Monday, November 20, 2006

Argghhh, Indeed

Argghh!!! posts the thoughts of an American captain in Iraq that we need to unleash focused violence on the Iraqis to persuade them that they are wrong to either support the terrorists or even look the other way while the terrorists fight us. Massive firepower on identified enemies. Blowing up houses near IEDs. You get the idea.

No. No. No! No!!

This is an admirable outlook for an infantry captain who must close with and destroy a conventional enemy. But it is wrong for the fight we are in. In essence, the captain is arguing (though he does not intend to argue this, I'm sure) that if we can't win the cooperation of neutral Iraqis who fear to support us openly, we must terrorize them into siding with us.

Even if this wasn't morally wrong, it fights on the enemy's strength. Does anybody really think we can terrorize Iraqi civilians more effectively or for over a longer period than the enemy? Do you? Could we really kill and torture on an industrial scale for months or years on end while the enemy goes on doing the same thing? With plenty of money and weapons to wage a terror campaign? With Moslem, European, and American reporters beaming every atrocity (of ours, anyway) into our homes and the homes of everyone else on the planet?

And no, putting panties on the heads of all Iraqi males does not count as torture despite what some loonies think.

We could be mean enough to anger Iraqis, but we couldn't terrorize the civilians of Iraq. So while the enemy decapitates and drills into bones, we would blow up houses. Perhaps cut off water and electricy. Who is more terrorized into submission in this process? Iraqis would be mad at us but be terrorized by real terrorists under this scenario. The result would be that those who are neutral would be angry enough at us and terrorized enough by the enemy to support the enemy.

I know that the traditional method of crushing insurgencies is to kill tens of thousands of adult males over a few weeks and anybody else who comes along in the process (as Saddam did in 1991), but we don't do that. And ask Russia if their brutal methods work. They've slaughtered Chechens and after several years, they've managed to grind the Chechens into sullen passivity. In another generation the Chechens will recover and come back fighting again.

We are trying to bolster our allies, kill or arrest active enemies, move passive supporters of the enemy into neutrality, and move neutrals into the friends column. And we need to keep moving people in that direction until most support the government , few support the enemy, and there are few active enemy left because we've killed or arrested them and they can't recruit enough replacements. Ruthlessness is appropriate but only against the narrow category of actively fighting enemies--not the passive or non-violent supporters or scared neutrals.

Our method of slowly trying to secure the people and eliminate the active fighters and their direct supporters may seem too slow, but inflicting terror and death is no shortcut to victory. It is actually just a bloodier and faster path to defeat. It abandons the primary counter-insurgency strategy of taking political action behind a military shield over years in favor of an illusory military solution to what is not primarily a military problem.

So while "cutting and running" is no solution, neither is "kill them all and let Allah sort them out" a strategy for success in today's world.

Counter-insurgency is time-consuming. There is no shortcut. But in Iraq this slow path holds the promise of creating an actual nation based on rule of law out of the carnage of war that will be an ally and an inspiration to others trapped in despotism. Punishing the scared is a path that will at best kill many and create a mere pause from exhaustion that does nothing to end the hatred and leaves everyone rearming for the next round.

Have patience. Winning at the strategic level takes time.