Through this work, we have garnered a better understanding of why on the European side we formerly won colonial wars and why, since Vietnam, the United States and Europe can no longer win wars.
The spirit of the age has changed since then end of World War II. All adversaries have come to know us and can manipulate our increasingly faint-hearted and aging public opinion in a demographic context unfavorable to us.
We might add, since Vietnam, the US handicap of what political scientist Stanley Hoffman called “perpetually renewed historical virginity” inhibits remembering the lessons of experience. Which also results in dumbfounding ignorance among decision makers of the cultural field with which they are dealing, and among the military, all too often, in excessive confidence in the capacity of technology to solve problems that are not technological. Added to this are soldiers who remain too little time on the ground without even attempting to know it, practicing unsuitable warfare, and both psychologically and physically in transit.
And then, how can we claim to fight for a people about which we know nothing, not the language, nor the history, nor the culture, when, in addition, we are supporting a manifestly corrupt regime that we have ourselves brought to power? This was in fact already the case in Vietnam.
The armies that we form in our image, or at least based on our model, are not suited to the tasks that befall them: no motivation, no esprit de corps, clunky and badly maintained material, and defective logistics. In a nutshell, they are armies with no desire to win. This was the case yesterday in South Vietnam, as well as not so long ago in Iraq and will still be tomorrow in Afghanistan. As for our troops, overall, they have neither the frugality, nor the rusticity, nor the psychological solidity of the French colonial troops of the Indochina War or of the British at the time of the counterinsurgency in Malaysia. This is the price of peace and prosperity.
The problem lies today in the political will of decision makers who need to consider their respective public opinions, which the media have undermined by selling them daily anxiety.
Admittedly, the United States has been burned, in Iraq like in Afghanistan, by about fifteen years of political failure. It is easy to understand the reservations of the public and the caution of the administration, but the latter knows that it is far from doing in Syria and in Iraq what it had done not so long ago in Kosovo. The bombings there had been more massive by far.
The United States is curbed by its alliances with partners like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are pursuing different goals than Washington’s. In this respect, Russia’s intervention makes it possible to counter, in addition to ISIL, other Islamist movements, which is by no means contrary to Washington’s and Western interests. Of course, Russia will not bring in any fundamental changes. This war of attrition, despite talks aiming to find a compromise, is set to last, given that Islamist movements are not lacking in combatants and that their backers hope that these will be victorious in Syria in the long run.
For Saudi Arabia, which incidentally is opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, this regional war, the epicenter of which is Syria, is in fact targeted at Iran and what Riyadh considers to be the Shia Crescent. But Iran is an old, particularly tenacious state. The lifting of the embargo (January 2016) was a victory for Iran, which in addition, contrary to other states, does not draw most of its revenue from oil.
Turkey is not aiming at anything less than to be the hegemonic Muslim state in the Middle East (its historical rival in this respect still being Iran). A Sunni and Islamist Syria, more or less under Ankara’s influence, is one of its goals. The other is to crush both the PKK and any Kurdish armed movement (which also includes the Kurds of Syria), as well as all Kurdish peaceful political protest. This is fully in line with Kemalism, according to which Turkey is the country of the Turks, the Turkefied, or individuals subjected to its rule. At the end of December 2015, to make the world forget its military failure in Yemen, Saudi Arabia formed a Sunni coalition with thirty-four other African and Asian Muslim countries, officially designed to fight against terrorism. The fuzzy denomination allows any interpretation. Is it about fighting against ISIL or about setting up a common front against Iran? In any event, among these states only a handful is able to act effectively over the long term, including Pakistan, with its known duplicity.