Getting a kick out of a can
The eternal recurrence of doing the dumb thing forever
Kick the can is an Americanism from an old children's game that literally was about kicking the can. Of Depression era provenance, it went out of fashion when enough prosperity returned that balls were affordable and preferable to tins left over from meal preparation.
Nevertheless, the term, kick the can lives on.
According to a Merriam Webster online word history, "round the mid-1980s a new phrase began to be heard in the U.S. Congress. To “kick the can down the road” became, in the rhetoric of some lawmakers, a colorful and mildly critical new way of referring to putting off work on an issue for a later date."
That does sound like Congress.
Entering "the economy" and "kicking the can" on the Brave search engine returns many articles. The recent debt ceiling had its share and is an example of the cliché.
Kicking the can down the road may not be thought of in terms of foreign policy but it is something we have done before. We kicked the can down the road at the end of the Korean War and have been more or less doing that since.
We did stop kicking it at the end of the Vietnam War only because we lost. If we had gotten a Korea like arrangement, we would still have troops and planes and bases and PXs all over the South. There would be brass on the border taking meetings ad infinitum with the officers of the North. We would forever be rebuilding the South.
It would all have been a big kick the can down the road. The day of Vietnamese resolution would never arrive.
Alas, we don't have to think about it. It's as if we left no forwarding address and they disconnected the phone.
So ended our ten year Southeast Asian Field Training exercise.
We were kind of shy for a while after that, but Afghanistan was beckoning and we supplied enough that the Russians left, but nothing much was solved. Sort of a can kick.
Our temporary buddy, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we made it our business for reasons other than Maggie Thatcher's chick shaming of Bush père ("Don't go wobbly, George").
That glorious victory took about 100 hours and led to… yup, we kicked the can.
Saddam was allowed to continue his regime. He suppressed the Shia in the south of the country. This was disgraceful on our part as US radio broadcast over Iraq during the war that the we supported the Shia uprising before abandoning them.
No-fly zones were set up and the people were squeezed by sanctions, a contingent of soldiers remained in Saudi Arabia and the can remained in play.
Can kicking had other bad results. Bin Laden would go to war over our “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula.” That would lead to planes taking down buildings in Manhattan and the US taking the wrong lesson and getting another can.
On September 11, 2001, the planes roared into multiple targets and a couple of decades of meandering war began.
We demanded Bin Laden be turned over. Scott Horton, in his book, Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, recounts how the Taliban tried to work with the US, but there was nothing for it but just to comply.
Thus, the war would come and Osama would not be found. The mission would then become "nation building."
We spent the next two decades plus searching for something and never finding it.
That proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was promised with surges and COIN (Counter Insurgency warfare) as the ticket.
A momentary superstar, General David Petraeus, came to the fore. Petraeus was the man with a plan. He and his confreres "promised Obama that with the plan they could have the Taliban sitting at the table, ready to concede to American terms within 18 months–by July 2011."
It didn't work and, in the end, Petraeus would out himself as a clown when he and his amanuensis and mistress, Paula Broadwell, were caught sharing classified material, and he got a slap on the wrist. Dave is still seen pontificating on the media.
It would be obvious to everyone that the project was a failure and we were going to stop kicking the can on this one as we had become the can.
Even to the reality challenged, it was obvious we would be leaving.
So the Trump administration in February 2020 negotiated a withdrawal agreementwith the Taliban that excluded the Afghan government, freed 5,000 imprisoned Taliban soldiers and set a date certain of May 1, 2021, for the final withdrawal.
The Biden Administration delayed the agreed upon time, setting an August 1 date. In the end, it would not go smoothly.
At this point, blame is irrelevant to the argument that can kicking is not a great policy, even if, as policy it is unofficial, as it always is.
Then there is the case of Iraq. Those were heady days. The world was faced with a madman who was building the big one. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) became a mantra.
In the runup, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice would intone, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Silly stuff and foolish. We went to war for it and the perpetrators, for the most part, did well enough out of it.
The war did meander, but with the elections and civilian government the Iraqis were going to have some say in events, and after failing to agree on an acceptable status of forces agreement, The last US combat troops withdrew from Iraq on 18 December 2011.
