The psychology of war and warriors *UPDATED*

Peter Wehner writes about Obama’s decision to draw down troops in Afghanistan, something that (just coincidentally, of course) will take place right before Obama’s reelection bid.  Wehner is appalled, and he explains that this gross political calculation isn’t the way it needs to be:

I have the advantage of having served a president during wartime. And whatever faults one might be tempted to lay at the feet of George W. Bush, he never allowed politics of the Obama kind to infect his decisions. I know of what I speak. In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching and the war of Iraq floundering, Senator Mitch McConnell, then the Republic whip, asked to see the president alone in the Oval Office. “Mr. President,” McConnell said, “your unpopularity is going to cost us control of Congress.” When President Bush asked McConnell what to do about it, McConnell said, “Bring some troops home from Iraq.”

Four months later, Senator McConnell got his reply. President Bush – who faced far more ferocious political opposition to the war than Obama ever has – not only did not withdraw troops; he increased them while embracing a strategy that came to be known as the “surge.” And he blocked every attempt at a premature withdrawal.

There are many factors that explain why the Iraq war turned around, but the fortitude of President Bush surely ranks high among them. That quality looked impressive then; it looks even more impressive now.

Apropos that not so coincidental timing, the conventional wisdom is that the troops, grateful to return home, will cast their votes for the Democrat who made it so.  I wonder if that’s true.

Obama has consistently proven himself profoundly ignorant of the military mindset, something that’s true for most Leftists.  Leftists are feral fighters, not principled fighters.  While feral fighters will fight quite ferociously if threatened (which is why Leftist leadership works mightily to keep its followers in a blind panic, as with global warming), what Leftists really want is for the threat to stop affecting them personally.

Principled fighters, however, are willing to take ultimate risks for a cause greater than themselves. It’s a much more altruistic approach to war, and one that sees people willing to make great sacrifices for a final goal that may not even benefit them directly.

Because Dems are feral fighters, they assume all wars are Vietnam.  Back then, the draft and the upheaval in America meant that way too many Vietnam troops didn’t believe in their mission, and were desperate to have a political change that would get them home. These are the kind of troops Dems recognize.

I don’t think we have a Vietnam military today.  Instead, our military is made made up of volunteers, who either embrace fighting generally (the adrenalin junkies) or embrace the larger existential battle raging throughout the world, a war that burns especially hot  in Afghanistan.  Rather than thanking Obama for bringing them home, these principled or professional warriors may resent the way Obama is dragging them away from the good fight, destroying their hard won gains, and handing victory to an exceptionally brutal enemy who will reengage us both at home and abroad.

UPDATEBarry Rubin, after reading what I wrote, thinks there’s something different going on:  “Obama is NOT doing this to win votes in the military. He has no illusions about that. He’s doing it to win votes from average Americans to whom he can say: I brought the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. And it will work UNLESS those situations visibly collapse and even then it will gain votes for him.”  As Barry sums it up, “Obama is making a good political calculation at the cost of a strategic miscalculation.”

Barry is so much more astute and well-informed than I am, that I don’t doubt that he’s right about Obama’s calculation.  However, I do wonder how the Average American (or the Progressive voter) will view Obama’s involvement in Libya when making a balancing of interests.  I also wonder if the ultimate pass will always be abortion.  Since the anti-War protests stopped when Bush left, even though the wars continued and even escalated, I suspect that, while war is a real concern to the Democrat base, it’s abortion that will always be the kicker for his core constituency.  And really, when one thinks about it, that’s a pretty strange issue to use as the final determiner when deciding the person for whom to vote.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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  • Ymarsakar

    A’s a despicable useful idiot. That’s about it for the closing case.

  • Charles Martel

    “And the conservatives here invent reasons to hate Obama so their opinion of him should be ignored unless it is attached to fact rather than baseless and unprovable claims about how much he loves [sic] the military.”

    Yes, conservatives invented Obama’s insulting lapse of memory. We need to dispatch somebody here to root out the traitor who tampered with Teleprompter of the United States and tricked Obama into appearing to not care about the military.

    I suggest we send our bestest, brightest, mostest smartest Pavlovian responder to D.C. to ferret out that person. Abc, you appear to have a lot of time on your hands. . . interested?

