The Benefits of Long Wars

Harvard law professor William J. Stuntz presents an argument for staying the course in Iraq on the New Republic’s web site that the administration wishes it could make. Stuntz argues that the length of United States’ involvement in Iraq actually increases the chances of success and radical reformation in the region. Drawing a historical parallel with the Civil War, Stuntz argues that both wars started with limited aims that perhaps did not warrent the sacrifice of American soldiers, but their longevity allowed those aims to morph into something greater on the human scale (ending slavery in the former, democratizing the Middle East in the latter) that certainly justifies the shedding of blood. “Brief wars rarely produce permanent results,” he adds, “but long wars often do.” He ends his piece with the following:

Two-and-a-half years ago, our armed forces set out to fight a small war with a small objective. Today we find ourselves in a larger war with a larger and vastly better purpose. It would be one of history’s sadder ironies were we to turn away because that better purpose is not the one we set out to achieve. Either we fight the fight our enemies have chosen until they are defeated or (better still) dead, or millions of Muslim men and women may lose their “last, best hope”–and we may face a mushroom cloud over Manhattan, the work of one of the many Mohamed Attas that Middle Eastern autocracies have bred over the last generation. The choice belongs not to the president alone, but to all of us. Here’s hoping we choose as wisely as Lincoln’s generation did.

What sayest thou?


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