Monday, June 26, 2006

Make Anbar Howl?

Robert M. recently wrote and asked why we didn't take the gloves off and figuratively march to the sea as Sherman did in the Civil War to inflict real pain and defeat on the Sunnis who still fight.

Victor Hanson expressed this frustration well:

Our rules of engagement are aimed at winning “hearts and minds.” That precludes the age-old formula for such postwar rebuilding: reconstruct only after the enemy has been humiliated and defeated. A Curtis LeMay would have advised leveling Fallujah in April to save the war; we shrug that doing so would surely lose it. Somewhere the ghost of a Thucydides or Hobbes or Churchill might adjudicate our debate in ways that we might not like.

I was in favor of crushing Fallujah at the time--and doing it fast. It was a mistake to let it endure as a sanctuary and symbol for the enemy. I wrote in that April:

This is such a tremendous error that I cannot believe it. As I concluded in a post on April 1st, delenda est Fallujah. What did we do instead of destroying them? We let them walk away alive. And just as Saddam proclaimed victory for having survived his ass whipping in 1991, so too will the insurgents who are even now watching Marines retreat from their positions. We had them by the throat and we let them go. It doesn’t matter that we killed at a tremendously lopsided ratio. We failed to teach the lesson of what resisting us means. Or rather, we did teach them what it means. And that’s the problem. The enemy should be dead, crippled, headed for Gitmo, or so scared that they almost made it into categories 1-3 that they head for home and wear to their families and themselves that they will fight no more.

That was a military operation that we failed to prosecute ruthlessly. Restraint there made no sense. Any open and organized resistance must be crushed. We should have taken the opportunity to kill the enemy in pitched battle in April 2004. We eventually did it in November 2004; but we lost time and encouraged the enemy in those seven months, and gave more of our own politicians and people more time to lose faith in our effort.

One of our problems now in our policing operation is that we are not facing a Sunni nation uniformly hostile to us. If we did, harsh methods would be the only way to crush the insurgency. There would be no hearts and minds to win.

In our policing operations, by contrast, we want minimal force to win hearts and minds because the enemy is not clearly presented. We face a mixed population of friends and enemies. So brutality would just harm friends and enemies at the same time. That's the point of the enemy fighting out of uniform, remember? They hide among neutrals and friendlies. And so fighting as if all are enemies would be a betrayal of our ideals and in practice just drive friends to the enemy side.

Plus, I don't think our people back home would accept the killing of tens of thousands in a short time to brutalize even a uniformly hostile population into submission. Practically speaking, we could not be brutal enough for long enough to make Saddam's method of cowing civilans as he did to the Shias in 1991 work. I think we would make things worse by going back and forth between brutal methods to crush spirits and inducements to win loyalty. We'd just end up being brutal enough to inspire hatred yet generous enough to supply those hostile civilians; but not brutal enough to scare enemies into passivity or generous enough to buy friends.

Remember, resolutely following an adequate plan is better than switching strategies frequently in search of the perfect strategy. In the latter case, you fail to give your efforts a chance to really have an impact. I think our enemies made this mistake by switching from attacks on our troops to attacks on Iraqi forces to attacks on civilans to attacks on infrastructure to attacks on foreign embassies and to kidnapping foreigners. They let up enough on each target to fail on every target. So our hearts and minds method may be slow, but if carried out resolutely, it will work. Indeed, it is working. It has already shielded the new Iraqi country sufficiently to form a government and security forces that appear ready to start taking over the burden of the fight from us.

In addition, our rules of engagement that promote winning hearts and mind allow our troops to fight with honor and come home as soldiers and Marines--not as killers. If we let our troops loose to kill as they see fit to terrorize the population into submission, they become judge, jury, and executioner. Even if they make all the right decision in a fight with enemies in civilian clothes, our troops will always wonder if they were right in the decisions they make.

Rules of engagement take much of the judging and responsibility out of their hands and put the responsibility on the leaders where it belongs. As long as soldiers know they followed the lawful rules of engagement they can come home with their heads held high, having fought as soldiers. As long as they allow us to fight and win, this is just fine.

One of our sergeants, in a National Guard unit coming home after duty in Ramadi, put it well:

Walls says insurgents wear civilian clothes and use women and children as shields.

"If you're going to fight the enemy, there are two ways to look at it. You either become just like them, fight them on their own terms or you take the heavy burden like we're doing it right now and it's going to cost American lives. It's a hell of a price to pay but if you fight them on their terms, you're no better than them.

"That's the true dilemma of the soldier right now, to get his sanity and keep his morals, keep his integrity. And it's hard. It's a ... minute-by-minute struggle ... over in Iraq."

This brigade of 2,000 lost 15 men but the rest come home as soldiers with their integrity intact and not as a rabble of killers no better than the enemy. The rules of engagement they followed in war may have seemed like a burden--and it was; but they go home with their heads held high, sane, and their morals and integrity intact, knowing they behaved as soldiers.

There are times and circumstances where we'd need to be brutal. In this war, against Saddam's military during the initial invasion and since then against any enemies who come into the open to fight us, we should kill them with no mercy. But we cannot kill even suspicious civilian men of military age who aren't fighting.

Right now our troops are buying time to field effective Iraqi security forces who can take over the war. What we should be steeling ourselves to face is that the Iraqi government, which cannot give the task to anybody else, might have to use their growing military power to march to the sea if the Sunnis refuse all the reasonable offers--contrary to usual Middle East rules that say losers just die or flee--that have been made to get them to lay down their arms and join the new Iraq. That moment of choice is coming very soon.

It could get very ugly. But it may be necessary. And that is an Iraqi choice to make.

And if the Iraqi government makes that choice, you can be sure the same Loyal Opposition that is now raising hell about amnesty to Sunnis will be equally outraged.

Oh, and speaking of emails, Arthur K. had a couple of good observations on a couple posts but my replies bounced back. I do answer my email.