  • BrianE

    Obama wanted troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan long ago.- abc

    As has been stated here already, Obama campaigned on the policy that Afghanistan was the right war and Iraq was the wrong one. He had no choice but to double down, since he, not the military had made it a theme of his foreign policy. Remember during the campaign, he would invade Pakistan if he got intelligence as to the whereabouts of bin Laden. He did keep that campaign promise, and got away with it.

    I wonder what the left’s reaction would have been had Bush sent the military into Pakistan without Pakistan’s knowledge to take out bin Laden? I wonder if they would have been as supportive? 

    He has been rolled by the military for a long time.- abc

    So it was the military behind the decision to attack Libya? Who would have thought?
    He got rolled by Hillary, IMO.

  • suek

    >>…if there are enough Afghans who view the Taliban as the enemy.>>

    That’s ultimately the critical question. They lived with the Taliban in control, and they’ve lived with a more democratic government – though certainly not democratic according to _our_ standards. Once our soldiers are out, it will be up to the people to make their decision whether relative freedom is worth dying for, or if they’d rather live with extreme islamism. My guess is that the decision won’t be cheap whichever way they go.

  • Ymarsakar

    Afghanistan has too many tribal and religious factions to be called “one people”. The Afghans aren’t really the Afghans. They don’t think like a single national entity. Rather than “the people of Afghanistan”, we’re doing with a “bunch of factions calling themselves residents of Afghanistan”.

    People see this problem and recognize, but then when trying to solve it, they think of Afghanistan has being composed of the same type of people thinking the same way.

    Some Afghan tribes will side with the Taliban. Some won’t. Some will try to remain neutral. Others will ally with the Taliban because they have no choice. Others will ally with the Taliban because they’re terrorist and bandits.

  • Ymarsakar

    What people fight for tends to fall into two broad categories: personal reasons and abstract reasons.

    So an idealistic and abstract goal is “to liberate the oppressed” and “conduct humanitarian aid to the indigenous people of poorackistan”.

    The lower people’s morale gets, the more stress they have, and the more dangerous the circumstances, the more people need to rely upon personal reasons and less on the abstract goals.

    You have heard that the most popular reason soldiers gave for “why they fight” was “their buddies in arms”. The Left and other contemporary post-modernists took that to mean the soldiers had no broader, abstract goals, such as defending America from foreign and domestic enemies. But there were many other reasons given and humans are complicated enough that they aren’t limited to just fighting for one thing. Humans fight for a lot of things. They just don’t have it all straightened out at any one time.

    As death and chaos comes closer, it becomes easier to motivate humans to fight by hitting them with the personal reasons in front of them. Coincidentally, what tends to be in front of their eyes are their comrades in arms. Whodadunk that. In humanitarian conflicts, curiously the soldiers are more motivated, the ones actually on the ground providing relief or killing terrorists terrorizing civilians. That’s because the answer is simple. Think about it. To them “humanitarian relief” isn’t an abstract goal in the future. It consists of the men, women, and children right in front of them. They can touch that goal. They can see it. They can feel it. They can absorb human emotions from it. What about the rest of you, who are back in the United States, can you see and feel the “humanitarian relief” on the other side of the planet? Mostly the answer is, “no”. What you see is an abstract goal. And abstract goals don’t motivate humans to give it their all when hardship comes arriving knocking on the door demanding that you pay off your debt or be cut off at the knees.

    The best and most elite forces are those motivated by both types of goals: abstract long term goals in the far off future and more immediate personal goals right in front of their eyes. It makes sense, you know. Human motivations can fail. If all you are motivated to do is fight for your “buddies” then what happens when all your buddies are “gone”. Will you stop fighting? Abstract goals provide the ability for warriors and soldiers to continue the fight, regardless of whether they see their friends or not. It allows greater organization of human resources. Larger armies, better run militias, and so forth. The Special Forces motto in the US Army is “De Oppresso Liber”:To Liberate the Oppressed. Only a disciplined elite force of combat personnel can afford to have such an “idealistic” goal. Because it is only their inner drive and fortitude that gives them motivation to carry on the fight and if they lacked that inner drive, they could never usher in enough determination to kill and die for the “Oppressed”. Personal reasons to fight and inner drives are “individual based”. While abstract goals are more attuned to one’s culture and civilization.

    If you wish to see the “psychology of war”, that would be a good starting place. Ask those who fight what their personal and abstract reasons to do so are.

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