys). And we should have doubled down in Somalia. (Why do you think Black Hawk Down was a “disaster,” Phil? I thought it was a resounding Ranger victory, one that mortally wounded Somali General Aideed. This became a political disaster in a pre-9/11 era; I think Republicans and Democrats would now likely handle this type of confrontation with a bit more stamina.) I’m not at all in favor of “lashing” out against targets willy-nilly. But if you can find terrorists who’ve killed Americans, kill them. (emphasis mine)

This is the vision that the neocons are offering. Americans occupying and constructing bowling alleys in Lebanon. Somalia was a “resounding Ranger victory.” But this analysis is either a fundamental denial of Clausewitz’s view of the relationship between politics and war, or else a basic proposal for empire. As Clausewitz wrote

The political object–the original motive for the war–will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires.

[…]

The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.

The question, then, becomes what political object does Gerecht have in mind? In Lebanon? In Somalia? It seems that given the sorts of views that have come from Gerecht in recent years, even a conservative conception of such political ends would require an imperial American policy, one which would persist in fanciful objectives indefinitely, with a determination unaffected by casualties, setbacks, or other developments that sprout from the fundamental flaws in strategic vision. It is difficult to imagine that the American people would support this vision if openly debated.