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 Message Boards » » W/L records when it comes to proxy wars Page [1]  
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Holler at me

Paging our favorite grumpie

4/2/2023 11:35:48 PM

StTexan
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Charlies Wilsons War +1 credibility

4/3/2023 12:05:59 AM

GrumpyGOP
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Proxy wars? I don't have an exact record, but a quick recollection shows a pretty high success rate for defending proxies and the country supporting them. U.S. proxies defeat Russia in Afghanistan, Russian proxies defeat U.S. in Vietnam, those are big ones that fit the classic understanding of a proxy war with the proxy as defender. Hezbollah served as proxies for Iran and Syria, and effectively held off Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war.

"Offensive" proxy wars are, I suspect, less reliably successful. The example that leaps to mind is the Iran-Iraq War, which saw Iraq as the proxy for the U.S., UK, and others, and which ended in a stalemate.

Then you get civil wars where both sides are a proxy, like Angola, where obviously the successes and failures balance out.

If the question is what is the U.S. W/L record, I'm not sure off the top of my head. It's been a mixed bag for sure, though our biggest victory - Afghanistan - was so shattering in its effect on our number one adversary that it carries quite a bit of weight. Of course, our follow-up to that victory was inexcusably shoddy and led to massive problems down the road, but I don't think those can really be pinned on the proxy war itself.

Ukraine will almost certainly be viewed as a strategic victory for the proxy-backing side, even if Kiev ultimately has to make concessions.

4/3/2023 1:09:41 PM

theDuke866
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how many wars are not proxy wars?

[Edited on April 4, 2023 at 1:42 AM. Reason : ]

4/4/2023 1:41:52 AM

GrumpyGOP
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I'm gonna file that under "technically valid but totally unhelpful."

Like, yeah, all wars are "proxy wars," if only in the sense that soldiers are being proxies for politicians. And very few wars happen totally in a vacuum, involving just the belligerents. But those aren't what anybody means by "proxy wars."

4/4/2023 8:20:42 AM

theDuke866
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I meant the latter. My point is, where do you draw the line?

Just about every war has proxies involved besides the belligerents. Some more than others, but how much proxy makes it a proxy war?

Like...Ukraine? Of course, that's as proxy war as it gets. Afghanistan? Proxy war of USSR and US. Would our recent go in Afghanistan count as a proxy war between US and Pakistan? Does it change anything that we weren't even fighting Afghanistan, but a non-state actor? Or that Pakistan played both sides of it? What about Iraq? I'd argue that it was a proxy war against Iran in some ways...but is that really a proxy war?

Vietnam and Korea, I suppose would both count.

Both WWII and WWI were proxy wars (from our perspective) right up until we got directly involved.

Hell, is the American Revolution a proxy war between the Brits and French? We never think of it that way, but then again, I suppose people getting their asses bombed off in Ukraine right now don't primarily think of that conflict as a proxy war between the Russians and the US/West in general.

There are a few that, to my knowledge, had little outside involvement--Falklands, for example.

[Edited on April 5, 2023 at 1:52 AM. Reason : ]

4/4/2023 8:23:33 PM

emnsk
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When you say Ukraine is a proxy war, do you mean through the West's perspective?
Cause I don't see how it is on the other side since Russia is directly invading themselves. Sure, you can have 'proxy elements', but that isn't the main thing here.

And even from the West's perspective-- while of course everyone has underlying motives, the primary objective in arming Ukraine is to help it defend itself. If it were a proxy, they would've been arming little militias in Ukraine to antagonize Russia long ago. We can get into how some people talk about how NATO expansion and whatever pushed Putin into this, but I think that is too much of a stretch to be called proxy warfare, even if true.

4/4/2023 11:41:52 PM

StTexan
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I think it(Ukraine) is a proxy war fwiw

4/5/2023 12:26:06 AM

GrumpyGOP
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Quote :
"Hell, is the American Revolution a proxy war between the Brits and French?"


The French were belligerents in the American Revolution. They actively participated in the conflict. It was not a proxy war.