Embassy staff, marine guards and contractors remained. A not inconsiderable amount that suggested the can kicking habit is hard to kick.
We would come back to deal with the Islamic State and kinda stick around.
On January 3, 202 the United States assassinated The Iranian General Qassim Soleimani of the Quds Force. Soleimani arguably had diplomatic immunity. It was hardly an act of genius on the part of the Trump Administration.
According to Al Jazeera, "Currently, the US has 2,500 soldiers in Iraq and 900 in Syria to help advise and assist local forces in combating ISIL, which in 2014 seized swathes of territory in both countries."
Those 900 in Syria are "keeping the oil" according to Trump. Looting would be a more appropriate term.
There are other policies that continue with little other than the seeking of control. Libya, maybe more a NATO mess but a mess.
We've been bugging Syria as mentioned above as the Middle East is welcoming them back into the family.
There are countries we bother in South America. Venezuela may not be running an efficient state, but why do we sanction them? You will hear the reply about how un-democratic they are, but does anyone believe that is the reason?
Bolivia was subject to a coup due to having a surfeit of Lithium.
Nicaragua, which the American left used to wax poetic about is now a pariah under the guy who was once thought to be worthy of canonization.
And, what can you say about Cuba, holding on despite an eternal embargo?
Right now, there are two cans that are most on our radar. We are at proxy war with Russia, and are challenging China, mostly about Taiwan, and currently, les Chinois are lately about the evilest beings one could imagine all around.
There is occasional talk of settling the Ukraine matter. It appears to be dawning on some, if not all, that things are not going as well as hoped.
All of the suggestions that have appeared seem to have one thing in common.
If you guessed kicking the can, well done.
As most of them are from the west, that is understandable.
Most reports lately seem to include accounts of horrendous Ukrainian losses in men and material, yet suggestions for peace all seem to put forth that Russia give up land, pay reparations, maybe in return for Ukraine not getting into NATO. They don't seem to get that, at the least, Russia has not lost the war, and at best has done rather well.
At least one has suggested peacekeepers which is deferring peace to a future time, i.e., kicking the can.
Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy suggested a deal with Russia to go after China. As to what has been going since the US/NATO drang nach osten that began after Russia left Germany, one could be forgiven for suspecting the Russians would not be jumping for joy.
To put this in idiomatic grade B movie language, imagine Putin sits down with President Vivek and listens to the proposal and replies, "So let me get this straight, you pushed NATO east after saying you wouldn't. You engineered a coup in a border country and broke the Minsk agreements."
"You expect me to trust you?"
An agreement with us to go after another country, if successful could only mean the struggle would resume and is just can kicking.
Considering that the Ramaswamy plan is a non-starter, we shall still have our China can.
The hysteria is ramping up, and is working. The noise, from mainstream news, Republicans and Democrats is that we are being confronted by Chinese aggression and must respond.
We might ask why?
Maybe what we see as containment, they see as encirclement.
The question for us is, do we have to be there? If we were to withdraw from Asia, would they continue to grow as a military power with the idea of sailing to the east and becoming the great hegemon?
No one has yet suggested that.
Is their current foreign policy and military posture a reaction to encirclement/containment, or is it expansionist, or a combination of both. Though there are occasional noises, conciliation does not really seem to be on the table.
What is not arguable is that our long post-World War II can kicking has not worked out well in that we are on a treadmill, but it is a treadmill we just refuse to get off.
The question is, is there infinite road to eternally move that can down?
Now we are involved in Niger, the place made famous by Colin Powell's speech to the UN about "Yellow Cake" which was a less than truthful. We have 1,100 troops there and the word democracy is mentioned, but maybe more important in calculations are valuable natural resources such as coal, gold, iron ore, tin, phosphates, petroleum, molybdenum, salt, and gypsum. Did we mention yellow cake?
Somewhere, someone in the Military Industrial Complex is audibly salivating at the thought of the money to be made out of the minerals and other materials.
Reporter Seth Harp posted a picture on X and wrote: "This is the US drone base in Niger. It cost $100 million to build. More than 1,000 American troops are stationed there. You did not vote for this. Neither did Nigeriens. You cannot change it. Neither can they. This is what the State Dept means when they
Maybe there is infinite road, or maybe the end of the road is a cliff and the can goes over and takes us with it.