The Skeptics

Military Adventures That Weren’t

Micah Zenko has a good time on Foreign Policy’s website mocking the crazy, unimplemented, ideas U.S. civilians have had for military adventures in the last half century.

He doesn’t do much to discuss why the suggestions were dumb, unfortunately, but it’s worth reading both for amusement and in the spirit of knowing people’s track record.

Truman National Security Project types, for example, might note that Dean Acheson’s terrifying idea of sending an armored division down the autobahn to liberate Berlin during the 1961 crisis (maybe not even his worst advice to Kennedy) exemplified a reflexive hawkishness that plagued US foreign policy for two decades.

Likewise, Zenko’s inclusion of Robert Gates’ 1984 proposal to bring down the Nicaraguan government—with measures including air strikes—might remind his journalist acolytes of his dubious late Cold War record.

On the other hand, Zenko is unfair to Bill Clinton. The President’s 1999 or 2000 suggestion of special operations forces raids on al Qaeda’s Afghan camps was not a silly idea, even if the President’s language (it would “scare the shit out of al Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp”) was. If anything, Clinton deserves fault for not pushing his resistant generals to more seriously consider what could be done to overcome the logistical hurdles.

Along similar lines, it would have been useful to mention that military officers are not always advocates of sage restraint. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, after all, gave the Bay of Pigs invasion a fair chance of success and recommended bombing Cuba during the missile crisis. That reminds us why we need armchair warriors, although one might hope for better ones.

Anyway, if it were my top ten list, I would have included at least two schemes that Zenko didn’t:

1. The Bay of Goats

This was Anthony Zinni’s term for the 1990s neocon plan, pushed especially by Paul Wolfowitz, to overthrow the Iraqi government using Iraqi exiles. Dan Byman, Ken Pollack, and Gideon Rose’s 1999 Foreign Affairs article “The Rollback Fantasy” shows why this plan would have ended badly.

2. Invade to Aid