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Force-Protection Fetishism: Sources, Consequences, and (?) Solutions

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Dr. Record brings up the issue of casualty aversion as a negative symptom of the Vietnam conflict and the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine. He argues, with strong accusations, that the current casualty phobia among the military and political leadership is unwarranted -- because it is not shared by the populace at large -- and detrimental to Americas military effectiveness, thus giving us a reason to consider greater reliance on local surrogates and perhaps a change in force structure. The Vietnam Syndrome is alive and better than well. It was not kicked in the Gulf War, as a triumphant President George Bush claimed. On the contrary, it has metamorphosed into a force-protection fetishism that threatens to corrupt American statecraft in the post-cold-war era. Force-protection fetishism was on full display during the Kosovo crisis of 1999. American behavior during that crisis reflected a desperate unwillingness to place satisfaction of U.S. armed interventions political objective ahead of the safety of its military instrument. Ground-combat options were self-denied. Airpower was kept at safe altitudes. Clausewitz was stood on his head. The immediate effect was aerial activity that permitted the enemy to pursue and accelerate the very ethnic cleansing of Kosovo that Operation Allied Force had intended to halt. Nor is force-protection fetishism a passing phenomenon. It derives from Americas disastrous experience in Vietnam and prevails among the present national political and military elites, who may have wrongly convinced themselves that the American people have no stomach for casualties, regardless of the circumstances in which they are incurred. Indeed, for these elites, Vietnam is the great foreign-policy referent experience -- one seemingly validated by failed U.S. intervention in Lebanon and Somalia.

Subject Categories:

  • Psychology
  • Weapons Effects (Biological)
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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