Saturday, December 03, 2005

Putting Politics Back Into Warfare

“All warfare is political.” In regards to Iraq, the British, according to Elizabeth Kier, have this right. The Americans do not. To use a line from Black Hawk Down—sorry, Dittosfan—“The moment the bullets start flying politics goes out the window.” This illuminates the American military’s attitude towards war. Completely decimate your enemy.

But, as Ms. Kier aptly shows, this attitude is antithetical to securing the peace. (Kryptos and Watson both comment on this in earlier posts.) In fact, not only is the Army’s approach antithetical, it is adversely affecting the outcome by creating greater sympathies for the insurgents (or whatever they are called now—‘displeased persons’ or ‘persons with complaints’).

“It’s a war the Army can’t win,” state the claimants. Why can’t it be won? Because it’s not the type of war the Army is used to fighting successfully. Congressman Murtha—the widely respected ex-Marine and Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania -- recently created an uproar with his calls for the establishment of a timetable for the removal of troops. Our presence is, he states, making matters worse. And this is true—sort of. It’s erroneous to confuse our presence as what is causing the dismal peace dividends with the methods we are using to secure peace. And while I don’t agree that we should have invaded Iraq in the first place, I think pulling our troops out has drastic consequences, especially for our credibility. A state’s power comes not just from military and economic capabilities, but from the strength of its national will. As much for future conflicts (military and otherwise) as for the sake of the Middle East, we need to remain in Iraq until we have ensured the creation of a stable and viable state.

So what’s a SecDef to do? If the Army is making matters worse but withdrawal is damaging to the vital and strategic interests of the United States, how do we accomplish our goals? I think our potential to create a new service, as Kier advocates as one possible future option, is unrealistic in the immediate future. However, I do agree that we could train particular branches within the Army or Marines (perhaps with British assistance). I also agree that reliance on high technology could further serve to undermine our interests. There is something inherently distasteful to people about a big brother approach to security (such as the use of drones or pgms, which may actually minimize civilian casualties) that may spur even further collusion with/support for the enemy.

The answer therefore lies in a military force whose primary responsibility is to protect and interact with civilians. (Much as cops are now returning to street walk in the most degraded neighborhoods, building bonds with residents.) It is not simply the security that is provided, but the relationships that are built with the civilian population that will undercut support for the insurgents. This will undoubtedly result in a temporarily (I use that term with uncertainty) higher body count. However, it’s the only way we will ever achieve success, secure our interests, and enhance our credibility.

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