Quote :
"Both WWII and WWI were proxy wars (from our perspective) right up until we got directly involved."


I'm inclined to disagree. Neither satisfies the elements of "proxy war" by most definitions. The United States had no role in instigating either war, nor any strategic reason to want them to start. I also think there's a distinction between wanting to support one side and wanting to hurt the other. In a real proxy war, the goal is to use the proxy to hurt an enemy that you'd prefer not to engage directly.

You can have wars that see outside defensive support and offensive proxies, like Ukraine now. I think we'd like to see the pro-Western Ukrainian government survive, but at least as much as that, we want to bleed Putin white. So it's both. Then there are pure proxies, like our support for the Mujahidin against the Soviets. It's not like we gave a shit about the fate of Afghanistan (as evidenced by how quickly we ignored it after the war) - we just wanted to hurt USSR.

The World Wars just don't have that offensive element. I don't think FDR was particularly fond of Nazi Germany, but I also don't think Lend Lease was about beating or even really hurting Hitler. How could it be? With all the materiel in the world, the UK wasn't going to invade Europe alone. This wasn't "Let's use the Brits to kill Germans" - which is basically my threshold for a "proxy war." This was "Let's keep the Brits afloat."

Quote :
"Would our recent go in Afghanistan count as a proxy war between US and Pakistan? Does it change anything that we weren't even fighting Afghanistan, but a non-state actor?"


Well, first of all, we were fighting Afghanistan - we overthrew their government and installed a new one. Yeah, we did it because they were housing a non-state actor, but we absolutely were fighting the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

What I think makes a difference here is who supported the proxies. I don't think there's much evidence that it was the government of Pakistan, which was and historically had been aligned with the United States. I think there were elements within the Pakistani government and particularly the ISI who supported the proxies.

For my money, state support is a critical component of a "proxy war," and I don't think Pakistan qualifies.

Quote :
"My point is, where do you draw the line?"


I think these are a pretty good set of criteria:

1) A state is providing substantive material support to a belligerent, the proxy;
2) In a conflict in which that state is not, itself, a belligerent;
3) With a primary goal of weakening the proxy's opponent.

May need to tweak those later, but that's a good starting definition.

4/5/2023 10:00:55 AM

GrumpyGOP
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Quote :
"And even from the West's perspective-- while of course everyone has underlying motives, the primary objective in arming Ukraine is to help it defend itself. If it were a proxy, they would've been arming little militias in Ukraine to antagonize Russia long ago. "


Just saw this - as I said to Duke, in Ukraine we're trying to do both. Yeah, we want to help Ukraine defend itself. But our involvement is very much about weakening Russia. We're barely even trying to hide that. I don't think that did anything to instigate the war for that purpose, but the war having started, we've been happy to take advantage of it.

4/5/2023 10:13:25 AM

theDuke866
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Quote :
"The United States had no role in instigating either war, nor any strategic reason to want them to start. I also think there's a distinction between wanting to support one side and wanting to hurt the other. In a real proxy war, the goal is to use the proxy to hurt an enemy that you'd prefer not to engage directly."


OK, I think those are valid distinctions.

Quote :
"Well, first of all, we were fighting Afghanistan - we overthrew their government and installed a new one. Yeah, we did it because they were housing a non-state actor, but we absolutely were fighting the Taliban government of Afghanistan."


Ehh, for what, the first few months out of many a decade or two?

(I mean...this is a weird case...we were balls-deep in Afghanistan even in the 90s with the CIA, and have been involved in that place at one level or another since October of 1979. It's not really central to this argument, though.)

Quote :
"What I think makes a difference here is who supported the proxies. I don't think there's much evidence that it was the government of Pakistan, which was and historically had been aligned with the United States. I think there were elements within the Pakistani government and particularly the ISI who supported the proxies.

For my money, state support is a critical component of a "proxy war," and I don't think Pakistan qualifies."


I'm not so sure that state support is a critical ingredient in my mind.

