When I was in Scouts there was an ironclad rule: leave the campsite better than you found it. If there was any litter on the campground when we arrived, it was gone when we left. It’s a great rule to live by for my personal life, too.
But when it comes to making war the rule leaves a lot to be desired. The Romans understood this; by the third Punic War they destroyed Carthage and sowed the ground with salt, the ancient equivalent of turning the city to radioactive glass. For centuries it was understood that war meant devastation; armies scoured the countryside and the winning side looted the defeated for everything they could carry away.
Now, Americans are weird when it comes to war. We burn hot and fast and want a quick victory. But we also want everyone to like us when we leave. It’s like we view B-52 bombing missions as the first step in urban renewal, sort of eminent domain by other means.
That’s dumb unless you really need the opponent as an ally, like we did with Germany and Japan. The purpose of war is to force the enemy to capitulate. After 9/11 we invaded Afghanistan to punish the Taliban and eliminate that country as a haven for Islamic terrorism. We came in on the side of the Northern Alliance to the extent that “sides” even exist in that country, and quickly drove the Taliban back into Waziristan. If we had left at that time the point would have been made; mess with the U.S. and we will bring the pain. Leave us alone and we’ll reciprocate. Iraq was a different situation since there our stated goal was to remove Saddam Hussein and replace him with a more stable leader.
Now we are once again dropping bombs and firing cruise missiles in the name of humanitarian aid. The stated goal is to enforce a “no-fly zone” to keep Qa-however-you-spell-it from killing his enemies with airstrikes. We’re going to make him work for it the hard way, on the ground. Many believe that the unstated goal is to force a “regime change” in Tripoli. If that happens, will we once again be calling upon Paul Bremer to work his magic from the Green Zone in Ben-Ghazi?
The point is our military is there to kill people and break things. They are very good at it. They’re also pretty good at “nation-building” and humanitarian assistance, but that’s not their job. Nation-building is for homesteaders, not soldiers.