How Americans judge military operations

decwarsAmericans judge U.S. intervention abroad based on the success of the military operation, concludes Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin in an insightful analysis published today. Americans’ hindsight perception of military success – or failure – matters more than whether the President in power had the foresight to secure congressional authorization for the operation, Bravin adds.

He bases his analysis on a survey of the “mixed record” of military operations, dating to the 1941 declarations of war that launched U.S. military involvement in World War II. (credit for photo of President Franklin  D. Roosevelt signing declaration against Japan) Considered inter alia are:

doc_098_big► Interventions conducted pursuant to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (right) that led to escalation of the U.S.-Vietnam War, the 2001 post-9/11 authorization that preceded the U.S.-led counterassault in Afghanistan, and the 2002 authorization to use force in Iraq.

► Many interventions that were not preceded by congressional authorization – including the United States’ role in the months-long 1999 bombardment of Serbia, waged, as Bravin put it, “to stop Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s forces from attacking in Kosovo.”

Nacionalni_automobil_Yugo_1999The Kosovo effort emerges as a foreign policy success in American eyes – Bravin writes that it was “conducted under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, subdued Milosevic; resulted in no U.S. casualties; and ended 12 days before the 90-day deadline the War Powers Resolution of 1973 sets for a president to withdraw U.S. forces unless he obtains congressional authorization.” (credit for 1999 photo captioned “A street in Belgrade destroyed by NATO bombs”)

In short, the Kosovo operation’s perceived success as a matter of policy – its contravention of the terms of the U.N. Charter is an altogether different matter – depended in no small way on its limited character. That policy lesson of constraint also informs Bravin’s quotation of my own comment on the draft Authorization to Use Military Force in Syria that the Obama Administration has sent to Congress. Here’s my quoted critique:

‘The draft uses multiple verbs to characterize the ‘objective’ of intervention – deter, disrupt, prevent, degrade. All are vague and thus susceptible to expansive as well as restrictive interpretation. The breadth of the authorization, and the consequent potential for an eventual widening of operations in Syria, should spark concern even among those who favor a limited strike.’

One thought on “How Americans judge military operations

  1. […] Weapons” is, well, longer than the President’s version. The objectives remain quite broad; indeed, the terms of this draft seem to contemplate more than a single strike. Differences on 1st […]

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