Also, sure, the Pakistani government has historically been aligned-ish with the US, but the ISI has historically been a dominant force in the Pakistani government. I don't think you can separate the two in the way that you could with our government, or many other governments. They have competing factions, and they play both sides. I think there would be a pretty good case to make that Pakistan would qualify as propping up the Taliban and Taliban-aligned groups, but not much of a case that they were doing it for the purpose of harming the US via proxy.

Quote :
"I think these are a pretty good set of criteria:

1) A state is providing substantive material support to a belligerent, the proxy;
2) In a conflict in which that state is not, itself, a belligerent;
3) With a primary goal of weakening the proxy's opponent."


OK.

(although, again, I'm less convinced of the importance of it being by states)

4/6/2023 2:20:16 AM

theDuke866
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Quote :
"But our involvement is very much about weakening Russia"


Absolutely.

...and also about discouraging Chinese regional ambitions.

4/6/2023 2:21:49 AM

GrumpyGOP
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I think the state distinction is important because anything less opens you to some weird stuff, and to a view so expansive as to make the term "proxy war" meaningless.

I, as a private citizen, pay taxes. I am "providing material support" to the U.S. military. If Canada goes nuts and sends armored mounties across the border to seize Buffalo, the U.S. military becomes a belligerent. I'm not a belligerent. I'm 38 years old, the military doesn't want me and I'd be bad at it anyway. But I am pissed off that the Beaver Brigade is stationed on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls, so I very much want to weaken Canada.

Taking all that into account, the U.S.-Canada War is a "proxy war" in which I am supporting my proxies, the U.S. Armed Forces. Technically that's true, they are fighting on my behalf. But clearly that's not what anybody means when they say "proxy war."

If that's too far out, then we can look at the real-world example of Irish-American organizations sending money to the IRA, or individuals in Gulf States funding Al-Qaeda. Neither, to me, passes the sniff test for "proxy war." Just to keep hammering the point home, all wars are technically fought by proxies for people with money. If that's sufficient, then the term is meaningless.

Now having said all that, I could possibly grant you this...

Quote :
"the ISI has historically been a dominant force in the Pakistani government. I don't think you can separate the two in the way that you could with our government, or many other governments."


OK, I'll buy it, and the main thing keeping the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan from meeting the definition of a "proxy war" is that ISI/PAK government was intentional use of proxies to harm.

Quote :
"Ehh, for what, the first few months out of many a decade or two?"


I'd like to slightly tweak my wording there: we overthrew their government in parts of Afghanistan, where we installed a new one. Because realistically the Taliban retained de-facto government control over portions of the country throughout our presence there.

4/6/2023 9:26:47 AM

theDuke866
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Quote :
"Taking all that into account, the U.S.-Canada War is a "proxy war" in which I am supporting my proxies, the U.S. Armed Forces. Technically that's true, they are fighting on my behalf. But clearly that's not what anybody means when they say "proxy war."

If that's too far out, then we can look at the real-world example of Irish-American organizations sending money to the IRA, or individuals in Gulf States funding Al-Qaeda. Neither, to me, passes the sniff test for "proxy war." Just to keep hammering the point home, all wars are technically fought by proxies for people with money. If that's sufficient, then the term is meaningless.
"


Oh yeah I'm not talking about that.

I'm thinking more about a case of a conflict fought in either a failed state where there is no functional government--especially in the context of the last couple of decades where a lot of non-state actors have done a lot of fighting or supporting or subverting...

or a case like...I don't know, maybe Syria or Israel/Palestine where there are a variety of parties and it's a complicated web of who supports and subverts who.

These are probably all mostly edge cases. I just don't know that "state actor" should be absolutely core to the definition, even if that's generally the case. But...whatever. That need not be central to this discussion.

Quote :
"Because realistically the Taliban retained de-facto government control over portions of the country throughout our presence there."


While we're splitting hairs, I think maybe a better way to frame that was not that the Taliban retained government control--[I]de facto[/I] or actual--so much as managed to prevent--[I]de facto[/I], at least--anyone from really governing some areas.

[Edited on April 6, 2023 at 3:55 PM. Reason : ]

4/6/2023 3:52:59 PM

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