When A Nation Goes To War

Chait argues that Joe Klein has over-learned the lessons of the Iraq war:

Klein's argument that "we should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack" is a pretty extreme position. It would rule out not just the intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, but also the Gulf War, the Korean War, and going to war against Germany in World War II, not to mention obviously Vietnam and World War I. Probably the only wars such a standard would permit would be fighting Japan in World War II and, arguably, the War of 1812.

Now, there are some people who believe that. But does Klein really believe it?

I suspect that what Joe means is no more pre-emptive wars. As in: the war against Iran I expect The New Republic to endorse pretty soon. But even taking Jon's formulation, I have to say that the Iraq experience and the collapse of American finances make Joe's words much more plausible than I would have dreamed of a decade ago. To see just how ruinous war is, how totally disproportionate the costs and the benefits (if any for American power) became, to watch the stalemate in Afghanistan that is still causing appalling civilian casualties ... well count me as a chastened non-pacifist. Who could not be after the last decade of folly?

As to the wars Jon cites: the war against Germany was made inevitable after Pearl Harbor because of the Axis, but America refused to intervene before then, which is the main point. Vietnam was a disaster, as was World War I, whose consequences arguably made World War II possible. The Gulf War? It took half a million troops to advance a few miles, and didn't remove Saddam. Bosnia? Chait forgets how conditional and measured the NATO response was, although I became convinced eventually of the logic of war because of the precedent of genocide in Europe, and the relatively light cost of intervention.

I am a victim, I guess, of the Iraq War syndrome. But that isn't some kind of psychological condition. It's the consequence of being an interventionist who has been mugged by reality.