Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Green Lantern Theory Redux

The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics - Matt Yglesias @ TPM Cafe

I know I've written before about Yglesias' Green Lantern theory but Publius over at Obsidian Wings brings it up again as a rebuttal to Fred Kagan's hit-piece against those who are calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. In essence, the Green Lantern theory is that with sufficient will any military effort America undertakes will succeed. See, the rings that gives the Green Lanterns their power is driven by will and only those with sufficient will can use the ring; this being because the ring is the most powerful weapon in the DC universe.
Translate that into American foreign policy, specifically in military affairs, and you end up with a belief that the success of any military intervention depends more on the willpower of the politicians back at home than on specific tactics or the underlying strategy. Instead of accepting the blame for any failure in a military operation, the Green Lantern believers attempt to shift the blame to those who were hesitant or outright against the effort. Their claim is the same one made after the Great War in Germany or after the American withdrawal from Vietnam--the 'stab in the back' narrative that claims the operation would have succeeded had we not these weak-willed politicians.
Publius doesn't buy it, no progressive liberal buys it and no sane conservative buys it either. You will not see someone like George Will making the same argument nor William Safire or the late William F. Buckley. Instead, I believe these conservatives would lay the blame on those who lacked the will to see the limitations of military operations and how getting the strategy and tactics correct are of the greatest importance. It's not a lack of will to go to war but a lack of will to full commit oneself to the realities of war and the necessity to adapt to fluid situations. What neo-conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer, Fred Kagan or William Kristol fail to understand is that all wars are fluid and the 'stab in the back' narrative requires something more static for there to be an actual stab in said back. They must believe that the strategy is correct and remains correct, despite any evidence to the contrary.
This is the problem with believing that sufficient will, or elán as the pre-WWI French army believed, is all that is necessary for military victory. You'll notice how quickly the French folded against the Germans in the second World War after their trenchant belief in said elán almost cost them the first World War. It's not a matter of will, but of correct and constantly adapting strategy. This is what the Kagan-types repeatedly fail to grasp and why their columns and op-ed pieces become items of derision by the rest of the pundits.

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